The idea of traveling to a foreign country by yourself can be pretty scary, especially if you don’t speak the language or you’ve never traveled alone before.
That’s why it’s a good idea to cut your travel teeth on a city that’s welcoming, easy to navigate, and exciting as hell.
If you’re not exactly the risk-taking type, but you still crave the adventure and promise of a solo vacation, start by taking solo day trips to destinations near your hometown. Once that feels comfy, you can work your way up to weekend getaways and mini-vacations by yourself.
When you’re ready to venture abroad, London is a surefire bet for first-time solo female travelers. According to the solo female travel experts at Londontopia, London is “definitely one of the safer major cities in the world, and allows for a lot of freedom as a woman.”
If you’re an English-speaking Westerner journeying outside the U.S., Canada, or Australia for the first time, a London holiday offers the perfect blend of non-scary familiar stuff (“People speak English!”, “I can read the street signs!”), and just the right amount of exoticism (“Holy crap, is that Stonehenge?!”).
Here are 3 ways to make a trip to London feel like wading into inviting travel waters, NOT diving face-first into a freezing cold ocean of “I wanna go home!”
1) Dress for Success
Forget toting expensive designer fashions along on your London trip, and opt instead for some practical protection from the weather.
No matter what time of year you visit, there’s likely to be some rain (even smack dab in the middle of summer!). I spent 4 weeks in and around London during the month of July and enjoyed a smattering of rain and clouds most afternoons.
First of all, cloudy skies and raindrops set against a backdrop of beautiful stone and brick buildings just oozes romance. Factor in all the glorious tea you’ll be consuming and the dreary weather won’t bother you in the slightest.
Second, you’ll want to pack some waterproofed footwear for all the walking around you’ll be doing, along with a water resistant coat and cardigans. My friends at Travel Fashion Girl have created a bunch of helpful infographics that you can use as your visual packing list for London.
2) Fly Into a Regional Airport Rather than a Major Hub
Have you ever flown into Los Angeles, by chance? If so, you know what a nightmare it can be to get from LAX to…well, anywhere else in the city. Locals who live anywhere near the Valley will always tell you to fly into Burbank. Sure, it’s more expensive, but it’s also much more convenient and you’ll have much better access to the real LA (as opposed to the tourist LA).
The same goes for London. When it comes to airports, you have far more options than just Gatwick and Heathrow. Flying into a smaller airport like Stansted will allow you to see much more of the Greater Metropolitan area, include the suburbs of London where real English people actually live!
By avoiding the regular tourist traps and exploring the areas outside of town, you’re far more likely to meet locals and have an authentic experience (in the charming English countryside, no less!).
Besides, there are a slew of transportation options available that connect all of the London airports with the center of the city. Whether you land at Gatwick, Stansted, Heathrow, or Luton, you’ll enjoy easy access to a variety of buses, trains, and elegant Black Cabs. For instance, if you’re getting dropped off at Stansted Airport by a friend or a cab, you’ll enjoy free shuttle buses that will take you directly to your departure terminal.
The “getting there” part of travel is usually a pain in the tuckus, but London makes it as easy and convenient as possible for first time solo female travelers.
3) Get Social!
I spent 8 months traveling solo throughout Asia and 3 months traveling with a partner (who’s now my husband, holler!!). As awesome as it was to travel with King, I met so many more people when I was traveling solo!
When you’re on your own, you make a bigger effort to connect with other travelers and locals. You’re naturally more open and everyone around you responds to that. Don’t be surprised if you get approached by other travelers, couples, and locals with invites for lunch, outings and activities. But don’t take my word for it – even the travel gurus over at Hubpages recommend reaching out to other travelers for tips, advice, and ideas.
Just make sure to extend your friendliness to locals as well – there’s no point in linking up with a bunch of travelers from your home country and never chatting with a bonafide Londoner!
4) Get Ready to Spend!
I don’t want you to even think about experiencing London on a budget. Sure, it’s possible, but what’s the fun in visiting one of the priciest cities on earth only to fret about your budget the whole time?
No, if you’re going to cut your teeth on London, plan your solo trip for 5-6 days and live it up!
Normally I recommend staying in a destination as long as possible in order to cut costs. The longer you stay in one place, the more great deals you’ll discover on hotels, restaurants, sightseeing, and more. Simply by staying put and opening your ears, you’ll hear about great local bars, interesting coffee shops, the most cost-effective option to get around town, and stuff the guidebooks don’t tell you.
HOWEVER, if you’re cutting your solo travel teeth on London, I do NOT recommend staying as long as possible! Better to stay for 5-7 days, blow a bunch of moola ($2-$3000 on the low end, $5-$6000+ if you’re not the hostel type), have an AMAZING time, and start planning your next solo trip.
A month in Nepal, anyone?
image credit: msn.com