Here’s the last installment of Making Traveling a Reality, Part 3: Once You’re There.
– If you’re traveling solo and are like me and often forget to plan out certain (important) details, and you find yourself on the other side of Customs at a foreign airport realizing, “Uh oh, I don’t know how to get to my hostel,” don’t panic. Open your maps.me app, where you hopefully downloaded maps for cities you’ll be traveling to. There, you can enter your hostel name and find transit directions for public transport or driving (to know how long your cab ride should last).
– Some thoughts on that: I love public transportation. I have been able to take buses and subways in most places I’ve traveled to (Europe, Australia, Cape Town, and Hong Kong, off the top of my head), and found it to be highly safe. Just keep your bags in sight, purse zipped and close to you (my hand is practically glued to the zipper, with my purse criss-crossed over my body), and as always, be aware of your surroundings.
– If you didn’t remember to download maps or directions in advance, take advantage of the limited free wifi at the airport before you head out. Most airports will give you at least 30 minutes of online time. If all else fails, talk to someone at Information. They’ll help you figure out your best route, although employees sometimes have connections to taxi services, so don’t let them dissuade you from saving $$ and taking public transportation.
– Quick tip on navigating this step: don’t make it painfully obvious that you just flew in to a different country for the first time, and are deliriously jet-lagged, and/or a little scared. Remain (and appear) confident, stay in the airport a little longer if necessary to get your bearings straight, and get advice from locals about safety tips. (For example, I’ve never had any issues, but I’ve always been advised to ride in official cabs only (licensed, numbered cars with legit paperwork inside) and to avoid empty train/subway cars. Common sense stuff, but it’s worth mentioning.)
– If you have a great debit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees–which you should (Charles Schwab plug again)—withdraw cash at an airport ATM so you’re prepared. $40-50 USD is fine to start. I love my debit card because I don’t have to exchange money before I leave for trips, avoiding: 1. paying fees to my non-Schwab local bank to exchange currency and 2. the stress of carrying lots of cash. I’ve found it helpful to buy something small like a pack of gum at the airport so you have smaller bills, in case you need to pay for a bus/metro fare in cash and exact change is required. I can’t think of a time in any country, the U.S. included, where a bus driver gave me sympathy for not knowing the fare rules. It’s best to be prepared.
– At your hostel, take a little time to get settled, and then get social. Push through your jet lag and talk to the reception staff to find out what activities are being offered. I’m a total introvert, but I’ve followed this advice and have made amazing friends around the world, sometimes after only having a few hours of our trips overlap. Avoid the temptation to hide in your room using wifi. Do a quick update so your people know you’re safe, and then get out. Hang out in the common areas and meet new people, take the hostel’s city walking tour, go on their sponsored pub crawl. (And if you go on a wine tasting tour, don’t drink all the wine in Cape Town to drown your sorrows about the U.S. election. Oops.)
– I hear a lot of concerned (maybe judgmental?) comments from U.S. people about hostels—which I find interesting, as it seems many people in the U.S. have never stayed in a hostel. If you’ve tried budget traveling and it’s not your thing, that’s fine. But if you give it a shot, you’ll find that wayyyy more people are friendly than not. And in my experiences staying in hostels all over Europe, Australia, Peru, and South Africa, no one is out to get your stuff. We know we’re all broke. I should preface that by saying, it’s worth going for the 9 out of 10 star hostel over the 6 out of 10 one. Pay the extra $5/night. The only negative stories of hostels I’ve heard about are from reading reviews of the cheapest of the cheap hostels. Again, common sense. Lock your stuff in the locker in your room and don’t worry about it. (And in most hostels I’ve stayed at, most people don’t even lock their stuff. All trust in humanity is not lost yet, worldwide. :))
– Next: phone stuff. I’ve managed to get by and communicate just fine with my trusty iPhone 5, only using wifi and keeping my phone on airplane mode. For free. Wifi is becoming increasingly available world-wide. The exception, of course, is rural areas. So when I lived on a farm in South Africa for a month, I popped out my iPhone SIM card with an earring (it’s possible), bought a local SIM card for next to nothing and popped it in (after shaving it down on cement to fit—think outside out the box) and then bought data packages (sold in most convenience stores). In S.A., I couldn’t have spent more than $15 for a month of internet use. Just be aware of which apps use the most data. If you’re really skimping, it’s best to mostly stick to whatsapp and quick email-checking.
– Last but not least, no matter how lost, confused, stressed, tired, homesick, hungry, or hangry you are, don’t let it show. If you’re traveling solo, look like you belong wherever you are. Walk with a purpose, smile at nice people even if you want to cry (not advice I give in everyday life, but just here, for safety purposes), know where you are, always, even if you enjoy wandering, and even when it’s hard, wipe that “deer in the headlights” look off your face. You’ve made it to a foreign country, you’ve done your research, and even bumps along the road are all part of the adventure. You got this.