This weekend I had the incredible opportunity to spend a weekend in Paris. My boyfriend and I planned this trip as our one splurge location. How decadent does it sound to meet in Pari sand sightsee for a weekend before returning back to our host cities? I had traveled alone to see him in London and by the time I did, I felt like an old pro at traveling alone internationally.
This trip threw me some curveballs, however. Rome’s transportation system frequently goes on strike, which stops service for an entire day, and due to a strike on my day to travel to Paris both my flight and train to the airport were cancelled. It took traveling at off-peak early morning hours, long hours in the airport lines and even longer hours of waiting around at my gate, but I did make it to Paris and the payoff of my experience made me forget about the precarious journey I had made to get there.
While traveling alone isn’t always flawless, it is a safe option especially in the study abroad situation, contrary to what many Hollywood movies might imply. After trying my hand at it a few times (and being one of the most nervous, anxiety ridden people that I know), and I firmly believe that if I can travel alone safely and without much stress, almost anyone can.
So here are the tips I’ve gleaned from my time here on traveling alone:
- Let people know what your plan is. Before every instance of my travel, I let three different parties know all the details of my itinerary: my boyfriend, whom I was going to meet in both situations, my apartment mates in Rome, and my family back in America. Between these three parties, I couldn’t really go wrong safety-wise. Someone was always close enough to me to help if I needed it, and all were connected to my safety resources (for example, my program leaders, my health insurance, ect.) so that I could easily get what I needed in case of an emergency. It worked out well, because these three parties were the people who also wanted to hear from me the most in my travels just for their own peace of mind, so a lot of times a group message with these parties was a simple way to keep them all updated, especially in flight delays and quick schedule changes.
- Print out everything/bring an under-clothes pouch. I mean everything. I have a flesh-colored cross-body wallet that I wear under my clothes during travel (sounds nerdy and unflattering, which it totally is, but so helpful in these situations) stuffed with all the travel documents I might need. These included, but were not limited to: my insurance cards, my Italian visa, flight confirmations, copies of my passport and copies of my credit cards. Printing out these documents and physically carrying them on your person in a concealed wallet is the absolute best way to make sure you will always have your information in case of being robbed or pickpocketed. If you take medicines every single day or carry an inhaler, it’s also a good idea to keep a copy of your prescription in there and also maybe a few backup pills or inhalers. And really, the pouch doesn’t nerd up your outfit too much.
- Bring more than you think you need. Anyone who has ever done a lot of traveling will tell you not to overpack. In most cases, this a great philosophy. However, in traveling alone, I always feel a little more comfortable overpacking in a few areas. For example, I always bring more snacks than I think I might need, because I always end up being hungry in a time when there is no food around. I always bring slightly more money than I need, in case I need to purchase medicine or need to take a cab somewhere that I didn’t plan. This last one I can’t stress enough, either: always bring a change of clothes. On my trip to Paris, I was stranded in the airport for twelve hours, and it was so refreshing just to change into a new top and out of the sweaty one I had been wearing. And lastly: plastic bags. You will always find a use for them (for example, the aforementioned sweaty top that I didn’t want commingling with my other clean clothes.)
- Do your homework. If you’re going to a place where you don’t know the language, it could be helpful to translate key phrases before you go and write them down. I knew I would have to take the French metro when arriving in Paris, so I found France’s transportation website and planned out two routes I could take to my hotel. I think it’s a great idea to devote your entire night before leaving to research about your journey and your destination, anything and everything you might need to know. How much money will it cost for a ticket to the Louvre? Can I use my student ID for a discount? How much to the French usually tip? All things that can be learned beforehand and can save you a lot of time and stress later. (Referring back to number one, it could also be helpful to send your routes and plans to your support system, so everyone is in the know.)
- Make friends. When my flight was delayed in the Rome airport, I quickly found others who were also on that delayed flight and we stuck together. That way, we could share information that we had learned about our situation. This is also a great help in comfort and safety. I met a French mother who was on my flight, and she and I agreed to watch each other’s bags while we went to the restroom in our long waiting period. While it isn’t wise to trust everyone you meet, (and is never wise to be alone with a stranger or accept rides from them), it’s definitely a benefit if you can bond with a few people in your travels, and maybe even make a few friends along the way.
Travel can be frustrating and difficult, but it is almost always worth the crazy adventure. In fact, sometimes, the adventure is one of the best parts. Doing this alone can be intimidating, but so many people do it during their times abroad. It’s extremely important to be aware of your situations and surroundings, but if you plan ahead and prepare for your journey, you can spend more time enjoying yourself and less time stressing.