While studying abroad you will have many opportunities to travel to other cities and countries, whether with a group or by yourself. If you are at all like me, you can be perfectly happy traveling alone.
Over Spring break, I traveled to the United Kingdom. I started in Liverpool where I visited a friend, going on several day trips with her. From there I traveled on alone, exploring London for several days and then spending a day in Paris before heading back to Berlin where I am studying.
I’m not going to lie and say I was never lonely, but for the most part I loved having the ability to go where I wanted when I wanted. Sometimes I would go a whole day without speaking more than a couple words (not counting evenings when I would interact with others at my hostel), and for me I was happy with that. The experience taught me, not only a lot about myself, but also traveling in general.
1. Choose hostels carefully.
Hostels are a great way to tackle housing while traveling alone because they are inexpensive and you have the opportunity to meet some neat people. When choosing a hostel keep in mind the location. How close is it to where you want to go? How easy is it to travel to and from there? What’s the neighborhood like? While in London I stayed at the Astor Victoria Hostel. It was in a nice residential neighborhood with several grocery stores in the area so I could buy food to make my own meals. The biggest plus for me was that it was within walking distance of Buckingham Palace (as well as other touristy sites) and the Victoria station! The first full day I was there, I walked everywhere. There was so much to see within walking distance! The next two days I then took advantage of the subway at Victoria station so I could visit the sites that were further away.
2. Use maps.
Maps have become my new best friend. Having a map of the public transport with the different sights in the city marked is extremely helpful.
While I was in London, I constantly used a map of the Tube to guide me in getting from one place to the next. I had marked on the map the station for each site I wanted to see so I could easily figure out where I was and where I wanted to go. If I wasn’t sure, I was able to check the map located on most every street corner for tourists, or refer to the maps on my phone. I definitely preferred my physical map though, as I could easily pull it out. Plus, all the markings I had on it by the end now make the map a great souvenir to keep.
In Paris, I started out getting around with only my phone and it was stressful. I’d rather plot my own route with the many detours I find myself taking than have a phone buzz at me when it thinks it’s time to turn right or left. Words can’t describe how much more confident and happy I was once I got my hands on a physical map of Paris!
3. Breathe and don’t stress.
If you’re anything like me, you have 20 things you want to see and do and three days to do it all. But don’t stress out about it. One thing I love about traveling alone is I don’t have to keep to an agenda. Agendas are great when you’re with a group and while I had a list of things I wanted to see each day, it was no big deal if I got sidetracked. For example, the night before I went to Paris, I wrote out a whole list of things I wanted to see there, but once I arrived I ditched my list. I saw the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, walked past the Louvre and several other historical palaces/buildings, but I ended up spending about as much time walking along the Seine River and laying in a park looking up at the sky as I did seeing those sights. It was those moments of simply relaxing that I enjoyed the most. It was what I felt like doing at that time and I allowed myself to do it. Traveling abroad isn’t just about seeing the touristy stuff, but enjoying the moment.
4. Be aware of your surroundings.
There are two reasons that I say this. First of all, be aware of your surroundings for safety reason. It’s harder for someone to pickpocket you if you are alert and observant of the people and happenings around you. Another good reason is you might miss some great scenery/sights if you are too focused on your phone, map, or getting somewhere. I love checking out the architecture of the area I am walking through, and sometimes I get to see incredible historical buildings that I wasn’t even looking for!
5. Don’t be afraid to talk to people.
While you need to be wise when it comes to choosing who you talk to (some people on the streets will try to take advantage of you or scam you – and I speak from personal experience), don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone at a café or your hostel, etc. I enjoyed talking to several of the girls I roomed with at my hostel and I got to meet several people from around the world when I went down to the lounge area, too!
6. Keep others updated as where you are.
I may have been traveling alone, but I didn’t cut myself off from everyone. I updated friends and family almost daily as to where I was, often sharing pictures with them. Don’t think of it as having to check in, but sharing your experience with them. They love to see Big Ben and the London Eye, even if it is through you.
This post was contributed by Laura Gottfried, who is studying abroad with AIFS in Berlin, Germany this spring.