Fact: I am female and I travel a lot by myself. Almost all of this travel is work-related, but on most trips, I have a fair bit of time to explore on my own. In some cases, that time is between when I finish working in the afternoon and going to bed that night; in other cases, my flight home is either late night and I have the entire day to explore; and in still other cases, I've built in a little extra time if it's a place I've really wanted to see. Regardless of how long I'm going to be in a place though, the fact remains that I'm female and I'm traveling by myself. As a result, I've heard from a few people that doing that themselves would make them nervous. So I'm here today to give you all my traveling advice!
DON'T BE AFRAID. JUST GO...
Culture Observations: Maybe it's because my family had traveled internationally several times when I was small, but the landing-in-a-new-culture aspect of traveling has never put me off. That's the interesting part! You get the privilege of learning how day to day life operates in different patterns than your own. And that's not a bad thing. If you can come at it with interest rather than apprehension, you're starting off on a good foot.
Flexibility: For me, traveling alone is sometimes preferable to traveling with either Chaz or a group of friends or coworkers, particularly if I want to see a lot of things in one day. I like the ability to set my own pace, and I know my own stamina, so I just go until...I stop. For me, that usually means I end up walking several miles in a day, which is not the ideal sightseeing experience for everyone. Regardless of how you like the travel, the beautiful thing is that you can do whatever the heeeeeeeck you want.
Pictures: Take a lot! One of the downsides of traveling alone is just that there isn't anyone else there to experience all the cool things with. Taking tons of pictures helps with that, because then it's like having a report to take back home. I also usually take a few selfies, which I sort of hate, but I also like having a picture or two of myself in places rather than just pictures of things.
Packing: PACK LIGHT. Unless you are leaving your stuff in a hotel, you're going to be hauling it around and no one is going to help you. I can tell you from experience that bringing a rolling suitcase with you around the streets of a big city is not fun, even for an hour or two. Don't do it. My best packing/traveling experience was when I got everything into a backpack. I was able to walk around London for the whole day without bumping into people and getting in everyone's way.
Feeling Comfortable: I honestly think that some guidebooks (hey there, Rick Steves...) will scare you into believing that every person around you is just waiting to steal your luggage, your money, and your passport. I don't buy it. Wear your backpack on the front of your body and you will look like a nervous tourist who isn't having fun. Wear your backpack like a normal person and you will look...normal. You will blend in, and no one will give you a second glance. Do you feel comfortable walking on the streets in Boston? Great. You'll be fine in London too. But of course, as with anywhere, just be aware of your surroundings, because it's always safer when you're paying attention. Which brings me to part 2...
...BUT DON'T BE STUPID.
Common Sense: As mentioned above, be aware of your surroundings. I like to stick to places where I know there will be lots of people so that I don't find myself in a dark alley all alone. Not that that's likely. I try to avoid dark alleys no matter where I am! Which is sort of the point: if you wouldn't do something at home, don't do it abroad.
Wandering After Dark: This is debatable. I once walked three miles after dark in a town outside of London to get from my hotel to the grocery store and back again. I turned out fine, but I was on edge the entire time and I decided not to do it again. Had it been daylight, I probably would have thought nothing of it, but the fact that it was very dark made it freaky. Learn from my mistakes! Take the cab.
Pack Carefully: Packing light is really great, but it's easy to steal any form of external luggage. If I'm walking around with any sort of bag, my wallet, passport, and phone are not in it. They are instead in an internal pocket of my zipped-up jacket (or if it's hot...somewhere else not in a bag). That way, if my whole bag gets stolen, I still have money, identification, and a communication device.
Let Someone Know Where You're Going: This is actually an idea from a friend (hi, Sarah!) that I hadn't thought of, but it's a good one! In her words, "I always make friends with the hotel desk person, and then if I'm going out I'll casually mention what time I'm going to be back. They probably won't pay attention, but it can't hurt, right?" Right.
Trust Your Gut: Intuition is a useful thing, I've found. Something smells fishy? Walk away. Seriously. Fish smell terrible... (insert courtesy laugh here). But for real, just pay attention. Don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: HAVE FUN!
That's really all it boils down to, after all. Go be adventurous and discover the world, because it has a lot to offer. Then come back and show me all your photos over a glass of wine and some chocolate, because coming home is pretty great too.
And as a parting gift, a word to the wise: DO NOT get stuck in traffic on the way to the airport unless you want to have a heart attack.