Post- Magazine

solo traveling advice for the wandering soul [lifestyle]

a guide to an organized adventure

Traveling alone is so over-romanticized. Instagram travel bloggers tell stories about the charming men they meet in Italy, the wondrous views from the mountains of Peru, and the endless adventures to be found in the streets of New York—not about the pickpocket in the Milan metro who stole your phone, not about the hours spent searching for a bathroom in the public park, holding your pee in, and definitely not about the man who threatened to kill you with a gun in Grand Central. And while I’ve never been to Italy or Peru, that occurrence in Grand Central did, in fact, happen to me on my first solo trip to New York.

Having grown up in Shanghai, China, I was not afforded the quintessential freedoms many American teens experience. No car to drive wherever I want, whenever I want, no late nights spent hanging out with my friends at the local strip mall (is that what American teens do?). I had my location tracked and a curfew set at 9 p.m., even on weekends. There were many nights at the club, of course, and sunrises by the skyline, but I still wonder what it would have been like to have a car, to go on road trips with friends, and to experience total and complete freedom.


Now that I’m in America, that’s exactly what I’ve chosen to do. During my first year, I decided that I would travel alone. I’d see the renowned Empire State Building, party at Duke frats, and sunbathe on the beaches in Miami. Who was stopping me? I had two jobs, a passport, and friends all across the country. 

So I did: I saw the stunning purple trees in the Berkshires, tanned (and talked to promoters) on the beaches in Miami, gasped at the adorable pastel houses lining the streets of Georgetown, took in the putrid stench of the subway in New York, and walked around the bright green parks of Boston. Whenever I had the chance, my pink carry-on and I were whisked away by some plane, train, or bus to experience something new, somewhere new. So, if you are longing to get out and travel, here is some advice from me, an intermediate solo traveler, on how to have the best weekend getaway. 

1. Never say no to a last-minute trip.

Never speak in extremes, they say. Well, I’m here to prove them wrong: Always say yes to a new trip. One of my biggest regrets over the past few weeks was deciding to stay on campus over the long weekend instead of taking a trip to Cape Cod with a Brown organization. So when your friend asks you if you want to take a drive down to the alpaca farm, to go see RISD Beach, or to visit her friend at Tufts for the weekend, always say yes, even if you have homework. Think about it in these terms: In three years are you going to remember the grade you got on your English paper during freshman year, or your sunset trip to Newport beach with your friends? 

2. Have a packing list ready. 

I don’t know about you, but I love to be organized. Whenever I plan on traveling, I start sketching out my outfits and my packing list days in advance. A quick trick I have is to already have a basic packing list on your phone notes app with the necessities and toiletries that you need, such as deodorant, chargers, socks, and a toothbrush. Then, you can easily adjust the packing list by the length of your trip and your destination. Having this list can help you avoid any last-minute disasters  (I forgot my contacts! or I didn’t bring enough socks!) when you forget something important. 


3. Be calm at the airport.

The airport gives me immense anxiety. In fact, simply thinking about the idea of stepping into the bustling, stressful atmosphere of an airport makes me break into a sweat. There are so many possible airport disasters. 

Exhibit A: forgetting to clear out your water bottle. Happens to me every time. Unless you want to chug the whole thing and pee on the plane, don’t even enter the airport with anything in your bottle. 

Exhibit B: being separated from your carry-on as you board the plane. I forget how small the planes are here, and keeping my carry-on is never an option when I board. My laptop, my iPad—my entire life basically—are separated from me for the longest two hours of my life. Keep your laptop in your backpack and buy an AirTag to place in your carry-on suitcase if you are a worrier like me. 

4. Search for free (or cheap) Brown opportunities!

There is nothing in the world I like more than free stuff. If it’s free, I want it. And a free trip, well, that sounds like a dream. This is definitely achievable if you dig into some of Brown’s resources. The Guiliano Fellowship, for example, has funds for Brown students to take an international expedition related to their academic coursework or personal research. It’s a long application process, but who wouldn’t like to travel to their ancestral homeland to study traditional music? Brown clubs also usually organize fun trips. Participate in your cultural organization’s ski trip to New Hampshire or long weekend getaway to Maine. Sign up for the Brown Outing Club’s hiking or backpacking trip. Follow the Global Brown Center’s newsletter for impromptu weekend trips to neighboring towns. Meet new people and make the memories of a lifetime (and perhaps meet your future partner!).

5. Have thick skin.

Lastly, have thick skin and do not be afraid to ask for a favor. A few weekends ago, I reached out to a friend who goes to college in Boston to ask if I could stay over at her dorm. We are good friends, but we haven’t been that close since ninth grade, so I didn’t expect her to say yes. Surprisingly, she agreed, and I had so much fun connecting with her and her roommates! If you want to go to a new city or have a local guide, don’t be afraid to reach out—the worst thing that could happen is that they say no. But you will most likely get a positive answer. Think of it this way: If an acquaintance told you that they were coming to Providence and would love to get a Brown tour for a weekend afternoon, would you say no unless you had prior plans? With thick skin and a friendly ask, you could have so many cool experiences and build new (or rekindle old) friendships! 

I hope these tips were helpful for you if you are thinking about traveling this semester or during winter break. I am yet to be an advanced solo traveler, but I feel like I learn so much each time. So even if you are a homebody, I highly recommend you buy a ticket and go somewhere new!

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