As someone who grew up largely abroad, traveling has always been one of my favorite things to do. At the same time, being a generally anxious person who likes to anticipate the worst in order to feel prepared for whatever life has to throw at me, I’ve never been the biggest fan of solo travel. And until recently, I had little real reason to try it out. College always meant going out with friends on spring break, or living with classmates while studying abroad; the year I lived in Turkey on a research grant meant a plethora of fellow grantees to plan adventures with. But ever since I entered the working world for real, I quickly realized that it’s gotten much harder to align your schedule (and available funds) with your friends.
This meant that if I wanted to travel as much as I used to, I needed to get used to doing it alone. And to combat my inherent anxiety, I’ve generally found that anything I can do to feel better-equipped and safer is directly correlated to how much I’ve enjoyed my solo travels. Here’s a list of the best investments I’ve made in planning my solo adventures.
1. A lightweight-but-still-sturdy-AF travel backpack.
Entire battles have probably been waged in the great war of Suitcase V. Backpack. And I’ve been a suitcase girl for a long, long time, but on my most recent solo trip, my boyfriend convinced me to give his travel backpack a try. And it was a pretty life-changing experience. It was easily much more portable than a suitcase, particularly over unpaved roads. It’s small enough to double as a carryon, so no more waiting it out at the luggage carousel (also great for those tiny layovers). I’m obsessed with this Osprey backpack — it’s lightweight, yet stirdy and I also love that it has a detachable day-pack size backpack to the front — no need to pack/carry an extra purse! The ability to be speedier on my feet without lugging a suitcase behind me is a literal blessing.
2. Flights that only arrive in the morning.
Flights that arrive at a reasonable hour in the morning are almost always more expensive, because really, it’s only those on a super-tight budget who are probably willing to navigate a strange new city at 2 AM. But I’ve more recently found that they’re worth the extra $$ for two reasons: one, you get over jet-lag more quickly if you’re outside in daylight immediately, and two, when traveling alone, it is way easier, safer (and often cheaper) to navigate public transit between the airport and your hotel and deal with complications like an unreachable host or overbooked hotel when it’s bright out, rather than in the dead of night.
3. A pointy keychain accessory.
The unfortunate reality of being a woman traveling alone is that more likely than not, you’ll get unwanted attention and groping and all sorts of other harassment. Having a low-key, easily accessible “weapon” on your person (mine is a sharpish metal Eiffel Tower replica) has done wonders for my general sense of calm in crowds.
4. Waterproof ankle boots.
Shoes are probably one of the biggest space-wasters you could ever own, so finding a couple pairs that can serve multiple functions will make your life significantly easier. I have a pair of sleek-ish black ankle boots that are waterproof, dressier than sneakers, and relatively easy to pound the streets in — that covers rainy days, heavy walking days, and most nights out, and they’re honestly one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
5. A selfie stick.
Hear me out. I, too, once detested the tourist hordes and their selfie sticks queuing outside the Met, and nearly decapitating innocent passerby in their effort to get that perfect image. But if you’re anything like me, who love pictures of herself and really detests handing over her iPhone (or camera, for that matter) to random people — for the fear they might run off with it or, more likely, drop it — a selfie stick is actually great for solo travel. It lets you get some interesting vantage points (that my otherwise 5’4 frame would never reach), and it’s a great way to ensure that you have pictures of yourself doing cool travel-y things without imposing on other people.
6. A Kindle.
Traveling alone means a lot of meals alone, time on buses, trains, and planes alone, and nights in. Acquiring a Kindle ensures I’ve always got reading material on hand; it fits into my coat pocket or in a small purse, making it super easy to carry around, and I definitely look way busier (and therefore far less lame) dining solo when I’m immersed in a good book. Many libraries (including the NYPL!) have huge e-book collections available for checkout, so when I’m traveling, I generally don’t even need to spend money procuring new books — they’re all available FO FREE from the good ol’ library back home!
7. A tiny, packable poncho.
I bought a super lightweight and very compressible raincoat from Uniqlo right before I left, and it turned out to be one of the best investments I made. It packs into a storage sleeve the size of my palm, which makes it super easy to carry around. Any way I can keep my hands umbrella-free and available for use makes solo travel much easier, and between my poncho and boots, even rainy days can’t thwart my travel goals.
8. Global Entry/TSA Pre-check.
Seriously, just do it. When you’re traveling alone, you don’t even have the minor consolation of a line buddy to entertain you through security lines or extended layovers. The very least you owe yourself is to zip past security like the Travel Queen you are. If you travel with any amount of regularity, it’s well worth the $85 (which gets you FIVE WHOLE YEARS of bypassing lines).
9. An emergency data plan and a real sense of shamelessness about asking for Wi-Fi passwords.
I couldn’t afford a phone plan with data until a few years after graduating college, so I was well-acquainted with scrounging around for Wi-Fi at your friendly local Starbucks. But there have been truly stressful times in my most recent travel adventures — missing trains, getting stranded by a blizzard, creepy hotel owners — where I needed data to do everything from call for help to pull up my reservation code — and I wouldn’t have it. Now, pretty much every time I travel, if it’s somewhere like Asia, I’ll buy a cheap SIM card with data — if it’s somewhere like Europe, I suck it up and pay for international roaming — but I always ensure I have some source of emergency data on my phone. The key word here is “emergency.” I don’t use data for social media, surfing the web, anything — unless it’s actually urgent. And in the meantime, I’ve continued to maintain a real sense of shamelessness about asking for Wi-Fi passwords. Most restaurants and cafes, airports lounges, train stations, etc. will have it on hand if you ask nicely, so as long as your phone is set on airplane mode and you only use your data in REAL EMERGENCIES, you’ll make it through solo trips as a Lifelong Wi-Fi Moocher just fine.
10. Perpetually-charging phone supplies.
If you’re anything like me, your phone is your best friend, your lifeline, your sun and stars while out on the road. Which means, inevitably, between taking photos and looking up directions, your phone will die when you need it most (like right when your Airbnb host is unreachable and it’s pouring rain and dammit why do these things keep happening to me???). My partner gave me a portable battery pack a while ago after one too many instances of my phone going dead for hours, and it has legitimately been a lifesaver on the road. They last fully-charged for days on end, and one pack can charge my phone fully two to three times over. Mine is approximately the length of my finger, making it super easy to stash in a pocket. And should that ever run out, these universal adapters are under $14 on Amazon, have worked on at least four continents, and have both USB points as well as plug sockets so just one will charge at least a few electronic gadgets at a time.
11. A planned relaxation day.
Traveling solo can be great, and fun, and lots of wonderful things. It can also be tiring and lonely—which is why I’ve discovered that literally just planning in one day on every trip to do nothing, to lounge by a pool, or in a cute coffee shop (or literally stay in bed) makes me a much happier camper than I’d be otherwise. It’s so easy to be on the move constantly and feel pressure to socially engage with everyone and everything around you that having a whole day blocked out to be alone with your thoughts, relax, and disconnect can be an immensely restorative experience.
Meghan Koushik is a cheese enthusiast and law student in California. You can find her on Instagram.
Image via Unsplash