TRAVELING ALONE 101
Traveling solo is not a easy thing to do, especially if it's your first time traveling alone and naturally it can get pretty stressful. I've traveled solo a few times: while studying abroad, I took a solo weekend trip to Barcelona, I've been to NYC twice now and I also traveled all the way to Australia alone. Sometimes I had people I met up with and sometimes I didn't and spent a few days alone. When I say to my friends I'm going somewhere alone, I get a lot of "woah for real?.." and "why would you do that?". So let me demystify some things :)
Q: Why do I travel alone?
A: Most of the time because I can't find anyone to go with me, but also because I really do enjoy traveling alone and having the freedom of planning a trip exactly like I want it.
Q: What's most stressful about traveling alone?
A: Anytime you have to do something scary or stressful, you usually have someone (like a friend) next to you because it's comforting to "not be in it alone". But when traveling solo, you don't have anyone else. You're left with your thoughts and insecurities: "Am I gonna make it on time for my flight/bus?" "My phone died, I am gonna have to ask a stranger for directions" "How do I find a normal stranger and not a creep?" or even "I need to pee, who's gonna watch my luggage?"
The best remedy to this is to plan ahead (I'll go over this later), to remind yourself that it's gonna be okay and to have faith in the kindness of strangers.
Q: Is it safe to travel alone as a girl?
A: Depending on location, I would argue most of the time* it is 100% safe to travel alone, but you have to BE safe. It's just like driving: you gotta be careful on the road, but you also gotta be careful of the other drivers on the road. For instance, I try not to walk around alone after nightfall. If you are in Times Square, you're fine, all the lights make it practically day time, there's a bunch of people around and there was cops at every corner. However, if you're staying at a hostel/hotel that is in a remote area, be careful when going back if its dark out (tourists are "easy" targets because we are already nervous and are usually carrying a camera and cash). * They are obviously places where it is not recommended to travel alone, you should carefully consider a country/location before booking.
This last trip I made to NYC I was staying at a hostel in Williamsburg and I'll be 100% honest, I did NOT feel comfortable in that area even in daylight. So I tried my best to get back before it was too dark, knowing I would be walking back alone.
Q: Where should I stay when traveling alone? Hostel vs Hotel.
A: I always stay in hostels when travelling alone. It is a great way to meet other young adults and you'll even find that you are not the only person traveling alone. Girls, you can choose if you want a mixed room or a female only room to suit your comfort zone. Same for boys and male rooms. If you can afford a hotel, it is a great option (obviously) because you don't need to lock up your stuff, worry about weird roommates and it is way comfier, but you won't meet many people staying in a hotel.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Tip #1: Download the city map on your Google Maps app beforehand. Honestly, ALL travellers, solo or not, should be doing this. You can download the area that you want (i.e. NYC) and you can now use the map without internet access. It will even show you where you are on the map and track your movements. The only thing it won't do without internet is give you the actual directions, but you can easily prepare those in advance before leaving your hostel/hotel and take screenshots. Having the app will help you track if you are going the right way and avoid having to carry a map around.
Tip #2: Always pack an external charger for your phone. Since you are alone, you can't count on your friend's phone as a backup for directions. You never know when you'll find an outlet to charge your phone so better be prepared: bring an external charger.
Tip #3: Safety over stingy. Don't be afraid to pay a little extra to feel safe. It's the little things that you think "nah I don't need that", but would probably make you feel a lot safer and overall more comfortable during your trip. For instance, for my latest trip to NYC, I stayed in the cheapest hostel I could find : USD$45 a night (NYC is really expensive). There was another hostel I had previously stayed in that I liked, but it was around USD$60 a night. I saved USD$15 a night, BUT: you couldn't lock most of the showers, there were no hooks or shelves in the shower space to put your clothes/towel, if you washed your hands there was nothing to dry your hands, practically no space for luggage in the room, no place to lock up your luggage in the room either AND I ended up in a weird, not well lit part of town. It was NOT worth it.
Tip #4: Have faith in the kindness of strangers. If you need help with directions or need to ask for help, don't be afraid to ask a stranger. If you feel uncomfortable stopping someone on the streets, go to the nearest café or shop and ask an employee for help. More likely than not, they will help you even if you are not a paying customer :) I have a friend who even goes into cafés to ask them to fill her water bottle and they always do. Most of the time, people love tourists and are really helpful. If you do stop someone on the street, trust your gut. Look around and try and find someone you feel more comfortable talking to. Sometimes talking to someone of same gender and age can be easier.
If you would like a stranger to take your picture, don't be afraid to ask. I always ask strangers to take my picture when travelling. Look for a couple and offer to take their photo and then in return they might help you out as well. You can also, if you are a girl travelling alone, ask a girl that is alone. So many times I've asked a girl to take my picture and it turned out they were travelling alone as well. In fact, all three pictures in this article were taken by strangers! And for those who feel awkward about asking someone: it's only awkward if you make it awkward. I'm sure someone has asked you to take their picture at some point and you probably we're happy to do so. And EVEN IF they are rude and say no, you will never see them again so... who cares! :)
Tip #5: Try to travel light.
Travel light and you will have less to worry about and less bags to be concerned about. You can most likely fit a carry on in the bathroom stall with you, but if you have a few bigger items, you may have to ask someone to watch them, which can be tricky. IF you must leave your bags with a stranger for a bit, make sure you at least bring your passport and wallet with you!
Tip #6: Be confident.
Your body language says a lot about you and, likewise, your mindset can affect your whole trip. If you use strong, confident body language, you'll less likely be a target as a tourist. And while being cautious is great, being worried can lead you to have a bad experience traveling alone. Negative vibes bring negative experiences. So just remember, YOU GOT THIS!