Featured
Soweto, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Jessica Nabongo

Tips for First-Time Solo Travelers

The Catch Me if You Can creator tells us how to plan for that first trip.

You always remember your first time. Mine was November 2007. I can't remember the exact day, but I remember how I felt—so nervous. I had bought the necessary supplies and I was well prepared and all I could do was wait for the day to come. When it finally came, I packed my bags, headed to the airport and boarded the plane. For the first time, I would be traveling to a new country by myself.


I knew no one on the flight from London to Paris. I was slightly uncomfortable, wondering if people were looking at me oddly since I was traveling alone, but they weren't. No one was paying me any attention. When I landed in Paris, I was nervous. I was meant to meet a friend, but I couldn't find him. I hopped on a kiosk that allowed you to connect to the internet. He had not emailed me. We hadn't made proper plans and I didn't know what to do. I waited for an hour, checking my email incessantly. No new messages. I decided to book a hotel and send him the confirmation to meet me there. I knew nothing about Paris, really. I just booked a four star hotel near Champs-Élysées. It seemed safe. I asked for information on how to get to the hotel from Paris' Orly airport. I was told to take the train.

When I arrived in the city center, it seemed no one spoke English. I used my French to ask for directions, but the Parisians seemed exhausted by me. While my sentences were perfect, I am sure my accent was horrendous. After a long struggle trying to navigate the subway, I gave up and went above ground. I was in tears. I was frustrated and had no clue where I was going. I found a taxi driver and told him where I wanted to go. He gladly drove me the 15 minutes to the hotel. I later found out that where I'd picked up the taxi was a five minute walk from the hotel. Bastard. I checked into my room, expecting a big comfy bed that would swallow me whole and make me forget the whole ordeal. Instead, I walked into a cramped space with two hard twin beds. Welcome to France.


Since that trip to Paris I have traveled to over 20 countries alone on five continents. Sometimes I am "alone" the whole time, sometimes I am able to meet up with friends or friends of friends, but I would not change that first experience in Paris for anything. While thinking about that experience still makes me anxious, I survived and it helped me realize that I could really do this traveling thing. If you can survive being a tourist in Paris, you can survive being a tourist anywhere.

Cartagena, ColombiaPhoto courtesy of Jessica Nabongo

We have all seen the memes about group trips. In the planning stages it starts with 20, then falls to ten, then five and then it is just you. Many people rather cancel than to travel by themselves, but I am here to tell you to just go! Will your friends ever travel? Maybe, but what if they don't? Are you going to put off seeing the world until you can convince someone to go with you? By the time that happens the Maldives could be completely submerged.

Traveling solo is not as scary as you think, but as with anything you should ease yourself into it. Here are a few tips for first time solo travelers.

You are never really alone

  • Traveling solo is a great opportunity to meet new friends. Whether you are staying at a hostel, hotel or Airbnb if you are open to it, it is very easy to meet new people who you can travel with in the future! Try eating your dinner at the bar instead of at a table. That will make it easier to talk to people.

Pick a location where you will feel comfortable

  • When traveling solo, being safe is essential and the key to feeling safe is to be comfortable and confident. Finding a place where you feel comfortable might mean going somewhere where you speak the language or perhaps visiting a place that a friend has previously visited and can fill you in. Regardless of where you go, walk through the streets of the new city with your head held high so people are less likely to take advantage of you. Make sure you check your directions before leaving the hotel, rather than constantly looking down at your phone. This way you will also see more of the city. We miss so much by always looking down at our phones, plus someone can catch you off guard when you aren't paying attention to your surroundings.

Pick countries that are known for solo travels

  • Great places to start your solo travel journey are typically cities that have the infrastructure to accommodate solo travelers. Some good ones include: Kigali, Johannesburg, Cartagena, Chiang Mai, Bali.

Jessica Nabongo is a wanderlust, writer, photographer, entrepreneur, podcaster, public speaker and travel influencer. At her core, she is a dreamer crafting a life and career that interconnects her passions and talents. She has visited over 100 countries on six continents. You can follow here on Twitter and Facebook and Youtube.

popular
Soweto, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Jessica Nabongo

Uganda’s Jessica Nabongo Is the First Black Woman to Visit Every Country in the World

Jessica Nabongo is a true, record-setting globe trotter.

Cue the parade, it's finally happened. Jessica Nabongo has officially become the first black woman to have visited every single country in the world. The Ugandan-American touched down in Seychelles on Sunday—the last to be visited on the long list of 195 countries. Over 50 friends and family members traveled with her to the East African archipelago to mark the historic event.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Photo by Victor Ehikhamenor

25 Years After Liberation, Rwanda Wants the World to See How Far It's Come

Rwanda is on a mission to sell a new story about itself, and for a week, it enlisted a group of "foreign influencers" to help tell it.

On July 4, 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by a 36-year-old Paul Kagame, stormed the streets of Kigali, effectually putting an end to 100 days of genocide against the country's Tutsi minority.

It's an unambiguous story of triumph after turmoil, and it's this precise narrative of radical reconstruction that the government sought to display to the group of artists, photographers, filmmakers and fellow journalists from across the continent who I traveled with for a week-long press tour of the country in observance of the 25th anniversary of that very day.

Kigali's physical beauty is unmistakable. The city's cleanliness is noteworthy, even for a capital city with a population of just under a million people—the litter, street hawkers and homeless population characteristic of most urban capitals were nowhere to be found. We began our week at an achingly early 5:30 am, embarking on a Liberation Tour of the northeastern part of the country via military helicopter, which took us to the various sites where the RPF carried out its various missions to transform the country—starting as a rebel group in 1990 with a mission of reinstating Rwandan Tutsis who had been forced into exile in neighboring countries, before becoming the genocide-ending rebel group it's known as today. It was the first time that I, and most of the group, had flown in a helicopter. Deemed "foreign influencers" by our hosts—a title we all found quite amusing—we held our phones up to the helicopter's circular windows to capture precious aerial footage of the lush, hilly scenery. The clips quickly and enthusiastically landed on my Instagram story.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo Courtesy of DIARRABLU)

Meet the Senegalese Designer Making Math Chic

Diarra Bousso uses algorithms to create designs for her line DIARRABLU.

Who knew that math and fashion could work together so seamlessly? Apparently Diarra Bousso did, the self-described "Creative Mathematician" and mastermind behind DIARRABLU. The Senegalese serial entrepreneur and multidisciplinary artist left a career of trading on Wall Street to pursue design and it paid off. She has just been awarded a coveted spot as the Designer in Residence at the San Francisco Fashion Incubator for her innovative use of equations and algorithms in her beautiful designs.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo by Emma McIntyre/BAFTA LA/Getty Images for BAFTA LA)

Daniel Kaluuya Is Producing a Live-Action 'Barney' Movie with Mattel

Yes, you read that correctly.

In a move that absolutely no one saw coming, Oscar-nominated actor Daniel Kaluuya is set to produce a live-action Barney movie in conjunction with Mattel Films. The Hollywood Reporter first broke the story.

Kaluuya will co-produce the film as part of his 59% production banner, which signed a first-look deal with Paramount back in May. Speaking on his involvement with the project and the impact of Barney & Friends, Kaluuya had this to say: "Barney was a ubiquitous figure in many of our childhoods, then he disappeared into the shadows, left misunderstood. We're excited to explore this compelling modern-day hero and see if his message of 'I love you, you love me' can stand the test of time."

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.