So you’ve decided to go it alone. Maybe you’ve been forced into it, with a travel buddy bailing on you, or maybe you decided you needed a solo adventure. Either way, if it’s your first time, you’re probably a bundle of nerves and could do with a few tips for how to make this solo trip as incredible as you know it has the potential to be. Embracing a solo trip with open arms is usually the key to have a very rewarding experience.
My first solo trip took place after traveling with a friend for a long time in Australia. I was heading one way, him another. I had a long 8 hour bus trip to make. My comfortable neck pillow kept me in good shape for the long ride. When I got off my bus, I didn’t rush to my hostel. I took my time, triple checking everything I was doing to ensure I wouldn’t get lost. But it was just putting off that inevitable first moment of walking into a hostel on my own. I won’t claim that I can now just stroll into a hostel or a bar and strike up a conversation with anyone, but putting yourself out there and making friends seems far less scary once you’ve had a bit of practice.
My solo trips have been incredibly memorable, and I count people I met on these adventures amongst my closest friends. I also learnt an awful lot, with various road bumps along the way, have come to trust in myself and my own ability to solve problems, get out of tricky situations and get myself to places under my own steam. The thrill of figuring something out, like navigating a particularly complicated transportation system and getting yourself safely from A to B, is still as present as ever, as is the joy of meeting new people. There’s nothing quite like experiencing serene localities like Canada, Australia and the likes.
Experience is indeed a very subjective matter. There are a plethora of things like who you meet, where you are, where your interests lie that can affect how you act & feel on a day to day basis. Everyone’s experience will be different, but I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve learnt over the years in the hope that you’ll adapt to solo travel as quickly as possible, and make the very most of this precious opportunity.
When you’re nervous, it shows on your face, and smiling is often the last thing you feel like doing, but your acting skills will come in handy here. When you come across people in your dorm room, the bar or the communal kitchen, give them a smile and make sure your body language makes you seem approachable.
Relax your shoulders, as if you look tense you can seem standoffish. Just the simple act of smiling at someone can be enough for them to strike up a conversation with you, and then you’re halfway to making a friend. Not everyone will respond to your smiles, of course, but travellers are generally a friendly bunch and most of them are in the same boat as you and looking to meet new people. It’s easy to assume that everyone else already knows each other and that you’ll just be butting in, but that group of people laughing together on the terrace that seem like best friends probably only met that very morning. Take a deep breath, smile, and say hello.
In my first hostel in Sydney, I was sitting on my bunk wondering what on earth to do with my evening, having not yet had the guts to talk to anyone, when a smiley German girl walked in and beamed at me, striking up a conversation. We are still in touch to this day, and we ended up forming a little friendship group of solo travellers to explore the city together. Once that happens once, it won’t be hard to do it a second time around.
Although it’s true that without a second pair of eyes you might be more vulnerable to scam artists, travelling on your own does mean you can blend in more easily than you could in a group, so you aren’t necessarily more at risk on your own than you would be otherwise. However, it can’t hurt to bear a few things in mind when you’re travelling on your own. Taxi drivers might be more likely to rack the price up if you’re going solo, so find out how much a trip from A to B should be and negotiate beforehand.
Learn to listen to your gut instinct and trust it. Even if you feel like you’re being overdramatic, there’s a reason you’re uncomfortable. Take extra security measures like carrying ID on you not just in your travel document holder but in more than one place, so that you’re not stranded if someone should make off with your bag. When it comes to walking alone at night, behave as you would in your hometown. Would you be comfortable walking down a poorly lit street or through an urban park at 2 am, unaccompanied? No? Well, don’t do it whilst travelling either.
Try not to look like a tourist. Sure, your looks may mean you stand out in certain places no matter what you’re wearing, but don’t exacerbate things by wearing souvenir t-shirts and walking down the street with your nose buried in a map. Leave the flashy clothes and jewellery behind. Walk with purpose, even if you are totally lost, and duck into a café to check your map. Make sure you have an idea of where you’re going before you set out.
Lastly, make sure that someone at home has a copy of your itinerary and keep them updated on any changes and about how you’re getting on so that they can raise the alarm if, touch wood, anything were to happen to you.
