150705_travel

The concept of traveling by yourself isn’t new. People have been exploring the world and backpacking through foreign lands on their own for centuries. However, the topic seems to have picked up steam recently, especially among young people.

Before settling into a career or determining their next step in life, many young graduates set aside time and money to travel. That’s what St. Joseph native Megan Spears did. She first traveled internationally with some college friends in 2007 when they went on a humanitarian aid trip in Europe and caught the travel bug. After that, she decided to go it alone.

“I thought, ‘I don’t care where I go, I just want to go somewhere,’” she says. “... Everybody says they want to travel, but it’s not something that a lot of people make a priority. When I was younger, I had the flexibility to do that and that’s what I wanted to do, so that’s where I spent my money — to see the world.”

She has since been to London, Paris, Peru, Japan and Southeast Asia by herself. Her trip to Asia was her longest yet, spending six weeks backpacking and exploring three different countries. She says at first it was nerve-wracking to leave home, but her excitement helped her overcome her fears.

It helped that traveling solo forced her to go outside her comfort zone. She connected with many other people her age while traveling who were doing the same thing, so she had people to talk to and get help from if she needed it. She says she rarely felt lonely because it was easy to make friends with her peers.

A common misconception Ms. Spears says people have about solo travel is that it’s dangerous, particularly for young women. While bad experiences can happen to anyone, it doesn’t occur as often as people think.

“In all my travels, I never really had an encounter where I felt really uncomfortable or was in danger. I’ve never been robbed, never had anything stolen, nothing stolen from dorms or stolen from hostels. I’ve been really fortunate, nothing like that has happened,” she says.

Another misconception is that you’ll have a communication problem in other countries. Ms. Spears says English is pretty prevalent in most parts of the world, so it was easy to find people who could answer her questions. Still, she says you at least should learn “hello,” “please” and “thank you” in the language of the country you’ll be in, because locals appreciate when visitors attempt using their language.

Of course, anyone in unfamiliar territory should use common sense and caution. Always know where you are going and who you’re going with. Lock up any valuables you leave behind in your room, or keep them with you at all times. Chad Cotter of Cotter Travel says to always let family and friends back home know your schedule and plans. That way, they’ll know if something happens if you don’t reach your destination on time.

He also says people traveling on their own should be organized. Familiarize yourself with all your flight plans, transfers, pick-ups and reservations before setting out.

“Just have your itinerary, all your documents, keep those with you at all times in your carry-ons. ... You don’t have that other person to help you remember those things,” Mr. Cotter says.

If you’re interested in taking a solo trip, either in the U.S. or internationally, take some time to do research and save money first. For Ms. Spears, her starting point simply was Google.

“When I was first going, I just typed in, ‘Where is it safe for female travelers?’ ... I just wanted to go somewhere that was foreign that I could afford and that was safe, definitely safe. And Southeast Asia came up,” she says.

Brooke Wilson can be reached at brooke.wilson@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPWilson.