ALL PHOTOS & WORDS: ZOE LONDON
THE THOUGHT OF TRAVELLING ALONE CAN BE REALLY DAUNTING. HERE’S SOME PERSONAL DIARY INSIGHTS INTO HOW I’VE DONE IT BEFORE
Travelling, and our young culture of travelling is a huge industry and a huge part of growing up for a lot of us. Gap years are more and more popular, with students flying over to the Far East, or opting to even take a year of their course in Europe, or even better, the USA. It’s not all about the students though, at any time in anyone’s life here on this planet we can just up sticks and go to another country at the the drop of a hat. I know so many people who have full on moved to places like Canada, Australia and America by themselves or in a couple, and every day i’m seeing more and more friends take the plunge into travelling somewhere.
Most of this is amazing, and so exciting and life changing, but how about when it comes round to actually travelling completely and utterly by yourself? Most of the time, students travel together and young twenty somethings move abroad in a couple. But what if you just want a weekend away by yourself? Or three months travelling the Far East, just like the gorgeous Kavita just got back from? It might sound like one of the easiest things to do ever, but it can be so daunting, and you’ll find you learn a hell of a lot on the way.
Well i’m not a huge expert in this field because I haven’t done the backpacking/far east adventure (doesn’t stop me longing for it though) but something I have done for a few years now is just upped and left for short breaks in foreign territory completely by myself and i’ve definitely learned a lot along the way and picked up a few tips just to help out any first time lone travellers, because well, a bit of friendly advice and chit chat never goes amiss, does it?
Of course the first thing to ensure is that you have a valid passport. Check this months before planning anything and don’t assume the Passport office can get it to you at short notice, because with the current state of affairs, you’ll be waiting a while. Once your passport is clear to go, check any visa applications for countries you want to travel to. Europe and some countries don’t require the use of a visa, but Australia and the USA do, depending on your length of stay, or whether you want to work while you’re over there.
Once your passport and visa is all clear, get booking those flights! A little tip when booking flights online is to always clear your cache and cookies between looking up flight prices. They can fluctuate so much day to day, and if your browser history reports you as a returning visitor to the website, they can sometimes show a different rate. If you refresh your cookies and cache, you’re visiting the airline’s site for the first time and you can snag a better deal. Flights booked, get on the hotel or accommodation pretty asap too. You might be staying with friends, which is great (and means you’re only really travelling there and back alone, yay) but if you’re going completely alone like I do in Europe, you need to book a hotel. Do your research, check both trip advisor and booking reviews, and make sure you know where it is you’re booking into.
Airbnb is a great way to essentially ‘rent’ a decent place in a new city, and while the word hostel can sound terrifying, in some countries hostels are more decent than you think. If you intend to be travelling out and about a lot, really all you need is a clean, safe place to sleep. I recently went to Copenhagen entirely by myself for the Eurovision, and I stayed in a hostel style hotel that is a bit like student accommodation – one small room with a wet/shower room. No beating about the bush, not really all that glam, but, super clean, enough room, storage and a comfy bed. I felt very safe there. Because I was out so much in Copenhagen I literally only slept there each night. Look around and see what you can find, it’s always worth checking these options.
Always arrive to the airport two hours before your flight departure. If you have to check in, maybe two and a half, just in case. Know your route, and ensure you stick to your time plans. Missing a flight is the one time you can’t be late! I’m useless at being on time, but when I have to fly I am always early. If you’re a bit nervous flying, take tablets to calm your nerves, and bring something that will keep your mind occupied – a book or your laptop or something similar. An iPad with a movie loaded onto it will make the time fly by. You will always be fine, and the cabin crew are always there to look out for you. You might feel so alone on a plane full of people, but chances are that you’re actually in the majority of lone flyers.
