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My (Humble) Guide to First-Time Solo Travel

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
The first time I ever got on a plane alone was four years ago and that was to visit my cousin in California. To me that was such a turning point because up until then I had been so afraid and nervous about planes and I suddenly decided I needed to overcome that fear. It worked out because that same year my new job required me to travel a lot and I had found myself a travel buddy who had the wanderlust bug as strongly as I did.

And yet if you had asked me then if I could imagine myself on a solo trip to Europe, I would’ve said no. This year I knew I wanted to take two big trips, the first was to Iceland with Alexa back in March (read my recaps here!) and the second was supposed to be Israel in the Fall with my cousin. When that fell through, I started looking at alternatives and asking my friends if they were free. When I realized no one could take a trip with me, I thought — okay maybe I should go alone. I debated it for a month and then one day I took the plunge to book the flights.. and immediately freaked out afterwards. I couldn’t believe I had done it. But in spite of the anxiety I felt in the days leading up to the trip, I was so proud of myself for actually doing it and once I got to London, it really was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

But as I said, I was definitely a nervous first-time solo traveler and I thought I’d share what  I did in preparation for the trip to soothe my nerves and things I came to appreciate while there.

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Choose your destination and hotel wisely.
My biggest fear about traveling solo had absolutely nothing to do with feeling lonely or wondering if I’d be incapable of navigating a city. I was 100% just worried about my safety (but yes, there was a small general fear of the unknown since no one would be there to meet me). But mainly it was safety. So I did research on the best places for women solo travelers (read here, here and here) and London was on almost all the lists I saw. It was perfect because I had been wanting to go back and I wouldn’t have to worry about a language barrier. And then when it came to accommodations, I realized I felt more comfortable alone in a hotel vs an Airbnb. So again I researched which areas in London were considered the safest and which hotels were closest to Underground stations. That’s how I ended up at the Holiday Inn in Bloomsbury. Was it a bit more expensive than I would’ve liked? Yes. But booking a well-known hotel chain in a good location eased my anxiety plus once I got there, I couldn’t have been more happy with my choice. I felt safe, it was conveniently located and the area was absolutely lovely.


Plan, research and repeat
I’m a total planner and as I was going into my usual planning mode, having an itinerary and booking things ahead of time helped me to feel more prepared and calm for the trip. I made a list of places I knew I wanted to visit or eat at and then mapped it all out so I could see locations in a way that made more sense instead of going back and forth. That helped me to become more familiar with how to get around (thank you Google Maps!) and figure out where everything was in proximity to my hotel. I even bought my Oyster card (UK version of a MetroCard) and booked all but one sightseeing ticket ahead of time. Basically as soon as I stepped foot into Heathrow Airport, I was up and ready to go.


… But don’t be afraid to be spontaneous
The best thing about traveling alone is that everything is on your own terms. If you decide to sleep in, or wake up super early or change your mind about something you thought you wanted to do — there’s no one there to stop you or wait for you or vice-versa. You can just do exactly what you want, when you want. And I loved that! So while I did plan each day, I was very deliberate about not overdoing it and left myself room for impromptu decisions, which I did take advantage of.


Pack lightly
I always pack lightly but I was definitely more conscious of it when traveling alone because it was going to be me and me alone schlepping my stuff around from the airport to the hotel (I took the tube everywhere; no cabs for me!). I just had my carry-on suitcase and a Longchamp bag and managed everything on my own. Except for putting my suitcase into the overhead compartment but that had more to do with my height than anything else.


Ask people to take your photo
Like I said, so cheesy but I still kind of love it.
I love taking photos and if you were following me on Instagram, you know I was taking photos left and right of everything I saw. I tried to take selfies but honestly, I’m so bad at them. I only enjoy taking selfies with other people and obviously that wasn’t going to be an option. So I asked strangers to take my photo, like at restaurants (you can always ask a waiter) or when I was on the London Eye since everyone was a tourist anyway. People were really nice about doing it and I was happy with how most of them turned out! But I also took advantage of photo ops. They might be cheesy but it's still a keepsake. Looking back I’m glad I was able to capture those moments, whether it was on my phone or a "professional" camera.


Stay in contact with friends and family back home
When I expressed to my friends and cousins that I was a bit nervous about my trip, they were so encouraging but more importantly, they provided me with solutions. One of my best friends (who’s also a new mom) said she’d probably still be awake when my plane landed so I should text her when I arrived. Which I did and she proceeded to text me nearly every day I was there. My cousin’s wife told me to download an app called Life360 which would let her see where I was at all times. It was something she had used with other friends when they traveled solo. And because no one was more nervous about my trip than my parents, I did make a point to call them every day.


Enjoy your own company
While the trip was mostly about exploring London and the adventure that awaited me, it was also very much about me. There was something so empowering about realizing that I could travel on my own and love it. Most nights I would eat in because I’d be so tired from walking around all day but one night, I went out to a nearby French restaurant. I remember thinking to myself how nice it was to just sit there eating my food, looking at my phone without worrying about being rude, people watching, and just being there without any sort of expectation from anyone. Which kind of sums how I felt throughout the entire trip. I could just be and that felt great.

***
So those are my tips! Nothing too crazy but again all the little things personally added up for me and helped me to feel ready for my first solo trip. 



1 comment

  1. This post came at the right time for me. I'm about to go to Antwerp on Sunday. I won't be going on my own but accompany my boyfriend to a conference. So he won't be around during the day and I have to entertain myself. I am a huge sharer and am constantly talking to people here at home (my mum, my bf, friends, etc) so I am a bit nervous of being alone a whole day. I have downloaded lots of audio books and I know that sitting at a café reading is always an option but my plan is to enjoy my days, see the sights and museum and just enjoy some me-time. Your London recap made me look forward to this trip but now I am determined to spend time with myself and enjoy this week even more.

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