There is a general ideal in our society that traveling on one’s own is an immensely rewarding experience. That being said, as I made my way to the coach station in Galway a few days ago, I was feeling anything but optimistic due to last minute paper-writing, I was already hyped on adrenaline which did not help my sense of being unprepared and ultimately doomed. But, as my mom helpfully pointed out, I had felt the same way when leaving for Ireland and had made it through that experience just fine.
My first piece of advice, which works for nervous travelers in general, is to take everything one step at a time. Once I was on the bus, there was nothing I could do until I got to Dublin, but I felt confident for accomplishing the first step. The same was true for getting on the plane to London.
I think another essential part of traveling alone is recognizing yourself as the decision-maker. This seems a bit obvious, but when a stressful situation arises it’s easy to freeze and look around for the adult. At one point in the Dublin airport, it looked very much like I might have to cancel my trip due to unforeseen financial complications. In my panic I wanted someone else to tell me whether I should go through with the trip or not, but it had to be my decision.
Luckily everything worked out okay, but this brings me to my next piece of advice: always have at least two, if not three, forms of payment (i.e. cash, card, traveler’s checks) in case one fails unexpectedly.
Being the decision-maker definitely has its benefits though. You get to choose when and what you want to do and see. Furthermore you can decide to switch plans around at your whim without having to calculate the interests of others. It is all up to you.
I would never have considered myself a “planner” really, but this trip (and a semester abroad) has taught me that I need at least some structure in order to feel comfortable. In the London context, this meant that I had a hostel booked before I got here and a list of places I wanted to see with a general knowledge of how I might get there using the Underground (the London subway system). However, I also enjoy the freedom of not having everything planned out. Each day I have had a basic idea of attractions I want to hit, but I have also switched directions at a moment’s notice to see something else or even to just to spend an hour in a park enjoying the sunshine. While it has caused some concern as my trip wraps up that I might not see everything I had intended, it has been liberating to not be chained to a timetable.
Whether you are a planner or not, it is important to understand that unexpected situations, be they minute or gargantuan, are an inevitable part of travel. There are just some things you have to roll with. Also, when planning, make sure to leave yourself time to get lost or for traffic delays; this will allow for a theoretically less stressful experience.
It is also important to, at the very least, have a sketch of a to-do list. I have found this especially helpful in London. If I had not had my list I would have been completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of sights and activities to partake in. It is impossible to do everything in one trip, so a general conception of what is around is helpful in making good use of the time you have in one place.
Finally, the best part of traveling alone can also be the worst in the sense that you don’t have the safety-in-numbers comfort. I would say the best thing to do is to stay alert and to not take risks. But you also do not want to be paranoid and scared all the time. For one thing if you look panicked, you are probably more of a target, In addition, you do not want to ruin your time by feeling scared all the time.
In my case, my first two nights here in London I was back at my hostel by twilight. I was nervous about being out by myself after dark, which in all fairness is a valid concern. However it also stopped me from experiencing some of the London nightlife. Last night I stayed out and, while still slightly skittish, I enjoyed myself.
My advice would be to make sure and experience everything you want to, but take precautions: make sure you know how to contact emergency services; make sure you have phone or change so that you are able to get a hold of someone if necessary. If you are going out at night, make sure you know how you are getting home. And overall, show confidence even if it is false.
For me, traveling alone has given me more confidence in my abilities to overcome obstacles and thrive. It sounds corny, but this trip has also been introspective in the sense that it has been a personal one; from being able to stand by Queen Elizabeth I’s tomb (a childhood hero of mine), to visiting Hogwarts, to crossing Abbey Road, I have been able to connect with some of the interests closest to my heart in a way I never would have been able to do with other people.