Arriving in your new destination, really take time to get to know where you are. Get a map, or program it into your iPhone. Find the nearest shop to your hotel for basic things like water and snacks, and look up on the internet or ask the hotel staff what is nearby and what times they open until. Walk about, if you can. There is nothing more beautiful than walking by yourself in a new place, I promise. If you’re somewhere that requires a train or a bus, go to the local station and pick up an English timetable and map to look at. The internet is so valuable here, don’t waste money on taxis around when there are buses, trams, trains and transport you can take easily and cheaply. But my advice is not to take transport if you don’t need to. An example of this is Paris. The Paris metro is ridiculous, it has so many stops that usually when you look at them above surface, are three or four streets away from each other! I was shocked to come across tens of metro stations, just walking 45 minutes up the road!
Some cities, like London, New York, Barcelona etc, are a bit too big to explore entirely on foot, so learning the local transport will really come in handy. Quite a lot of the small European cities are pretty decent to walk around easily, Copenhagen, Prague, Valencia for just a few examples were places I did a lot of walking and managed to see a lot of things all close by.
Now, on to eating. Terrifying. I still do get a little bit of pre-eating alone anxiety cos well, it’s just not quite as nice as eating with a companion, is it? However when you’re completely alone… you have to, unfortunately. And you’ll feel so much better for doing it. My advice here? Practise it in your own city/home first. Go to a chain first up, a bit more faceless and fast paced, and you’ll soon see within minutes of sitting down that absolutely no one around you cares or is staring at you that you’re alone. After you’ve conquered the chain, try a small little restaurant, and from there you’re good to go. Try something unusual on the menu, have fun. Bring a magazine or book if you need to occupy your mind, or use your smartphone/tablet to engage with the world via social media, or even your laptop! Absolutely no one minds if you do this anywhere, and usually if you’re alone you’ll find the waiter or waitress to be really chatty, chain or not. I also love in Diner style bar restaurants to sit at the bar, and chat to the bar staff or the people around me. I have had some lovely conversations with both family run businesses abroad or at home as well as chain staff when being on my own. The other option of course, is to sit near someone else alone, and strike up a conversation… depending on your confidence. I’ve never quite done that, but everyone’s different.
I think I could honestly go on for so long about things to do, but I honestly think the most important thing is researching what it is you’re going to do whether it’s literally just a break from home and a lie on the beach, or a city adventure or even backpacking or helping out a community, know what it is you’re going, what’s near you and especially where you can go for help. Medical help, as well as general assistance – do not be left short if you need a hand and you’re alone. Look after yourself. Be sensible about it! Be spontaneous and happy and free, but if you know you need medication for something or you know your alcohol limits – stick to it all, and be safe. Keep an eye on your belongings at all time, and don’t stray anywhere unsafe alone. You’re in a foreign country at the end of the day, they don’t always do things the same way you do in your home country.
I think everyone should try it once in their life, even if it’s just overnight in a hotel somewhere in your home country, it expands the mind, cleanses the soul and opens your eyes. I actually had my first ever experience of this kind of thing at 15 when I went to Download Festival by myself. I only knew some friends about three years older than me vaguely because of school, but I very quickly learned from a young age how to look after myself and to know my limits. I’ve of course had accidents or gotten lost and even passed out before – we’re not perfect – but being aware and knowing how to look after you and be careful is something you learn and can learn easily as you go along.
The way I felt in my mind after getting back from Copenhagen was incredible. I’d seen so many new things, a new country, new people, new food, a new culture. I’d not opened my mouth to talk hardly over the four days, because i’d been alone, and I actually loved just opening my eyes and looking at the world around me, rather than getting swept up in work, people/friend dramas and stress or negativity. I felt cleansed, and like my mind had felt new things it hadn’t before – despite travelling alone in the past. I think this was when it twigged how important I think it is a thing to do, and if I can encourage you to do one thing it’d be to be brave, and jump in to it. I promise, you’ll never look back. Oh, but don’t forget to share some pics along the way so we can all see, too!
If you have travelling alone tips, please do share them in the comments so anyone reading this can see them as well!