Lessons in Traveling Alone

What I Learned from Taking My First Trip Alone

At this time last year I was counting down the days until I packed my bags and headed to Thailand. I booked an 11-day excursion abroad and decided to do it on my own. My trip would take me first to Bangkok, then around the western coast of Thailand, and make a final stop in Tokyo. I was excited and terrified to go.
Traveling to Thailand had been on my mind for a few years. I wanted to touch every continent (Antarctica excluded) before I was 25, and Asia was the only one missing from my list. Several friends in college had gone as part of study abroad. They raved about its beautiful beaches, cheap massages, and amazing street food. Their reviews convinced me that I needed to experience this land for myself.
I shared the idea with an equally adventurous best friend of mine; she was immediately hooked. We both had jobs lined up on the west coast and decided Thailand was the post-graduation adventure we needed before we both started our new corporate jobs. That was November 2010.
Over the next few months as we started planning our trip, life got in the way. The pressures of graduation, the looming cost of moving across the country, and family priorities all took precedence over the grand trip we had imagined. I was disappointed but decided to put Thailand on the back burner for another time.
Throughout the following year I brought the idea up to different friends trying to find a travel partner to make the trip with me. Most would express interest but ultimately the complexity and cost of the trip would deter them from commitment. I soon began to realize that if I really wanted to go, I would need to find the courage to do it alone.
I had traveled a lot growing up and through college with family, study abroad, service trips, and an internship with Delta Airlines. Never though had I traveled by myself and certainly not to somewhere as far away as Thailand.  The idea was intriguing particularly at that point in my life. It was my first year living away from home, my family, and my college girlfriends. I was newly independent, learning to take on new responsibilities, and growing comfortable being out of my comfort zone. Taking this trip alone seemed like the perfect test to see just how far I could push myself.
There were a couple options to consider. One was the obvious—buy a flight, pack a bag, and go it totally alone. That seemed like a bigger push than I was ready for. The alternate option was to find a tour group I could hitch onto. It wouldn’t be traveling with my best friends but it would be traveling with new ones; that felt like a good compromise.
After some research, I decided on a Thailand tour with Contiki, a travel tour group for 18- to 35-year-olds. For a fixed price Contiki took care of all of the accommodations, local transportation, and excursions. The only thing I had to worry about was my booking my round trip ticket there.
Needless to say, that trip to Thailand was one I will never forget. The tour turned out to be a great option because it brought together similarly aged travelers from around the world, many traveling alone, to share the adventure together. While I did have to navigate the journey to and from Thailand on my own, for the bulk of my trip I had new friends with whom to share the experience.
I know it can be scary to think about taking a big trip like that on your own but I would encourage every Single Girl to give it a shot. You learn that you can be independent, that being alone sometimes is actually nice, and that new friends can be made anywhere. If you are considering a solo trip, read on for a few lessons I learned that you might find helpful.

Lessons in Traveling Alone
Find a Tour Group
If you’re like me and not quit ready to go it totally alone I highly recommend finding a group to travel with. I chose Contiki tours because I liked that they specifically targeted those 18-35. There are many options out there though depending on your interest. Other alternatives you might consider are Intrepid and On-the-Go Tours.
Take Pictures of Important Documents
Before leaving home I took pictures of my driver’s license, credit cards, and passport. In the event I lost any of these, I’d know I had have a backup. This has also come in handy aside from traveling when I’ve accidentally forgotten my wallet at home.
Download the Right Apps
Having the right apps can make a world of difference for your travels. A few I would recommend are:
  • Airline: most airlines have an app that lets you check in, use a mobile boarding pass, and get instant alerts of flight changes
  • TripIt: aggregates your flights and accommodations into one place
  • Currency Converter: helps you easily convert from any currency to another
  • iHandy Translator: lets you translate any sentence into one of 52 different languages
  • Viber: lets you make free calls and texts over Wifi or 3G with any other Viber user
  • Facebook Messenger: chat with FB friends through messenger in lieu of texting
Equip Yourself with the Right Tools
Before you go, make sure to prepare yourself for proper travel. Here are a few tools you should have in your carry one:
    • Adapters: Make sure you know what kind of power outlets your destination has and bring the right adapters for your electronics.
    • Battery phone case: Pick up something like a Mophie which is a phone case with a built-in battery. You’ll feel much better snapping away pics or using those handy apps if you know you have back up power.
    • Travel Umbrella: you never know what turn the weather will take. It’s best to have a small umbrella just to be prepared.
Check in with Your Service Provider
Alert your cell phone service provider that you’ll be traveling internationally. You may need to upgrade to an international data plan in order to get service over seas.
Pack Right and Pack Light
When you’re traveling alone you have no one to help carry your bags. Keep your packing limited to a carry-on and a big tote bag if you can. It’s much easier to run through airports, catch trains, and pull luggage down city sidewalks when you’ve packed light. It also eases your nerves if you don’t have to hand over your luggage to baggage claim. Invest in a good piece of luggage, preferably one with 4 wheels, a lightweight body, and sturdy handle. Something in a unique color or pattern is best, but if you go for black make sure to add a colorful ribbon or piece of tape to distinguish it from others.
Brush Up on the Culture
Before you go, read up on the country you’re visiting. It’s good to prepare yourself by knowing a few key phrases in their language, what their tipping practices are, and what their attitude towards women and foreigners is.
Learn to Let Go
At the end of the day, the most important lesson I learned was to be okay letting go. You’re not always going to know what you’re doing, where you’re going, or what people are saying to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it’s needed. Accept that getting lost is part of the journey, and keep a smile on your face at all times. That will get you further than you can possibly imagine.
Safe Travels!

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