Tips for traveling solo
The first time I traveled alone cell phones were still not the norm and the internet wasn't as useful or annoying. I did an exchange in England and had to have my itinerary planned in advanced with everything written out. I was going to be there for 3 months so I packed with what appeared to be a body bag and another large suitcase and a backpack (before TSA and all the travel restrictions). I was 20 and scared I wouldn't make it to my all women's dormitory. I'm quite sure I knocked someone over with one of my bags at some point and even though physically it would be hard to distinguish me from a Brit, Stupid Naive American was sending signals to anyone within a 100 meter distance.
Since then, I've traveled all over the United States, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Spain, Italy, Greece, Kuwait, Iraq, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, South Korea, The Philippines, and I'm sure I'm missing somewhere. Many of these trips, I did completely solo or other times spending a good amount of time by myself. I've learned to be more confident and less afraid by following a few rules and throwing a few out.
Have an idea and be prepared to throw it out the window
Its always helpful to have a plan. Plans are great, they make sure you don't miss a meal because you didn't know everything closes at 2:00 for siesta, or miss out on a big attraction because lines are 8 hours long and you could have bought a fast pass, it can save you a great deal of money, and there's a sense of security knowing you can let people at home know where you are. However, traveling alone, especially if you're traveling internationally has its' hiccups. I once flew to Florence and the plane landed in Bologna. I landed at 2 AM in Dublin and they oversold my hotel. I landed in Costa Rica and the retreat shuttle to the retreat that was 4 hours away never came. When you're traveling stuff happens....ridiculous stuff happens and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. When this happens, we have two options: we can freak out and let everyone know within a 50 foot radius that we're a single female in a foreign country in a bind and in a panic or we can choose to adjust and simply enjoy enjoy the ride.....or at least look like we are. If you want to be safe, safe also means not making yourself a target by letting the whole world know you're lost, scared, and confused. For the most part, there is always going to be someone that can help you. Find them and just chill, you'll get to where you're going.
Look like a local
Looking like a local doesn't mean I'm buying a whole new wardrobe for when I travel, it just means I try to blend in when I can. I don't aimlessly walk around with a map in front of me or stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to see where I am; I move to the side or find a coffee shop and look at a downloaded map on my phone. I make it appoint to look confident and unless I'm looking for a hotel reservation, I get off the internet and enjoy myself and the surroundings around me. If it's not safe in the area I'm in for a woman to walk alone at night, I catch a taxi. By blending in with my surroundings and using some good common sense, someone is less likely to focus on me instead of the easy target next that screams lost tourist with no brains.
When things go wrong...tell a friend
So while this is contrary to what I just said, it's always good to be prepared and safe if you can. For instance, when I landed in Bologna instead of Florence, I let people know. As much as I hate having technology as a distraction, I love having a simple data plan (turn off anything you don't need) or at a minimum wi-fi device like a smart phone. A simple text letting a few friends and family know where I was in case anything went awry was helpful in case anything happened. They key is again not to panic. Why let the whole world around you know your situation? Additionally, I print or email a list of places I'm going in advance with any planned flights and send it to my family back home in advance.
Head in the clouds...and downloaded to your device
A cloud is something like Dropbox or Google Drive, where users can upload their documents and files to the app and its held on a server. These documents can be accessed anywhere in the world with a user name and password. I download the apps to my phone so I can access it anywhere. I store emergency contact information, flight plans, itineraries, passports, hotel confirmations, credit card copies....anything I need I keep here. In addition to having a back up plan in case your paper gets lost, stolen, or thrown off a boat; I like that I can access all of my information again without looking like a tourist. The world looks small when no matter what country I'm in, people are now glued to their phones not my cup of tea but if a all possible when traveling solo, I try not to look like lost dumb tourist. Note: also make sure your documents are available offline. Google Drive automatically does this but some apps do not if there's no internet. Yes, I still keep my hard copies.
Speaking of technology, get a battery
I am nostalgic for my time back in England we we didn't use cell phones and we used phone cards instead. At the same time the smartphone has made things a lot easier for travel. However, after 24 hour travel days and either low batteries or a beginners mistake of leaving it on during the plan ride, having a battery back up to charge my electronics has gotten me back to my hotel twice now. If you're not sure what it is, here's a link on Amazon.
Get over fear
In the U.S only, over 32,000 people died in a car accident. Wherever I go, I remind myself that women are in that country all the time by themselves (I do stray from any countries where it's not safe for women at all). They're going to yoga classes, having coffee, and living life. Sometimes, I get nervous but any time I do I remind myself that car accidents kill more people than terrorist acts or abducted tourists per year. By being fearful, I'm missing out on so many experiences that provide value and connect myself more with the world. So anytime I get nervous, I think "It's always more dangerous to drive a car".