We’ve all seen the horror stories from abroad. The girl who gets arrested for accused murder in Italy, the boy who dies from jumping off a bridge with his friends in Spain, or, as so eloquently portrayed in “Taken”, the young college-age students who get kidnapped by mafia and are sold into sex trafficking. These are all the worst case scenarios you never want to find yourself in while abroad. A safe combination of common sense, knowledge of your host city and a local phone number are ways you can stay safe and out of trouble (for the most part).
If you have parents like mine you may be going into your adventure with a healthy dose of paranoia– I cannot caution against this enough. Be cautious, but never be paranoid. I traveled for six months in Europe, sometimes in large groups, sometimes with only one other friend, and sometimes I even *dun dun dun* traveled solo. As a 21-year-old woman I was a little hesitant about the idea of being able to successfully travel by myself without getting mugged, raped or killed. Now, mind you, I’m aware of how ridiculous those fears may sound but I am positive I’m not the only one who has felt that way.
There are a couple of things I would encourage a solo traveler to do while adventuring,
- Above all else, have a contact that you can either get a hold of or who is aware of your plans and will check up on you. I traveled by myself in Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Greece — some were only days at a time, in some instances a little bit longer, but the biggest thing I can stress is informing someone else of your plans. You will inevitably stay at hostels along the way no matter what continent or country you choose to roam in, there is usually a desk worker, sometimes a 24 hour one- get their number.
- TALK TO PEOPLE. I was so incredibly fortunate to have awesome roommates while in Slovakia, met friends in the hostel in Hungary, met people everywhere in Greece and buddied up with one of the hostel workers in Poland who made sure on my last day to call a taxi for me, and get me safe and sound to the airport. You get as much out of travel as you put into it. I’ve seen the Roman Colesseum, the Eiffel Tower, the Cliffs of Moher and a ton of other amazing places, but it is truly the people that make traveling special.
- If you go out, go in groups. This may sound stupid, because you might ask, what’s the difference between me going out alone or me going out with a bunch of people that I met in the hostel only a couple of hours ago? Well, it’s a good point, but let me tell you why you’re wrongJ. There’s a common bond amongst travelers, at least that I’ve found. Everyone is there for very similar reasons—they’re thirsty for adventure, they want to see the world, and they want to experience something completely new and different. When you’re with a group of people from a hostel, normally, at least in all my experiences, you’re in safe hands. Not to mention, 4 heads are better than 1, if you get lost on the way home or can’t figure out a bus schedule, ect. It’s always better to be lost with someone than lost alone.
- Be cautious, not paranoid. As I’ve said before, you need to use common sense but don’t go off the deep end with paranoia or anxiety. Sure, anything can happen, but it’s unlikely. Carry locks with you for the dorm lockers in case they don’t come with one, make sure you are smart with where you place your money and passport (at all times—you can decide if it’s better on you or in your hostel), don’t go riding off with locals/srangers (although I did once in Croatia and once in Greece, and both ended up being fantastic experiences), and finally if your hostel looks like it might be in a sketchy area maybe make sure you come home at a reasonable time.
- Have fun. This is advice anybody will give you in any situation. Traveling is an experience; you learn things along the way. Ultimately, no matter how many TV shows I watched, blogs I read, or maps I memorized, nothing prepared me for my trip other than living it day to day and figuring things out along the way. You have to learn to laugh at yourself, whether that’s trying to ask for help in French while deciphering the Paris metro map, or ordering food at a restaurant where no one speaks English. Embrace the distance you’ve leapt outside your comfort zone.
Katherine is a senior at Iowa State University graduating with a degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish. She’s traveled to 16 countries, lived in Spain for four months, and volunteered/lived in Greece for two months. She spends her time fantasizing of her next adventure, playing guitar and occasionally “studying”.