Conquering The Travel Aspect To Solo Travel

Solo travel is often looked at as though you are traveling to the moon. You are going there by yourself? Aren’t you going to be lonely? Will you be able to figure out the trains on your own? Should you really be traveling as a woman all alone? These are questions of those that I see whiz on past me in groups, with their families, or hand in hand with that significant other. They normally see travel as something you can only do with someone and never alone.

A great deal of travel involves figuring out where you are going. You must rely on taxis, boats, trains, planes, buses, bikes and cars to get you to your destination. These little tasks of deciphering bus schedules and metro systems are often alleviated if another person is with us, reassuring us that it is in fact the right way. If it isn’t, you at least have the company to not panic and think it is the end of the world.

Most of my travels have been experienced with someone I knew, whether with a group of students in college, with family or with friends. The extent of my solo travel was non-existent, like many travelers out there. Actually traveling solo however involves a great deal of confidence and courage.

Public transportation tends to scare a first time solo traveler. There is no one around to hold the map and make a decision for you. You have to figure everything out all by your lonesome. Heading to Milan for a night, I had some trepidations about figuring out the Metro system, train to the airport, and bus to the right airport terminal (thank you Easy Jet).

Arriving in Milan, I felt much like Dorothy arriving in Oz. I knew I was not in little Florence anymore. As that initial panic came over me with bags in hand, suddenly everything seemed fine for no one else was going to figure it out. After checking in, I decided to brave the city. With a map in hand, I searched for the nearest metro stop. A few wrong turns later, I eventually found where I was going. My experience in Milan traveling around on public transportation left me empowered and confident. Here is some advice for solo travelers considering braving the wacky train station schedules or bus systems all alone.

The Duomo in Milan, Italy

Don’t Over Plan With Pre-Trip Reading And Research

The days leading up to my trip to Milan were spent scouring the Internet for useful information to tell me about the buses, metro, and trains. I would jot down train and bus times left and right, reading specifically how to handle the platforms and where to go. All of this reading just made me more nervous and confused. Stop planning. Get there. Find a map and all will be right with the world.

If You Feel Lonely, Hop On A Crowded Metro Car

As I concluded the approaching metro car was in fact what I wanted to be on, I hopped onto a car spilling out with people. Most of these riders looked more like models, adorning sunglasses inside the metro with cell phones in hand. The people watching on public transportation will help you forget you are alone. You aren’t. Someone is bumping you. A new wave of people hops on with every stop. A new wave of stories joins your solo travel experience.

Don’t Panic If Everything Doesn’t Go As Planned

I had arrived in Milan thinking I could just walk to my accommodations. It looked simple enough, but I quickly found myself circling the same streets with bag in hand. This wasn’t part of my perfect plan. Eventually I arrived at my destination, but the key to my arriving in a good mood came by not panicking. Part of the beauty of solo travel is that no one knows if you are going the right or wrong way. Only you, eventually, do. There is no sense in wasting energy on fretting about being lost or confused. Embrace it.

Getting lost and stumbling upon a gem of a purple suit

Reflect And Give Yourself A Pat On The Back

As I returned to my room in Milan with supposedly the best pizza in the city in hand, I felt incredibly empowered. I don’t doubt I was smiling from ear to ear about my solo travel transportation conquering. I rode three different metro lines, found the ever-important Duomo and shopping area of the city, and made my way back in one piece. Be proud of yourself for what you just accomplished. There are few people in the world that actually go it alone while traveling and you are now one of them.

The reward for solo travel transportation conquering...a slice for one

If you are considering traveling solo, my best advice is to try out public transportation. Not only do you become more assertive with your travels, but also the independence of figuring everything out on your own is overwhelming in a good way.

Do you find figuring out public transportation empowering as a solo traveler?

Comments

  1. says

    if you have no one to rely on but yourself, you’ll figure out the public transport eventually.

    I had a host in Kunming, China and was lead around constantly. if u ask me how to go from X to Y, i won’t have much recollection. And I speak and read Chinese! But I have figured out the metro system in France, Spain, and Kyoto, Japan (not Tokyo because my sister lives there and i just follow her around) because I had no choice. :)

    • Suzy Guese says

      It’s funny how if we know someone somewhere we pay less attention to how to get from point A to point B. Very true though. If you are alone, you will figure it out, perhaps after getting lost or after a few headaches, but you do it because you have to.

  2. says

    I read this and could identify with every point!!! The most daunting thing for me has always been the public transport and it’s so much worse when’s there’s a significant language barrier. But I’ve found once I did it the first time after that everything seemed a whole lot less daunting and much easier. It’s definitely worth rewarding yourself with a slice of pizza!!!

    • Suzy Guese says

      Couldn’t agree more. Language barriers can make public transportation terrifying. Pizza was my pat on the back.

  3. says

    Great advice Suzy!

