It is getting more and more popular for people to travel alone. A lot of us realize that we can’t wait till we actually have a travel partner before we start exploring otherwise we might never get to travel. Traveling solo is quite daunting in the beginning and a big reason why many people never get to see the world. I understand as it was quite scary for me to travel all alone and I have learned a lot of lessons the hard way through my years of solo travelling.
Here are some travel tips that might make that first solo trip a bit easier and less scarier.
- Plan in advance: Do some advance reading about the country and cities you plan to explore. Do some planning of what you want to see and where you would like to go. You don’t need a detailed plan but you should know, for the first night at least, where you’re going to stay, so definitely book your hostel or hotel before you leave. Believe me its not fun arriving in a strange city at night and then having to search for accommodation and having to take the first one available. Having a plan of what you would like to do the first couple of days also makes it easier as it motivates you to get going in the morning, and out there into the unfamiliar.
- Pack light
Trust me, you want to pack light so that you can manage your luggage by yourself with ease. One carry-on and a suitcase or backpack, should be enough whether you’re out for one week or three. Remember you are the one who has to carry all that stuff with you so only pack the essentials. It is not fun having to cart along clothes that you never even end up wearing as you sometimes end up wearing the same 3 outfits the whole week.
- Try to arrive during the day
Plan to arrive during daylight so you’re not trying to find your way through an unfamiliar city in the dark, this can be quite scary as nothing looks like it does in the guide book or on the travel photos you looked at before arriving. It is not fun and it doesn’t feel very safe if you are a woman on your own to walk around a city looking lost. At least in daylight you can see what the area looks like and get a feel for the city before you start exploring.
- Talk to strangers: I know you have always been told to avoid strangers but connect with other travelers out there, a lot of them are also travelling alone and looking for some company. The common rooms and lounges of hostels and hostels are great places meet short-term friends as well as pick up excellent travel advice. Yes, talking to strangers is recommended while travelling solo and it took me a while before I felt comfortable doing this. Smile and start a conversation. Be curious and ask open-ended questions and follow-up questions. This way you learn about what to do and where to go or not to go in this strange new city.
- Meet the locals
Connecting with locals is definitely a must, this is the best way to learn about the new country and the culture of the people. This way you also tend to travel and explore rather than just being a tourist in this new city. No, I dont mean go and talk to the weird person standing at the bus stop. Many cities now have a free local walking tour with a local guide who knows the area and who can point out the local places you should visit, places not always found on a tourist map or in a guide book. Markets are my favourite place to meet and talk to the locals. Here I don’t only get to experience the local culture but also to taste the cuisine of the area.
- Watch the world around you: Take the time to observe how people interact, and how things work in this strange country. While sitting at a sidewalk cafe, on a park bench, or just killing time while you wait for your bus, do some people watching. This is one of my favourite things to do and through observing the locals you can learn how to use their public transit, whether to pay your bill at your table or at the counter, how to tip or how to hail a cab and much more. This has saved me from either asking questions in a language I don’t speak or feeling stupid and sticking out like a sore thumb as just another dumb tourist.
- Go out and enjoy yourself
Go ingout in the evenings and dining by yourself is one of the most awkward things at first, but it gets easier, trust me. Go to pubs and bars and grab a seat at the bar or counter where you will see a lot of other people dining solo. Go to concerts and the theatre alone, nobody is ging to judge you as these are not groups activities. It’s possible to enjoy the night life solo, although it does feel a bit strange sometimes, so I always take a book with or some postcards to write to friends as I sit at the counter waiting for my order.
- Sign up for courses
If you’re in one place for a while, connect with others by taking language or cooking classes. Whatever interests you. This is a great way to dive into the culture and meet new people. I personally love joining cooking classes as they often include a trip to the local market where you get to buy the produce before cooking it. Here I get to meet and share a local meal with like-minded people.
9. Go on organised day trips
Break up long solo trips where you wander around on your own with organized day trips. I find that I end up enjoying the company and get a chance to let someone else take care of all the details. Especially if it is going to hard to reach places like the top of the Andes mountains or seeing the local farms and countryside..
10. Always have the essentials
Carry the essentials with you when you head out for the day, there is not always a little corner store available everywhere you go. So carry some water, tissues, band-aids, hand sanitiser and even a snack or two with you when you leave on your adventure for the day. Have the name of the place you’re staying at on a piece of paper in the local language or the hostel business card handy just in case you get lost. Yes, even with a map, you might end up getting lost or need to take a taxi home after a long day of exploring. Have a copy of your emergency contacts and your documents on you as you might need them- have photos of them on your phone as you might need to show your passport to enter certain places. And make sure you have a mini first aid kit with you in the form of headache tablets, plasters, Imodium and antiseptic cream. You never know when you might need it.
The last 5 tips before you start getting ready for your solo adventure…….
- Store important items in one place
Always keep your most important items in the same place and have a simple check. For me it’s passport, wallet, camera and phone. Those are the items I check every now and again just to make sure I haven’t lost anything along the way. The easiest way to do this is by having a travel bag with different pockets of sections so that you always know where your things are.
- Get in your photos
Learn to take your own photo or how to ask people to please take a photo of you. This way you wont end up with a load of photos of places and not be able to prove you were actually there. And selfies don’t always cut it, sometimes you need a full length photo, depending on where you are.
- Save on phone charges: Consider getting your cell phone unlocked so that you can buy a SIM card for your phone in each country as you travel, especially if you are there for more than a week. This will save you lots of money. Also, load Skype onto your phone so that you can connect with friends and family for free when you have access to the Internet. While traveling there are loads of places that offer free wifi so you will be able to stay in contact with everyone without having to pay roaming charges.
- Take advantage of other useful apps
Download useful apps to your phone such as a translator, a currency converter and some travel guides before you leave on your adventure. Its easier carrying your travel guide in your phone than having a heavy book to carry around. A weather app is also very useful and a great help when trying to plan what you want to do the next day.
- And most importantly: Trust your instincts
Be aware of your surroundings and listen to your gut. If something doesn’t seem or feel right, leave, immediately. You are alone and cant afford to get into trouble so avoid it at all cost. Trust me, I have canceled day trips if things felt untrustworthy and even jumped out of a moving taxi when the driver turned down a dark alley….you can never be too careful.
I hope these tips help you while on your solo adventure.