I travel the world.  Alone.  It’s not because I don’t have friends, or that no one wants to travel with me—it’s my choice.

(I don’t always travel alone, but traveling with a companion, or a tour group, is a different kind of trip.)

Traveling solo offers me the opportunity to change course and be spontaneous—to meet new people, to have adventures and experiences that I might not find if I were traveling with someone else.

Alone, I’ve stayed in a stone cottage on top of a mountain in Tuscany, an 11th century fortress on an island off the coast of Brittany, and an attic apartment in Bruges.

Alone, I’ve haggled with vendors in chaotic flea markets in Barcelona and Budapest and Reykjavik, pushed through the crowds at the Bastille day parade in Paris and the Royal Wedding in London, photographed the feverish preparation for Diwali in the streets of Jaipur, gotten lost in the cobbled lanes of Rome and Buenos Aires and Prague, visited the studios of artisans I’ve met, followed antique dealers to their off-the-beaten-track warehouses in Copenhagen and Madrid, and joined the locals at a secret flamenco bar in Sevilla at midnight.

Alone, I’ve had conversations with taxi drivers, and waiters, and shop owners, and people at bus stops and train stations and on streets.

Some people just can’t understand why I would want to, but more often I am asked if I have any advice on traveling solo, so I came up with five basic travel tips that I always seem to adhere to (without ever having really thought about it):

1.  Stay in a central, populated area.  It’s not just safer, it’s more convenient.  I would much rather walk out my door and be in the thick of things, than have to waste time and money on transportation to and from an out-of-the-way hotel.

2.  Be prepared.  Plan your trip thoroughly so you are confident in the city.  Make a list of where you want to go, and look at a map ahead of time so you can group things together that are in the same neighborhood—that way you won’t miss anything, and you won’t look like a disoriented and confused tourist.

3.  Be aware of your surroundings.  I can sometimes get sidetracked if I see a great photo op; in fact, I once wandered into an unsafe neighborhood in Buenos Aires because I was taking pictures and not paying attention.  I heeded the warning of a local resident (who told me that if I wanted to keep my camera, I had better turn back) and skedaddled out of there.

4.  Dress appropriately.  I’ll never forget seeing a couple of European women getting off the plane in India wearing short shorts and tank tops. Not cool. Try to follow the unspoken dress code of the location you are traveling to.  In India, dress modestly.  Now that I think about it, I often, unconsciously, make an effort to dress in the style of the place I’m visiting—fashionably smart in Paris, casually sporty at an estancia in Argentina, colorfully festive in Venice…obviously dress codes that aren’t required, but are, nonetheless, befitting.

5.  Be (or at least act) confident.  Just walk with purpose, even if you are lost and have no idea where the heck you are.  I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been worried about my safety, but I’ve gotten off track.  Not wanting to seem vulnerable, I act like I know what I’m doing. It’s worked so far.

I travel to grow, to evolve, to experience new cultures and be inspired—and I am happiest, and feel most alive, when I am setting foot in a new city for the first time.

By myself.