A few years ago, I met my friend Sae on Skype. Our dads were working in New York City as consultants on a project for a Japanese bank, and her dad asked mine for help with Sae’s college entrance essay. She and I spent a few days on Skype and email working on her essay, but we also got to know each other. The rest, as they say, is history.
In May of 2015, I booked plane tickets to Tokyo for the end of September of that same year. Sae and I had been talking about the time when I could come to Japan and see her and her best friend Moe, just as they had come to visit me in 2013. I was really excited, since this was my first big international trip by myself. However, I was also terrified. Going to a new country by myself, flying 14 hours from home, spending time alone when I couldn’t be with my two friends- all these thoughts kept running through my head. I knew that I would be able to do it, but I had to keep telling myself that I could do it.
The whole time I was in Japan, I loved it, but I was still scared. I wasn’t truly traveling solo, since I was with Sae and Moe most of the time, but it was still an amazing experience to go overseas on my own and travel for the first time in a new country. There was one day where I was 100% on my own for most of the day, and even though I had plans to meet up with a classmate from high school, I had a decent amount of time to do things by myself before and after I hung out with my classmate. Since I was in a country that was new to me and was a place that I couldn’t understand the language, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Instead of sitting in a coffee shop all morning and evening, which is what I’m comfortable doing, I walked around the neighborhood where I was staying before heading to the train station. I made sure to push myself the entire time I was in Japan- trying new foods, learning a little Japanese so I didn’t have to depend on my friends to translate, going new places, having new experiences.
You might be saying to yourself “I’m planning my first solo trip and I’m scared to death, what’s your advice?”. While I’m not the world’s foremost expert on solo travel, I definitely have a few bits of advice to share:
Don’t be afraid to try new things, push yourself to do stuff- Whether it’s food, drink, or experiences (like tours, sports, or other activities), trying new things will not only keep you busy, but it will be a lot more fun than retreating to your hotel room or sticking to what you’re most comfortable doing when you’re on vacation. Venturing outside your comfort zone will not only make your trip that much more interesting, but it will give you so many more memories and provide for some cool stories to tell when you get back home.
Research- This kind of ties into what I said above about trying new things and pushing your boundaries. For me, I love research. One of the things that made me feel better about going overseas by myself was research. I looked up restaurants near the places I was going to be, attractions I wanted to visit, and stores that I wanted to check out.
Language- If you’re going to a country where the main language is different from your own, learn a few phrases in that language to help you get around. I learned a handful of phrases and a lot of vocab from listening to JapanesePod101’s podcast, and that helped me a lot. I wanted to be able to speak some Japanese in case I was interacting with someone who didn’t speak a lot of English.
Pokémon Go- As weird as this sounds, Pokémon Go provides not just fun, but the perfect excuse to explore new areas and meet new people. Download the game to your phone, access Wifi (if you don’t have a phone number local to the country you’re in), and get playing!
Hopefully my experience and my tips will help you in some way as you plan your solo trip!
Kaitlin is an avid travel lover and coffee drinker, and always planning the next trip or a dream vacation. Next on the travel calendar is New Orleans, Louisiana. You can find Kaitlin on Twitter at @theiceboxcar, on Instagram at @kjohnsen21, and on Facebook at facebook.com/zippycar21. She also has a fledgling travel blog at simplykaittravels.com – it is slowly growing and she can’t wait to start writing a lot more on there.