travel insurance

When Things Go Wrong, and I'm Alone

I get asked about this all the time:

What if something terrible happens to you?

Are you ever really scared?

How do you handle weird situations when you’re alone?

Finally I decided to write about it, mainly for those who don’t travel alone and are curious. I’ll tell you now, I’ve heard just about every travel horror story and have been warned many times by friends, family, and acquaintance to ‘be very careful.’ And I am. But I also have faith in myself.

Despite the trials and mishaps, I love exploring alone. 

Despite the trials and mishaps, I love exploring alone. 

I’ve had weird and unnerving experiences abroad, especially traveling alone. Yet every time, I am able to figure my way out of the situation, usually in one piece. Take for example, my arrival in the south of France during my gap year. I took the TGV train from Paris to the south of France and from there I hopped on a local bus. The bus driver helped me figure out where to get off, a tiny town with one small grocery store, a bakery, and a bank. From there I did my best to follow the directions my hosts had provided, thanking my foresight to look up the bed and breakfast on the walkthrough version of Google maps. Still I was confused when I got there. There were two gates onto the property, both of them locked. One was obviously for the bed and breakfast, and the other was down the hill and around the side of the property and looked to be for staff. I couldn’t see anyone and tried calling out to no avail. I checked my last email with my hosts, where I told them when I would arrive. I sat on my suitcase for a while, until a woman passed walking her dog. She knew of the people who owned the B&B, but didn’t have their phone number. I saw a group of people pull up and unlock the front gate, and quickly hurried that way. Chatting with them, they had no clue about the owners and had just been hired for the night. They suggested I go to the other gate. Now, a few hours after being dropped off, I was really wondering what I had  signed myself up for. Finally, as I was trying to figure out where to go for the night, I saw a figure walking down the road toward the back gate. I jumped off my suitcase, waving a little frantically.

It was another volunteer, and he told me that I was expected tomorrow due to an email mixup. He had been heading to the beach for a swim when he saw me. My hosts were visiting Morocco at the time so the B&B was pretty quiet. He helped me get settled in my small, sparse room before showing me around. Throughout that afternoon and laying in bed that night, I was anxious about my choices and situation. I took some basic precautions--I used my doorstop on my room door that night and my family knew where I was going. But I stuck it out, trusting my instincts. As I settled in, I made amazing friends, learned a lot about gardening and running a B&B, and enjoyed living between the beach and the mountains. This first workaway experience was unforgettable and changed my outlook on life. And I wouldn’t have gotten there if I wasn’t willing to take a few risks.

To be okay through almost any situation abroad, here is what you need:

  1. Travel Insurance - I recommend World Nomads, an affordable insurance that varies by length of stay and region of travel but always offers two levels of insurance. They have helped me find reliable emergency clinics in Bangkok when I had a staph infection and then covered the cost of the visit. They also will cover some electronics and personal items, helping me pay for a new iPhone when mine got wet while traveling. A dependable travel insurance that is easy to contact will help you know that you have someone to help if you get sick or your plans are ruined.

  2. Emergency money and medications - It is super important to carry some backup cash (this can be U.S. dollars or any currency) just in case ATMs are not accessible or your cards are not working. I usually keep $50-100 dollars stashed in a few places in my luggage.Also traveling with some basic medications is smart. This means Advil, Imodium, and any prescription medications you use regularly. It’s very possible to get medications abroad, but it’s easiest to carry some with you.

  3. Your instincts - There have been moments where I have switched metro cars or taken a better-lit street even if it was a longer route. Once I was waiting for a bus in Thailand, at a stop next to a police station. A policeman came out of the building and a driver pulled over. They obviously knew each other and chatted for a few moments. Then the policeman came over to me and told me the man in the car could give me a ride back to the city. I declined, saying I would wait. The policeman asked again and told me it was okay to go in the car. Reluctantly, I hopped in. We made light conversation and the driver was very polite. However, the second we got into the city and I knew the area, I thanked him and hopped out. Maybe he was fine, but I prefered to take the reins and control the situation.

  4. The ability to ask for help - I can’t even count the number of times I’ve stopped someone to ask for help. This can be directions, a translation, or to use their phone. At a small restaurant in Bangkok the businessman at the table next to me translated the menu for me and conveyed to the waitress that I was vegetarian. Asking for help is something that comes naturally to me now and I understand that often, people can be trusted. I believe the American viewpoint is often distrustful of others abroad, but so many people have been willing to help me that I now I have a different viewpoint.

