So you've decided to hit the road, by yourself – talk about being adventurous and brave!! Congrats! :) Whether this is something daunting or just a walk in the park for you, here are a few thoughts I'd like to share with you...
- Have a meal by yourself in a restaurant (before leaving home) – This might not be a big deal to some, however, I've met a couple of women who refuse to sit down in a restaurant and eat alone. Personally, I still have days where it gets difficult to be the only person in the whole restaurant eating by myself – especially during an extended journey and homesickness is setting in. I would look around and every other table is either occupied by a lovey-dovey couple, a group of friends or a family. You will meet new friends as you travel (trust me, you will!) who'd share meals with you but there will always be a meal or two where you have to go it alone and room service isn't an option. So this could be an experiment for you. Take yourself to a nice restaurant tonight. Do not check your smartphone every 5 seconds. Do not plug in your headphones. Do not bring a book / magazine / newspaper. Try to enjoy your meal and the atmosphere of the restaurant. Crack a joke with the wait staff. Surprise yourself.
- Familiarize yourself with your camera – Especially if you bought yourself a new one for this upcoming trip. I have done it before and will probably do it again in the future – treat myself to a new camera and not have enough time to learn the functions. Aside from learning how to turn the camera on and off, it's nice to know a few more basic functions. For example the Date/Time setting, I have countless photos taken during the day but the date stamp says ‘pm’ – very silly, really. The camera manufacturers are coming out with very user friendly models, however, sometimes it’s more fun to leave the Automatic setting behind and play around with the other shooting modes. If the User Manual isn't too bulky, take it along on that long haul plane ride.
- Be able to read a city map and/or a transit system map – unless you are comfortable with wandering endlessly. These days with many people dependent on their cars and navigation systems, it is not surprising that people are not able to orient themselves with a map. That familiar robotic voice might not be there, suggesting you make a left turn in 500m. I'm not suggesting you need to know how to use a compass...well you should if you are going camping or hiking. It just increases your independence and confidence when you can get yourself from point A to point B with minimal assistance. [N.B. The free maps they hand out in Paris do not show many of the little streets/alleys. So pay attention to street names instead of just keeping count how many street you have crossed – personal experience.]
- Upload photos of your family and friends onto your phone OR carry the prints with you – You never know when you need to look at a familiar face to comfort you. They are great for those homesick days. They are also great as conversation starters. Many times on my travels, complete strangers who are locals have approached me to start a conversation – sometimes they are simply curious and friendly, sometimes to practice their English. It is fun and it's safe.
- Take a walk in a park or down a quiet street at night – Find your comfort level. You are still in your "backyard" so you know the area but a street can feel completely different at night and empty. To minimize the potential shock to your system of being alone, test your boundaries beforehand. Take along a small flashlight or torch (waterproof if possible) on your trip, it will come in handy, especially if your destination is known for brown outs.
Sometimes a little mental preparation can help make your journey a lot more enjoyable. Bon Voyage!