When I was growing up, I struggled to stay at friends houses for sleepovers or birthday parties. The unfamiliar surroundings made me feel uneasy and I was petrified of being away from my family and the comfort of my home. I wouldn’t even walk down a separate isle to my mum in the grocery store for fear of losing her and being on my own.
So who would have thought that years later, I’d be embarking on solo travel to foreign countries, and loving every second of it.
It’s an incredible achievement when you return from your first solo trip. You’ve accomplished something that isn’t as easy to do as people may think. You’ve overcome battles with your mind prior to your trip, that voice in your head trying to talk you out of it. You’ve overcome the fear and confusion of getting from the airport to your first point of interest, and navigating yourself around thereafter. And you’ve overcome the awkwardnesses of eating alone, not to mention those times you set up your tripod and put your camera on timer to capture photos of you and you alone.
I didn’t start out travelling solo. I went on family vacations, trips with friends and spent two years globetrotting with my boyfriend. It wasn’t until said boyfriend and I broke up that I found myself across the other side of the world and without a travel partner. I was at a crossroads but my desire to keep exploring pushed me into solo travel and to this day, I’ve never looked back.
So for those of you who are considering a solo adventure, here are a few tips to help you along the way.
Always start small. Before I attempted solo travel abroad I started doing things on my own to get used to the feeling of being by myself. In my hometown, I would go to the movies and the theatre by myself, have lunch at local cafes, and I would take day trips to areas I hadn’t seen before. After that, I planned a few weekends away but still within my country, then once I was used to doing that, I went abroad.
ARRIVE DURING THE DAY
Solo travel can at times be stressful. Especially if it’s your first time. But arriving at your destination during the day makes everything a lot less daunting. You have more time to figure things out, and if you get slightly lost, it’s ten times easier to get back on track when it’s not pitch black outside. Plus, it gives you time to familiarise yourself with your surroundings, and to pick up any emergency supplies you may need.
RESEARCH YOUR DESTINATION
It’s extremely important to research where you’re going beforehand. Print off maps, locations and addresses of where you’re staying and the places you want to visit. It’s not uncommon for technology to fail you when you need it the most (which is exactly what happened during my first solo trip), so trust me when I say you shouldn’t rely on it too heavily. Be aware of common scams and the safety precautions in the areas you’ll be visiting, and if a foreign language is spoken, it’s always best to learn a few key words and phrases beforehand.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY
Never look worried or scared. Even when you’re lost and times become challenging, take a deep breath and remain assertive and attentive at all times. Remember that it will be okay in the end, it just might take a little longer to get there than usual.
EXPLORING AT NIGHT
For my first few solo trips, I was extremely nervous to walk around at night. And still, there are often times when that nervous feeling develops in the pit of my stomach, but I learned quickly that it’s mainly my imagination overreacting. Be aware at all times. Make sure you know the right areas to wander around alone and always stick to well-lit streets.
NOTIFY FRIENS & FAMILY
Something that takes almost no time at all, can often be forgotten. Creating a WhatsApp group is great for this. Each time you land in a destination, send a message to let your loved ones know that you’ve arrived safely and continue to update them as you move from one location to the next.
Social media is also a great tool when traveling solo. A simple check-in at a new location or a photo upload will help others keep track of your whereabouts. If the worst does happen, then you know someone is looking out for you and knows all the details of your last whereabouts.
A BOOK IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
Always travel with a book or a few magazines. Not only does it help you pass the time at airports or on a long train journey, but it gives you something to do when you’re dining alone, or if you want to sit in a park and enjoy a little rest and relaxation time.
SEPARATE YOUR VALUABLES
If your purse is stolen and you lose all your money/cards, then you’ll be in a tough situation. Similarly if your bag is stolen and you lose your ID, then things can become even worse. Always separate money into different sections of your bag, even hiding some in your bra. Have photocopies of your ID/passport, and place a copy in each of your bags. Always leave a copy with your family and have an electronic version saved on your phone. You can never be too prepared!
DON’T TRUST PEOPLE SO EASILY
Trust your instincts when you meet someone. If something feels off, it’s because it probably is. Having a prepared falsified version of yourself on hand to use as a story is a must. Always tell people you’re traveling with friends or family, and that you’re headed to meet them. A little white lie is harmless and it may just deter those with un pure intentions. A good way to ensure you don’t get bothered is by putting your headphones in, regardless if you’re listening to something or not.
KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR DRINK (including non alcoholic)
It’s a known fact that even when you’re not travelling you should always watch your drinks, but you should always be extra careful when abroad. Don’t accept drinks from anyone, even if they’re really cute, or even if it’s an open bottle of water. Always keep an eye on the bartenders as well, not everyone you encounter when travelling is bad, but you can never be too careful.
JOIN A DAY TRIP EVERY SO OFTEN
Traveling solo doesn’t mean you always have to be by yourself. Guided day trips and walking tours can be such a blessing. A lot of the time you’ll meet fellow solo travellers and it’s a great way to hear about others experiences and get some recommendations.