From one solo traveller to another, here are my top tips when setting off on an adventure for one!
Trust me on this one! I speak from experience. If you’re an expert at packing the bare essentials, I take my hat off to you. You’re already off to a flying start! When I set off on my trip to Europe, my suitcase weighed in at just under 24kgs, I had a small carry on plus my satchel. My poor decision to take so much became all too clear once I arrived in Venice, from London, and had to navigate the (very beautiful) maze that makes up the incredible city, trying to find my bed and breakfast with my hefty luggage in tow. A backpack or small luggage with wheels is ideal for getting around with ease.
Keep your valuables safe
Luggage locks, RFID pockets/wallets, and extra copies of personal documents are a few important items to have with you and do a lot for peace of mind. It’s also best to leave any special jewellery or keepsakes at home. Choosing the right bag to have with you every day is also important – backpacks and handbags (especially one’s with pockets at the front) aren’t always the best choice. They make for an easy steal for pick pockets with light hands! You can’t see somebody getting into your backpack when it’s behind you and a handbag is both easy to pull of your arm and leaves your belongings exposed should it be left open (A friend of mine had her handbag snatched by a man in Paris. She managed to grab onto it, before it snapped. Thankfully the thief only made off with the strap!). A small satchel that zips shut, that you can wear across your body and have in front of you is your best bet!
In saying all that, the most valuable thing while travelling abroad is YOU! Take care of yourself and put yourself first (you’re travelling alone after all, you can afford to be selfish). Be sure to pack a first aid kit ‘just in case’ with the bare essentials – bandages, gauze, strapping tape, pain killers, antacids, tweezers, antiseptic wipes/cream & motion sickness tablets (as someone who suffers from motion sickness, these have kept me going when I would normally call it quits).
This last note is probably one I don’t need to mention, but travel insurance is a MUST! Not only in case of any medical issues or cancellations that might arise, but lost and stolen luggage can also be covered.
Although there can be a certain thrill to winging an adventure, when you’re on your own, it’s nice to know you have a bed booked (and paid for) waiting for you at your destination. If you’re able to plan out and book any excursions or tours beforehand that’s also a good option.
Leaving a copy of your itinerary with family or friends is another great idea! That way there’ll be someone back home who knows where you should be and when, and knows where to get in touch with you if they have any concerns. Be sure to keep in contact with them while you’re away, so they know when you arrive safely at each destination.
Make a Soundtrack
For those long train/boat/bus/plane rides, where you’re not able to chat to a stranger or you want to tune out, put your headphones in and listen to your favourite tracks. Not just a way to help pass the time, this can also be pretty comforting on days you might feel particularly lonely.
When travelling abroad, it really does pay to have your wits about you and there is a big difference between being wary and being aware. Not wanting to look sheepish and vulnerable, you need to dig up what confidence you do have and go about with purpose, while at the same time keeping a keen eye on your surroundings. Without a friend to watch your back, not drawing attention to yourself as a tourist is one way of keeping safe.
- Do some research prior to arriving, and get an idea of how long it takes to get to and from certain places. This will not only give you peace of mind, but can help avoid you getting ‘taken for a ride’ by taxis etc. who can charge unsuspecting travellers much more to get around, and can take you on a longer route. Asking your driver how much it will cost before accepting the ride is also a good idea, so if it’s higher than it should be, take another cab. It’s also a good idea to enquire with your hotel/hostel/resort to see if they offer a pick up service. The fees can be quite reasonable, especially if they’re collecting other guests.
- Find out how late your hotel is open, in the event you need to arrange for a late check-in. I did this when I visited Paris, as my flight arrived after 11pm. Thankfully, reception arranged for somebody to cover that night, so I had somebody to meet me at the door. There’d be nothing worse than arriving at your accommodation only to find they’re closed until morning! Giving your hotel your flight number is also worthwhile, so that if you don’t show up when expected, they can check for any flight delays and make sure somebody is around to assist you when you do arrive.
- Trust your gut! They say a woman’s intuition is a strong one. Go with it. If something doesn’t’ feel right, don’t do it.
- Stick to main streets and crowded areas, especially at night.
