Solo travel can be a very liberating experience and really help a person discover what they enjoy about living in this world.
But solo travel can also cause some interesting reactions from people and often they fall on the negative side. This can be in the form of someone trying to detract you from doing it, being dismissive of you or even your own fears and anxieties putting you off.
So I figured i’d write a post inspired by my experiences and give some tips and advice to help inspire anyone who hasn’t yet been travelling alone but wants to take the plunge!
Why solo travel?
There are a whole bunch of reasons why solo travel is awesome, so lets discuss some of the big ones here.
When your by yourself you can follow your own schedule. You can plan your own itinerary and focus on your own interests. No need to debate or squabble with someone about the days plans! Just follow your own desires and what feel’s right for you. You can go at your own pace and take the time you want to explore places.
You don’t have to wait on others!
So often people make plans they are excited for that don’t come to fruition because they can’t find anyone to go with or friends drop out. We all know that feeling where you discuss things that seem like a really cool idea but somehow they just never get organised. The benefits of travelling alone are of course that is no longer an issue. You go based on your own timetable, when it works for you.
You can make new interesting friends!
Travel is great for meeting new people and really broadening your horizons beyond your social groups at home. You’ll find people from all over the world that you bond with and you can get share some great experiences. You shouldn’t worry about being alone whilst travelling. I’ll talk about this more below.
It builds confidence!
Travelling alone teaches you to trust your instinct and helps you realise what does and doesn’t work for you. You will encounter all kinds of different interesting situations. Dealing with them will teach you a lot about your ability to handle this world’s challenges. Once you have navigated your way around a country alone it doesn’t seem so daunting at home anymore.
You will improve your travel skills!
Learning how to organise for yourself will make future travel easier and less worrisome. Planning trips becomes more fun and way less stressful. It teaches you how to ‘wing it’ when required! You’ll learn that when you really want to go somewhere you won’t stress about getting from A to B or whatever you’ll just go.
The world is an awesome place – go see it!
But as I mentioned there can be negative thoughts and worries around solo travel.
So lets talk about the big one – fear of being alone.
This has to be of the major detractors stopping people from setting off on a solo trip. But the truth is there is a whole world of friendly people out there and making friends on the road can be easy if you are open to it. There is a whole bunch of places where you can meet people to hang out with whilst you explore the world.
They are a natural go to for solo travellers as they act as a hub! They aren’t just somewhere to sleep for the night, use them to make plans, relax and meet people! When you’re in a room with a stranger (or a bunch of strangers) just say hello and smile and you can get quickly a conversation going by asking a few questions! Of course not everyone will want to chat, maybe they are tired or don’t speak English or are in a large group? But many other people will be grateful to chat and you will find yourself making some great new friends. Often hostels have common areas or bars so you can sit down, put your phone away and get to know other people.
If you are booking accommodation through Hostelworld, Agoda or Booking.com i’d really recommend you read the reviews too as often people will talk about what kind of hostel it is (if it’s a party hostel for instance you’re gonna meet a tonne of people but not get much sleep) and how easy it is to meet other people there! For example is there a common room? Is there a kitchen? Does the hostel organise events? All things that create a good environment for mixing with other people.
Buses, trains and mini vans
This might seem like an odd thing to mention in combating loneliness on the road but in fact they can be one of the best ways to meet people. Particularly in a place like South East Asia where there is a well established backpacker trail you will be making some long journeys and whilst you might have planned some book, sleep or ipod time you will find that saying hi and asking interesting questions of your fellow backpackers can spark some great conversation! And of course if they are heading to the same destination as you then you can make plans together, you might even be sharing accommodation after all!
These kind of bars are common in many places outside of the West. I found during my travels in South East Asia that there are many bars aimed almost exclusively at travellers. As such they are a good way to meet people and unwind after a hard days exploring. Whether your planning to get drunk or just have a soft drink and chat, these kind of bars are a good way to meet people as they encourage an atmosphere where you can chat to strangers with whom you share a great thing in common – love of travel!
Treks and tours are other good ways you can interact with both locals as well as meet other travellers. Do a bit of research before you book, many treks and tours in particular will have ways of putting groups of people together so if your worried about who you’ll be with just ask them who they have so far. This is a good way to get to places that might be far from your accommodation or completely of the usual routes.
There are a lot of options to book online of course but I usually feel the best way is to go on a trek or tour is to organise it in person at the place it will leave from. This way you can enquire about who else who will be with you. It also means your itinerary is free to alter if you meet people who you want to hang out with.
The important thing to remember is that other travellers want to make friends too, so keep a friendly attitude and an open mind and you’ll have no problem making friends!
Here’s a few handy tips for first time solo travel:
Keep a flexible itinerary
This is so that you can make changes as ease when you hear about great places or when obstacles come up. Word of mouth is often the best way to learn about a place and you can end up exploring amazing destinations you didn’t factor in to your pre-trip research at all. You might also meet people you want to travel with so being able to fit your plans together, maybe a day less here or a day more there can result in creating some wonderful times.
Book your first nights accommodation in advance
When you land in a new country it’s good to know where to head to. And to have a base to go from. Flights and so forth can be tiring so it’s wise to know that you have a place to crash when you land. Personally I normally go for 2 or 3 nights in advance at my first stop.
After that you can use apps like Hostelword, Agoda or Booking.com to book places a day or 2 in advance. Once you know when you’ll be heading somewhere this makes life easier. Some places you may just need to turn up and find somewhere on the day. Don’t panic as in many places this is the best way to get accommodation! Particularly for example if it’s a bungalow focused place such as the 4000 Islands in Laos or Tonsai in Thailand.
Check public holiday and festival dates before you go.
This is something you’ll need to keep an eye on throughout your travelling. Some countries effectively shut down during certain times of year! Which of course can make things very difficult for you. And importantly of course embassies might be closed! Which means you can end up stuck waiting for a visa or your next destination.
Thingyan in Myanmar is an example of this. During this festival the busses that you rely on to get around the country simply don’t run. Songkran is held at the same time in Thailand. Its great fun if you enjoy being shot with a water gun non-stop! But need to go get a visa sorted? Not so much!
This warning doesn’t just apply to non-western countries. For example in my own country the UK transport is greatly restricted on public holidays.
Get travel insurance.
Whether you’re at home or away, illness or injury is always a risk so make sure you are covered. And of course on this note be mindful of your health. Get your vaccinations at home before you travel if your going anywhere that they are recommended for.
Be respectful of the locals. And hang out with them to!
Different cultures have different customs and you will find you will have a greater understanding of a country if you respect these. You will find travelling is easier if you understand why things are the way they are.
And don’t forget to take opportunities to meet locals and spend some time getting to know them. Too many backpackers get stuck in just the backpacker crowd. Venture out, make some local friends in the country you are visiting. Its really worthwhile and can really enhance your trip.
And most importantly of all have fun and enjoy yourself!