1. Walk EVERYWHERE
One of the most important things that I learnt when travelling alone, and travelling in general, is that the best way to discover things is to walk. And I mean walk everywhere – up to a point obviously: make sure that its safe, and that you will have time to walk to the places that you want to go etc. When you walk you see things that you never would have seen if you took a train or a tourist tour bus. Even something as trivial as a really interesting window display is a story to tell later. My favourite days while I was travelling are the ones when I chose to walk everywhere – if you look at the time I spent in Berlin, I never would have seen half of what I saw if I hadn’t been walking. To me it’s the little things like the street performers, the graffiti, the tiny park down a side street, the coffee shop you found by chance because it started raining – those are the things that you remember, if you walk.
2. Do Your Research (But Not Too Much)
This might be a personal thing, because I know that a lot of people like to have their trip planned down to the second, but I like to know as little as possible about a place before I visit it for the first time. Before I visit a place I usually just look up maybe 5 things that people recommend to do in the city and then I leave the rest to chance. I’ve discovered that while you’re in a new place you are constantly finding out about things to do, and if you’ve already planned out all of the things that you want to do then you leave feeling like you haven’t achieved anything. When I was in London I was just on the train and saw a poster for a Design Museum, which I ended up loving, and when I was in Berlin I was told that I had to go to the Siegessäule Monument, and even though I hadn’t planned to go it was one of the highlights of my trip. Most of the best experiences that you will have will happen by chance, so don’t plan ahead too much. I would recommend looking up the public transport, the average prices of restaurants (so you don’t end up somewhere way out of your price range by accident) and a few opinions on the best places to go (if you can get a local’s opinion that’s even better).
3. Say “Yes” To Everything (Okay, Maybe Not Everything)
Be a little bit more spontaneous. Maybe you’re travelling alone for a week, or a few weeks, months or years – but either way it’s about experiencing things that you couldn’t do back home. Try that coffee shop that isn’t Starbucks, eat where the locals eat, jump off that cliff (I mean bungee jumping or something!), trek through that jungle, turn left instead right, step off the tourist route, eat those deep-fried grasshoppers, make friends with the people next to you on the train, accept the lady at the hotel front desk’s recommendations and say YES. I do have to put out there that I’m not condoning stupid or reckless behaviour – know your limits and keep within your morals. Don’t do something stupid that might put your life at risk, and don’t do things just because ‘it’ll make a great story’. You don’t want to be trying to create one of those ‘hold my beer and watch this‘ moments and end up in hospital for the rest of your trip. So say YES in moderation, and enjoy every second.
4. Take Only Photographs
I’m not very good at this rule, and at the same time extremely good at this rule. I take a million and one photos of everything that I see, eat, drink and do – and this is in hyperdrive when I’m travelling. For some reason I become a machine who has to capture everything that I see in case I forget about it. In hindsight, I’m grateful because I love looking through all of the photos from my gap year and thinking “oh my goodness, I remember that Tesco’s sandwich, how bad was that!”. So my advice is take photos. Whether you take only a few, or whether you’re like me and take a photo with every breath that you take, you will look back at them one day and remember how you felt when you took that photo, and it will take you back to when you were travelling. Photographs, whether you’re in them or not, are an amazing way to capture the spirit of a place that you’ve visited and be able to revisit it every time that you look through those snaps.
5. Do What YOU Want To Do
This might seem like a no brainer, but I thought that I’d add it anyway. A lot of people are scared about travelling by themselves because it will be lonely and unsafe, and I’m not going to sugar coat it – it is lonely. A lot of the time you are completely by yourself, eating alone and seeing amazing things but having no one to share it with. As for being unsafe, it is only unsafe if you make it that way. Don’t walk around with your phone in your hand, know where the dodgy areas are and avoid them, and try not to walk around in the dark by yourself – you’re just asking for trouble. If you’re smart, you’ll be safe. As for being alone, my advice is to embrace it! Enjoy having the absolute luxury of doing exactly what you want all day, every day. If you want to sit your hotel for a day and watch TV and sleep, then you do that. If you want to shamelessly trawl museums, (cough, me, cough) then go ahead. If you want to take half an hour and take photos of trees just because they looked really stunning in the autumn leaves, then you can (also guilty of this). You can eat what you want, when you want to – and you know what, if that means eating Pret a Manger Falafel wraps every day for two weeks (speaking from experience, they are that good) then that’s your decision. There’s no pressure to do what other people want to do, there’s no one to rush you past a guy playing a guitar, harmonica and drums at the same time or to make you go to a boring exhibition that doesn’t interest you.
It’s all about you – not about the people that you want to tell the stories to later – and I encourage anyone travelling by themselves to embrace that, because it’s amazing. Learn to say “No I’m not waiting for anyone, table for ONE please”, and mean it. Here’s to the time of your life. Be selfish, you deserve it.