Experts Series: How to Travel Alone…Even if You’re a Girl

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It’s the next installment of my summer Experts Series featuring cooler, more interesting people than me.

This week, I’m excited for you to meet Alex. Alex and I are pretty close. You’d be pretty good friends with her too because she’s just that great. Among Alex’s many talents is her persistence in keeping in touch with me. Sometimes I fall into a cave of solitude and she comes and finds me and reminds me to interact with the rest of the world. In the rare moments I call her and don’t get a response for days, I inevitably hear these words when we do finally talk, “Sorry. I was out of the country.” To which I always reply, “Of course you were.”

Alex is a fearless world traveler with more stamps in her passport than most will get in a lifetime. All the pictures below are Alex’s. She loves to travel and is savvy about the whole operation, particularly about going at it alone.

I hope you enjoy Alex’s tips on how to travel, even if you’re a girl.

Ask people the one thing they really want to do, and most would agree it’s to travel.  There’s something about getting outside your everyday and exploring God’s amazing creation. I love my life, but I live for the next adventure.

This isn’t easy when you are a girl and don’t always have someone to join in your grand adventures. Over the years and after many trips and even a four month internship in Spain, I’ve learned that if you want to travel, you can’t always wait for the right timing or even the right partner in crime.

In my travels, I’ve been to: New Zealand, Austria, Virgin Islands, Switzerland, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Belize, Guatemala, St. Lucia, Germany, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, England, Canada, Kenya and a few others. This includes going to Chile, Portugal, Wales, and Spain all alone.

I can’t say it’s ideal to travel alone as a girl, but that should never stop anyone from living a dream or making a few memories.  All it takes to get started is picking a place and making a plan. It’s never going to be perfect or easy, but that’s what traveling is about…expecting the unexpected! 

As a girl who loves to travel, I want to share just a few of the tips that have helped me the most, especially when having to do it alone. 

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Decide where to go

Is it national or international?  Don’t let the thought of having to get a passport or maybe even a visa stop you from crossing the border.  Maybe you worry about getting lost, not knowing the culture or more importantly not being able to communicate.  None of these things should ever stop you because no matter where you go, you are always going to encounter the unfamiliar.  You have to put yourself in the mindset that you are there to experience a country and not be an outside observer.  As long as you are prepared to engage and come with a plan, you will be fine. It’s all about the attitude.
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Always be prepared

As a girl traveling alone, you can never be too prepared.  Do your research, ask questions, make a plan. One of my favorite resources is because you get some great reviews from actual travelers and don’t have to rely on other sites that just want to sell you something.

Some other things to consider when traveling alone and to get together before you take off are:

  • What do you want to see?
  • Do you want adventure or relaxation?
  • Transportation Plan/Backup Plan
  • Get a guide book or get familiar with the safe areas of the place you are going
  • Leave your agenda with someone at home…let them know your schedule along the way.
  • Always carry some cash…not every place has an ATM.  Most of the time you should be able to pull out cash or use your credit card but they will probably have a fee.
  • Be aware that you may not have a ton of access to internet, but know that most foreign countries have great internet cafes…perfect to connect or even get some local recommendations.
  • Make a copy of all your documents front and back and email them to yourself and family member…passport, credit cards, driver’s license, debit card.
  • Don’t wear fancy jewelry…or anything that will draw extra attention to you.

One thing that I would definitely say has been a highlight of my solo trips has been joining up with some kind of tour group.  Even if you don’t like travel groups, most countries have free walking tours to join for a few hours to explore the city and get you familiar.  Plus, they are usually pretty inexpensive because they are supported by tips and not a set price.  Look up the tour before you go and reserve a spot.  I have joined several and have been impressed every time by the guides and also the fun people that you can meet.  

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You are never alone

One of the most daunting things about traveling alone are the times where you don’t have anyone to talk to, to laugh with or maybe even freak out with.  I know the thought of exploring alone sounds scary, but it can actually be a bit of a blessing sometimes.  Not only do you get to do what you want to do, but it opens you up to meeting new people.  You’d be surprised how open people are to you when they see you traveling alone.  Take advantage of the opportunity to start a few conversations and maybe even make a new friend. 

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Be Smart

As I mentioned before, you can definitely expect the unexpected.  It’s not always a bad thing, and truth be told, you are likely to get a pretty good laugh when looking back. 

