As of October, I've solo traveled in 3 continents: Europe, Australia and North America. So now that I've got a little experience under my belt, here are some of the things I noticed about traveling solo around the globe:
Sharing a common language definitely made navigating the cities easier, and there was decent public transport within the big cities, although it was pretty pricey to get around.
Europe has the best public transport by far, but if you're traveling to a country where you don't speak the language, it can be a bit tricky to navigate by yourself. There were some cities where I definitely would have been lost without having Lexa to figure things out with.
Obviously, I feel a bit more comfortable because I'm traveling within my home country and am around people who speak the same language as me. On the other hand, it's much more expensive to travel here and can be significantly more difficult to get around as public transportation still has a long way to go in most cities.
No matter where you're trying to go, solo travel can be a great option. Who wants to wait around for friends or family to be available when there are awesome travel opportunities all the time?! If I had waited around for other people, I wouldn't have gone to New Zealand/Australia, wouldn't have taken a vacation in California before moving and starting a new job, and would've missed out on at least one country in Europe. Solo Travel can have its ups and downs, and can be totally intimidating for first time travelers (or let's be real, even people who have done it several times before), but it's totally worth it!
What To Do if Your Phone Gets Stolen
2. Get ahold of family and friends to let them know what's going on. Sometimes it's difficult to access some of the accounts or get ahold of the people you need to contact in order to solve the problem while abroad, so having someone from home do it can be a huge help. If you get a particularly nasty thief, like I did, your parents might be freaking out over the weird text messages they're receiving, so give them some peace of mind and send them an email or use a friend's phone to let them know what happened.
3. Once you have access to a computer, log out of all social media accounts, mobile banking apps and email accounts (make sure to log out on all devices) and then change your passwords. Although most phone thieves are probably just looking to make some money by selling your iPhone, they might try hacking your accounts to find credit card info, bank info, passwords or contact friends/family for money.
Helpful Tips to Keep Your Phone From Getting Stolen
Most big, touristy cities are notorious for scammers and pickpockets. When my phone got stolen, I had spent all day being extremely cautious about my phone, my bag, etc. but I let my guard down for one second in a very busy area, and the next thing I knew, it was gone. I fell prey to a teenage girl asking for directions. When she laid her map on my table, she distracted me (and my entire table) long enough to grab my phone without anyone noticing. Here's a couple tips for keeping something like this from happening to you:
We got to see some crazy, beautiful places, but these can be some of the most dangerous places when it comes to pickpockets
1. Do some research before heading to a large city and see what kind of scams are most common. Sometimes just searching the city on Pinterest will pull up that kind of info. It can help you be aware of what to look for.
2. While sitting, always keep your bag in your lap (and if you're not actively using your phone, keep it tucked away). Restaurants, public transportation and tourist attractions are the easiest places to get robbed because you're focused on conversation, navigating from one area to another or taking in the sights. Get a bag that either has a zipper or a snap and keep your arm resting over that area. If you're walking or standing, just rest a hand on top of your bag; it makes it much easier to feel if someone is trying to gain access. If you're traveling in pairs, keep an eye on each other's stuff. Lexa and I would always make sure each other's backpacks were all zipped up and kept an eye out to see if someone was getting too close to the other person's things.
3. Take a "smart" nap if you're traveling for a long time. You can't always keep your guard up, we get it. Sometimes you're just exhausted and need that hour-long train ride from city to city to serve as a quick nap, so you can be on your A-game again when you arrive. While you're snoozing, make sure you have either your head or hand on the part of your bag that can be zipped open. Or snap a lock on the zipper so no one can open it while you're taking a rest.
A Few Tips Before You Leave for Your Trip
1. Back up all your photos and do this regularly throughout your trip. Nothing sucks worse than losing all those amazing photos. I started backing mine up to my laptop and the cloud each week.
2. Have a game plan for what to do if something does happen to your stuff. Know where to go and how to replace it. Make sure someone at home knows the passwords so they can help you make calls and shut down your accounts.
Even the most well prepared and cautious traveler can fall prey to pickpockets. It happens. Take a deep breath and move on, but hopefully these tips can help you know where to start if this does happen.
You've been so excited about this trip, and you've spent so much time planning it.
Don't sweat the small stuff, and don't let something little bring you down. Enjoy this adventure of a lifetime!
Excursions vs. flying solo: What's your planning style?
