Let’s get street smart.

The first time that I traveled solo, I was a fresh-faced twenty-year old who couldn’t wait to hop on trains, scrounge about in hostels, meet new people and see the world (or Eastern and Western Europe, at least). As I began to tell people about my upcoming plan to wind my way through the continent, I encountered two distinct reactions: while my fellow twentysomethings had nothing but well-wishes and high hopes for my journey, the adults that I told were nothing short of aghast at the idea of a five-foot-nothing young woman traveling around ~alone~ in the big, bad world.

Four weeks and countless joyous mistakes later, I settled in between the two camps. What I discovered over the course of my travels really came down to this: all I could do to minimize risk was to be smart.

Ugh.

We’ve all heard that tired phrase before – but what does it even mean to be smart?

Glad you asked:

Do Your Research

nenetus / Shutterstock

nenetus / Shutterstock

By doing my research, I feel that I accomplish a few things:

  • I have a vague idea of my surroundings so I can refer to nearby landmarks or neighborhood names if I ever need to ask a local how to get back to my hostel.
  • I get a feel for the city’s culture and typical practices, which helps me plan out what I want to wear, how I am expected to act and other good-to-know cultural norms.
  • I can start to form a casual itinerary of places that I do (and don’t!) want to visit as well as noting places to avoid.
  • Researching gets me excited about where I’m going and informs my first impressions of a city – giving it context and thus a deeper understanding of where I am.

When I’m a solo traveler, feeling like I sort of know what I’m getting myself into helps a lot with mindset and some of the psychological stumbling blocks that I have encountered when I’m alone in a new place for the first time.

Commit a Couple of Important Phrases to Memory

eldar nurkovic / Shutterstock

eldar nurkovic / Shutterstock

When I go to a new place, I try to memorize phrases that, if I ever get into a sticky situation, could come in handy. It might seem crass, but learning how to say slangy expletives in Romanian helped me fend off a couple of unwanted suitors during my time there. Not only is it brash and no-nonsense, but it also asserts that you aren’t just a clueless tourist aimlessly wandering about. In addition to practical directional phrases, I always try to master some of this crass street talk to seem like someone that others won’t want to mess with.

Find A Temporary Squad

Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

And inevitably take lots of selfies.

When I went to Barcelona solo, I knew that I wouldn’t get the full experience without hitting up the beach and the up-all-night parties. And while I normally have nothing against tanning all day and dancing alone, I knew that I needed to find a squad to tag along with so that I could fully enjoy the entirety of what Barcelona had to offer me – as safely as I could.

For me, this meant chatting up my hostelmates at breakfast and finding a couple of other solo travelers that had the same vague itinerary in mind as I did. Together, we went to the beach and set up a nice rotation that had some of us in the water while the others were watching our stuff on land. At the end of our sunny day, we wandered together to the clubs that our hostel receptionist recommended and partied together ‘till the cows came home.

Being in a group of young people who shared my language and itinerary did make me feel more comfortable, but I will also note that when I travel alone I always try to exercise responsible drinking practices. Remember that these new friends aren’t longtime high school friends, they’re virtual strangers – a smart solo traveler keeps this in the back of their mind.

Follow Your Gut

Billion Photos / Shutterstock

Billion Photos / Shutterstock

Even though this one is so simple, it can be the hardest one to follow – after all, following your gut often means bowing out of a potentially exciting adventure or situation because you feel unsure about the outcome. It also means admitting that you made an error in judgment. I don’t know about you all, but I hate admitting when I’m wrong!

When I did Workaway – a site that facilitates the exchange of work for room and board – near Berlin recently, I knew right when I rolled up to the “house” (an abandoned train station!) that it was not what I signed up for. My gut told me to turn around, spend some extra money and find a last minute hostel in Berlin. My stubbornness told me to follow through with the plan and save the money that I had carefully saved and budgeted.

Guess which one I went with?

Over the course of the next five days, I was denied the food and free time that I was promised until I finally admitted that I was wrong and shelled out the extra Euros to get the hell out of dodge! Trust me, the extra money was worth actually enjoying the trip that I had been planning for so long.

Don’t Psych Yourself Out

EpicStockMedia / Shutterstock

EpicStockMedia / Shutterstock

When you travel abroad – especially outside of the Western world – it can be easy to let the negative things that you hear about the city influence how you spend your time there. I went to Israel last summer and, while most people were excited and interested, some inevitably asked why I would want to go to such a dangerous place.

A smart solo traveler knows what to take seriously and what to put into perspective.

There are threats of violence and unrest in most large cities and the only thing that you can control is how you handle yourself. My biggest piece of advice here is to be mindful of any widespread cultural dos and don’ts as you go about your trip.

But honestly, you’re traveling, you’re seeing, you’re exploring, you’re doing  – if you ever find yourself getting psyched out, remember that the benefits of travel far outweigh the risks!

In the end, travel is about making mistakes, getting lost and eventually finding your way – even smart solo travelers are bound to go off course a couple of times.

Have you traveled alone before? What advice do you give to friends who are thinking about solo travel?

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About The Author

Mary Zakheim
Content Writer

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch. Mary is a content writer at Fareportal and likes annoying her coworkers with weird GIFs throughout the day.