I am at the very beginning of my adventures traveling alone, and I’m not even sure that there will be a whole ton alone. As I draft this, I’ve just pitched Scotland to one of my friends for my 2023 adventure, and if she’s down with the hiking in the Highlands & kayaking on Loch Ness, she’ll likely come with me. If she’s not, though, I’ll still go alone, and while my brother has expressed interest in Iceland, I think New Zealand will be a solo trip, and even if I do go with people, I’m still going on trips that I’ve fully mapped out by myself. Thus, I want to document what that looks like, solo traveling, and though I’ve only been to one country alone (and in general), here are my reflections on traveling alone.
We’re going to start with two quick notes because they’re the first ones that popped into my head.
I didn’t bring my stuffed animal, and I’m still bitter about it. I’ve been sleeping with the same stuffed animal since I was 13, but I figured that I definitely didn’t have room for him, and I was wrong. Even though I absolutely had no extra room, I should have brought him anyway. Look, I get it, I’m thirty, I’m an adult, but I was travelling by myself, without my cats or my comforts of home, for two weeks, and you need something. Bring your damn stuffed animal, it’ll be worth it, and I am 100% going to in the future.
And you’re going to forget something, and it’s okay. I forgot two pretty important things: hair ties and my headphones. Both of these are easily solvable, but I had a hair tie on my wrist, and I didn’t think headphones were going to be that big of a deal, so I decided to make do without them, and honestly? It was fine. Sure, I would have liked my headphones while I was in the airport and could have killed time watching Netflix, and I had to read a physical book rather than listen to the audiobooks I had planned to on the three hour train ride, but I really didn’t miss my headphones all that much. The hair tie is a bit of a different story because if it had broken, I would have gone and found a pharmacy that sold them, but my hair tie not only lasted the entire sixteen days, I’m still using it right now. But it wasn’t the end of the world! Granted, I made a list that I checked about seventeen times, and I highly advise doing so in order to not forget as many things as possible, but you’re undoubtedly going to forget a few, and it’s all good.
On that same vein, you also don’t need everything. My toiletries bag was definitely the thing I overpacked. The same cannot be said for my main bag since I literally packed four shirts for sixteen days, but that’s a point for another paragraph, and the one for this one is that you don’t need the entire box of q-tips. You just need enough for however many showers you think you’re going to take, plus a few extra. I honest to goodness counted out my vitamins so I would have the exact right amount. I brought two face masks, one for each week. I brought one pack of makeup remover wipes, which I didn’t use all of, and a tiny version of everything else. I don’t think there was anything I didn’t use, but I also don’t use a lot in general, so this is really just don’t bring your entire hair & makeup routine unless you fully plan to do it every day. I only brought mascara because that’s all I wear every day, and I wasn’t about to bring lipstick just for my birthday dinner.
Going to a laundromat was probably one of the better ideas that I had while travelling abroad. I only packed clothes for one week, and I went to the laundromat twice. I packed two pairs of jeans, four shirts, four pairs of leggings, two sweatshirts, and four sports bras/yoga tops for hiking. I also only brought my hiking shoes & sneakers, and I know it’s a pain to wear your hiking shoes on the plane, but do it, it saves so much room, and your sneakers are more squishable. I promise, you don’t need flats for dinner out every night. You will definitely look strange walking into a nice restaurant wearing neon blue sneakers, but people are used to it in places that are regularly travelled. I will absolutely continue to pack light on clothes, too. Four shirts was definitely enough given that I was able to wash them, and it’s something that I’ll do again next year for Scotland.
That said, the other thing I forgot was a shirt to sleep in, which is kind of twofold because I both forgot to pack it and my brain told me I didn’t need it because I could just sleep in my casual sweatshirt, which is true, but not usually what I want to do. I also didn’t pack sweatpants, and I’m on the fence about this one. I really, really wish I had them, but I don’t know how I could have possibly packed them. I think the answer is to wear them on the plane, and that’s probably what I’ll do for Scotland because I really missed having lounging pants when I got home from a long day of walking and didn’t want to put on another pair of leggings at all.