One of the most exciting, and honestly frustrating, parts of traveling is the planning. Once the dates are set, it's easy to get swept up in the fantasy of your perfect trip. Well slow down there eager beaver; there's still a lot to do. It took Caroline and I a solid three months to coordinate our route through the U.K.
Whether you're taking a solo trip through Southeast Asia or just hanging out in Italy for a week, the most important thing to do is figure out transportation. Nothing is a bigger mood killer than being stranded because you didn't research train times beforehand. Here are a few tips that kept us sane during our backpacking trip:
Now that we've covered tackling the monster of transportation, let's get to the fun stuff: planning day-to-day activities. There's two ways to go-creating an itinerary by yourself or picking an excursion. My recommendation is to go with both so you can figure out which goes with your travel personality. Throughout our trip, Caroline and I did a combination because we liked the spontaneity of picking our own activities and also liked the convenience of being toured around by an expert. Not sure which option is for you? Here's a pros & cons breakdown:
*Favorite excursion sites: Viator, TripAdvisor, Yelp, WSA Europe*
While booking flights, researching transportation and spending hours making your travel Pinterest boards can be a pain, it's all worth it when your trip goes without a hitch. Happy planning!
Living in another country also reminded us that people measure success and happiness in different ways. A lot of Spaniards live with their families into their late twenties, which is almost taboo in the U.S. We also met young travelers with our same idea of traveling before being tied down by jobs, relationships, etc.-which helped us validate our decision and not feel so alone about going against the grain.
The "College to Real World" transition isn't talked about
After 20+ years of schooling, getting that diploma doesn't just mean graduating, but a complete shift in lifestyle. Some choose grad/med school, a gap year (woot woot!), or starting that first job. But no one talks about the transition: like how intense more school is, how tedious job searching becomes or the struggles of adapting to a 9-5 work life. Not to mention that many of us are paying bills for the first time, keeping a budget and probably living in a new city.
Honestly, we have no idea why this life change isn't the most talked about...so make the change yourself! Whenever I network, I'll ask for just general life advice, which always leads to an interesting conversation. Some of my mentors have told me to be careful when choosing my first job-because it's easy to get stuck in an industry when you're comfortable-while another talked about how to look at my first salary (what you need to live vs. what you want, i.e. a financial goal).
When you think of your friend studying abroad, what comes to mind? Most likely it's the gorgeous photos featured on her Instagram or stories of country-hopping on the weekends. While going abroad includes seeing beautiful places, gorging on delicious food and having total freedom, it's so much more.
Nowadays employers are looking for unique candidates-so put those travel stories to good use! Here are four skills from studying abroad that can make you standout in an interview and land that dream job:
1. Having superior people skills
Let's face it, everyone likes comfort. It's tough to actively approach new people when you're surrounded by friends. Making new connections can be awkward, nerve wracking and sometimes embarrassing. But all travelers have something in common....traveling! When you're exploring tourist hotspots, it's natural that you'll strike up conversations with people from all over the world. Travelers are usually more open to hearing your stories and you'll be excited to hear about their adventures too.
Soon, YOU will be the one confident enough to spontaneously start conversations. While not all of the people we met were wonderful conversationalists, we learned how to overcome awkwardness, find commonalities and just enjoy someone else's company. These moments with other travelers are so fleeting, that it's a great opportunity to practice connecting with someone without social pressures.
How to use this skill:
Interviews can be intimidating. Trying to give off a great first impression to a stranger can make even the most confident person insecure. But your potential new boss is just like that guy you met on the train to Budapest: a regular person. This is your moment to put those international people skills to use and hone into the "traveler" version of yourself-relaxed, personable and self-assured.
2. Solving real world problems
A typical interview question is, "How do you handle challenges or overcome obstacles?" Candidates can easily drum up a story from college on how his/her marketing group had to work with a tough client to pass a class. Guess what? Everyone has done that. Show your interviewers a little flare and personality by telling them about that time you lost your luggage in Switzerland and only survived off of 50 euro for the weekend.
How to use this skill:
Showing how you navigated a mishap in a foreign country speaks volumes about your character and how you handle stressful situations. Another plus is that it happened in the real world. Not in a classroom setting, for a grade or as part of an internship. It's a unique way to show off your levelheadedness and problem solving skills on the spot, while also giving them a taste of who you are as a person, not a student.
