Yes. I know. It's long.
- Expect to feel self-conscious, especially as a newbie. In relation to trips with others, alone I felt like I stood out much more--like I was wearing the wrong clothes, and everyone was noticing my accent. In general, I was more attuned to the environment, which can be both positive (wow, a fox!) and negative (no one else is wearing a t-shirt!). So, expect some level of discomfort. I had moments of terror (like, uh, being locked inside the building where I was staying...Hellllp?!) and thinking "I can't do this!" But don't expect this discomfort to make you have a terrible time or regret going.
- Have a project (real or fake). You can bring a creative project on your trip, or start an entirely new one. Having that extra sense of purpose can be helpful. Examples include photography, painting, sketching, reading a book you haven't had time for, or even a volunteer project. While in the UK, one of my projects was writing this post. It can be fun to get into character a little (no need to have acting experience). Like, if you're new to eating in restaurants by yourself, you can become a restaurant critic taking notes, writing reviews, and posting them online. Sometimes when I've been at shows alone, I pretend I'm a music journalist, even though I never actually write anything. For some reason, it makes me feel less awkward.
- Keep a record. Sort of related to the first one, but specifically, keep a journal, either on paper or online. Traveling alone is a great opportunity to learn new things about yourself and the world, and so it can be valuable to record these observations. It also gives you something to do while sitting in parks, cafes, trains, etc. Oscar Wilde thought reading his own diary on the train was entertaining; maybe the same will hold true for you.
- Check in with those you left behind. Not all day, every day, but set aside a little time to write some missives to your homies. They'll want to know you're safe and having a good time. And it's nice to hear from someone who loves you.
- Abandon perfection. This applies to life in general, but when you're alone and far from home, it can be easier to get stuck inside your head. What's in my head? Extreme perfectionism, which is why I try to heed this advice. Of course you want to have the perfect trip--you have limited time and you want every moment to count. But you can still have an awesome, memorable trip even if there are some bad moments. In addition, you won't become a different person just because you're traveling. I sometimes get tired very easily, and I while I want to "go go go" and see everything, at times I need to give myself a break. In short, don't put too much pressure on yourself. If this is your first time traveling alone, try to view it as a learning, skill-building experience.
- Be a little consistent. Travel is the time to try new things, but don't abandon all your usual habits (especially the self-care ones!). For instance, I tended to feel more anxious when I was alone in my hotel room at the end of the day, and so I would read some of the blogs that I was used to reading back home. There was comfort in those familiar voices. Find a cafe/restaurant/pub/etc near your lodgings at which to be a "regular" and go there often. (Cafes usually have bulletin boards with lots of local events as well.)
- Stay in one place. Why did I decide to come to Manchester for only two days, again? I don't regret it (I even met one of my Livejournal friends!), but such a short stay made it impossible to ever get my bearings. If you avoid city-hopping, it's also easier to get involved with local social activities, and to actually attend the upcoming events that you hear about.
- Meet people in advance. If you, like me, are not very outgoing, meet people (or join a group) from your destination online, before you get there. Think about it: Locals, especially urban people, won't have any real reason to befriend you unless you have shared interests (or are incredibly charming). In London, I learned that while in theory, striking up conversations with strangers was a great idea, in practice it was less so. A couple of strangers tried conversing with me, but I had too much trouble quickly transitioning into random conversation. I need a few moments to mentally prepare myself and decide if I even want to talk. By that time, though, the stranger is usually saying, "Sorry, I won't disturb you". When I say, "No, really, you're not," they have probably already assumed that I'm quietly plotting their murder. So yeah, I like meeting people in advance. Just be honest with yourself about your level of social comfort, and start from there.
- Respect your body. Don't be like me: Hungry, dehydrated, sunburned, and extremely sore of foot. If you think carrying a reusable water bottle is too unwieldy, Vapur. Although the carabiner broke after a day (so you know they're not paying me to write this), the bottle itself is durable, and becomes very light and small when empty. Carry snacks with you, and bring the most comfortable shoes possible (as long as they blend in with your locale). I find that on trips, I do a ton of walking, and it wasn't until the last two days of my trip that I felt used to it.
- Master auto-timer on your camera. I hate asking random people to take my picture, because not only am I paranoid that they'll steal my camera, I just feel goofy. So if I'm in a place that's not too busy, I'll prop my camera on a wall and take a picture on auto-timer. See, I can prove I was here! (Okay, someone could also steal my camera this way, but paranoia isn't always logical.)
- Hey, you might enjoy being alone. If you travel alone, and yet meet up with others at points along your journey, it really is the best of both worlds. You get some social interaction, and yet you can still do what you want, on your own time. If I wanted to do some odd or esoteric activities, I didn't need to "sell" them to a travel companion, I just went and did them. Nor did I have to adhere to the schedule of another person. It's totally different from the day-to-day life that most of us live, and it can be a really nice change.
[Image: Ily losing their umbrella at St. Cuthbert's Cemetery, Edinburgh]
- Film festivals. Seriously, most people's friends don't want to see strange indie films. There will be many other people by themselves.
- Theater. Same, especially at smaller venues.
- Museums. Many are open late at least one night a week.
- Read a book and go to bed early. No shame in that.
- Walking tours. This actually felt like one of the more awkward things I did alone, but it's worth trying out.
- Chores. If you have to do laundry or something, doing it at night will free up time to do more things during the day.