Let’s face it, traveling alone takes guts.
When you miss your train to Berlin, there is no one to turn to and say, “To hell with it, let’s go have another round.” There is no one to cover for you when you run out of cash and need to “cop” a bill or two. Most importantly, there is no one with you in times of transit when you are the most vulnerable to theft, harassment, and assault. That is why as an independent traveler you need to be adventurous, but still play it safe. Here are a few tips to help you take the necessary precautions when traveling abroad alone. It will ensure that the movie that best fits your trip is more like “Before Sunrise” and less like “Taken.”
I will provide you with three essential “no-nos” inspired by my own less-than-brilliant arrival to Berlin.
I arrived in Berlin at 10:30 p.m. with no idea where my hostel was relative to the train station. My shoulder bag, draped casually open, held un-exchanged Czech currency and a clearly visible laptop.
1. No-no number one, arriving at night.
Be cautious about when and where you will arrive at your destination. Searching for your accommodation is far more difficult at night when you are exhausted from your journey, disoriented, and it is dark outside. Not every city in the world has light-posts, people. Plan ahead and know how to reach your destination from your arrival point. Look for trains that have arrival times in the early afternoon, or to save money, find an overnight train that arrives in the morning. Saving the cost of a night’s stay feels awesome, and you will get to see the city in its morning glory!
2. No-no number two, carrying un-exchanged money.
Prior to departure, exchange your cash for the proper currency. There are dozens of surprise situations that arise when arriving in a new city, and you can’t expect yourself to have thought of everything. I would recommend exchanging the equivalent of at least thirty U.S. dollars, although it obviously depends on where you visit. You want to have enough money to grab something to eat if you are hungry when you arrive, to pay for a cab in a desperate situation, and to cover your accommodation if they ask you to pay up front. Banks are generally the cheapest places to exchange currency, as they obey the official exchange rate and don’t take a commission. Try to avoid tellers at train stations and airports, as they take a serious percentage in commission and take forever.
3. No-no number three, the visible and unsecured laptop.
Be smart when packing your valuables. Visitors are extremely obvious to locals, and upon arriving, that adorable baby deer look you have will attract coyotes. Put a lock on your backpack or suitcase if you can, and keep your eye on your belongings at all times. Never take your hands off of them, especially on a train or bus. If you have a laptop, make sure it is in a case and wear it close to your body. The more visible your valuables, the more tempting you are as a target. If you have a smart phone, try to avoid taking it out at all on public transportation: it is too easy for a thief to grab and run. Even if you feel you are bordering on paranoia, being over-prepared is better than the alternative.
Remember that while traveling alone is incredibly exciting and rewarding, coming home safely is objective number one. Follow these tips and pass them on to your friends!