3. Experiencing new cultures
It's no secret that employers are looking to hire people who are inclusive and can bring diverse ideas to the table; no one wants to run a company with only like-minded people. Going abroad says to someone that you're looking to absorb, learn and adapt to a new culture: the perfect picture of inclusivity and diversity.
How to use this skill:
Having a global perspective can relate to anything: how you react to conflicts within your team, being open-minded to the ideas of others, working to understand someone else's perspective, etc. Being part of a different culture challenges your customs and how you see yourself outside of your comfort bubble. Employers will eat up your excitement to learn and thrive in a new situation.
4. Using a foreign language
With how fast tech is advancing, communication around the world is easier-which means it's likely that you'll be interacting (and possibly competing) with foreigners in your job. How impressed would your boss be if you were the link to making a business relationship happen because of your language background?
How to use this skill:
Speaking another language is just another tool to show off your uniqueness. Employers will be impressed with your commitment to sticking with a foreign language, the value you find in connecting globally and the extra steps you're willing to make to form international relationships.
Studying abroad isn't just about seeing the world. It's what you can take away from your experience to better yourself and standout in the workplace. Happy job hunting!
Many high school and college grads dream about celebrating that special day with a rite of passage backpacking trip through Europe. I mean that's what you see on TV shows (I'm talking about Gilmore Girls). It's an exciting dream to be young and carefree with a backpack. Sorry to spoil that dream, but backpacking isn't as glamorous as what you see on Instagram. Our backpacking trip through the U.K. taught us some valuable lessons on how not to break our backs or our spirits.
Use these tips to find your perfect bag:
How to get a permit
If you’re a member of AAA, that is your easiest and cheapest route to getting an international driver’s license. I went to the nearest AAA office, filled out a form, showed my driver’s license, gave them two copies of a passport sized photo and paid $20. I walked out about 15 minutes later with a driving permit valid in about 150 countries worldwide.
If you don't have AAA, my suggestion would be to head to your local DMV and ask how you can apply for an international driver's license in your state.
Airbnb-the next best thing next to Uber…or so people think. After using Airbnb in the U.S. and Europe, it’s safe to say we’ve seen both the good and ugly of staying in someone’s home. So here’s the nitty gritty on how to find the perfect property, the pros and cons and how our own Airbnb experiences went down.
How to use Airbnb:
I’ve got to hand it to the company, its website and app are super easy to use. Aside from the usual filters, you can see and compare where all matched properties are on a map. This is great because you’ll know exactly how far it is from the city center. After booking, you’ll get a message from the host with instructions on what to do when you arrive.
Insider’s Tip: If you pick a “shared room,” it’s likely that other couples will be at the property too. A new trend is that hosts are renting out several rooms at a time, like an actual B & B, so get ready to fight for the bathroom!
1. It’s an authentic experience-You actually get to “live like a local.” Usually your hosts have great tips on how to use transportation, where to eat and the top attractions to see. Especially when you’re in a new city, it’s nice to have a contact for all of your questions. Plus, not staying in a stuffy hotel can definitely make your experience; being surrounded by the culture pushes you to embrace it more.
2. The price-Let’s be serious, this is the real reason why we’ll pick an Airbnb over better accommodations. Just like with an Uber, the more people, the cheaper it’ll be. It’s an awesome deal for bigger parties, just be prepared to pay a deposit if you’re booking with a group.
3. Less stress-If your host is a good communicator, everything is pretty simple. Since you’re working with him/her one on one, it’s easy to ask questions, switch check-in times, etc. Another bonus is you get the “homey” feel. You don’t have to put on your professional persona and deal with hotel staff or worry about being too noisy; the vibe is much more relaxed.
Thanks to Airbnb we were 15 minutes from Oktoberfest & saw amazing sunsets in Croatia
1. It’s unpredictable-Even though you’ve done your research, you never know what you’ll get. Most pictures of the property are reliable, but it’s tough to trust a host’s profile 100%. You don’t know what your host will be like, what amenities you’ll be offered or if the location is accurate.
Insider’s Tip: Pick a property with a lot of reviews and read them! Previous renters will be honest about their experience and give you an idea of what you’ll walk into. Also, always keep an open mind and don’t set your expectations too high. Remember, this is NOT a hotel, so the amenities (like getting a towel) will be different for each stay.
2. All hosts are different-With hotels, the procedure is the same…well throw all of that out the window! Each Airbnb host is different. Some will be cool with allowing you to use the kitchen, others have extremely strict rules. You just have to go with the flow and remember that each host has a unique system for his/her home.
