10 Tips for Success When Traveling Alone
It can be very disconcerting to be traveling alone. Take it from me, I participated in a foreign exchange when I was sixteen. My hope was to travel to a Spanish speaking country, since I was enrolled in Spanish at school. We were only able to submit our top three choices, and the Rotary club who sponsored me ultimately chose where we went. I chose all Spanish speaking countries, in the hopes that they would send me somewhere I could immerse myself in the language. To my surprise, they picked Germany.
My heart sank, and I started to panic. I started to worry about navigating a foreign city, and living with a strange family. I didn’t even know how to say hello or goodbye in German. I questioned whether or not I still wanted to do the exchange, but before I knew it, I was on a plane to Frankfurt, and then, Munich. It was my first trip outside the USA.
Me in Salzburg, Austria – Summer, 2009
When I finally disembarked in Munich, I was greeted at the airport by a man and his son. I had only seen pictures of the family up to that point, and had absolutely no idea what they were like in real life. We still had a two hour car ride to get to Passau, and I was really anxious about how our first interaction would be. I greeted them in German, and I was relieved to hear them reply back in English. During the car ride, I learned that the father was originally from Bolivia, and the family spoke German and Spanish fluently. It made me feel more at ease knowing there was less of a language barrier between us.
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Once I got acquainted with my host family, my anxiety gradually lifted, and I found my wanderlust spirit. The first time I went out on my own, it was very nerve-wracking. My host parents pointed to a bus stop and said “This is the bus that goes downtown.” From there, I was on my own. I could’ve easily folded under the pressure, but I made sure that I planned my route before I left the house. I had a flip phone with my host family’s contact information, so I knew the number to call if I got into trouble. I had done my research about the points of interest I wanted to visit, so I got on the bus and didn’t look back. I stumbled upon my first castle, bought my first legal beer, and played pick up soccer games with German kids who were way better than I was. After that first time, I became much more confident in traveling alone, and the rest as they say is history.
Passau, Germany – Summer, 2009
When you go solo, you’re in complete control of your itinerary. There’s no need to meet anyone else’s expectations, and you can go/do whatever you want. Everyone is afraid of the unknown, but when you find the courage to take that leap of faith, you can discover things about yourself that you never knew before. Working as a travel nurse usually means starting over every few months in a new city, but with a little preparation and planning, doing it alone doesn’t have to be scary or depressing. Below, we’ve shared our top 10 tips for becoming a professional solo traveler.
1. Do your research.
The best way to feel at home in your new city is to arm yourself with information. With the internet, you can literally scout out entire cities before you go. Maps are a great way to orient yourself. You can download Google Maps of various locations to your phone, and access the maps when you’re offline. You can also save favorite locations and places of interests in Google, so that you can easily access them later. Yelp is another great resource. With Yelp, you can search for anything from restaurants, grocery stores, even doggy day care. Knowing the lay of the land, and researching the different neighborhoods and boroughs, will help you choose accommodations, avoid undesirable areas, and protect against common cons. For example, you may learn that certain neighborhoods are well-known for arts and entertainment, or nightlife.
2. Establish a support network.
Whether it’s a roommate, a neighbor, or a coworker, having someone that can get you out of a pinch can be life-saving, even if it’s something minor like jumping a dead battery. Establishing a group of contacts can help you feel more settled in the community, and less homesick. Try participating in group activities to meet people with like minded interests. If you have relatives near your travel area, let them know you’re going to be in town for awhile, in case you need something you don’t feel confident asking from strangers. Bonus points if you can memorize phone numbers—you never know when your cellphone battery might run out of juice.
You may also like: Check out our previous Travel Nurse of the Month winners!
