Hearing pals over coffee rattle off their stories about their far-flung adventures overseas can leave you sickeningly envious if you’ve never been able to take off and enjoy a foray abroad. As you stare into your latte, you may feel the itchy feet of wanderlust starting to bite. It’s not like you’ve never had this feeling before, you just simply haven’t ever been in the position to plan a jaunt halfway across the globe. There’s either work commitments, study or financial obligations that have been holding you back. As your friends chat about their backpacking adventures in Thailand, the trials and tribulations of hitchhiking in Goa and their humorous tales of living like a local in Peru, you can’t help but feel like you’ve missed the boat. They reminisce like it was only yesterday, but their adventures took place when they were in their early twenties. Solo travel is a young person’s game, isn’t it? The short answer is no. It is not.
Plenty of thirty-somethings are finding that the itch they never truly scratched is still present. The craving for a wanderlust adventure is often insatiable, and it’s about time that you put some thought into satisfying your need for travel. Even if the furthest you have hot-footed it is an internal flight to visit some random twice removed family member, this doesn’t mean you can’t create your own solo travel story to tell. Work may give you a sabbatical, you may have been considering a new job anyway and a year off travelling the globe will look incredible on your CV. It’s time to spend some time getting your financial ducks in a row and prepare for your first foray travelling abroad.
The key to successful solo travel is in the preparation and expecting the unexpected when taking your journey overseas. Have a read of these secrets of a seasoned solo traveller to ensure you have a trip of a lifetime.
While you may not want to plan every one of the three hundred or so days you might be spending overseas to within an inch of their lives, it’s good to have a skeleton plan. It’s a good idea to book your accommodation before you travel at every destination you are planning to visit even if it’s just for the first couple of nights. By doing this, you will have a solid base for when your feet hit foreign soil, and you won’t have to panic about landing in a city that is enjoying a national holiday and all the hotels, hostels and guesthouses are fully booked.
You will need to consider your flight path if you are planning on staying in numerous countries. Book your flights well in advance so you can see the stages of your journey and achieve the best prices. Comparison flight websites are a great way of getting a good deal. With your flights and accommodation booked before you even set foot on a plane, you will relinquish any stress that you could have prior to travel.
Visas and other documentation are necessary to ensure that you can actually visit certain countries. Visas, surprisingly, aren’t cheap and may need to be applied for well in advance. Don’t leave it until the last minute and make sure you visit any embassies that you need to and that they are safe with your in-date passport ready for travel.
You will be surprised just how much you will miss family and friends when travelling solo. Unlike heading abroad with pals or a loved one, solo travel gives you plenty of time to reflect and think about back home. Even though you may have wanted this adventure for years, it doesn’t mean you won’t miss the people that are your nearest and dearest. Often, you may find yourself in an area that has zero wi-fi, no phone signal and has never even heard of 4G capability. Don’t worry, you simply need to plan how and when you will get in touch with your loved ones.
If you know that you will be heading off the beaten track for a few days or more, revert back to the old school phone cards and call your friends to let them know you are ok, catch up on life back home and enjoy the comforting sounds of their voices. Being alone while travelling can be all-consuming and you can sometimes forget back home exists because you feel so far removed from everything.
When you are in areas that cater for civilisation, free messenger services like Whatsapp are great to save money on your text and data allowances. You don’t have to whip open an email or send a picture message via SMS. Instead, you can Facetime for free over a wi-fi connection or simply send a short Whatsapp message. The world is a much smaller place since the emergence of new technological advancements so utilise them.
Where To Go?
As a first time traveller, you might be eager to try and sandwich as much into your allocated time overseas as possible. While hitting thirty countries in a month is possible, it is certainly not advisable. You are much better off seeing fewer places but immersing yourself in them for longer. Get to know the people, take some casual work in a city, join a couple of clubs and get to know the community. Learning the language, even basic greetings and chit-chat can endear you to the natives.
If you are touring a country, choose your stop-offs wisely. While Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are must-see cities in Japan, consider the underbelly of the nation and the ‘real’ Japan by heading to places like the almost mythical island of Miyajima and the gassho house village of Shirakawago. Don’t just opt for the usual tourist hotspots and head further off the beaten track. You don’t want to be heading to a foreign land and only see people from your home country walking around monuments, temples and museums. Look at where the locals eat and follow them. Only then can you be sure of an authentic culinary experience.
South America, Asia and Europe are all well-trodden backpacking haunts so there is plenty written on the Internet by travellers who have visited these continents. Try and stay in a destination for at least three nights, so you have some time to adjust, settle and relax after heavy travelling days. The chances are that you will find yourself falling in love with a place and staying an awful lot longer.
It doesn’t matter how long you are planning to travel for, whether it’s two weeks, two months or two years, you shouldn’t be taking a backpack any larger than 45 litres. Any more and you will be carrying too much weight. All you need is ten days worth of clothes. As you travel like a nomad, you will learn how to wash your own clothes, and you will soon slip into some sort of travelling routine.
While you are going to be packing light, you must ensure that you pack for the climate of your destination. Iceland in the winter does not equate to a string bikini or two and a couple of pairs of shorts. If you are heading to a colder nation, pack layers rather than larger overcoats that take up unnecessary space. Thermals, tee shirts, body tops, fleeces and windbreakers are all smaller items to pack, yet when layered together will keep you incredibly warm and toasty. At the same time, if the sun comes off, you can un-layer your clothing until you find a happy medium outfit.
If you are a technical wizard and love your gadgetry ensure that you have a power pack with you at all times. This way your MP3 player can always be charged for those mammoth bus and train journeys, your camera will always be ready to capture that stunning vista, and your phone will be on hand to help with GPS if needed. Even if you want to get away from it all, forego social media and take a break from your gizmos, a smartphone or GPS unit can be used a safety precaution and nothing more.
Heading abroad on your own can be terrifying, but it is often the scariest things that are also the most exciting. Ensure that you prepare effectively, pack well in advance, consider your flight path, book your accommodation and get all of your paperwork sorted to ensure there is one less potential headache to deal with while travelling. Most importantly, enjoy your foray overseas, exploring new terrain, meeting new people and getting to grips with different customs.
Travelling is a life-affirming experience, and you will learn so much about yourself and return home a more confident, wise and tolerant human being. The next time you meet pals for coffee, it will be you telling tales of your travelling adventures and having your nearest and dearest green with envy. Your lattes will never be the same again.