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A Guide to Overcoming the Fear of Traveling Alone

Traveling alone is a transformative and freeing experience. But while many like to romanticize the idea, they often choke up when it comes time to actually booking the plane ticket. Which is understandable -solo travel can be a huge, scary, thing. But if you're here, I'm assuming you want that little push to make that dream a reality.

I'm here to tell you that you can do it, and it'll seem a lot less intimidating after applying these following steps.

a woman looks out into the blue ocean while traveling alone

1. Start With Small, Bite Sized Steps

an illustration of a pengiun

The thought of booking a plane ticket alone to a foreign country can seem terrifying to first timers, but when you break it down to smaller levels, it's not as bad. I never would had the nerve to travel alone to most of the countries I've been to, if I hadn't embarked upon my solo journey across the U.S.A (my home country) first.

When I turned eighteen, I decided that I wanted to travel and I did not want to wait for others. So I started traveling to other states alone. It started with visiting family who lived far away, which taught me how to navigate airports and still have a local support system in case I needed help. Then I began booking Airbnbs in new states, which taught me a lot about researching about an unknown area.

It wasn't until three years of building up confidence, when I turned twenty-one, to book my first trip abroad. I decided to explore Dubai first because I knew that it was an English speaking country and incredibly safe.

After that, I finally felt ready to go to more "off the path" countries, like Kyrgyzstan. Looking back, I was still severly underprepared for Kyrgyzstan, but the point is I never would have been able to do it without taking those baby steps along the way.

It seems exciting to hop on a plane to a new country right away, but it really helps to make your way slowly up the staircase.

a black cat

There are many factors that this "baby-step" approach applies to, not just booking flights. If you've never navigated a train station by yourself before, that's something you should definintely learn how to do in your home country first. As childish as it sounds, I would have never been able to navigate the trains of Taiwan by myself if I didn't have my friend from New York City show me how city train systems worked before hand.

So take your time. If you want to take off and explore the world alone one day, start by taking a day trip out of your home town. See how you react to new environments.

2. Learn How to Be Alone

an illustration of a whale

This one might come off as a no-brainer, but it's actually pretty difficult for many people. The truth is, if you're not atuned to yourself, your solo-trip might turn into a "I'm so lonely, bored, and don't know what to do" trip.

If you're reading this post, I'm assuming you're the kind of person who wants to solo travel, but are you the kind of person who can sit in a restaurant by themself? Are you the kind of person who, when met with an obstacle, is able to overcome it completely alone? Are you the kind of person that can look at a beautiful, natural wonder before you, and be satisfied knowing that you and only you are there to enjoy this experience?

Those are the kind of things you should know about yourself beforehand. Because as freeing and great as it sounds, these questions truly tell you if you actually want to solo travel.

"I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude" -Henry David Thoreau

Knowing the answers to these questions also helps determine what kind of traveler you are. There have been many times where I've been traveling alone, embarking on a one of a kind experience, and desperately just wanted someone to share the feeling with me. It doesn't happen very often, but the feeling tells me that I'm not the kind of person that would want to stay in a different place alone for over a month.

As much as I crave to have a life that looks like the fulltime Instagram travel gurus, I know that I could never be that kind of traveler that sells their house to do a 6-month backpacking journey through the Balkans.

And that's okay. Traveling should be about learning about yourself and staying true to who you are -not forcing yourself to be someone you're not. So before embarking on your solo travel journey, I encourage you to spend quite some time reflecting alone. Go out to restaurants by yourself. Journal down how it makes you feel.

a paper boat

3. Be Prepared

This tip is essential for any trip, especially when traveling alone. As a solo traveler (especially a female one) you must be extra cautious about your environment and extra prepared. There are so many things you should research before going on a trip, which include but are not limited to:

  • Are there any dangerous areas I should avoid? If so, where are they?

    • I've literally printed out a Google Maps screenshot of cities and crossed out in red pen the streets to avoid. I keep this small map in my travel journal, which I pretty much carry with me everywhere.

  • What should I download on my phone before heading to my destination?

    • This includes local transit apps (do they use Uber v. Grab v. Yandex, etc...), downloading the local language on Google Translate, downloading your area on Google Maps, downloading communication apps (WhatsApp v. Line v. Signal, etc...)

    • What kind of songs/ podcasts must you download before your flight?

  • How much money is appropriate to spend on food and transportation?

    • This one is actually very important to learn so you can protect yourself from getting ripped off and overpaying at markets, restaurants, and in taxis.

  • What is the best way to get around throughout the city?

    • Trains, scooters, taxis, buses, etc...

  • What are the local customs I should learn before going?

    • For example, pointing at someone with your index finger or foot in Thailand is considered a sign of disrespect.

  • What kind of area is my hotel in? What are the nearest activities, restaurants, and train stations near my hotel?

This is just a small sample of the kind of research you should be doing before your solo trip. Along with these questions, there is also a general list of precautions you should take. This includes:

  • Don't walk around dark areas at night.

