Travel Tips

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. 

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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 :) 

Insurance

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. 

Health

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. 

Finances

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. 

Research

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!

How to Plan Your Next Great Adventure

Picking a Place and Deciding to Go

Sometimes it’s very simple to decide on a travel destination, because an opportunity pops up or you’ve been dreaming of it forever. Other times it feels like there are a million places in the world that you haven’t been yet, and choosing between them isn’t easy. If you do not have someplace in mind, look at airfare prices and consider what’s the most affordable and what fits with your schedule. For me, the transport to and from a place is usually the most expensive part of the trip, so minimizing that can save money for experiences, accommodation, and food.

The other way to figure out where to go is to get advice. You can skim Pinterest (check out my boards for some major wanderlust) for a particularly intriguing and beautiful place. Ask someone who has visited the region that you are thinking about, maybe they recommend certain countries above others. However, keep in mind that other travelers may have different priorities and tastes when it comes to travel than you do. Honestly, I find that while I do prefer some destinations to others, every country has a lot to offer, so there will always be adventures.

If you already know where you’re going, check out the easiest and cheapest ways to get there. Which city will you fly into? Are you buying a roundtrip ticket? It’s true that often a roundtrip ticket is cheaper, but not always. When you plan on travel for over a month, it can be cheapest to buy a one-way ticket to a place when the time is right and then wait until the return prices drop and buy the other half. This is also helpful if you are not flying out of the same place you flew into, which is most likely when you are away for an extended period of time.

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Lastly, I have one travel secret to share with you: Rome2Rio. What is that, you ask? The best way to see all of the options that can get you from point A to B. Type in two places and you will see bus, train, plane routes and prices. While not all of their options are viable (a 40-hour flight with three layovers?!) it’s worth considering different modes and combinations of travel. Maybe you can break up the many layovers and stopover in a few more places, or maybe you didn’t realize there was a local ferry as well as the expensive tourist speedboat. Seriously, try it out. But be warned, I’ve spent quite a bit of time planning trips on Rome2Rio to procrastinate work!

Accommodation

Finding accommodation is often the hardest part of trip planning. It often feels like you have to choose between price and quality. Not to mention, there are now many more options beyond the standard hotel, so there are multiple search engines and companies to scroll through. I usually go straight to hostelworld.com when I’m looking for a place to stay, and airbnb.com after that. It all depends on the place. If it is in the middle of a European city, there are tons of cheap options, often pretty well-rated and reviewed. But recently I was looking for someplace to stay in Boston, and found everything was expensive as a hotel, and the selection was limited because there are so few hostels in America. In rural areas or with big groups of people, it’s worth looking into renting a house for your stay, either through vrbo.com or airbnb. For solo travelers or duos, hostels or even couchsurfing may be the best option, or a private room in someone’s house via airbnb.

There are some main points to consider when booking a place to stay: price, proximity, quality, and extras. (You can find my guide specifically for booking great hostels here.) The first thing I usually do on any of the above search engines is filter and sort the selection. I focus the map or area within a short distance of my location and well-connected to public transportation. So then I use the sliders or other tools to only show me options in my price range and I sort them so I see the highest rated at the top. I believe I have only stayed at places that have solid ratings and reviews, never at a place without reviews as I want to ensure a certain level of cleanliness and security before I go. Depending on where you are heading the prices will differ greatly, as I recently found planning to go to Stockholm from Poland (hostel prices hit a low of 9 USD a night in Warsaw and a high of 50 USD for a dorm bed in Stockholm). And lastly, when I speak of extras, I look to book hostels and hotels that include as much as possible for their prices. Some hostels will charge you to rent sheets and towels, while others will provide them for free, as well as tea, coffee, and city tours. It’s easy to figure out which one to choose, if you check what is included in the price of your stay.

 Sometimes efficient accommodation means sleeping on the train! 

Sometimes efficient accommodation means sleeping on the train! 


Day-to-Day Budget

Creating a budget for a trip seems reasonable, until you try and follow that budget. There are often extra expenses that pop up in real life. It’s helpful to look at budget posts on travel blogs or look at a menu and it’s prices of a popular restaurant wherever you are going to get an understanding of what a typical day will cost. Also you should always build in a few extra dollars to your budget for that dessert that you didn’t quite plan on buying. In the end you want to roughly know how much you will spend on four categories: transportation (from flights to metro rides), accommodation, food, and fun things.

Activities!

The best part to plan: what you’re going to do when you arrive at your destination. However I caution against planning too much--you don’t want an hour-by-hour guide to your entire trip. I go through TripAdvisor.com and forums to find the tourist ‘must-dos’ and I write down anything that catches my attention. If I know anyone who lives in the place I’m visiting, or has been there, I ask them their favorite restaurants, museums, etc. I also check out some of my blogger friends, because they’ve been pretty much everywhere and can give me the ins and outs of a place.

Personally, I know what I like when it comes to traveling. I enjoy museums, art galleries, markets, green spaces, and anything featuring the history of the place. While there are a few things that must be checked off your list, don’t do something to simply say that you have. I do not enjoy standing in lines, so while I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower, I’ve never been up. I’d rather spend my time eating a crepe in a nearby garden. So choose what you’ll do and who you will do it with carefully.

 

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I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: plan well, but not too much. Be open to serendipity and surprises from the universe. I used to plan day to day, where I would be before I left. On part of my gap year in Europe, I had the entire three months planned in advance, exactly when I would leave one place and where I would be staying at the next stop. But I learned that life happens and sometimes, my plans constrained what I could do or see. In Thailand, I was in a Chiang Mai hostel when I heard a guy speak about how awestruck he was by the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun, in Chiang Rai. He convinced me that it was like no other temple--and I had to see it for myself. So I switched around my reservations to head south, luckily without losing any money, and I bought a three-hour bus ticket and booked a great new hostel in Chiang Rai. The temple was amazing, the city was uncrowded, and I had the hostel pool to myself. It was so worth a quick divergence from my planned route, and so I made a promise to myself to not over-plan again.

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If you sign up for my mailing list, you’ll receive a printable planning sheet to help you make your next adventure happen.