Speaking of packing, I loved having a backpack. I ended up getting the Osprey Fairview 70 from REI, and it was such a game changer. It’s sized to fit on an airplane, though I did have to check mine, and it’s truly the most intuitive backpack I’ve ever worn. Not only is the shell incredibly comfortable and kept most of the weight off of my back, the carry on backpack clips into the front of the straps so you’ve got both hands free when you’re walking uphill from the train station to your Airbnb. I saw a lot of people with rolling suitcases, and while I get it, I’ll continue to use my Osprey to travel. It was so nice to not only always have my hands free, but to not worry about something stumbling over cobblestones or catching at people’s ankles. I only ever had to worry about my own person–people avoid you when you’ve got a giant ass backpack–and that was fantastic.
One of the things I didn’t consider, though, was the necessity for lying. I had two bad experiences, one way worse than the other, and, looking back, I realize that I should have lied more. In Lisboa, I was followed back to my Airbnb, which was located in a kind of alley, where a man made comments about my body and tried to pressure me into going out for food with him. In Porto, my tour guide continued to inappropriately touch me, speak to me, and exited the highway for a “surprise” that truly had me thinking I was being kidnapped. Neither of these situations are in any way my fault, and I put full blame on the men for thinking that they could ever treat another person like that, but this is still the reality of travelling as a woman, particularly when alone, and I wish I had lied more.
Lie about everything, ladies. If they don’t know where you’re staying, walk right past it and continue on into a public space or a restaurant. If the guy in Lisboa had started following me sooner, I would have gone into the restaurant at the bottom of my street and straight up told the staff there what was happening. If they do know, tell them that your friend or your significant other is waiting inside for you. Tell your friends to call you asking where you are and when you’re coming back even if they’re entire countries away. In Porto, one of my friends was ready with a full story–my cat wouldn’t stop throwing up, and I was the only one with the list of her medications, and I needed to get back to my laptop right away. If they ask for your phone number, give them a fake one. Lie and say that it’s dead. Tell them you don’t have social media. Lie about your name, where you’re from, where you’re going. In Lisboa, the man wouldn’t stop asking me where I was headed next, but I just kept saying “up north” because there was zero chance I was giving him any information that he could use.
The thing I’m not going to do is tell you to make a scene because I know. It’s not always safe to do that. Hell, it’s rarely safe to do that. In Lisboa, I was the only person in a dimly lit alley, and making a scene would have done nothing but drawn the man closer to me. In Porto, I was trapped in a car with no idea how to get out, and the only thing I could do was keep quiet and hope that it would be over soon. That said, if the driver had pulled over so that we could get out to see the “surprise” city he took me to, I would have ran into the nearest building and asked for help.
I don’t have any good ideas for this one, truthfully. I wish that it wasn’t something I had to consider, and I hate that I hope my friend comes with me to Scotland so I can think about it less. I guess my biggest thing is to try not to look like a tourist. Walk with purpose, check your phone for directions only when you need to, get a toxic RBF, and ignore people if you can. And, if you can’t, tell them you’re about to throw up and run into your Airbnb.
Overall, travelling alone was a lot. Two weeks was definitely way too much time, and I’ll probably shorten it by half a week for the next trip. I’m glad that I stayed in Airbnbs and not hotels because I was able to be a little more comfy at the end of the day rather than just immediately climbing into bed. My favorite “hack” was probably just getting a box of cereal at the store so I didn’t have to think about breakfast at all and trying a new restaurant for every meal so I got to experience as much as possible. The laundromat was a definite game changer, and I’m so damn glad I gave myself a day off in each city to see a few local sights and just rest a bit.
And I had a lot of fun! I really did. It was a big undertaking, and I was solely responsible for solving any problems that arose–like getting stuck outside two of my Airbnbs several times because old doors are the worst–but it was a lot of fun. I got to see the world on my own terms, and I proved to myself that not only am I capable, but I can thrive while travelling abroad. I missed my people a lot, and I was not mentally well when it came to not being with my cats for so long, but I had a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to do it again.