Learn to Eat Alone
This is a skill you’re going to have to master. In a lot of countries the cheapest option is to buy food at a market and whip up your food in the communal kitchen, but sometimes this won’t be possible, and in some countries, like in most of Asia, it’s actually cheaper to eat out. Most of us seem to think there’s something sad about eating alone, but once you get started you’ll come to love it. Don’t just sit there staring out of the window, though, unless you’ve got panoramic mountain or ocean views you just can’t tear your gaze away from, or the people watching opportunities are particularly good. I’ll admit I found this particularly hard initially, especially in a socially dominated setting when travelling through Vancouver and places like that.
Bring along something to lose yourself in whilst you wait for your food. This might be a good book, whether physical, digital, or audio, or a podcast you’re hooked on. It might be a magazine you’ve picked up or your travel guide and map, giving you a chance to do a bit of planning. I don’t know about you, but I like to keep my hands busy rather than staring into space, so if I’m listening to a podcast I tend to do a bit of colouring in my travel sized colouring book, wonderful therapy for the overtired overstimulated mind of a traveller.
I have particularly fond memories of meals I ate alone in Bali whilst I was holed up in Udub feeling a little poorly and I devoured one medical thriller per day whilst eating noodle soup with views of a paddy field, totally peaceful and happy in my own company (although I could have done without the nasty bout of tonsillitis).
No matter how good you become at solo dining, you’re bound to fancy reprieve now and again, so opt for takeout.
Podcasts and good books
These aren’t just the key to eating alone but will be your best friend throughout your travels. Whether it’s on long journeys or long days on the beach, make sure your phone is loaded with podcasts and audio books and you’ve got your trusty kindle or a good paperback. A long, solo walk through the jungle or along the beach is best enjoyed with a good book being read to you. Take advantage of your alone time to learn about things that interest you and even just have a good laugh.
There are some amazing books to read especially when one is traveling like the Road to Oxiana, into thin air & much more that is perfect for adventurers & the casual tourist too. Another important aspect is to look out for idea. Solo traveling is usually when you can be swamped with a number of ideas for your business or work too. You will come across a lot of folks who are in a similar position who love to share and maybe even build on an idea with you. So keep your ears peeled!
Your iPod is also a great companion in these situations. Unwind to some great music so that you can relax even whilst in the hotel.
Actually be alone
So you’ll head off on the trip of an adventure all by yourself, and before you know it you’ll have made loads of good friends and found loads of potential travel buddies, who could become friends for life. Embrace these friendships, but make sure that, at some point, you do actually do something alone. If your new found friendship group decides to go to the beach, for example, and you actually fancied going to check out a local temple, stick to your original plan and take yourself there.
There is a certain appeal that quality alone time has that I am sure my fellow travelers can relate to, despite my inability to describe it with precision. It’s a great time to learn what the most important aspects in life are to a certain degree. Switching off your phone during this phase can certainly do you wonders and you can very easily develop a habit of it when you return to a normal life or work setting. It’s funny how travelling is essentially an environment featuring constant change but can provide the perfect platform for cultivating new habits.
Even if you’re not generally someone that needs alone time, you’ll probably get into the habit of having it and soon start craving it, as travelling can be intense and you’ll probably spend far more time in the company of others than you might on a day to day basis at home. Listen to your desires to strike out on your own and treat yourself to some you time. An afternoon on a beach or wandering a city by yourself will soon have you back to your sociable self.
Take some time out
As well as taking some time to do the tourist thing on your lonesome can be hugely beneficial, taking some time to do absolutely nothing is sometimes necessary. Constantly being bombarded with new scents and sounds and constantly hearing a foreign language can wear you down very quickly, so make sure you listen to your body when it’s asking you for downtime. Prioritize this over sticking to that full-on itinerary of yours, as you won’t enjoy your adventures if you’re burnt out.
Slow down, and perhaps stay a couple of extra nights somewhere you feel comfortable. If you’re abroad in a country where you don’t speak the language and there aren’t many tourists, seek out bars where the expats hang out and chat with some people in your own language. It will seem incredibly restful after having to think in another language all day. If you’ve been hardcore-hosteling, consider treating yourself to a private room just for the night and treat yourself to some trusty old Netflix. You’ll be amazed how revitalizing having your own space can be.