Insider’s Tip: Try to cover basic information with your host right off the bat when you meet them like: how to come in/leave the house, WIFI password, if amenities are provided and what the check-out process is like. Sometimes you won’t even see the host and will be given codes to get into your Airbnb, so be prepared for anything.
3. Be alert to scams/misinformation-We’ve had a few experiences where hosts will ask us to wire transfer money offsite or the Airbnb maps didn’t accurately pinpoint an address. Since Airbnb is more of a liaison between hosts and renters, always keep an eye out for anything unusual going on.
Insider’s Tip: If you’re nervous about this, picking a Super Host is always a good idea since they’re recognized for being great with guests. Just use your common sense-if it seems sketchy, report it. Airbnb headquarters is hard to get ahold of and honestly they’re not helpful, so if there are problems, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands.
Traveling alone = more selfies :)
1. Traveling on your own is awkward at first.
The honest truth is that being on your own all day, every day after spending the Fall with a constant companion, just feels odd. I'm used to having someone to talk with, or at least sit in comfortable silence with. Someone who is a built-in buddy, a shield from awkward social situations. Now, I was suddenly on my own. It's new, so it's uncomfortable. The good news? It gets easier! The first few days might feel off, but pretty soon you'll be forced to embrace the potential of an awkward social encounter and just go for it. Try to make new friends in your hostel and chat with your roommates. You may have a new system of people to spend the evenings chatting with and get to hear stories from people all over the world in all different stages of life.
2. Embrace the total freedom.
A definite perk to traveling solo is having total and complete freedom. Ice cream for dinner? Absolutely. Lazy day at the beach? Why not? Buying a last minute ticket to watch your favorite tennis player? Uh, definitely! Somehow the days feel longer now with all the options in the world for what I can do. I don't have to take someone else's interests into account and can completely focus on myself.
3. Getting over your own thoughts and doubts is a challenge.
Being alone all day means having a lot of time to think about anything and everything. I noticed that in my first few days traveling alone, I often felt self conscious. When I walked into a restaurant and asked for a table for one or sat by myself in a park, I wondered if everyone thought I was sad because I was alone. It took me a few days to realize how ridiculous this thought process was. I'm 23 and traveling through two new countries by myself - that's pretty cool...definitely not sad. Once I got over my own nervousness and awkwardness, I embraced the time to myself and actually enjoy it now.
When researching, planning and actually travelling to a new city, technology is a huge influencer in what deals we find, where we go and whether we get lost (yay for no sense of direction!). Since we're travelling without data, apps are our new travel must haves. See what made our list of favorites below:
Transportation & Navigation:
SkyScanner - We've used this app to find the best deals on flights all over Europe this semester. It's our first go-to when planning a trip because it shows you a variety of options across all airline companies. You can set your filters based on how much money you want to spend, how long you want to fly, etc. This is how we found cheap airlines like Wizz Air and Flybe. Check out SkyScanner for yourself here.
GoEuro - This is an awesome app for finding cheap bus & train options. Like Skyscanner, it does a cross search to offer you the best ways to get from place to place via plane, train and bus. This is a definite time saver because you can compare all transportation options in one place. Try GoEuro when planning your next trip.
Maps.Me - Navigating a city without data just got easier. While knowing how to read a paper map is a good skill, sometimes you just want an arrow to tell you where you are and a dotted line to show you where to go. With Maps.Me, download a new city map before leaving a wifi zone and then you're set to explore without worrying about data charges. We hadn't heard about this app until getting to Spain, but it's totally changed the way we travel.
TripAdvisor-This app is a great tool to find different attractions, especially if you're looking for something specific. Its "Things To Do" category is broken into subcategories: Top Things to do, Tickets and Tours, Special Offers, Historic Sites and more. It's also a trusted site when looking at reviews, plus a great platform to voice your own thoughts on the things you see and do.
Pinterest-One of our favorite ways to do some quick research before a trip is to check out city guides on Pinterest. Who better to trust than travelers who've been to the city themselves? You can find all sorts of guides like: 48 hour guides, free things to do, best city sites, etc. It's great because you can read pieces by locals and budget travelers and get a good sense of what's worth seeing before you go. We build our own "digital itineraries" by creating a board for each city and then saving our favorite guides there. This app has given us the space to research and plan our activities in one space.