One year in college, a group of friends and I decided we were going to save up for a summer trip to Rome. But one by one, they all dropped out-family obligations, financial concerns, and other life stuff kept them back home. I was left with a choice: Should I forget about the trip and decide to go another time when my friends could make it, or should I buy the ticket anyway and prep for a vacation alone? I went with the latter option, and those two weeks in Italy sparked a lifelong love of solo travel. Not surprisingly, I've got some tips.
Pack as lightly as you possibly can: It seems obvious, but the only person schlepping around all your stuff will be you. Remember this when you're stressing about which adapter to bring and planning for every possible weather situation! (This also means that you won't have someone to watch your bag for you while you go to the bathroom or run an errand.) Plus, who wants to carry around an umbrella for two weeks when it's supposed to be sunny 95% of the time? Unless it's something super personal or specific (like prescription medicine), they probably sell [insert thing you may need, but probably don't here] wherever you're going.
Staying in hostels isn't just for backpackers: Although you may think hostels are all dorm-style with tons of bunk beds, you can also find ones with private rooms and bathrooms. Staying at a hostel is cheaper than staying at a hotel, plus you get the added benefit of meeting people your own age-other solo travelers looking for hangout buddies included. Many hostels organize social outings or have on-site activities like barbecues and movie nights, all of which are great ways to get introduced to new people without spending a ton of money. Also, hostels usually have amenities like free maps and travel books or even organized tours you can sign up for.
Pick places that have 24-hour reception: Whether it's a hostel, a hotel, or an Airbnb, make sure that there's 24 hour access to wherever you're staying. You're likely to be exhausted and/or jetlagged when you arrive, and the last thing you'll want to do is stand around on the street waiting for someone to open the front door. There's also a safety aspect here: If you go out late during your stay, it's good to know that there's a secure, well-lit spot to return to just in case.
Work your network: Possibly the best way to see any place is with a local, but if you don't know a local yourself, you might know someone who does. A contact in your immediate network might have a cousin in Toronto or a high school pal studying abroad in Tokyo, so go ahead and post about your upcoming trip on Facebook or Twitter and see if anybody can work out an intro. Bonus: You might make a new friend in the process!
Give your family your contact info and itinerary: To give your parents (and yourself) peace of mind, make sure that someone back home has your flight info, the names of the places you'll be staying, and any other useful details you can provide. Of course, it's possible you might veer off schedule or end up going on a different route, but providing a general sense of where you'll be and when will make everyone a more relad. Consider using an app like Foursquare to check in to places so that friends can see where you are and what you've been doing-this info will also be helpful later if you can't remember the name of that insane hole-in-the-wall ramen place.
Take a book: Traveling solo is a great way to clear your mind and finally catch up on all that reading you've been meaning to do. Give yourself permission to savor things-have a long lunch in the middle of the day, order all the dessert, and eat slowly while you read The Goldfinch. You don't have class to run to or a chatty co-worker to suffer through small talk with, so make the best of it. A lot of people say they're afraid of solo travel because they're worried about being alone, but it can be freeing and relaxing to be by yourself and listen to your own thoughts for a while! By the time you come home, you'll be pumped full of new ideas and experiences and ready to tackle your day-to-day afresh.
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