Running around Bogotá, Colombia by myself for 18 hours during a long layover is the most invigorating, spontaneous thing I have done in a while, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how I planned for such a short time and made it work (without getting lost, missing flights, or any other circumstances.)
Taking chances is about exploring new grounds despite doubts or fear of failure – there is no fail in trying, only valuable lessons.
When I travel, people ask me a surprising question a lot “aren’t you scared?” Of course there are precautions to take when traveling, but they’re no reason to be scared – being scared while traveling can cause more problems than not. Before traveling, just make sure you are prepared. Understand how to get around the city, be aware of how much or how little English they speak (or whatever your native language) so you can set expectations as to how to navigate the city.
When I arrived in Bogotá, I had booked an AirBnB close to the airport ahead of time, and graciously enough, my host was willing to pick me up from the airport. However – fun fact – taxis are rather cheap and Uber is available – so getting around Bogota is not so difficult (but finding WiFi, that’s another story.) One thing to note – is how their street landscape works – there are Carreras = Avenues and Calles = Streets which run perpendicular to each other – so once you understand how the streets intersect, it’s actually rather difficult to truly be lost because if you somehow end up at Calle 21 can always backtrack to where you started at Calle 7 and know that the cross street was Carrerra XX.
Once I landed, I met my host – Jaime, a young Colombian professional – at our designated spot, Oma Cafe, in the airport. I exchanged some USD for Colombian pesos (this is important as not all places in Bogotá take credit/debit) and hopped in his SUV with his friend. We drove for about 10-15 minutes back to his apartment. When we arrived, it was like a large complex just like any other back in the states. I had my own bedroom and shared bathroom with another guest from Bologna, Italy. Jaime offered me a Colombian beer and had a Nat Geo book about Bogotá sitting out that I immediately dove into.
I already had my plan of attack mapped out for the AM, all in enough time to get me back to the airport for flight #2 to Guatemala City. I set my alarm for 6am to be ready to leave by 7am, walk to a nearby Dunkin Donuts coffee shop (and trip all over myself trying to order in Spanish), connect to their WiFi and order an Uber to an area called La Candelaria.
Here are a few places I saw while wandering around (and starred my top three favorites)
- La Candelaria
- Plaza de Bolivar*
- Museo de Milita
- Primatial Cathedral de Bogotá
- Iglesia de San Francisco
- Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora del Carmen*
- National Capitol
- Monserrate Mountain*
- Avianca Building
So, here I’ve summed up my top 5 tips when flying solo:
- Research, research, research – its pertinent to understand the country/city you are visiting from culture, transportation, currency, time zone, dress code, religion, weather, etc.
- Show Respect – try to know SOME of the language, if they see you are trying and struggling, they are always more willing to help then when you look at them with the “why don’t you speak english” face.
- Travel Light – if it’s a long layover – check your luggage all the way to your final destination and just travel with a backpack that has pockets for valuables – this way you are less likely to lose anything or get robbed or purse taken off your shoulder.
- Do not look scared – even if you are nervous, look natural, smile, act like you know exactly where you are going – this will eliminate anyone stopping you and will reduce the likelihood of being targeted for any shady activities.
- Have a plan but don’t be afraid to get (a little) lost – map out where you want to go ahead of time in order of preference (with a physical map- trust me you want this, in their language), this way you see as much as possible with an idea of how to get there and what to do once you’re there (and if the map is in their language – it’s easier to ask for directions) – that way you are not spending majority of your time wandering around anxious and get to explore instead. With that being said – don’t be afraid to improvise. One of the most exciting things about traveling is coming across things NOT on your itinerary – soak That UP. And embrace it.