Four tips for staying safe while studying abroad solo

By Tayler Baldwin

Studying abroad brings a plethora of new friends, new experiences, and opportunities to travel with groups - but, occasionally, the urge to explore the world on your own takes over and you find yourself wanting to book a solo ticket. As someone who spent the majority of my study abroad program traveling with new friends I made through CIEE, I found myself in a predicament: Portugal was at the top of my travel bucket list, and I had the urge to travel alone, soak in new experiences, and embark on a journey of self-exploration. However, the idea was daunting, and seemed completely taboo to me - how was I supposed to navigate hostels, transportation, and the ups and downs of travel by myself? I took a step back and looked at the details of my trip, reached out to some of my friends who had recently completed solo trips, and worked out a way to accomplish my travel dreams on my own - and here are some things I learned along the way of my week-long solo trip to Ericeira, Portugal. 

Maximize your Hostel Experience: Hostels are a great way to make new connections while traveling alone, but choosing the right one is crucial to the safety and comfort level of your trip. I’ve learned that not all hostels are created equal, and putting in the extra work and research into what environment, price levels, and privacy levels are the right fit for you can be crucial to your experience. As a traveler on a tight budget, I learned that dishing out a little bit extra per night is worth the comfort that a higher-end hostel creates. 

Keep your Digital Footprint to a Minimum: Social media is not always your friend while solo traveling. As a social media addict, I had a strong temptation to post stories about everything I did, and everywhere I went, while solo traveling in Portugal. However, I realized this can be a surefire way to expose your location to people you might not want to see - especially if you're on a public account and geotagging locations. Instead, I recommend posting a collection of stories and pictures at the end of your trip - I promise your followers will enjoy it just the same! 

Be Open to Meeting New People: Meeting new friends and getting out of your comfort zone is worth any stress that solo travel might throw at you. I went on my solo Portugal trip without any hostel or solo travel experience, and my expectations for meeting new people were low. However, I quickly learned that hostels are a great place to meet fellow solo travelers, and they’re often looking for new friends! I quickly found a group to explore the town with, go on hikes, and enjoy Portuguese culture. 

Share Key Details of Your Trip with Friends and Family: Send your location, people you meet, and details of where you’re going to someone from your home study abroad center, or a friend from your home institution. Taking the right precautions is important, and I promise that your friends won’t get annoyed at your texts if they know it's to protect your safety. Making sure you send details of your whereabouts, and any names of friends you make along the way, are a great backup in case anything happens. 

Although solo travel can be daunting, it’s an experience I recommend to all study abroad students. Solo travel can be immensely fulfilling and exciting, but at the end of the day, it’s crucial to follow safety precautions and research your location of choice beforehand.