By Harry Marks, Travel Specialist
How To Travel Alone
When it comes to traveling, sometimes taking a journey alone can be great. Traveling solo allows for a time of introspection, relaxation and self-discovery, where you can take the time to absorb the finer things the world has to offer. The independence gained by vacationing alone allows for the opportunity to experience your choice destination exactly the way you want.
Of course, there are some potential troubles you could encounter if you are not cautious. So, in order to make your solo trip one to remember, here’s how you can properly prepare for it and take off with confidence.
planning your trip
Where to stay
So you’ve finally decided to take advantage of some well-earned vacation time and visit Prague, the city of your dreams. Because you’ll be all by your lonesome, the planning of your trip will automatically be different. One of the first questions worth addressing is how you’re going to spend your time in the beautiful Czech Republic capital. Are you intending to do some cheap travel or would you rather go all-out and book a room in a fancy hotel?
Plan of action
Along with securing your accommodations, prepare an itinerary for each day before you leave. This plan should include everything from visiting all the famous landmarks to some relaxation time, which is essential since you’ll likely be walking for miles in your comfortable shoes (invest in a good pair, it will pay off).
As great as organization is, however, you may, at times, deviate from your plan so leave room for some spontaneity on your trip. Herein lies the beauty of traveling alone: You are your own master, and while preparation is key, there is always room to go nuts.
important info prior to takeoff
One of the hardest parts of traveling in general is coming up with a list of what you’ll need to bring with you (or leave behind). Thinking of these all-important items you should pack becomes all the more difficult (and necessary) when you have no one else to rely on.
Carry a dictionary
If you’re heading to a foreign country, don’t leave home without a bilingual dictionary. Although a strong grasp of Czech will prove quite difficult, it is still important to learn phrases like “thank you,” “hello,” “please,” and “goodbye,” in case you’re in a bind.
Make copies of documents
Make a copy of all essential travel documents such as your passport and health insurance to leave behind with someone you trust, in the event of an emergency.
Bring a credit card
Along with cash, bring a credit card as an emergency method of payment and make sure to take note of your credit card company’s customer service line in case of loss or theft. That way, you can cancel your card immediately and have a new one delivered to you while you are still on your trip (if possible).
Pack pleasure items
A book to enjoy on a train ride or on the beach, a journal to record your experiences and maps to educate yourself on the layout of the area (you can get these from a tourism bureau) can make a world of a difference.
With these things in mind and a positive mindset, you are now officially ready to jet set on your own.
You’ve taken the big step, said goodbye to family and friends, endured a long plane ride, and are finally in the place you dreamed of visiting… until now. You might be quite overwhelmed by your new surroundings, but there are ways to control these feelings of overstimulation.
Big sights first
One way is to get the big sights out of the way. In this case, and assuming you’re still in the Czech Republic, you can visit the Prague Castle and Hradcany area during the initial days of your trip to ensure that there will be room to explore lesser-known gems in the remaining days or weeks of your stay.
Having educated yourself before leaving (right?) and walking with a confident stride will help you blend in with the locals, furthering your appreciation of the trip. Instead of being an outsider looking in, try to transform yourself into a relaxed traveler who is not deterred by minor setbacks, such as long lines at the train station or delays in visiting hours of certain landmarks. If you planned accordingly, then you can afford to “waste” time at the busy tourist hot-spots. Besides, you’re on vacation, and you have nowhere to be.
Take your time
Another benefit of traveling alone is the ability to explore museums and engage in other time-consuming activities at your own leisure. There is no pressure to rush through exhibits or cut the visit short; pace yourself and take in the masterpieces, whether you’re an art lover or novice admirer.
Make an effort to walk everywhere — within reason, of course. This will help you get in touch with the area (so to speak) and observe the locals in their element. Using your legs also allows you to find quaint shops and cafes more easily than if you were on some cheesy tour bus. Your goal should be to blend in, something a contrived (and perhaps overpriced) tour won’t likely offer. Wear loose, lightweight clothing — layering is important — because the more comfortable you feel, the more willing you will be to stay out an extra hour to explore a section you might have overlooked.
Important: While it is recommended to “do your own thing,” that does not mean you have to search aggressively for unknown corners of the city in order to “discover” a certain area. Being among large crowds during festivals can assure security (but watch out for pickpockets), and straying from a marked path or your group while on an organized hike is not a good idea. Strike a balance between solitude and social situations to make the most of your trip and ensure your safety.
After the jump we have a few final tips for the solo traveler…
shades of culture
The impact of an entirely new culture will be underscored while you are on your own. It is strongly encouraged that you connect with this culture and the people who promote it. Be talkative or, if language remains a barrier, at least animated and sociable with locals.
Often, these social aspects of your trip can prove to be the biggest and most pleasant shock to your system as you are independent, yet comforted by the hospitality of others. Remember, however, that there are people at home thinking of you and how you are doing in a whole new city. Send them an e-mail every once in a while from an internet cafe or your hotel, assuring them that you are having the time of your life.
do your own thing
There are no “right” situations in which to go against the grain, nor are they set in stone. Instead of finding a sit-down restaurant to eat at, pick up fresh produce from a market and relax in a park. Traveling alone is all about following your instincts, and you will see that new aspects of life will suddenly become evident — you will surely go back home with a refreshed outlook on your existence. If you are not proactive, however, this may not hold true. There is no one to push you to visit that one last attraction, thus, you must motivate yourself.
The best advice you can take with you has more to do with you than what to bring or where to stay. If you land with negative thoughts about how your stay will turn out, chances are you will not have a good time. The only way to optimize your enjoyment is by living in the moment and making the most of everything — corny but true. Leaving all of your stress at home is important in order to truly appreciate the things you will be seeing. This, along with a carefree yet aggressive attitude, will make for one of the most memorable times of your life.
Remain gung ho, relaxed and prepared, and the stories you will have to share upon your return will be priceless.
Bring along a camera with a high-capacity memory card.
Leave your itinerary with someone at home, along with the numbers of each place you’re staying at. It’s OK if your plans are sketchy, but if there is a big change in your plans, you might want to e-mail the new information to your “in case of emergency” person back home.
Keep an eye out when it comes to money or your belongings; you don’t have a companion to catch the pickpocket creeping up from behind.
While “carpe diem” is important, so is safety. Be carefree, but don’t throw caution to the wind.
You will probably find that traveling alone is more fun — and less annoying — than traveling with a buddy. Just think about it: You can do whatever you want, go anywhere at any time… and you don’t have to answer to anybody. Now that’s our idea of a vacation.