  • Don't tell strange people that you are alone.

  • Don't wear flashy jewelry or put expensive gear out in the open.

  • Especially for countries with high pickpocket rates, keep your bag zipped and close to you. I like to keep a zippered crossbody, so it's always on me and in sight.

  • Don't be too polite. Be nice, but learn when to put your foot down.

4. Get used to short term, awkward interactions.

The truth is, you will be forced to talk to strangers while solo traveling. Whether it's ordering food or asking for directions, there are so many situations where you will have to put yourself out there and be comfortable with people you've never met and people you might even face a language barrier with.

a blue, standing globe

And if you're the kind of person that's afraid to ask for more ketchup at McDonalds, then this is a very crucial step that you have to work on. The best way to start getting used to it is to do it in your hometown first. Talk to and ask questions to people in the street -talk to waiters, cashiers, etc... After forcing yourself to do this, it will get easier and easier overtime and it will give you more confidence in the long run.

This leads me to my next and favorite point:

5. Be Comfortable With Being Misunderstood

The first time I ever internationally solo traveled to a country where I did not speak the language, I had a very hard time adjusting to the barrier. The first cafe I went to, I used my very limited language skills to ask for a coffee and a pastry, and I got it! But after I paid for my food, the cashier said something to me that I could not understand.

That's when my brain broke.

I just kind of looked at her and blinked as she repeated herself. She repeated herself one last time before pulling out her phone and using Google Translate. It turns out, the whole time she was just telling me to sit down. I had already paid and now was holding up the line by standing at the counter.

It was the feeling of being caught like a deer in headlights that kind of drove me to my own defeat after that incident. I had repeated the words in their language "I would like a coffee please" and "how much does that cost?" over and over and over until they were imbedded in my memory. I came into that cafe feeling completely prepared, but I didn't leave room for the fact that misunderstandings happen quite often.

black birds flying

After that embarrassing incident, I barely left my room for two days. It was such a tiny little misunderstanding, one that really has no significance whatsoever in the grand scheme of things, but it was completely pivotal for me. I would literally skip meals, just because I was terrified of having to face someone at a restaurant that couldn't understand me. I had this deep seeded fear of being misunderstood, which stood in the way of my progress.

Now I look back at that story and laugh. After mustering up the courage to go back outside, I started to get used to knowing that I would have a hard time with communication. Now, as someone who has solo traveled across many countries since then, I have fully learned to embrace the clueless traveler characterization. There was even one time were I tried speaking to a woman and she berated me, telling me that I should learn her language.

My point is, really no matter how hard you try to think and act locally, most likely you will still always be seen as that clueless traveler. Therefore, it's something you must learn to embrace than to reject. There will 100% be moments of minsunderstanding, of frustration, of loneliness. But it's not embarrassing unless you make it. It's bravery -to put yourself out there in a land that you have never been and communicate with people with a different toungue.

6. Challenge Your Limiting Beliefs About Traveling Alone

two white stars doodled in a black outline

One of the most important things you must do before traveling alone happens inside of your own brain. There are so many things, in general, that we could accomplish once we shift our mindsets.

When people see other people traveling, it's often accompanied by thoughts like "I could never solo travel because it's not safe" or  "I could never do that because I'm not rich enough," or "solo travel would be a disaster for me, I would make all the wrong mistakes," etc...

It's your brain trying to come up with different ways to keep you inside of your comfort zone.

While these are valid points to consider when making your travel plans, they should not hold you back. I've had every single one of those beliefs at one point, but I used them to be a more effective traveler and a stronger person in general.

I had to think to rationally think "what makes solo travel unsafe?" and find ways to combat that by taking extra precautions, doing research, and just having common sense. Still, I find that I've felt ten times safer walking through most of the foreign places I've traveled than in my own city.

Probably the most common comment I'll see on Instagram when it comes to travel accounts is something like "must be nice to have money" or "she must have rich parents."And while being rich obviously gives you a massive leg up in the travel world, it doesn't mean it's impossible to travel if you're not. You can travel the world if you prioritize it.

The timeline will be different for everyone. A single mother working two jobs is going to have to work for it longer than someone born into money, she will have to sacrifice more to reach that goal. But the truth is, everyone can sacrifice at least a tiny bit towards their dreams a bit more.

Even just sacrificing your once-weekly Starbucks run can save you the amount of money that would buy a plane ticket a year from now. In fact, according to Zippia, the average American woman spends $2,327 on coffee a year!! That's a roundtrip ticket to a tropical paradise right there!

white stars doodled in a black outline

And I'm not telling you to give up coffee. But what I am saying is that you have the power. You have the capability to change your life, even if it has to be in tiny, incremental steps and you have to wait years for it. But if you think it's a far off dream, only reserved for people with massive wealth, then that's all it will be. If you look at someone traveling and think "that's gonna be me one day," then it will be.


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