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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • 10:12 am
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • 10:12 am
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • 12:13 am

Opinion | How not to die while traveling solo

Anna+Ehlers+poses+for+a+photo+in+Inishmore%2C+Ireland.
Anna Ehlers | Contributing Editor
Anna Ehlers poses for a photo in Inishmore, Ireland.

Before I left to study abroad last semester, I knew I wanted to visit Ireland. So after a few trips around the UK with friends, I planned a trip to Galway with one other person … only for that person to cancel. Nevertheless! I steeled my resolve. I would travel solo. I’m an adult! I can do things like that! 

Confident in my travel abilities, I set out for Galway on the second to last day of November … and by the end of the next day, was wildly sick and bedridden. On my own. In a strange city. With no one to help me. 

But a few days later I made it back to my London flat, alive and with all my belongings, so clearly I pulled through. Below is my advice for how to survive while traveling solo. 

  1. Don’t forget pain reliever and a snack

There is nothing quite so humbling as being sick in a hostel. Nothing. And I say this as a person who embarasses myself quite often. There I was, lying on a top bunk in a hot attic room, soaked in sweat, wondering how exactly I’m meant to broaden my horizons in this foreign country when I’m so sick I can’t even get myself to eat before I take my ibuprofen. 

When I say thank god I had my ibuprofen on me, I mean it. Once I finally mustered up the energy to eat a snack I had on hand, I took my ibuprofen and started to feel better. Without my ibuprofen and food, I don’t know how I would have gotten by — I couldn’t imagine having to leave the hostel for a convenience store in that state. Additionally, different countries sell pain relievers differently. When you’re in a moment of need, you really don’t want to be figuring out if you must speak to a pharmacist, or how to say “ibuprofen” in the native language. It’s much easier to keep a stash of pain relievers — and a snack — on you at all times. 

  1. Stay in a hostel 

I know, Airbnb is calling you. Listen — it’s not easy to stay in a hostel, and my story about falling sick is not a good argument to convince you otherwise. I mean, I didn’t even have the dignity of privacy while trying desperately not to barf my brains out. But when traveling alone, it’s hard to justify the price of an Airbnb. Additionally, in a hostel, you can meet other solo travelers! Hostels are designed to bring people together. You don’t have to be social, but you have the opportunity, and it’s always lovely to meet people in the same position as you when you’re alone. Plus, staying in a hostel is a quintessential experience. If you think about it, it’s actually super admirable that you’re sacrificing sleeping and bathing comfortably so you can spend money on mind-enriching activities like museums and local cuisine instead. So brave and academic of you, Connell Waldron. 

  1. Spring for the all-female dorm

Toward the end of my semester abroad, I was feeling pretty stingy about money. No joke, traveling is expensive. So when planning my Galway trip, I decided to save a few pounds and reserve a bed in the mixed dorm rather than the all-female dorm. This was a successful endeavor if you consider staying up all night to discover just how loud grown men can snore one of your priorities when traveling the world. 

Something I didn’t realize before I arrived was that Galway is a party city. People drink in party cities. People snore after they drink. And the most impressive men who snore can give tractors a run for their money. Yeah, I didn’t sleep much between the hours of 4 a.m and 7 a.m., when the partiers got back. 

Also, drunk men aren’t the smartest. I don’t mean to scare you, but I do think it would be helpful to know that one night I woke up to hear two men having a conversation that went something like this: 

“Isn’t this my bed?”

“Nah man, your bed’s over there.” 

“…I think I was in this bed.”

“Dude, she’s been sleeping there all week. That’s her bed, not yours.” 

Yikes. Luckily, they weren’t talking about me, but the girl sleeping on the bunk below me. Regardless, that was the moment I decided to never sleep in a mixed dorm again. I am just not about dealing with drunk men in the wee hours of the night, and I hope I never have to wake up from my slumber to a strange drunk man peering over me, wondering why I’m in his bed. Only all-female dorms for Anna from now on. I think you should consider the same.

  1. Sacrifice a pair of socks for the shower

Did you just cringe at the idea of wearing socks in the shower? Okay, justified. But the idea of contracting a foot disease in a foreign country should probably make you cringe more. You can always bring shower shoes, but quite frankly, it’s much easier to pack a pair of socks than a pair of extra shoes — unless you’re traveling with more than one bag, like some agent of the bourgeoisie. Just make sure to dry out your socks after showering, because it would be truly tragic to lose them to mold. 

  1. Bring a portable charger and an extra charging cord

Portable chargers are travelers’ gold. If you don’t have one and you’re traveling soon, order one immediately. Definitely do not wait until you’re in the airport to buy one, unless supporting price gouging is some kink of yours. 

While an extra charging cord may not seem necessary, I learned the hard way it is when mine stopped working. While I was battling fever dreams in a hostel, my phone stopped charging unless I jammed the cord in the port, which had me thinking thoughts any person born after 2000 cannot be expected to stomach, such as — how many hours will it take for me to die without my phone? Is it worth using my last 2% of battery to google that? Luckily, my issue was a charging cord one, not a phone becoming a useless brick one, and I was able to buy a new cord for the simple, reasonable charge of £28 at the airport. Price gouging is not my kink, but a fully charged phone is. 

  1. Get a pop socket with a ring

Don’t be a victim of drive-by scooter thefts. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to admit that you lost your phone to some guy zooming by on a Spin scooter. That’s an ick, for sure. People love to say “Don’t hold your phone out when going places! Memorize your directions!” But it’s also fairly impossible to do that. Even have their things stolen sometimes. 

So keep your belongings attached to you. Get a pop socket with a ring, or at least keep your fingers around three edges of your phone and hold it close to your chest. When sitting down at a restaurant, put your leg through the strap of your bag. Don’t bring your laptop if your phone will suffice. When sleeping in hostels, keep your wallet, phone and passport inside your pillowcase at night. 

I take pride in the fact that I had nothing stolen off me during my three months abroad despite my scatterbrain qualities. Keep constant stock of your belongings and don’t flaunt your wealth, and you are entirely capable of holding onto your things. 

  1. Share your location with someone 

This might be a given, but it’s incredibly important that you don’t forget this. Make a plan with a friend or parent who isn’t busy to check in with you during your trip, and share your location with somebody you trust. I stopped sharing my location with my parents after I got to college, hoping for some independence, but I obliged when my dad asked me to share for this trip, knowing my safety is more important than the knee-jerk contrarian attitude that I tend to have whenever my parents express concern for me. 

I’m incredibly lucky that if I was truly in a crisis, I have a father who would come get me out of it. So without anyone by my side, I knew I had to keep in contact with the person who would save my ass if something went drastically wrong — which luckily did not happen. And at the very least, it’s nice to have someone to listen to your complaints over the phone about how your throat hurts like hell — and for them to remind you to take your painkiller, gosh darnit, Anna. 

Conclusion

All things given, my solo trip to Galway was actually quite lovely. I hiked Inishmore, befriended another American traveler, chatted with locals, wandered through a Christmas market and listened to live performances in pubs. Knowing I survived being sick on my own in a hostel — in a room full of men rumbling like backup generators, no less — is a badge I wear with honor. 

Traveling alone is difficult, but it shouldn’t stop you from going if it doesn’t have to. Do your research and plan ahead, and you are entirely capable of a successful solo trip. Even us females can do it. 

Anna tries every day to convince herself that living in Pittsburgh is just as nice as living abroad. It has never once worked. You can reach her at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Anna Ehlers, Staff Writer