Again, when you are alone do your best to blend in.  Stick around the areas with a lot of people, don’t wear anything flashy and be ready to be approached.  You would never imagine, but people are more likely to come up and talk to you while traveling.  I look back and think about the time in Greece where someone asked me to marry him in the middle of the metro station, the time in Spain where I was approached for the time and ended up in a conversation about the history of America, and even when I made a friend from Australia who I stayed in touch with for over a year. 

It’s a mixed bag of experiences…but don’t freak out…just take it all in.

I sure hope that someone reads this and sees what kind of possibilities are out there and maybe takes the next step in planning a fun get away…whether it be half way across the world or even just a short drive away.  Once you get started…you will never want to stop.  Next stop for me is Brazil and Argentina!

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Thanks for reading! Don’t forget, if you work up the courage to go on a trip based on reading this article, and everything in the world goes wrong and you think you might be part of a Chevy Chase vacation movie, it’s not my fault. That stuff just happens sometimes. Be prepared, use common sense and listen to your intuition.

Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud

Brown's Bay

It’s January 21st – my birthday!

January 21st has other meaning in my life too.  Six years ago – six years ago today – I was on an airplane headed to New Zealand for six months.  The time in New Zealand had been years in the making, starting with a distinct calling to go there.  It was as if God attached my heart to an arrow and flung it at the country and kept the tether tight, pulling me ever closer.  Reeling me in.

New Zealand was in my dreams, it occupied my thoughts and daydreams, too.  But for years, the doors to go were slammed, dead bolted shut.

And then they opened.  They opened wide and fast, and within a few months I was there.  I worked with a Christan family-help organization.  It helps families in crisis, and helps families avoid crisis.  Even a place as beautiful as New Zealand cannot stamp out ugliness.  There is domestic violence and teen suicide and a lot of drug abuse.

I’ll tell you more about New Zealand someday.  I could talk about it for hours.  But until then, here is an excerpt of a blog post written six years ago, just a few days after I arrived.  (The pictures are from throughout my trip).

Doubtful Sound

Flying into NZ was amazing.  The seemingly endless Tasman Sea was streaked with long lines of clouds.  But then the clouds began to change shape.  Now they were curved, mimicking the shape of the unseen coast line.  And then, without warning, imposing fingers of land – untamed cliffs covered in emerald green grass – jutted out of the sea.

And there it was.  New Zealand – my New Zealand.  The New Zealand that God whispered into my ear four years ago.  Beautiful pasture dotted by the occasional house.  Green fields segmented by British-looking hedges. I could see it with my eyes and soon it would be beneath my feet.

My first thought was from Rilke’s Poem (I, 19 from his Book of Hours) where he writes from God’s perspective:

I Am, you anxious one.

Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

 I am the dream you are dreaming
When you want to awaken, I am that wanting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.

The dream is a reality, and I am standing on its soil.

That first night, as I lay in bed and thought about the hours I spent crossing seas to get here, I was struck by how small this little island is compared to the massive oceans.  I felt very exposed and vulnerable.  Maybe even scared.  This little blip of green in a mass of blue between Australia and Chile is very far from home.

I live with Paula and her three children: Daniel (9), Dominic (“nearly 7”) and Kristin (4).  They have been incredibly accommodating as I adjust to many things.

Having everything so different all at once is a bit of a shock – I guess that’s why they call it culture shock.  It is all so different, but I like it, and I know that in time it will be home and I will be sad to leave.

And it’s true.  I was sad to leave.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel that tether, that I don’t long for my New Zealand, my New Zealand routine, my New Zealand usuals like perfect coffee and tea and chocolate and fruit.  I miss how skinny I got from having to walk two miles every day between bus stops.

But most of all I miss my New Zealand family.  My throat clenches when we chat on Skype and Daniel has a man’s voice now, or when I realize that Kristin is the age that Daniel was when I was there.  I miss Paula, who became one of the most important and beloved people in my life.  I don’t call them as much as I should.  Mostly because when I do, the tether grows tight again in those moments.  It is equal parts joy and pain.

That tether, that arrow.  It still pins down a chunk of my heart that will forever be tied to New Zealand, or as the native Maori call it, Aotearoaland of the long white cloud.

New Zealand |