Are you tired of your friends and family always flaking out on your when it comes time to skip town? I know I made the decision long ago to not let other people's lack of commitment to a potentially fun time hold me back from going and doing things that I like. Life is way too short to be waiting around for someone to hold your hand through every new experience. F*ck that! Pack those bags and GO girl (or dude-- hey dudes reading this)!
Here's some Do's & Don'ts to carry along with you on your journey
Plan ahead. I'm all for a go-with-the flow adventure, but at least have a loose outline that includes where you'll stay, a few cafes you can pop into for wifi or breakfast and some highlights that you really want to experience. OH! And cell phone service-- definitely check with your carrier to see what your options are BEFORE your take off. That's usually the least I'll do when headed to a new place.
Download Google Maps offline. This is something I had to learn the hard way after my walking tour in Barcelona ended and I had no idea which train would take me back to my hostel. Fortunately, I remembered that it was near a university and pick out what looked like the closest one on the subway map and hoped for the best. Ever since then, Google Maps offline errywhere!
Download a currency exchange app. I like XE Currency Converter for live rates, which come in handy when bargaining with street vendors. Gotta keep track of those coins. Speaking of coins...
Research the average cost of things like transportation. It's a good idea to have local currency on hand when you touch down. You'll be surprised that more often than not people in other countries still deal in cash-- especially when it comes to transport. What are you gonna do when you put a travel alert on your card to pay for, let's say the train, and it gets declined anyway? Now imagine not having the language to beg for coins for the fare. Lol-- that's a sad sight, right?! *insert straight face* It's all fun and games until it happens to you. Don't let it.
Always take a metered taxi or Uber, if possible. Do not let anyone whisk you away in an expensive ass private car like I got bamboozled into doing out of blind frustration over nearly missing my flight out of the monstrosity which is Manila Ninoy Aquino airport. I wish I had a camera for that near breakdown *struggle face*, but you can catch the post-fiasco reflection video here.
Reach out to others that live there or have been to your destination. This is helpful for some preliminary ideas about where to go, what to do, and perhaps meeting a friend or two for coffee or a drink when you touchdown. I usually rely on Couchsurfing.com's "My Trips" function (accessible from your dashboard) to post about an upcoming trip and see who reaches out with info or would like meet up. I'm weird about staying with strangers, so I have yet to sleep on anyone's couch or in their spare room. Also, various Facebook travel groups like Black Travel Movement and Girls Love Travel can also be a great resource. Utilize their search function about your travel city-- chances are someone had the same/similar question as you in the past. This way you can see and chime in or PM people on the related message thread.
Be open to making new friends with locals. They are the best resource when it comes to having a hyperlocal experience and avoiding tourist traps and prices for stuff.
Do respect local customs and laws. You are a guest and don't ever forget it. Your mom does not want to get a call from you in jail in a dungeon somewhere. It would break her heart to learn that her baby made a foolish mistake, or worse was out in the world's streets acting like you don't have any home training. Think WWMD-- What Would Mom Do (if she knew).
Have an emergency plan. Shit happens. Expect the unexpected and be prepared with copies of Ev-er-y-thing. Digital and printed versions on your phone, in the cloud.
Don't... (Bryson Tiller voice)
Do not (highlights in bold for the procrastinators in the back), I repeat DO NOT exchange your money at the airport. Just trust us on this one. The exchange rate is absolutely terrible-- even stateside. Plus, you'll likely have to pay a ridiculous fee on top of the poor exchange rate. Just avoid it at all costs. Go someplace local in your city and read a few Yelp or Google reviews beforehand and you'll be fine.
Don't be a lazy American. When it comes to language try to memorize a few key phrases. Just like at home, simple words like hello, please and thank you go a long way.
Don't be so quick to say you're traveling alone. This might be more of a safety issue for the ladies-- idk. However, I never usually tell people that I'm alone while traveling. I always use the default, I'm here visiting friends, whether it's true or not.
Don't be rude. You'll find the more places you go rudeness is subjective. Research (and ask) what gestures, and behavior your host country considers offensive and try to avoid it. Check your privilege--you are a guest, after all.
Don't drink the tap water-- I think this goes without saying. I don't know many places, even stateside, where the tap water is ok. There's nothing worse than feeling violently ill on vacay. ESPECIALLY when you're a soloist.
On a final note, take your common sense (and a dash of courtesy) with you. If something seems fun and moderately safe, do it! If something doesn't seem cool or you sense danger-- do not proceed. It's kinda that simple. Now go forth, have adventures, and live to 'Gram about it.