    I can’t help but remember my visit to Milan. I arrived at the central train station and immediately had my wallet stolen. Because I was attending a conference and have been living in Europe I sort of forgot to be a smart traveller and didn’t even hide some money away in a secret spot. It took the kindness of a stranger to get me to my hotel (where luckily I had some colleagues who could foot my bill for my stay).

    Despite this I really do like travelling solo. It is such a great feeling to know that you can go wherever you want without having to worry about someone elses wishes and needs.

    Hehe… I never managed to master the metro system in NYC… I ended up walking everywhere :) At least it was good exercise.

    Btw… did you go up on the roof of the Duomo? It is one of the most beautiful places with all these cool spires and gargoyles.

    • Suzy Guese says

      How awful! I’m sorry you had a trying time in Milan. I’m sure if that happened to me I would have been a little down on solo travel. I didn’t get to the top of the Duomo. I wanted to but I arrived too late in the day. I’ll have to make it back because I have only heard good things.

  4. says

    To be honest, I feel the opposite. Public transport can be tricky, but at least there are always other people around. And I like having total control over where I’m going. Cabs are easier, but if I’m by myself, I can’t escape from my mother’s warnings about robbing, raping cab drivers. Even though the rational part of my brain knows that those fears are beyond overblown, I don’t like the feeling of being completely in a stranger’s control.

    • Suzy Guese says

      Yes, it can be hard putting someone else in control like a bus, cab, or metro driver. For me, I feel empowered though by figuring out those systems alone. I’m not so much thinking that a stranger is controlling my transportation, especially on the metro where you can hop on and off whenever you like. I guess the only other option then is to just walk or rent a car. I have terrible feet so that can be an issue.

  5. says

    Great advice for solo travelers!!! I actually think some of the best things I’ve discovered while traveling have been when I was lost! So, I totally embrace it. That pizza looked goooooood.

    • Suzy Guese says

      Yes, the pizza was definitely up there in the best I have ever had. Thanks for the kind words! Getting lost is such a good thing to do while traveling.

  6. says

    I’ll be going on my first solo rtw adventure next year. The transportation is one of my concerns but your post has been very helpful. From what I’ve been reading from several people, it’s usually better to use the public transportation that the locals use.

    • Suzy Guese says

      Glad my post here was helpful! Public transportation can be great, especially if you are alone. The prices are so much cheaper and it can be pretty painless. It is just getting over that initial fear of not knowing the system that gets me.

  7. says

    I use public transport when possible. It’s a great way to get to know a city and feel like a local. But unfortunately many cities (mainly in the US I should think, at least that has been our experience) don’t have a public transport network so renting a car is the only option.

    • Suzy Guese says

      Yes, using public transportation in the US is pretty difficult, especially in my home town of Denver. If you can use it, you do tend to feel more like a local and less like a tourist.

  8. says

    Spending a semester in Washington D.C. I HAD to figure out public transportation and that was pretty empowering in itself! While I don’t see much solo-traveling abroad for me (just in the U.S.) near future I really appreciated this article, it really gave me hope! :)

    • Suzy Guese says

      I’m glad the article was helpful! Washington D.C. is a great city, but you do have to know how to use public transportation I think to really enjoy it. Otherwise your feet take a beating.

  9. says

    Getting lost and not looking like a fool is why I LOVE!!! to travel alone. I am a total control freak about directions, even if I don’t know where I am going and if I am getting us lost, if I am alone, hey, it’s only me and know one knows it!!

    • Suzy Guese says

      Exactly! I always walk like I know where I am going, getting lost down side streets. Then I discreetly pull out the map to make sure I’m not really that lost. No one has to know.

  10. says

    The vast majority of my traveling has been done with either a good mate of mine or with my long time girlfriend. Solo travel is something I haven’t experienced outside of a two week stint in Italy when I left my mate to head to Greece. What little bit I did do, I loved – though I can totally relate to your apprehensions. Glad you enjoyed Milan and did it solo!

    • Suzy Guese says

      Not until Milan did I really have to conquer a city I didn’t already know by myself. As much as I enjoyed the experience, it is always fun to have someone with you that can decipher the schedules and passes right along with you.

  11. says

    I still haven’t really conquered the art of getting around public transit solo, I often rely on cabs. Really need to do this at some point.

  12. says

    As a girl from a small town in the South who has never used public transit at home, I was destined to get lost on my solo adventure to Boston. I missed my stop and rode the bus all the way to a lonely terminal (it was like a bus graveyard), where I sat for 20 minutes before the driver rode back up the route. I’ll admit to feeling dumb, but then when I found my destination I thought, “What an accomplishment!” Eesh. It was memorable, at least.

  13. Mike says

    I think your article speaks true for a lot of people. I recently went Solo to London and using the public transport and familiarising yourself with it definately gave me a feeling of achievement and confidence while focusing your mind away from any thoughts of loneliness etc. In some way it also gave me a sense of kinship and comfort with the city – you feel as though you are part of it, part of the buzz, as you meet the everyday folk bustling on their way to work etc. You can also find great deals with day tickets and you should of course inform yourself on how safe the public transport is after certain times in the evening.

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