“I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself,” James Baldwin, renowned author, and social critic, once said.
Ciara Johnson, a travel influencer who quit her job a year ago to travel the world solo, shares these sentiments. “You have to travel to step outside of your comfort zone and learn about other cultures and even yourself,” she told ESSENCE. “Traveling can build your confidence in a way that will translate to every area of your life. You will be braver and start making bolder choices, taking greater risks.”
With over a year of full-time solo travel under her belt and 27 countries explored so far, Johnson has a few tips that will get you up and going to that destination you have been dreaming of.
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....OVERPACK: You don’t want to bring more than what you need. “You are not going to have anyone to help you carry your luggage, or watch it while you go to the bathroom,” says Johnson, “So you wanna make sure that you feel comfortable carrying it around so you are not overwhelmed, and it doesn’t become a hassle.”
…RESEARCH THE COUNTRY YOU ARE GOING TO. Find out the country’s customs and cultural norms, common scams to look out for, the political climate, public holidays you should be aware of, know what you should wear if you are visiting religious sites as a sign of respect. “Go in prepared,” says Johnson, “There will be a bit of cultural shock, but at least you will have prepared yourself in the best way possible and ready for whatever comes up.”
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…USE APPS. Johnson says she relies heavily on translation app when traveling abroad. She also recommends having a trusted map app on your phone. “There is a fine line between just wandering around and exploring and being completely lost, which could quickly turn into a safety issue,” she says. Drop your location pin to friends and family often, so they have an idea of where you are. Also, make sure that your phone is always charged so that you can use these apps.
…KNOW WHAT YOUR CELLPHONE PLAN COVERS. Check with your cell phone company before you leave what kind of international coverage you will have. If your plan covers roaming, find out what the charges will be, because those may add. It may be necessary to sign up for a temporary international plan if your existing plan does not cover usage outside of the U.S. If you are staying at your destination for an extended period, it may be cheaper to get a local SIM card.
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…START SMALL. If you can’t afford a big international trip or don’t have the time on your calendar, Johnson says you don’t have to wait until you have saved money or have time off from work. Even going two towns over or out of state for a weekend is a good place to start. While you do that you could be saving money for a bigger trip. “First it will be a road trip, then it will be your first flight, then your first trip out of the country,” she says.
NEVER BOOK A PLACE WITHOUT REVIEWS. Not all reviews are real, but reading reviews by verified reviewers will give you a general idea of what the place is like and the treatment you can expect there. Pay close attention to reviews from women who are traveling alone, whether you are staying at a hotel, hostel, or guesthouse.
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…REGISTER WITH THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE. Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free program that will add you to the roster of the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If there is an emergency or important information like political unrest or natural disasters, you and your emergency contact will be alerted. If something happens to you, the authorities can notify your family or friends.
TELL STRANGERS YOU ARE ALONE. “You want to be as nice as possible, but the reality is that as a woman traveling alone anywhere, there may be some bad people who want to take advantage of that,” Johnson says. If someone asks if you are alone, rather say you are meeting friends than admitting you are alone.
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…READ PERSONAL ACCOUNTS. Find other solo travelers who look like you and have been to the country you plan to visit. Read their stories and reach out to them and ask questions. Find out from them what the experience of a black woman traveling solo is like in that country, or reactions or treatment you might receive there.
...KEEP YOUR HEAD BURIED IN YOUR PHONE. While you’ll want to take pictures during the trip and may need to use apps like maps on your phone, avoid pulling it out on the street or walking around with your head down. Stay alert.
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…BE HYPER AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND TRUST YOUR GUT. Know where you are and who is around you. Both immediate and far off surroundings matter. Look for people or cars following you. You will have to rely a lot on strangers while traveling alone, but if you get any bad vibes from anyone, trust that feeling and move on.
...LISTEN TO NAYSAYERS. There will always be someone telling you that what you want to do cannot be done, but trust yourself and listen to sound advice from people who have traveled to where you want to go.
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…TAKE IG WORTHY PICS. If it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen, so they say. You want to enjoy your trip as much as possible, but also immortalize it for posterity. “I don’t travel around with someone taking my pics, so I ask strangers to do me that favor. Most people don't know what to do, so before I ask someone to take a photo, I quickly scout the location, frame the spot, know my pose, and where they will stand,” says Johnson. “All they have to do is press the button.”
...NEVER POST IN REAL TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Delay posting pictures of where you are or tagging locations like restaurants on social media until you have left the place. You never know who may be lurking.
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…BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION AND ACTIVITIES IN ADVANCE. “I travel often, so I can now wing it,” says Johnson. But, if you are a first-time solo traveler, or even traveling to a country for the first time, you want to have your accommodation booked before you land. Also get the hotel to book you a taxi to pick you up from the airport, to avoid trying to figure out your own way and possibly falling prey to dangerous people. Researching and signing up for tours and other activities in advance means more time enjoying the country, instead of sitting around trying to figure out what to do next.
...BE PASSIVE WHEN MAKING DECISIONS. Do not put yourself in compromising positions while traveling solo, like being too inebriated to see what’s going on around you. “You don’t have anybody making decisions with you, so you want to be alert at all times and be able to use your street smarts while you’re on the trip,” says Johnson.
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...CARRY WADS OF CASH. Only carry the cash that you will need for the day. Leave the rest of it locked up in the hotel. Also, put your money in different parts of your bag, or different pockets, in case you are pickpocketed.
…PURCHASE TRAVEL INSURANCE. A lot of people neglect to get travel insurance, and just like your car insurance, you may not need it but when you do you will be happy you had it. “On my trip through Central America, my things got stolen. Fortunately, I had purchased travel insurance. $1000 was reimbursed to me.”
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