Have you traveled alone in unfamiliar territories? Have you suffered from a lack of traveling experience? Are you tired of family trips and group hangouts? Based on personal experience as a lone traveler, I have compiled several valuable tips for those of you who wish to embark upon your own journey.
1. Prep, Prep and then re-prep.
I cannot stress enough just how important it is to do tons of research and preparation before you get going. For the sake of safety and convenience, I always print a load of papers and stuff them in folder before I go. These should include the address of your hotel, map of the surrounding area, transportation info and embassy location in case you are abroad. Also check luggage and bags three times after packing, after each time add a few more potentially useful items to the list, remove what you probably don't need, and check again!
2. Blend into the environment by changing your camouflage.
There is no one type of clothes you should wear as a lone traveler, just as there is no one type of universal environment. Depending on where you are going, be sure to observe what the locals wear and imitate their style as much as possible. I found myself bolder and dressing flashier when I was in Paris and NYC where people tend to wear all kinds of weird stuff, however I would go for something simple and plain in more rural areas to avoid drawing unnecessary attention. Also, I found it helpful to look rough in public transport hubs(train stations) by not washing my face and keep my hair messy(So I look like a hobo who has contracted rabies) to appear tougher than I actually am.This does not work for everyone, so please find your own way of blending into the locals' habitat.
3. Pick the right time to roam, try not be nocturnal.
It is vital for any traveler to know how the locals' schedule work. In some countries, shops and restaurants don't open on Sundays (Germany, central Europe; I learned it the hard way) So don't even considering shopping on those days. In some places people have noon-nap schedules and then they party all night, like in Barcelona, so get used to sleeping for an hour after lunch so you don't miss the dances and the fine Sangria. Also, avoid activities at night as much as possible if you are on your own since you are not familiar with the surroundings and can be easily taken advantage of by unethical locals.
4. Don't hesitate trying new cuisine and experiment with your taste buds.
Keeping a diet while traveling is one of the greatest loss in one's life. I mean there really is no point in doing so, why would you want to miss the opportunity to taste some authentic local delicacy while you are at it? You will return home at some point and all the weight you gained will go away after your life returns to its regular pace. It is even more likely that you will lose a few pounds through traveling because trust me it is physically demanding and mentally intensive, you will need the energy that mouth-watering roasted Rindebraten provides. So don't restrict yourself and try all manners of cuisines the world has to offer!
5. Trust everyone! and... trust no one.
One of the most reliable criterion in judging if someone travels a lot is his ability to interact with strangers. I bet you will meet all kinds of weirdos on the path, some of them need your help while some want to take stuff from you. I was deceived and mugged quite a bit when I started out, I lost my phone in Verona while my wallet was grabbed by a group of unemployed young Greeks in Athens (And yes these two happened on the same trip). You need to be wary of people acting like fake policemen, luggage carriers, beggars, fortune-tellers, and sometimes even hotel receptionists. However, you shouldn't be discourage from talking to other people and making new friends if possible. Just don't reveal too much about your economic status, and you will be fine.
6. Respect, immersion and hang out with friendly locals.
The last thing you want to happen when traveling alone is to act like a clueless tourists, someone who buries his/her head in a phrase book or a map. You should try to experience the local culture instead of watching it from an outsider's perspective. Engage in some festivities, find some friendly locals to talk to, learn the stories of the places you have been to. I always find elderly people very helpful ("useful") in terms of immersing myself, because some of them are genuinely interested in where I came from and have so much to share. Meanwhile you should always at least have respect for locals because tourists are guests after all, and guests should always be appreciative of hosts' hospitality. No one wants to be treated as one of those loud, obnoxious stereotype who gets to see all the cheap crap designed to fool tourists. Become the locals' friends and you will see the authentic, the real and the most amazing parts of their lives.
7. Where you live and how do you choose?
Lodging is one of, if not the greatest difficulty in terms of budget for lone travelers. I have always found decent hotels too expensive and kind of wasteful for just one person, especially during touristy seasons. Websites like Booking.com and Airbnb should be your friends if you want to crash at a nice spot with a reasonable price. I personally book my flights and lodging at least 2 months in advance to make sure the price is good and there is no availability issue. Student apartments are usually okay if you travel alone, although they usually lack even the most basic amenities. I also prefer locations with good reputation and reviews, this is especially important because you want to live in a safe neighborhood after all and the extra price is definitely worth paying.
Traveling alone doesn't mean you are to become a hermit during that time. It is generally beneficial to let your friends and family know where you are when you are traveling alone, in case of emergency they can know your situation and help you. Staying safe should always be your top priority when traveling alone even if that means you may have to call your mom every night as she told you to do so.
In the end, quite a few people told me that their first time traveling alone was like a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey in which they found the essence of being human.You won't feel the freedom until you are there by yourself in a brisk morning basked in sunlight on the train platform of an unknown city. You are not chained to your parents, traveling companions and really not to anyone. That was the moment when you are there in the world, just you as an individual, free to explore however you wish.
I have been a hardcore nomad who travels too much to call any one place home, I don't expect people to live like myself but I am certain that everyone can find something by hitting the road with just the bags on their back.