  5. The knowledge that you’ll get through it - This may not sound like a lot, but often the simple understanding that I’ll come out on the other side of a situation keeps me calm and allows me to get through it. This stems from my past experiences that have tested my reflexes and emotions, giving me a confidence in myself and my coping abilities.

I hope you found these tips and stories helpful. Also I have a post specifically about safety and the questions I often receive about staying safe abroad.

Before You Go on Your Next Trip...

As I was preparing for my next trip, 6 weeks in central and eastern Europe, I started to think about all the things I needed to check off my list before I went. Basically getting everything in order so that I could enjoy my time abroad and not worry too much. Here’s my checklist below, so that you can make sure that you’re ready to travel. 


Passport and Visas

First of all, everyone should know where their passport is at all times. Then you should ensure that you have plenty of pages and it’s not expiring any time soon. Next check the regulations for where you are traveling to. If you are traveling for a while, you need to know how long you can stay and if you need a visa. Then if you do, make sure you can get it on arrival (sometimes you have to pay for this, like in Cambodia) or send in paperwork or visit a consulate if you need to apply before the trip. Also know the consequences for overstaying, as some countries will charge you a fine, and others take overstaying a visa very seriously and could arrest you. In all cases you want to play it safe and not put yourself in a spot of trouble—while still staying for absolutely as long as possible :) 


BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE. I don’t care if you think you need it, or if you never get injured: because the second that it comes into use, it is so helpful. I highly recommend WorldNomads. I’ve bought insurance through them for my last few trips and it is the best choice on the market that I can find. Basically you put in the details of the trip (your home country, what region you are traveling to, with how many people, and for how long) and you get a personalized quote, that covers you for a certain amount of weeks. Then you view the coverage for specific areas and can choose between the Standard or the Explorer plan. I usually choose Explorer, even though it’s a little extra because it covers more adventure activities and the coverage for lost or damaged items is higher—this way I know my electronics are covered. When I was in Asia, there was an incident where my phone got wet, and was fried. Although I went the rest of my trip without a phone, WorldNomads covered the entire cost of a new iPhone, with relatively little paperwork. 


This may surprise some of you, but I think that everyone should consider whether they need to visit a doctor before they travel. First off, if you are going to certain areas of the world that are very different from where you live, you may need vaccinations. Many backpackers question whether they need malaria pills, vaccines for dengue fever, or more. They think that with a spray of bug spray, they’ll be fine for a few weeks. I think it is better safe than sorry—also, many of the vaccinations last for a while or you only need them once, protecting you longer than just one trip. 

I also recommend going to a doctor if anything has been bothering you or you have a mysterious rash, etc. Get all of the small stuff checked out before you are overseas and it is harder to find a doctor or get your insurance to cover it. Traveling is best when you aren’t worrying about such things. 

Lastly, if you have any prescriptions, either pills or monthly/daily contacts, order what you need a few weeks in advance. I can say from experience that paying for express shipping and calling companies to ensure that these things arrive in time can be nerve-wracking, so the earlier you order them the better. 


Of course, you say, I need to have enough money to travel and live abroad. But preparing your finances can mean more. Pay all your bills and make sure you can pay in advance or electronically while you’re on the road. Make sure none of your credit or debit cards expire while you are away. Lastly, you should not forget to call or swing by your bank and tell them where you are traveling to and for how long. This is important to make sure that your charges are not blocked when they come from foreign countries. There is nothing scarier than not having money in a foreign country, so simply make sure your accounts are accessible. 


My last step for getting ready to travel is by far the most exciting. Because researching where you are going to be soon prepares you for the cost and the changes in culture, giving you a taste of what is to come. A ton of research is not necessary, you will hear of good restaurants or places to go when you are at your destinations. But figure out basic customs and words of greeting and thanks. also check to see where currencies change, so you know when you need to get new money. If you don’t plan on paying for a taxi, save a public transportation map and screenshot or write down the directions to your accommodation. A well-researched trip helps everything go smoothly and makes those tiring travel days easier.

This post contains an affiliate link (aka I get a little coffee money if you purchase from the companies I recommend). But I only promote brands I love--all of my opinions are completely my own.

Get super ready for your next trip with  my travel planner !

Get super ready for your next trip with my travel planner!