Have you fancied the idea of solo travelling yet lack the courage to do so? Fret not, in this interview, Emily Radecki shares several tips on how to plan and on how to stay safe while travelling.
Introduce yourself 🙂 Who are you? and which country do you come from or call home?
I’m Emily Radecki, a 25-year-old IT project manager for the IT Team at a supply chain management company. I basically boss around a bunch of 30-something men who need help managing their work schedules for a living. I am most likely not what you would expect from someone in IT—I am outspoken, sociable, and at times pretty dang energetically. I am from South Bend, IN near Chicago, I now live in Indianapolis, IN in the United States. Travel is one of the greatest loves of my life. It allows me to do two of my favourite things: learn and be creative.
Where have you been?
I have been to Poland, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Scotland, Japan, Mexico, Canada, The Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Haiti, and Japan. And 21/50 US states.
What has inspired you to start travelling solo?
I reached a low point in my life towards the end of college—depression, elevated anxiety I’ve had my entire life—and found myself losing interest in a lot of my favourite activities. I felt a lot of “I don’t know” in those days, and I found the one thing I DID know was I wanted to see the world. In the thick of it, I went on a study abroad trip to Poland. It could not have happened at a better time. I went from not being able to see a definite future for my life to seeing myself in ancient castles and exploring ruins all by myself. I DID that. I made some friends on that trip, but I also went off and did some solo days. At the end of it, I extended my stay in Europe to go to Sweden. After that trip, as I healed I didn’t want to wait around for my friends to save money and have the same priorities as me (I had a full ride through college by God’s grace!!) so I told myself why wait to see the world? The time is now, even if I have to go somewhere by myself or make my mom tag along with me.
What was your family’s reaction to your travelling idea?
They were always worried about something happening to me. Which is a legitimate concern and I completely understand. My mother would always tell me she doesn’t feel good about it but she won’t try to stop me. BUT me being a goody-goody and always needing my mom’s approval (I mean I respect Cheryl, she’s a very smart lady!) I would always feel guilty, and my mom ended up tagging along with me on several trips.
The unknown is scary, and there are so many variables we can’t control or prepare for. But the thing is—the worst possible thing could happen to me across the street from where I’ve lived in Indianapolis. That’s the blatant reality. If violence, murder, rape, kidnapping, you name it, could happen in Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, or anywhere in the United States I’ve gone, why let that hold me back?
Many people are reluctant to travel solo because they feel like they’ll be alone and won’t meet anyone. What’s your experience?
It will be what you make it. If you want to meet people, it’s best to stay in a hostel or an Airbnb where you can talk with the host and get suggestions through them. Go to a bar or restaurant earlier in the day and sit at the bar. It definitely depends on where you are, but people may be curious and talk to you. Bring a book or some other “prop” to brush them off if you don’t want to talk to anyone—but you never know who you may meet! I recently went to Oktoberfest in Munich and my God I made like 14 friends in an hour—lookout for festivals and events like that. Ask people to take your picture who also look like travellers and strike up a conversation. Get a meetup or matching app. (We’ve got some great advice from talking to people on Tinder in another country!)
On the other side of the coin…being by yourself can be AMAZING and I hope that everyone learns to not let it be a scary thing. You can do absolutely anything you want without anyone holding you back or being on anyone else’s schedule. You have so much time to meditate, to ask yourself tough questions, and to get to know yourself. Through therapy, I learned how to be more self-aware which I believe is one of the most important things we can do in life. We have so many painful reactions to things that happen to us and we don’t even know why. Solo travelling puts yourself in challenging situations where you really get to know yourself.
Finally, It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Start small. Explore places in your own city by yourself. Take a weekend trip by yourself, and then start in a country that is close to your own or similar in culture. Take it slow, the world is waiting for you.
In how far do you think travelling has changed you and your view of the world?
I don’t know if I remember my opinions of the world before I got out there, but it helps you open your mind more and try to put yourself in another’s situation.
For example, I read a statistic about sexual assault reporting in a super Catholic country in Europe vs. a pretty liberal one. When you step in those women’s shoes and start imagining, “okay they were most likely raised like this, being told these thoughts every day, being taught that their role was this and this is how life would be for them,”—then those things start to make sense and I start to be less judge-y.
