Spring is finally here and that means spring break is near. That also means a week off from school with no homework, no projects and no tests (unless you have the teacher that loves to assign work over breaks). But most importantly, if you are lucky enough, you can get out of town!
When I first turned 18 nothing too special happened and I even felt the same as I did the day before. Little did I know that this was my release into the world of cheap travel — and alone. My first time traveling was to The Big Apple. I had the whole week to myself, in a city of 8 million, and I didn’t know a single soul there.
When I first landed in New York’s LaGuardia airport I had nothing planned and nowhere to go. So I did what any sensible person would do in a new city: hopped on the first bus and train I saw and I let it take me to wherever it went. Yes, I was scared but I was determined not to show it. I understand how frightening this can be, so if you are not the type to wander aimlessly in a new city, here are my tips in surviving travel.
I don’t have much experience at bus or train terminals, but I do know my way around an airport. Here are my tips for getting in and out of the airport.
- If possible, limit yourself to one carry-on bag. Having to check a bag at luggage claim can cost you more money and heighten your chances of your bag getting lost.
- Check-in online early, that way no one on can take your seat, especially since airlines love to overbook flights.
- Get to the airport one hour early for domestic flights and at least one hour and 30 minutes for international ones. This allows time for you to get by security, and find your terminal. I also do this because I like to get snacks after security; no outside food or drinks are allowed passed security.
- When proceeding through security, it’s best to wear shoes that can easily be taken off and already have your electronics out of your bag. This streamlines the security checkpoint process.
Sometimes flying isn’t cheap, but it can if you search for a deal. Three websites that I used for booking flights were Cheapair.com, Seatguru.com and Kayak.com. I particularly like these because they compare flight prices and are super easy to use. Another option is directly booking on an airline’s website. Some budget airlines you can fly are, Frontier Airline or Spirit Airlines.
Right off the bat staying in a hotel is going to be the more expensive option, but there are cheaper and sometimes nicer places to stay. Two options I suggest are using airbnb.com or hostels.
I stayed in two airbnbs while in New York City and both were very nice and only $30 a night. If you choose this option make sure to read the reveiws. Also, make sure you read your host’s rules because you have to be respectful of their home.
Hostels can be way more intimidating since you are sharing a room with complete strangers, but they are great way to make friends. One thing to note is that many hostels have communal bathrooms. Everyone shares a shower on your hall.
For accommodations, I recommend airbnb.com (they have an app on both iPhone and Android), Hostels.com and Hostelworld.com. The latter two both compare prices for different hostels in your destination city. Sometimes they will charge you a fee, but if you don’t want to pay that fee you can pick up the phone and call the hostel directly. Airbnb compares host in your destination, but they must all be signed up with the service.
Whenever I leave Atlanta and enter a different major metropolitan center, I get around the city using their public transit system. If you do plan to use public transit here are some things to keep in mind:
- There is no cell service underground, so you should save a map of the rail system to your phone.
- Google Maps is useful in major cities such as Atlanta, D.C. and New York City. If you type your destination into the app, it can give you clear directions on which train to get on and which way to walk.
- Uber and Lyft are available in most cities and will come in handy for when you go out late.
I have had some scary encounters, but thankfully I have been able to get out of them. Most recently while I was in a D.C. Macy’s restroom, a man was harassing me. As soon as I was able to exit the area, I ran to an employee who later directed me to the security office. While I wasn’t physically harmed, the encounter made me realize the importance of being aware of your surroundings. With that said, here are my tips for staying safe:
- If you are walking at night, in a residential area like the Bronx in New York, many locals walk in the middle of the street away from dark allies. But if walking in the middle of the street is not your speed there is always Uber or Lyft to get you home safely at night.
- If you feel like someone has been following you or are trying to mess with you, try not to make eye contact, but always know where they are. When I was in D.C., I made eye contact with my harasser and I felt that made him feel his actions were appropriate.
- If someone is following you walk into the nearest store, restaurant or even better police precinct and tell someone. Believe it or not more people than you know have been in situations like this.
- Always keep anything that will be entering your body in sight and never drink it if it taste weird.
My experiences traveling have been, for the most part, have been fun, educational and relaxing. Traveling by yourself can be all of thee things as long as you stay safe and know what is going on around your surroundings.
Photo by Manuel Portillo, VOX Staff.