Najja Plowden traveling in Alaska.
When college students hear the word “travel” their minds may waver between thoughts of partying in Europe or exciting group excursions.
While group traveling can be fun and admittedly does have its merits (let’s face it, getting lost alone is not fun!), there are some unique benefits to traveling alone — if you know how to do it right.
Describing Najja Plowden as a jet-setter would likely be an understatement. The 31-year-old personal trainer and soccer coach has travelled to over 35 countries, many of these by himself. From the Philippines to Haiti and even Alaska, Plowden has seen a lot.
Plowden sat down with USA TOSAY to discuss four of his biggest tips for exploring alone.
While the prospect of traveling alone is daunting, one sure fire way to get over the fear is to talk to people. Plowden suggests striking up a conversation with someone in the airport or on the plane. You can make a great contact who may be able to provide a place to stay or even give a tour.
Contact a local-non profit before you go and do some volunteer work. Not only will it be an excellent experience in itself, it can also be a safety net for you in case you need some contacts or a place to stay. There are American non-profits in almost every country, this can really come in handy sometimes.
One crucial point however: Don’t broadcast that you are traveling alone, just to be safe.
Plowden traveling in Alaska
If you are going to travel alone this is not the time to bring your portable DVD player or international smart phone (seriously who wants to see your whole trip depicted on Instagram anyway?) Embrace the experience of going abroad alone, not tied up in the devices you spend all your time using at home.
Learn local customs
Learning the local customs can go a long way to breaking down cultural barriers.
For example, Plowden recalled something he learned in Brazil: The “A-ok” gesture that we do with our fingers here actually means “up yours” in Brazil.
“They don’t care that it’s not your culture, as far as they are concerned you are disrespectful if you don’t take the time to learn basic cultural norms,” said Plowden.
Before you go on your trip, be sure to watch a movie about that country. It doesn’t even have to be an educational movie, just something that will give you some insight into the nuances of that culture.
In 2002, a 22-year-old Plowden was on his way to Haiti to help with some relief efforts. He was due to meet up with some Americans, but ended up traveling alone. When he arrived in Haiti no one picked up him, so after waiting an hour he decided to take a cab. What he would later find out is that in 2002 almost no one in Haiti took a cab — especially straight from the airport — as the chances of being robbed or worse were very high.
Unaware of any pertinent danger, Plowden hopped in a cab and give the driver the address. A couple minutes later they were in an abandoned gas station surrounded by a deserted field. The cab driver took the key out of the ignition, made a call and they both sat there in silence for the next 45 minutes. Plowden began to plot his escape — he knew he was about to be robbed or worse — but being ex-military he figured he could defend himself. After about 20 minutes of silently plotting his escape, Plowden decided to try something different.
“I turned around and said, ‘Hey what’s up man? You know I’m here in Haiti to help out some of the kids – I’ve got food supplies and medicine for everyone.”
The cab driver looked at him and broke down in tears, re-started the car and spent the next two hours apologizing and helping Plowden find where he was going to stay. “You were sent from God,” said the cab driver, “I am so sorry.”
Plowden never found out what would have happened to him.
Be brave when you are abroad. If you ever find yourself in a sticky situation, don’t look like the dim-witted tourist — feign courage if you have to.
Powered by Facebook Comments