This goes for anything. As another example, I am absolutely a feminist, but sometimes I feel like some of us forget the cultures some women have grown up in and that their feminism may look different from ours. That just because they still want to get married and have babies as soon as possible doesn’t mean they aren’t a feminist. That feminism is their choice to choose that and then say, “okay I am a boss ass b*tch and I want a husband and a baby right now, but heck I also want to be a Database Administrator so I’m going to school too.” Progress looks different everywhere, and I think travelling has taught me first and foremost to listen to someone before interjecting my ideas.
The biggest concern for travelling solo as a female is safety. What would you tell women who want to travel solo but worry about their safety?
Do your research and don’t go out by yourself after dark. That’s pretty much it. We are so afraid of these places because they are unfamiliar and we know nothing about what it is like to be there, but we live in a time where we have the ultimate encyclopedia where we can read real people’s experiences in a place—the Internet! Read reviews. Find the most touristy places. Look up if there is a petty crime there due to tourism. Find a local on Instagram or Twitter and send them a message. For day trips, start with tours until you’re comfortable. Research public transportation you’ll be using before. Literally, stare at a map of the place and try to get your bearings. That way when you get there you’ll have a sense of direction. I cannot tell you how many times I have done so much geographic research on a place when I get there I feel like I’ve been there before because I know what direction to go just based on some buildings or lakes or rivers. Join Facebook groups for travellers and ask questions. There are so many ways to prepare and ease your fears.
Of course, we can never look up EVERYTHING so just always be sure to be vigilant. Walk with purpose, never tell anyone you’re alone (if someone asks, tell them you’re meeting up with a friend), learn some of the languages, etc. Sometimes this means you have to be rude. If someone comes up and starts talking to you and you feel unsafe it’s OKAY to be rude, shut them down, and charge away. Always trust your gut. I was not the nicest person in New York City—but I never once got into any situations where I felt unsafe.
What should every solo female traveller pack?
Make sure you have a way for your cell phone to work—be it an International plan or a Wifi box. Download offline maps. Write down important numbers you might need. Print out a copy of your passport, your reservations, literally everything—just in case. Bring at least one book. (You don’t read? Time to give it a shot!) An electric converter. Walking shoes. A small cross-body purse or a waistband carrier you can wear under your clothes if you feel safer that way. I always bring around the equivalent of $100 USD just in case of emergencies, and then if I need more in the local currency I go to an ATM. Pack a travel credit card that doesn’t give you international fees! It’s a game-changer. A portable phone charger/power bank. Sunglasses no matter the time of year. And a camera of course! I recently invested in my first real camera that wasn’t my iPhone and it is so much fun. Solo travel is a great way to get into photography. And lastly, a journal. Write everything down. And I mean everythaaang.
How do you afford your travels, and what tips can you share for keeping costs down while on the road?
Unfortunately, there is no fun and easy solution for saving. I work a full-time job and save about 20-30% of my total income for travel. This means that after my separate savings account, retirement, and taxes, I have very little for extra spending. It’s just priorities. I rarely buy new clothes except when I’m travelling. I go out to eat MAYBE once a week, and it’s usually somewhere $10-$12 a meal. I don’t drink much at all, and I rarely go out to clubs or bars to save money that way as well. I have a very tight budget where I allow myself about $100 a month for anything extra. That might be clothes, anything from Target, a Nintendo Switch game, ice cream, getting a pedicure, etc. For me all that extra stuff doesn’t bring as much joy to me as travelling does, so I am very strict with my spending and it pays off.
On the road, the best way to manage this is to keep a daily budget and go into it planning to cook for yourself as opposed to eating out every meal. Do enough research so you aren’t surprised by random costs. A lot of what I’ve learned through project management has come in handy for planning travel, and as much as it may suck—planning things you have to pay for a way ahead of time is key to having plenty of money. And don’t forget there are many free things to do in any city—exploring old towns, hiking, people watching along a river—and a lot of cities have free deals for students so if you still have a student ID be sure to look out for that.
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew before you started?
Give yourself a day to just wander. I am very Type A and love to have everything planned, but the best days I’ve had on a trip were the days where we were spontaneous, just wandered around cobblestone streets, or hopped on a random train. It sounds a little counter-intuitive to plan a day to be spontaneous, but hey it’s how I have to operate to not have a full-on anxiety attack the whole time!