3. Prepare for the climate.
Before you leave, do some research about what the climate is like where you’re going. Does the region you’re traveling to get snowfall in the winter? Is your destination known for extreme weather such as tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires? Doing some background research on the local climate will help you determine whether you should pack snow boots or Birkenstocks. Travel nurses often drive to their assignment location, so it’s crucial that your vehicle is also prepared. If you’re going through the mountains, make sure your car is equipped with all season tires and chains. If you’re going to a wet climate like Seattle, it’s a good idea to make sure your windshield wipers are up to snuff. Little things like having a roadside emergency kit in your car, will give you piece of mind as you start your journey.
4. Keep personal details private.
This seems obvious, but it can be easy to let your hotel name or other identifying information slip in casual conversation. Keep keys and security codes out of public view, and don’t leave items like your wallet and cellphone out in the open. If you’re accessing social media accounts on a public network, remember to log out when you’re finished. Be careful about who you divulge your personal information to, but don’t get too paranoid. You can usually tell a lot about a person’s intentions simply by being cognizant of what they say and do around you.
5. Trust Your Gut.
Your gut never lies (well except maybe that one time in Vegas), but generally, you should trust your instincts. Be on the lookout for anything suspicious, and don’t hesitate to remove yourself if a situation feels wrong. Use your intuition to mitigate potential dangers, but don’t let paranoia deter you from enjoying your favorite activities.
6. Act Like You Belong
This is key to traveling alone, or even just being out on the town by yourself. Act like you know what you’re doing, and most of the time, people won’t bother you. Even if you’re lost or feeling anxious, showing confidence when you’re walking down the street lets others know you’re not an easy target. If someone threatens you, or starts following you, seek refuge in a crowded public area. Or, try sneaking into a restaurant or store to throw them off your trail. If you’re going to an area you know is kind of sketchy, consider investing in a can of pepper spray. It’s disorienting, non-lethal, and easily concealable in a purse or backpack. As a last resort, contact the police if you feel in danger.
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7. Carry the proper gear.
In today’s digital culture, your phone can be your map, compass, and transit guide, all in one. Pack a charger if you plan to be out all day. If you’re in town, it’s easy to step into a cafe for a cup of joe and a quick recharge. However, you won’t be able to rely on technology all the time. It would be wise to keep paper copies of things like transit schedules, and maps in case you need to access information without cell service. When planning an excursion, familiarize yourself with the area as much as possible and plan your route accordingly. Whether you’re going swimming, skiing, or shopping, it’s important to think about the essentials you would need for the activity.
8. Share Your Plans with Loved Ones.
Traveling solo can be freeing, but remember, you have people in your life who are worried about your safety and well-being. If you’re planning a solo trip or a long outing, tell somebody about your plans. Worst case scenario, they can come looking for you if you go missing. If you get trapped in the wilderness, sharing your plans beforehand can be the difference between help coming in a few hours, or a few days. If you have service, location-sharing apps like Find My Friends (iPhone) or Trusted Contacts (Google), can alert people to your location, or help you find a lost phone.
9. Avoid Pickpocket Pitfalls
Whether you’re wealthy or not, a good way to get mugged is by advertising how much money you have with you. When you’re headed out for a night out on the town, keep credit cards and large bills in a secure location on your person. Pro tip: if you’re in an area known for pickpockets, carry your wallet in your front pants pocket rather than your back pocket. It’s more noticeable if someone tries to reach into your front pocket, and more awkward for the would-be-thief.
10. Blend in with the Locals.
Remember that wherever you’re going, there are countless people living their daily lives without worry. Take the time to research the cultural norms of your area, and you won’t stand out so much as tourist. Once you start to feel more settled in your new home you can start to let your card down a bit and mingle with the locals.
With these tips, you can rest easy knowing you’re more prepared for solo travel! Traveling alone certainly has it’s perks, although, being able to share your experience with other people is a nice change of pace. When you start to feel comfortable, reach out to people and try to establish some common interests. Not only will this help you blend in, but you’ll start to feel more secure in your new community. Many nurses who worked for Axis have said that some of their closest friends are people they met while traveling on assignment, and there may be other travel nurses in your unit looking for a friend as well.
So what’s stopping you? Start making once-in-a-lifetime memories today!