Ladies: don’t be afraid to leave your friends behind and travel alone. There are so many people wanting to help us, waiting to be our personal tour guide (read: hot, foreign men waiting to be our next fling).
Here are ten tips I’ve learned after years of solo travel.
1. Leave your beauty tools at home (most of them, anyway)
The water quality on the road, plus your cheap little bottles of shampoo, will have your hair in a state that no dryer or straightener will help; put it into a ponytail and forget about it. You’ll occasionally meet someone who has that stuff for you to borrow, or just go nuts in department stores where you can sample everything for free. But there is one item that you don’t want to forget: a foot file. Your feet get into a real mess when you spend all day walking, especially in sandals, and cracked feet are not only unsightly, they can get really painful. Your heels are not meant to have black crevices in them, so take a few minutes in the shower every day to sort them out.
2. Leave the games at home too
Playing hard to get, not sleeping with someone on the first date, waiting three days to call… all of that crap is irrelevant on the road. You’ve got a short time to get to know someone so show them who you are right away. And if they don’t like it, guess what? By the time you get to the next city, you’re already over them and on to the next Aussie backpacker you meet. Because getting hung up on one person while travelling is not only silly, it’s near-impossible because there are just so many other exciting people kicking around.
3. Tampons are a privilege, not a right
Imagine yourself squatting over a hole in the ground in the middle of a Moroccan medina (because toilet seats, for that matter, are also a privilege), with the dreadful realization that you’ve started your period and there’s not even toilet paper to help you out. You then have to use hand gestures to describe to the shop owner what you need because you don’t know the Arabic or French words for tampon. And then, if you actually find somewhere that sells them, you’ll pay more than you ever wanted to spend on Tampax because they’re imported. Bring a supply from home and save yourself the trouble.
4. Friendliness can be misconstrued
You’re travelling, you’re in a great mood, you want to meet as many people as you can, especially locals. So when a local chef invites you back to his house for a home-cooked meal, you are psyched about the great story this unique experience will make. But the local chef bringing a naive tourist home isn’t thinking about it in the same way. Most times, you can make friends with local guys without any problems. Just don’t get complacent with your safety. It’s a sad but true fact that men in other countries might not have the same respect for a foreigner that they do for one of their own.
5. Don’t go to Lithuania
Just don’t go, it’s awful. That goes for male travellers too.
6. Don’t travel with a boyfriend
I’m sure if you have a great relationship, travelling together could be a significant experience that both of you will cherish forever, etc. Personally, I cherish picking up strangers in different cities, switching travel companions whenever I want, and not having to sleep next to a snoring drunk guy every night. I once travelled with a boyfriend for three months. All the bickering, the jealousy, the morning sex when I wasn’t in the mood, plus it’s difficult to make new friends because no one wants to hang out with a couple … if you like doing it, more power to you. I’ll pass.
7. Travel with a Boy Friend
When you’re not dating them, guys are great to travel with. They don’t take long to get ready in the morning, they’re happy to sit and drink beer all afternoon if you’re in the mood, plus they usually offer to carry your heavy bags up the stairs.
8. Indulge yourself occasionally
Part of what’s great about independent travel is roughing it, letting yourself be feral, not adhering to the regular expectations of femininty. I get it. But spending the night in a hotel room watching tv and using the little soaps, or going to a spa for a facial, or even just taking yourself out for a nice meal rather than a kebab on the street is nice once in a while and you’ll feel re-charged. And don’t worry too much about money. You’re not going to remember the cost of the sauna you visited in Estonia; you will remember how good it felt to beat yourself silly with a birch stick while you were there.
9. Bring a journal
Your journal makes a great companion when you’re travelling alone. It goes to dinner with you, sits on the beach with you, and entertains you with exciting memories on long journeys. And it really gives a shit about the little details of your day, unlike your friends back home. So tell your journal all about the delicious club sandwich you had for lunch and spare your friends the boring stories.
10. Being alone is a choice
Having lunch alone recently in Copenhagen, three older English women kept smiling sadly at me.
‘That poor girl is all by herself,’ one of them said, apparently forgetting that alone doesn’t mean deaf.
‘Oh, I’m sure the rest of her party is back at the hotel. She’s probably meeting up with them later,’ her friend said, and they all seemed reassured.
As I finished my hamburger and drank my beer, I realized that a lot of people still find it amazing that anyone, especially young women, travel alone. They are the people who have never experienced the complete immunity from inane conversation, or the daydreams that accompany long walks, or the freedom to do whatever you want and be whomever you like. They don’t realize that a woman eating lunch alone is not someone to feel sorry for; she’s someone who, if she gets lonely, can find a companion in two minutes back at the hostel, but would much rather spend two hours enjoying lunch without worrying about anyone else’s itinerary.