Shy Girl’s Guide to Independent Travel

Traveling Solo & Together — By on January 5, 2012 at 11:22 am
By Jill Martiniuk
Special to Lost Girls

Free Travel ToursWhen I first told my mom that I was planning on backpacking independently for the summer of 2008, her immediate response was an incredulous, “You? You passed out during your genetics presentation because you were so afraid of public speaking. I’m worried other travelers will think you’re mute.” Admittedly, my normally supportive mother had a point: I have always been shy. Talking to new people overwhelmed me to the point of anxiety attacks. Although I knew that traveling by myself would challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone, I had experience several major life changes that year, and trying something completely new to me seemed like the only answer.

So despite my fears and anxiety, I packed my bag and headed to Europe. The end result? One of the best adventures of my life. Since that trip, I’ve traveled to over 15 other countries by myself. Is my anxiety still there? Sometimes, but it’s never stopped me from having an amazing time.

These are some of the tips that have served me well while trying on my own:

Take advantage of free tours to meet people

Time and time again, this has been my favorite way of meeting people while traveling. There are several really great free tour companies around Europe, and they’re usually full of other backpackers & solo travelers. Since the free tour groups tend to attract a lot of people, it’s a low-pressure way to meet new people. Most of the tours end near or at a café so it’s a great way to continue to talk to your new friends if you met interesting people on the tour. If not, the free tours are usually big enough for you to slip away afterwards without having to feel pressured into an after-tour drink.

Use your skills

Speaking a second language while traveling can be beneficial for more than just asking directions. It’s an automatic “in” for talking to new people. There have been many times where I’ve heard people wandering around lost or trying to find a specific item in a store, but they can’t read the sign. If it’s a language I speak, I’ll often offer to help the lost travelers find what they need. It’s a great  way to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers.

Talk to one new person a day

This tip has served me well in a lot of different areas of my life including my career. It’s an easy and low stress way to force yourself to be more outgoing. Say hello to someone new, ask a fellow backpacker for recommendations on restaurants. Just a question or two will help ease you into talking to new people without the pressure of having to sustain long conversations.

colosseumUse your camera as an ice breaker

One of the downsides of solo travel for me is that I usually end up with tons of landscape pictures, and no pictures of myself on the trip. Look for other travelers to exchange opportunities to get a few pictures with you in the shot. Chances are that they’d like to go home with a few pictures of themselves on their trip too. It’s a quick, easy and painless way of talking to new people.

Don’t rely on alcohol

It’s an easy mistake to make. Combine the atmosphere of a hostel with inexpensive alcohol and shy girl jitters, and it can make for a disaster. One of the best things about hostels and solo travel is that everyone comes from somewhere different, and are more willing to share travel tips/exchange stories. Instead of relying on alcohol to help you strike up a conversation, instead use the confidence you’ve built as a solo traveler as a way of talking to people.

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    3 Comments

  • Ava Apollo says:

    This was a good read for me. I’m terrified of traveling alone but really want to do it at the same time and can be equally shy. Who are some of these free tour operators? Did you find the tours via couchsurfing.com or meetup.com?

  • Jill says:

    Hi Ava,
    I’ve used Sandemans New Europe tours in the past, and I think they do a great job. They typically use grad students & work for tips so they’re usually pretty funny & informative.

  • Ava Apollo says:

    Good to know. Thanks for your quick response!