Traveling AloneFreiburg, Academic Year 2008-09
One of the advantages of being a full-year student is having the ability to travel during semester break. I decided to bite the bullet and travel alone. For 6 weeks, I, Kallie Elizabeth Walker, will be going where I want to go, doing what I want to do, seeing what I want to see, and going at the pace I want to go. If I want to skip breakfast, take pictures for 4 hours at the Colosseum, or go to bed early, I just do!
I’m not the only one out their traveling alone either; plenty of other girls/women out there travel alone every year. Most women I’ve met in hostels are traveling alone, and have been doing so for years, and have never ran into problems. Europe is surprisingly safer than the US, but you shouldn’t always rely on statistics. You should always be prepared, organized, alert, and smart. It’s better to be over-paranoid of your surroundings than to let your guard down.
Almost 4 weeks into my trip, here are a few tips that I’ve thought of:
#1) Leave the iPod at home. This makes you more approachable to others and more likely to meet people, like on long train rides. It also keeps you alert, and aware of your surroundings.
#2) Be organized. I have a folder I keep all of my reservations, tickets, and copies of my passport and emergency information in. This way you don’t have to scramble through your HUGE bag(s) on the ground in the middle of a busy train station for your ticket when you’re running late for your train. Which brings me to the next tip:
#3) Leave plenty of time. I always get to the train station at least an hour early. I’m really good at getting lost, and I hate the feeling of being stressed and low on time. Not to mention, it’s really hard to run for the train with 40 pounds on your back and a camera bag on the front! This also gives me time to find the track, sit in a café, catch up on my journaling, and sip a cappuccino before my train takes off.
#4) Don’t over pack your bag. Walk around your apartment for an hour with your backpack on and then see if you really need that extra pair of shoes or not. Remember you also need to leave room for souvenirs :D
#5) Bring earplugs and a sleep-mask. Hostels are the ideal place for sleep schedules to clash. It’s completely normal for people to come in drunk and obnoxiously loud at 3am and flip on the lights, or start packing their bags at 5am or sing in the shower (all in one night if you’re lucky).
#6) Learn a little bit of the language. Learn question words, numbers, and simple phrases. Most places are pretty good with English, but put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if millions of tourists visited your city every year and expected YOU to speak THEIR language? The effort is appreciated.
#7) Ask the price before you buy. Learn from my mistake. I was in Florence and wanted a scoop of gelato. I assumed it’d be 3 or 4 Euros since it was touristy… When the lady rung me up, the bill said 18 Euros! Yes… EIGHTEEN EUROS for one scoop of vanilla gelato. Tourist trap!
#8) Be aware of “service charges” in Italy. It may cost you €1 to drink your espresso at the bar standing up, or €3 sitting down.
#9) Get to your next destination during the day. It’s really hard to find your hostel in Venice at 10:00 at night.
#10) Don’t forget to validate your ticket. You’ll face some serious fines if you get caught without it stamped. Also;
#11) Don’t throw away your ticket until out of the train station. I was on the train today, didn’t get checked on the train, so when I got off, I tossed it in the trash. I walked down the steps towards the exit and there were about a dozen police officers checking tickets on the way out. Surprise!!! You have to go dig through the trash.
#12) Keep a journal. Besides writing down my daily routine, I write down notes from my photos, places I’ve visited, people’s names I’ve met, emails, and do little sketches sometimes too.
#13) Be conscious of your surroundings. Don’t set your bag down on the ground at the train station, look behind you when you’re getting a ticket at the ticket-machine, or taking out money at an ATM. I don’t keep anything in my pockets, or the outside zippers on my bag. When I’m on a crowded bus or walking through a train station I wear my backpack backwards so I look like I’m pregnant. It makes you stick out like a sore thumb, but I’d rather stick out like a sore thumb than get pick pocketed. I also brought along some of those plastic lock-ties for my zippers. It keeps them from becoming unzipped unintentionally or intentionally by others. It might not stop a good pick-pocketer, but hopefully it’ll slow them down.
#14) Dress nice and wear darker colors. Leave the sweaties, hooded orange college-sweatshirt, and tennis-shoes at home. I swear some people look like they’re going out jogging. It’s good to be able to blend in with the crowd, and people generally dress nicer here, and usually wear darker tones. Don’t show too much skin either. I spot out the American girls on Spring Break from a mile away with their flip-flops, super short denim shorts, and spaghetti-strap shirts. Some churches won’t let you in if you’re not dressed appropriately.
#15) It’s kind of obvious, but be especially aware of your surroundings at night. If I’m not walking around with someone I met at the hostel, I usually just chill inside, drink some tea, upload pictures, and check my email. Most areas you are perfectly fine, but just to be safe, I ask at the hostel if there are any parts of town to stay away from.
#16) Go with your gut. If it doesn’t feel safe to walk down that street, don’t do it.
Traveling alone has been an almost out-of-body experience. I’ve met so many cool people, had so many experiences (good and bad), and have learned so much about myself. If you have the possibility to travel alone, JUST DO IT! You’ll never want to travel in a group ever again!
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