I remember the first time I travelled alone- I was scared, excited, nervous, convinced that I would be getting into trouble but absolutely sure that it was something I had to do, no matter what.
Ten years later, I have no regrets taking that first leap and would never have had it any other way.
Here are my travel tips for women who are contemplating travelling solo but are a little unsure whether they should:
1- Start small
Everyone wants to start off with a bang, but I would suggest that your first solo trip be somewhere in your own country, preferably to a place you've never been to or have only been to as a child- this way, the trip will still be exciting and different.
The purpose of travelling within your country but in unfamiliar territory is that it will be a combination of being out of your comfort zone yet not entirely foreign because you'll still be speaking your language and using your currency. You can move on to more challenging countries later but for now, what's important is that you build your confidence and courage.
2- Do your homework
The main reason why people feel nervous about travelling alone is because they're unprepared. They worry about basic things like how to use public transport and whether it'll be safe to walk at night. There's a very simple solution to this- do a whole lot of reading about the city/country you're going to. Compile contact numbers of your embassy or high commission, nearby 24-hour hospitals and emergency services.
Don't forget to do a Google search on local customs, dangerous places to avoid (night and day) and how to avoid unwanted male attention. You'll feel more confident after you equip yourself with this information, guaranteed.
3- Reassure the folks at home
My parents needed a whole lot of convincing before I left on my first trip, which is to be expected. What's important is that you mustn't get discouraged or have second thoughts when they ask questions like, "Do you really have to go alone?" or "Can't you find anyone to go with you?". Instead, reassure them that because you've done a lot of reading, you'll be okay.
What I normally do is to text them as soon as I arrive at my destination and again later after I've checked in. After that, I send emails or text messages every two days not only to tell them that I'm still alive but also to prove to them that I really can look after myself. If you can reassure them that you're capable of travelling alone, they won't doubt you and you won't have any reason to doubt yourself.
4- No, you won't be alone
If you're worried that you won't meet anyone and won't make any new friends, don't. There's never been a country I visited where I didn't meet fellow travellers. You'll never be the only traveller in the country you're in (if you are, that's a sure sign you need to get out of there fast), so get ready to exchange email addresses and postcards.
Be warned, of course, that just like in everyday life, you'll meet all sorts of people on your travels. Your own common sense should tell you whom you can trust. If your instincts tell you to avoid a particular person, listen to them and find a new friend.
5- Will I be all right?
Yes, you will be, if you do the following:
(i) avoid dangerous areas, which you'll discover from your research;
(ii) stay in at night unless you're with a group of people you've learnt to trust; and
(iii) keep note of the last bus or Metro service so that you know when to start heading back to your hostel.
It also makes perfect sense not to:
(iv) wear flashy, expensive accessories (jewellery and watches);
(v) flash your money or credit card(s) about and
(vi) carry expensive-looking bags. Sometimes one of those woven shopping bags will do just fine.
At all times: Keep your senses about you and be aware of your surroundings. If you think you're being followed, walk towards the nearest group and hang around them for a while.
So should I go, or what?
Yes, young lady, you should. Go. I did.