I Did Everything You’re NOT Supposed To Do On My First Solo Travel Adventure

I wanted an adventure! And, boy, did I have one.

Life & Travel

I looked back at the hotel, once, then twice, truly questioning if I was going to abandon all of the rules I had set for myself prior to leaving for my first solo trip. I had watched Taken, received countless lectures about the dangers of solo traveling as a young single woman, was fully aware that what I was about to do could backfire in my face, and yet, here I was throwing all of my self-preservation and home-training out of the window.

"Are you coming?" he asked, opening the car door for me.

"Sure!"

Let me preface this article by explaining that I'm typically not a reckless person nor do I advocate for intentionally putting yourself in harm's way, but an overwhelming amount of the research and "do's and dont's" I received prior to leaving for my trip seemed too stringent for this particular vacation. While most "rules" were grounded in ensuring my overall safety, I did not want to travel to a mainstream, touristy location. I did not want to solely interact with the guests in the hotel. I did not want to just stay by the pool the entire trip.

Whether I was going alone or taking others with me, I was going. I wanted an adventure! And, boy, did I have one.

Here are 5 solo travel rules that I broke on my first trip to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, that ultimately led to me having one of my favorite vacations so far:

“Stay on the premises around the resort.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

The funniest part about this first rule is that I actually believed I was going to stay put all weekend. Prior to my trip, I had researched the hotel spa and all of the wonderful amenities on the grounds and pictured myself relaxing and winding down from all of the craziness that is New York City.

Fast-forward one hour into my trip, I had already met someone by the pool and we were making plans to explore the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo.

To me, the best part about solo traveling is that you have total autonomy over your free time. No more waiting for your girls to get ready. No more skipping museums because your friends don't like history. No more sharing a messy hotel room with multiple people. If you want to socialize and explore with others you can, but if you want to rest and relax by yourself, no one is stopping you.

Tip: As great as the hotels and resorts are, don't be entirely against exploring the local areas. The true culture of a city you're visiting often is not fully realized when solely staying in the hotel. If you're nervous about exploring by yourself or going with someone you recently met, try scheduling a walking, bike, or bus tour on Viator.

“Don’t leave the hotel with people you don’t know.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

The #1 rule I seemed to receive from most people prior to embarking on my solo trip seemed to revolve around the very real dangers of sex trafficking and date rape.

While not to be taken lightly, I met a guy from Toronto who was around my age, was in the DR on business, had a car, and also wanted to explore – all within one hour of arriving at the hotel. Conventional wisdom should have led me to decline exploring a foreign country with someone I barely knew, but for better or worse, his vibe seemed genuine. I trusted him.

Throughout the time I was there, we went onto explore the colonial ruins of the Santo Domingo, went shopping in local markets, listened to local music performances, and later drove an hour away to take a day trip to the beach in Boca Chica. Had our time together gone sour or I actually ended up in a dangerous situation, perhaps I would feel differently about interacting with men I don't know. But, for this particular trip, it made the difference.

Tip: Trust your gut. If someone or something makes you uncomfortable, steer clear. But, if you happen to meet someone and the vibe seems right, and most importantly, you feel safe, don't entirely discount leaning in.

“Foreign cities are dangerous. Avoid interacting with the locals.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

Particularly in regard to Santo Domingo, I read a lot on the city and reputation before this vacation. My decision to travel to Santo Domingo was primarily cost driven – my flight was only $240! But, unlike other cities in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, the travel reviews I read on a number of blogs were less than favorable, especially in regard to safety.

This just might be me, but I feel like every city is "dangerous" in certain areas. Whenever I tell people from my hometown that I live in Brooklyn, they ask if I feel safe since it's supposedly "dangerous". As with any urban metropolis, I often ask people who actually live in a respective city to tell me where to explore and which areas to avoid. Using suggestions from Dominican staff and visitors at the hotel, I then tailored my list of places to visit in Santo Domingo, and it turned out great.

Prior to my trip, I wasn't expecting to love the local culture as much as I did. My family is originally from Jamaica and I felt a surprisingly comparable vibe between parts of Santo Domingo, DR and Kingston and Spanish Town, JA where my parents are from. Like Kingston, a large majority of the city is black or of some variation of black descent, and I really felt like I belonged (when I wasn't speaking Spanglish of course). I would ask questions, try different types of foods, and attempt to start up conversations with a number of people I met throughout my trip. Their warmth and overall friendliness really made a huge impact on my experience. Honestly, it might have made the whole trip.

“Be wary of consuming local foods and drinks.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

Similar to the above point, local is not synonymous with unclean or unsafe.

I remember meeting a lady in the hotel who was complaining, going on and on, about how dirty she heard the fruits and vegetables were and how she only wanted to eat food prepared directly in front of her. While water purity can be an issue in some countries, I feel like it's a waste to travel thousands of miles away to a foreign country just to eat chicken nuggets and Cheerios.

I probably ate and drank my whole trip – fried fish on the beach, mangu and salami, papayas, guava, mangoes, rum punch, mojitos, piña coladas – you name it, I had it. And, it was glorious.

Tip: Don't be lame. Try new foods and drinks! If you have concerns about water purity and food sanitation, bottled water and beverages are easily accessible and avoid eating food that has been sitting out for a while.

“Try not to stand out.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

While my skin color may have allowed me to blend in most spaces, it was pretty apparent that I was a tourist (especially when taking pictures). But, I don't think being a tourist is inherently a bad thing.

I believe that there is a big difference between being a tourist who simply visits versus appreciates a new place. I have visited countries where tourists are blatantly rude and disrespectful, leaving trash everywhere and talking down to locals. I felt in my core that I loved where I was visiting, tried my best to speak their language, and projected positivity and appreciation overall.

This does not mean walking around naively, flashing money or behaving in ways to attract negative attention, but it does mean not being afraid to engage with those around you and to stand out.

Tip: Being street smart does not mean completely shutting yourself off from the local environment around you. If you feel it's appropriate, don't be afraid to take pictures or even ask someone to take pictures of you. Again, be aware and read the overall vibe, but don't let fear and misconceptions stop you from exploring the world.

Featured Image by Lydia Lee (@hello_lydia).

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