Solo travel is not always a smooth ride, so here are my top 9 tips for solo travellers to help you on your solo journey…
1 | Research Your Destination
For many solo travellers, planning and researching is almost as fun as actually traveling! I should confess that research is not usually my strength – I love not knowing where I’m going to sleep, what to expect and just find those things as the day comes by. However, when I’m solo I do take some time to read about the country and look up safety information and special considerations for women. I like to have the heads up for typical tourist scams on the area and if men are particularly forward or have a tendency to approach female travellers.
2 | Be Confident
The worst thing you can do for yourself as a solo female traveler is look worried or fearful. Even when you’re lost or in trouble, remain assertive and sharp at all times – no matter how tough it can be. Just remember it will all be okay in the end. It just sometimes take a little longer or a few more hiccups than usual. This is all part of the challenge of solo travel.
Remember that nobody starts out as a confident solo traveler. This is something that comes over time as you figure out how to get around and make your own choices. I remember the first time I went to Budapest on my own I ended up missing a flight and arrived late at night. The only bus available to the city centre, dropped me at a dodgy park with let’s just say different people around. I was soon scared… I thought if I looked lost or simply pulled the map that was in my bag, I could have attracted the wrong kind of attention. Instead I tried to look confident and walk towards a more busy area with restaurants and then I pulled out my map and got my bearings before starting to walk again to the hostel. Things like that really can change events.
3 | Blend In
One of the easiest ways to attract the wrong type of attention is to wear clothing and to carry yourself in a very different way than the local women. Avoid outfits that scream “TOURIST!” This means dropping the backpacker uniform of drop-crotch hippie pants and souvenir beer t-shirts in favor of casual but neat and tidy clothing. That is, cover your arms, legs, and cleavage in Muslim countries, wear loose clothing in India.
The more you stand out, the more you brand yourself as someone who is unfamiliar with the location, which makes you more vulnerable. Try to pass as a local – or, if that’s impossible try to pass as a longtime expat.
4 | Prepare For The Worst
Always prepare for the worst – doesn’t actually matter if you are travelling solo or with mates.
Make sure you photocopy and scan all your documents and cards (back and front). Leave a copy with your parents or a friend, take another copy with you and email the scanned documents to your own email and someone else’s. I keep all my documents on dropbox and Evernote.
Keep a backup cash stash – i always travel with real money on me and I always slip it in different locations. I keep some money on my big backpack, some on my bag, some under my shoes and at last i always travel with a belt that I sew a zipper on the inside.
Most of us, travel now with a smartphone, many bring laptops, tablets, DSLR cameras with pricey lenses, and more. I never travel with those camera bags that scream top dollar is inside it. My bag is usually the oldest thing I can find.
5 | Leave A Trail
Social media can be a great tool when traveling solo. A simple check-in at a new location or a quick photo upload will help to keep your family and friends back home in the know of your whereabouts. Before you leave home, you can set up a private group to keep friends and family updated and also organise a sort of timeframe with them. Stay in touch.
As you meet fellow travelers, becoming friends on Facebook is a great way to keep in touch. I’ve met so many people throughout my travels that I still talk to regularly because of it.
Make sure you leave an itenerary in advance with your family – your flight numbers, your accommodation, and a general schedule of where you’ll be on which dates, as well as information on your travel insurance, credit cards, and a bank account number.
6 | Learn The Basics Of The Local Language
Not being able to communicate is something that puts travellers at a distinct disadvantage in many situations, so having the basic words in the local language for basic needs, directions and how to ask for help is very important.
Many locals show more respect to visitors who make the effort to learn some of their native language. Don’t forget that other languages may come in handy. If you have some words in French, Spanish, Chinese, you never know when they may be of use when English is not working…
7 | Get To Where you Need To Be Before Nightfall
It is a fact that more incidents happen at night than during the day. So, if you are going to be embarking on long journeys, try and travel during the day. I personally prefer to travel in trains and buses during the night to save on accommodation, but i don’t like to arrive at the destination at night time.
It’s easier to get your bearings, check out the neighbourhood and also there’s more people to ask directions.
8 | Don’t Trust People Too Quickly
When you’re traveling in a new destination, and especially when you’re traveling on your own, it can be tempting to join up and find a tribe. Sometimes these tribes turn into lifelong friendships.
But they don’t always. Some con artists have mastered the art of befriending travelers, getting them to leave their valuables unattended, and robbing them before taking off.
When it comes to romance, you might want to crank up the speed when you meet someone outrageously sexy, but that’s not always the best idea.
When I met Paul, I was travelling with friends at that time, even though Paul always tells me about how scary I was to talk to in the beginning … I do take my time, sharing where I’m going, why i’m travelling and with who.
Sometimes, we want to be part of a group so badly that we start trusting people before we should. Instead, err on the side of caution.
9 | Know That You Will Get Lonely
The solo travel blues are inevitable at some point in your journey if you are traveling long term. What’s great news, however, is that they’re not the end of the world. There may be times when a bump in the road makes you a bit homesick, but remember that travel is a journey. (you can read more about how to avoid loneliness here)
I will promise you that you won’t be painting a face on a volleyball (like in the movie Cast Away and crying over your friends back home. In fact, traveling solo is one of the BEST ways to meet people abroad. It’s much easier to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger when you don’t have a travel partner. You’ll be more open to meeting new people and you’ll be more approachable.
Most importantly, traveling solo is not scary. The world is full of amazing and wonderful people so don’t let fear keep you from experiencing the world.