- Unlike the saying ‘dress to impress’, when traveling it’s best to ‘intend to blend’. Ditch the typical tourist threads and do your best to dress like a local. This doesn’t go as far as traditional wear, but rather knowing what to wear and what not to wear. Visiting a modest country? Cover your shoulders or your legs so as not to draw attention to yourself. Try to avoid wearing flashy jewellery and walking around with your head in a guide book. You can however relax this rule a little in certain places – visiting Disneyland? Don that fanny pack and sneakers and wear those Mickey ears with pride!
- A little white lie never hurt nobody – unsure of how to get somewhere and feeling a little lost? Stop in at a store, café or ask a passer by something like ‘Can you tell me how to get to the gallery from here? I have to meet a friend’. Checking your maps and guides at your hotel before leaving is the best idea, as people standing in the middle of town looking lost over maps can attract some unsavoury types (thankfully these days we can be a little more discreet with the use of maps on our smart phones).
Book a tour
Not up for navigating new cities totally alone? That’s perfectly okay! That kind of travel isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and that’s the beauty of organised tours. Companies such as Top Deck, Gecko Adventures, Intrepid Travel and Contiki all do a fantastic job at taking care of all of the niggly details for you, getting you where you need to go and also give you the chance to make some new friends who are up for the same adventures you are! Exploring new places with a group of like minded travellers is a sure way of making a pretty memorable trip! Some experiences really are best when shared, wouldn’t you agree?
If you are getting about on your own, when seeing the sights, join up with a walking tour for the day and get to know a little more about what you’re looking at. It’s tours like this that also give you the chance to meet other people and maybe even make some friends for your stay in town (I still have a few people I met doing this as friends on Facebook). I like to use Sandemans New Europe Tours – the guides are young, fun and informative!
Some people can be pretty terrified at the idea of going out to eat by themselves, worried they’ll look like a Nigel-no-friends. There’s even a name for it – solomangarephobia! Here are a few tips I think can help, when going it alone:
- I’m fairly comfortable going out to eat by myself. I’ve done it countless times while at home, so doing so while abroad was a pretty similar situation! If you’re not used to asking for a ‘table for one’, I’d suggest trying it a couple of times before you head off on your big trip. It can feel a little less daunting at the other end.
- Choose a counter seat or a seat at the bar, if there are some. This avoids the awkward empty seat across from you at a table. Restaurants with booths are also great at providing some privacy.
- Chat to the bar or wait staff. Sometimes they’re the most kind and colourful people you can meet, plus, making conversation can sometimes lead to some extra special service (my partner has done so flying and managed to score a private tour of first class on one flight, while on another had speedy service when he simply asked the hostess how her day was – she said he was the first person who’d asked!)
- Bring reading materials. One of the perks of holidays are that you can finally find some time to read that book you’ve been meaning to start. Having this distraction over a meal can pass the time in a pretty enjoyable way.
- Don’t deny yourself a little decadence! Plan a special meal (or two) during your trip and treat yourself to a good wine with your meal, or a specialty desert!
Save the Selfies
Nothing against a good selfie personally, I have a few from my own trip. But if you’re wanting to avoid a camera/phone full of them, but don’t have a travel buddy to take your snaps, what’s a girl to do? This one can be a little tricky, as it’s not easy (nor always a good idea) to hand your camera over to a total stranger to take your photo for you. I found things worked out okay if I looked for people taking other peoples photos for them – if they handed the camera back, I’d pop over and ask them to do the same for me! You can also get away with asking people who ask you to take their photo (as with anything, go with your gut here) or else asking your tour leader or other traveller in your group! Another option is self timed shots, if you have a tripod or a flat surface to put your camera on and you can keep it reach/sight. On a recent solo trip to the UK, my sister mostly stuck to photos of the sites she visited, and used her phone for most of her trip (it’s amazing what those things can do these days). This also helped her blend in and look like any other local just taking a few snaps on a nice day.
Slow the Pace
Sometimes, your senses and mind can get a little worn out while trying to remain so vigilant. Don’t feel bad if you need to take some time out and cancel some of your itinerary if you need a little R&R. Slow things down and kick back for a little while! You’ll feel much better for it.
Travelling solo is at the same time one of the hardest, most trying but incredibly rewarding experiences you can have in life! Not only does going it alone mean you can customise your trip exactly as you like it and go about your days just as you want, it also gets you out of your cushy comfort zone, encourages you to meet new people and allows you to grow in more ways than you could imagine. Travel is absolute treasure for the soul and is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. I absolutely realised I’m more capable and confident than I used to give myself credit for and I now thank myself for taking that trip, if only for that realisation.