When Scooter Pegram—director of the French program at IU Northwest and associate professor of French and Minority Studies—travels the world, he considers himself a flaneur.
“In French, a flaneur means someone who strolls around, who’s always alone,” he explains. “[Someone who goes] walking with no particular destination in mind, but [who] takes it all in, enjoying whatever comes [their] way—good or bad.”
Throughout the past 20 years, Pegram has traversed 118 countries across six continents—all solo trips. He always knew he wanted to travel the world, long before he had the resources to do so.
“I was fascinated with maps as a kid and wanted to travel everywhere—places I never thought I’d be able to go,” he says. “I look at the world as a movable feast in the sense that there’s so many things going on. I just want to see everything.”
Pegram began his solo adventures in North America, saving money to travel to cities including New York and Los Angeles. In college, he was finally able to afford his first trip abroad—an excursion to Mexico City.
While solo travel can be lonely at times, the journeys Pegram embarks on are never devoid of connection—some of the professor’s most significant friendships have been a result of exploring new places alone.
“I’m alone, but I’m never alone. I’ll sit in a restaurant and then a half an hour later, I’ve got 25 new friends from that area,” he says. “When I went to Colombia the first time, I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know anything. My two best friends in the world are a result of that trip, just because I sat on a bench, and they were curious about me. If I had been with someone, that would not have happened.”
Between jaunts to Thailand and Los Angeles, we caught up with Pegram to learn his top tips for traveling abroad solo.
Travel to an English-speaking country first.
Where you travel is a personal choice, but for novices, Pegram suggests easing into international travel.
“For Americans who are a little nervous, go to an English-speaking country [first],” he says. “Toronto’s the most multicultural city in the world. Go there. Then you can say, ‘OK, I’ve experienced crossing a border.’”
Pegram also recommends London as a first destination.
“[It’s] a nice, neutral location for someone who wants to go overseas [but] just wants to get their feet wet,” he says.
When you see cheap airfare, buy it.
Pegram watches flight prices religiously, so he knows a low fare when he sees one. He also uses apps like Hopper to alert him when an airfare to his desired destination is at its lowest price.
“If you see cheap airfare, don’t hesitate. Just buy it. Don’t wait for it to come down any more,” says Pegram. “A great website [for cheap airfare] is Kayak Explore. You can put in random dates, and it will show you the fares for the whole planet. About four years ago, I found five days and four nights in Aqabah, Jordan, near Israel, for $375 round trip. I couldn’t believe it.”
Another hack: Visit places during “low” or “off” season.
“January and February are [great times] to travel to Europe,” Pegram says. “[There are] two-thirds fewer people than in the summer. So, going to the Louvre, for example, is a lot better than it would be in July.”
Don’t bust your budget on lodging.
Booking accommodations is where travel can become pricey when you’re not sharing the cost with a companion.
“I’m a big proponent of hostels. They’re great for young travelers because you can swap stories and meet people around the same age,” Pegram says.
However, if hostels aren’t your cup of tea, the veteran traveler recommends booking a hotel with free breakfast. This will cut down on your food expenses.
Travel like the locals.
Be it train, bus, or subway, Pegram suggests embracing the adventure of using local transportation.
“I love traveling the way the locals do, but it can be cramped. African transport, [for example], oftentimes is shared,” says Pegram. “People are going to bump you. They’re going to elbow you. They’re going to cut you in line. This is where patience is a virtue. Always go with the flow.”
And if you happen to get handed a chicken or a baby, he says, just go with it!
“I cannot tell you how many babies I’ve held on the African continent,” Pegram says with a laugh.
Don’t let language be a barrier.
Pegram has traveled to numerous countries where he didn’t speak the native language. Still, he says that shouldn’t deter someone from interacting with the locals—and that you can get by with a few basic phrases like “where’s the bathroom?” as well as universal body language.
“You’ll be surprised how well you can get along with a smile, a good attitude, and a relaxed demeanor,” Pegram says.
Additionally, it’s always a good idea to learn the basic customs of your destination. For example, tipping is not customary in Japan and is often considered rude.
Be prepared for mild medical issues.
If you’re eating what the locals eat or traveling to higher altitudes, don’t be surprised if your body has an adverse reaction. Pegram highly recommends traveling with a plethora of over-the-counter medications that might assist you abroad, such as anti-diarrhea pills, anti-nausea medication, and antihistamines.
“Always be ready for the unexpected, and make sure your shots are up to date [before traveling],” he says