When I turned 18, I decided to embark on a three-week trip across Scotland—no set itinerary, no travel companions. The plan was to force myself to be spontaneous and independent. And I would do it by going totally alone.
It seemed like a great idea when I booked the ticket, but as the date grew nearer, I got more and more nervous—to the point that when it came time to go to the airport, I didn’t really want to go at all.
Luckily I’m stubborn; I didn’t want to admit to my family and friends that there was no way I was brave enough to spend weeks alone in a country I’d never set foot in. So I sucked it up, packed my bag, and got on that seven-hour flight to Glasgow. And you know what? It turned out to be an amazing experience! And I returned all the wiser. Keep reading to see what I learned on my first solo trip…
Cover your bases
Sticky situations abroad are always stressful, but they’re even scarier when you don’t have anyone to help you through them. My strategy? I made sure all of my vital items (passport, wallet, etc.) were always on me—and I mean literally. (I spent many nights cuddling that wallet.) Also, I purchased an all-inclusive rail pass that gave me unlimited travel across Scotland for a set number of days. So even if I ran out of money, I’d never have to worry about getting stranded and missing my flight home.
Plan at your own pace
The best part about travelling alone? The rules are your own. Not ready to leave the cute island village you stumbled upon? Stay an extra night! Love riding trains way more than the average person? Take a super indirect route to your next destination so you can spend all day staring out the window at the mountains and lochs rolling by. Want to eat steak and ale pies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? No one will stop you.
Keep in touch with home
While I was travelling Scotland, I brought along a list of my friends’ mailing addresses. Each time I visited somewhere new, I’d buy a postcard and send it to a new person from my list. Writing about all the cool stuff you’re doing and seeing helps you to remember how wonderful it all is—even if loneliness is getting you down. And when I really couldn’t take it, I would pick up the phone for some instant connection. As long as you don’t mess up your time zone math and call home at 3 in the morning, they’ll be happy to hear from you—especially if you have a good backstory, like “Hi, I’m calling from a cobweb-filled phone box on a rural highway on the Isle of Lewis! I haven’t seen any other humans for twenty-four hours!”
Most people are happy to help
Hostel and hotel staff, train and bus service employees… it’s their job to provide you with the information you need, and usually they are happy to help. Just remember to be polite to everyone you encounter. If, after a long day of handling unreasonable people, a ticket agent comes across your polite and smiling face, they’ll be that much more motivated to help you out. (I also learned that looking cold and wet tends to get you a lot of sympathy—sometimes even free coffee!)
If you’ve got solo travel in your future and are feeling anxious about it, don’t let your nerves put an end to your trip before it has even begun. For my part, travelling alone at 18 taught me how to truly rely on myself and gave me a boost of confidence. And though there was a time I seriously considered cancelling my ticket, in the end, I didn’t regret a thing.
(Well, maybe that steak pie for breakfast.)
View the rest of the articles on Ingle International for more travel guides and tips.