I've been traveling a lot for work in the past few years which allowed me to add in a weekend here and there around business trips, and evidently I'd be alone! The more I became comfortable with it, the more solo trips I did. It's definitely something I recommend you try few times in your life. It's such an interesting experience.
You can start with cities where you know one person there, makes it a bit easier to know you're going to have one person there that you can catchup with over coffee. With time, you can start moving into new territories such as having no one there and completely relying on yourself. This post is around Safety and Comfort, and you can also check Part 2 which is more around how to make the best of your time.
Here are some tips that could help you should you decide to travel on your own:
- Be healthy: An evident one, but make sure you get a good breakfast and keep yourself hydrated, also carry pain killers and protein bars. You're on your own; you can't afford getting sick or dizzy while you're outside, no one can take care of you. On that note, if you ever find yourself getting sick or tired, just find a crowded place and rest there so in case something happens, someone will / should help.
- Accommodation's location: When I was in Cape Town for work, I arrived there 2 days before my work week and stayed for 1 night near Camps Bay because it was more convenient transport and time wise. But when I was in Budapest, I chose a more central place / busy place (thus safer) and close to a metro. This tip might seem obvious, but it surely is worth the extra bucks (which you will save later in transport). Moreover, specially if you're alone, it's good to have your hotel in the middle so you can come back to throughout the day, unload stuff you bought, leave or take your camera, freshen up and you're ready to be out again.
- Accommodation research and reservation: Booking.com and airbnb.com are perfect because of all the reviews you can read, gives you a good sense of what to choose based on your priorities.
- Travel light: A non obvious reason is because no one is there to watch your stuff when you go to the bathroom, so you have to carry your things all the time, it does as well make your journey through airport and security easier. The less items you carry, the less the risk of losing something.
- Avoid checking in your bag if you can: If you can travel with a carry on and a backpack, do it. Most of the times hostels and airbnbs have washing machines, therefore you can pack light. Avoid risk of having your luggage getting lost, this is specially annoying if you're only there for few days, so by the time they locate your bag (if any), and send it, your vacation will be over.
- Buy a local sim card: Most countries have affordable visitor's packages. In this day and age, it's always a good idea to keep internet on your phone, just in case!
- Offline maps on your phone: A nice trick a friend taught me is to load the directions on google maps. Even when you leave your wifi zone (also helps reducing expensive data roaming costs), the map will still be there. You can also download the city's offline map on google maps.
- Cash or credit card?:
- Don't carry all your credit cards and money with you.
- Use the hotel's safe to leave your passport, a credit card and some cash there. In case you get robbed, you still have a backup.
- Don't put all your money in one pocket.
- Keep a copy of your passport ID and visa to the country you're in on your phone.
- On a budget? Some cities have shuttle services, search and see availability. Plan ahead for public transport, some cities are easy like that (and if you're staying in a central area, you hit two birds in one stone). Moreover ask your hotel to send you a taxi, if you're not comfortable finding public transport specially if you're landing late at night. Some hotels in some countries send you free transport.
- Transport safety: Make sure you have uber app on your phone (or local taxi apps), in case you run out of cash or need to get out of some place quickly, these apps can be pretty reliable and safe (always good to research about it for the country you're heading to).
- Phone urgency: Keep your phone in your bag, never put it in your backpack, never leave it on a table while street dining (most major cities are famous for their pick-pocket thieves) and have the find my phone app enabled!
- Power bank: That's a given. But invest in a small power bank and always make sure it's always charged and on you.
- Earphones: A lot of us love music, and sometimes we just put those earphones / headphones on and start exploring a city by listening to music and walking around. I would recommend though, to either keep the volume low or have only one of the earphones in, just to stay alert on what's around you.
- Avoid dark alleys: Sometimes you find yourself in a dark alley late at night, if you're not feeling comfortable, I suggest you turn around and try to find a more lit wider street. Don't be a hero!
- Wave to a stranger: Another trick I do when there are few people still around and I sense that someone is close by and watching me, is wave to someone in a distance. This demonstrates to the person watching me that I have someone waiting for me at the end of the street. Sounds paranoid I know, but this is mostly for uncomfortable situations like this that rarely happen.
- Invest in a good backpack: that doesn't cause back or shoulder pain, as well as a hard to open bag in case it goes on your back and you can't see what's happening behind you while you're in a crowded place like a metro. Some DSLR (camera) bags cannot open from the outside, they have a belt around the waist so you can turn the bag to the front and take your things. Men tend to not want to carry bags, I recommend you do instead of putting things in your pockets, easy to pick-pocket and you will never feel it. A cross purse helps, and i usually wear it to the inside so no one can open it.