4 Lessons I've Learned While Traveling (By Myself)

When I was 12, I took my first plane ride by myself from Maryland to Missouri. Well, I was with my younger sister too, but we were on our own. Free from adults! Muahaha! Well, we were very kindly assisted by a lovely flight attendant until we landed and met our aunt at the airport. But my point is that I’ve been traveling by myself or with a companion for over 15 years. Here are some tips that have come in handy as I’ve learned through much trial and error.

  1. Be comfortable.

- I finally went ahead and bought a comfortable neck pillow before going to Pittsburgh for the NAPO Conference this year. Hoo boy, did that make a difference in my comfort level on the plane and in the car! It’s worth it to spend a little more for a really nice, firm pillow that will support you. - I also bought a carry-on size rolling suitcase because I got tired of stuffing my backpack way too full, having to cram it under the seat in front of me, and my back just aching from the strain of carrying it. I’m getting too old for this; my backpack is now retired and it’s wheels all the way. - Wearing comfortable clothes with layers is the easiest way to take care of yourself while traveling. Yoga pants (or baggy pants with pockets), sneakers, a t-shirt, and a hoodie are my typical travel uniform. So fashionable!

  1. Be Prepared. - Check the weather. - Confirm departure time. If you’re flying you can check in early, but it’s alright to wait until the day of to do it. You’ll still be waiting just like everyone else, but the last folks to check in (read: me) are the last to get on the plane and the last to get off. If that’s cool with you, just read your book and chill. - Speaking of which, bring a book! You might have plenty of electronic ways to keep you occupied (Kindle, tablets, phones, do people still have iPods?) but a paper-and-glue book is more reliable. Especially on long journeys without easy access to a charger, unplug and free yourself to go old school. - Keep your IDs, wallet, medications, phone/tablet/tech, AND CHARGER on your person.

  2. Know Where You’re Going. - Google Maps is a lifesaver. Using it on my phone with GPS has gotten me out of too many stressful situations to count. With scary good accuracy, it’s my crutch in new places. - Still, JUST IN CASE, search your route ahead of time and write down the directions on a piece of paper. This used to be the normal way to take directions with you, but now we’ve become so used to the instant solutions with our smart phones that we don’t plan ahead like this anymore. Save yourself the panic attack when your battery dies or when you don’t get signal somewhere. Keep this backup in your pocket and hopefully you won’t need it.

  3. Be Assertive. - This has been a personal struggle for me. Plenty of self-doubt and second-guessing have made things harder for me. I’ve missed my stop on buses and trains because I didn’t double check or speak up when I thought something was amiss. My BFF Helen was with me one of those times. "Give yourself some credit,” she said. Speak up when you’re unsure. You might be on to something. - Know what you need and ask for help with confidence. You’re on a mission and there’s no stopping you. Remember there’s no shame in getting lost; it’s how you find the best side quests!

Traveling is simultaneously exciting and stressful. Most of all, it should be enjoyable. For me, it's about taking time to break away from the regular routine to visit different people and places, have new experiences, and return with new stories. What are some of your favorite travel experiences and hard-learned lessons?

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