possibly the most common question i get asked by my friends is “how can you travel by yourself so often? isn’t it lonely?!”, right before “where do you live now?” (my friends seem to think i’m carmen sandiego. nonetheless, that question makes me giggle.)
to be quite honest, i love traveling by myself more than anything. you see, i became a lover of solo traveling purely by accident. last april i decided that hey, i wanted to move to chicago. no, i had never been there before, unless you count a 2 hour layover i had in ohare 4 years prior. a couple of sloppily made plans, a craigslist roommate found, and a few guide books read hastily,and i was on my way to chicago.
in reality, it wasn’t all rainbows and pictures at the bean and eating hot dogs, and going to museums and downright lolly-gagging. i ended up staying two weeks (count ’em, two weeks) until i decided that it wasn’t the place for me. i left with a suitcase full of cat-hair covered clothing (thanks,craigslist roommate’s cat.), a love for the city of chicago, and a love for traveling by myself. and oh man, i loved it. plain and simple:
*where will you stay?; without a doubt, i recommend hostels more than anything. you meet so many fascinating people ( i met an australian guy who was in chicago on his way from all over the world! and a hawaiian guy who had just gotten back from europe! all by themselves!) and without a doubt, when you all are eating your complimentary continental breakfasts in your hostel, you are bound to meet some people who won’t mind doing all the dorky-touristy things you wanted to do. most of them are solo travelers as well, so they are probably looking for some buddies to go around the new city you are exploring. hostelling international gets my recommendation every time. they have hostels in america (yes, you read right) and all over the world. i stayed with them in chicago (and will in san francisco next month) and it was nicer than my dorm room times a skillion. and completely un-sketch, which is always a plus.
*eating; without a doubt you will be eating a lot by yourself. this, i admit, can be quite lonely. but then again, this is where your hostel buddies will come in handy. invite one of them to that cute little cafe you’ve passed by lots on the metro. also, another tip: take your meal to-go and go eat it in the park! that way you aren’t feeling the glares of other diners (who are probably thinking “man, look at that cool chick. i wish i could eat by myself so comfortably”) i did this in millenium park and it was possibly the greatest thing i’ve ever done; a group of interpretive dancers came into the park and danced in front of all of us as i ate my panini. it was solid gold, to say the least.
*general touristy things; do them. all of them. go to sears tower. go to the campanile. go to navy pier. and shakespeare and co. or the lincoln park zoo. as many times as you want. ‘CAUSE YOU CAN! i went to lincoln park in chicago nearly every day, and the zoo there is completely free (MY FAVORITE PRICE!), thus i went there at least eight times. i wish i was joking. but what i’m getting at is your opportunities are endless. you don’t have a tired friend who isn’t in the mood to go to that speakeasy downtown. or a younger sibling too scared to go to the top of the sears tower. just you and your crazy solo-traveling self.
it also means you can eat at panera bread for five days in a row. but we don’t have to reflect on that. not that i did that or anything…
*general safety; this one is the doozy. you are a pretty, innocent, new solo-lady traveler. in a new city you have never been in before. this can be kind of scary, i know, but honestly it doesn’t have to be. i can sum up all the safety you need to feel safe and yet still have fun:
– my general rule of thumb for chicago was that 1. if pregnant women, women with strollers, or girls my age weren’t walking around by themselves (like i did most days), go back to the hostel, or at least a heavily populated, safe area. so if you see it getting dark and you don’t see an unattended pregnant woman or woman with a stroller, go back inside, crazy girl. i know this seems silly, but it’s true. and if you really want to see that cool new club, bring your hostel buddy and all will be fine and dandy.
-bring mace. i don’t care how good you are at self-defense. bring mace. you probably don’t need it, but just have it.
-or, my favorite, make sure your keys are in your pocket that you can grab in an instant. and put the key in between your knuckles. instant defense mechanism should some suckah, try to approach you in a way you just aren’t down with.
-always look like you know where you are going. one day i got lost in a sketch area of chicago with two huge trader joe’s bags full of groceries. for an hour. it was terrible and i stuck out like a sore thumb. but i never made it look like i was terrified i just kept on walking like i knew where i was going until i found someone who could help me get back home. if you look like you know where you are going, no one will bother you. pinky promises.
boston public gardens, circa november 2010. excuse the silly self portrait.
*other silly miscellaneous things; traveling by yourself also means that no one else is there to help you with organizing your awesome trip. i’m a huge moleskine nerd and have at least six on me at all times. one that gets the most use is a plain sketchbook that i basically write down every detail of my trip in it so i have it all in one place. i don’t do well with multiple sheets of paper and itineraries, so every plane confirmation, bus trip #, directions to places i want to go to, important numbers, all go in this one book. it’s also cool when you want to look back on it to see all the cool things you did. organization and memories all in one, double win!
also, i know what you’re thinking: “but mackenzie, who will take pictures of me when i’m being all bad@ss on my solo-trip? ” well you have lots of options for capturing all those moments when you are traveling solo. one, look for the couple who are also trying to capture those memories. chances are they’d like someone to take their picture together, which in turn means they truly won’t mind taking your picture in front of that famous monument, beach, or on that bridge. i swear it. also, precious croatian ladies are perfect for asking to take your picture. but then again, that’s just my experience.
and if you’re too timid, the water bottle-cap tripod is also amazing. i’m really considering buying one for myself. problem solved! now take all of the self portraits of your awesome self whenever you want!
also, bring a book for the trains. or an ipod. just do it. i swear it will save your sanity.
now go on all of the solo travels you want, my dears! and please oh please, tell me all about them. i’m all ears.