Firstly, if you’re reading this and thinking “Why would anybody ever travel on their own?”, then first of all you need to read THIS POST, then come back here for my top tips once you’ve changed your mind.
1. Corner people in their bedrooms. This might sound rather troublesome, but what I mean is that when you’re in hostels; get chatting to somebody in the dorm room. It feels less intimidating than approaching a group of people sat in the common area.
2. Don’t be shy to talk to people. People are often in the same boat. “Where are you from?” is a perfectly good starting point to strike up conversation with other travellers.
3. Your phone is your best friend! Guard it with your life, keep it in your rucksack when wandering, so not to invite pickpockets, buy a bomb-proof case. Your phone is your portal to the “outside” world, and it will definitely be your means of communication with friends and family back home. If your phone goes, you won’t be sad; you’ll be lost and alone!
4. Take extra bank cards. When you’re solo, your bank card is your lifeline. I have my main account (that fortunately I’ve still got) plus a spare Natwest debit card and an MBNA credit card.
5. Get a decent debit card for international travel. I’m fortunate to be from Cumbria (England), where we have “Cumberland Building Society” which despite being an incredibly small banking organisation, is a triumph of the UK banking sector and offers free transactions on payments and withdrawals and you get the actual Visa exchange rate. There are plenty of other great cards/accounts – just do the research. TIP: don’t use Natwest abroad – they are shit.
6. Don’t book too much in advance. Keep yourself free and able to change plans at last the last minute. Have an idea of where you want to go and to do. Because you’re alone it’s unlikely even the most popular places won’t have at least one bed spare.
7. This applies to all travel: solo/couples/families/friends. Don’t book tours from your home country. You’re bound to be ripped off. Arrive in a location and shop around a bit. You’ll be able to negotiate better prices.
8. Use Google Maps “Offline” feature when you arrive somewhere. I see people pissing about with “MapsMe” because it’s available offline, but it’s not particularly up to date or accurate. Google Maps is without a doubt the most comprehensive map service in the world whilst also being simple to use.
9. Get data on your phone. Data is so useful for searching for things on the move, or whatsapping friends if you get lost. Particularly when you’re solo and you need to figure things out yourself. There are plenty of international data cards but honestly; the best thing is just to get a SIM card in the country you arrive and load it will a data package.
10. Stay low key. Don’t have expensive jewellery or items on show. Keep them secure (in your backpack) at all times.
11. Smile. Be friendly. Learn the local customs. For example. Colombia in South America puts so much more importance on “Hola, Buenos Dias, Como Estas?” even with people who you may only have a very basic transactional relationship, for example in a shop buying a bottle of water. Learn these local customs and smile. Appear happy and people will want to engage with you and help you.
12. Have the bants. It’s surprising how well humour/sarcasm can travel between countries and cultures and through language barriers. Often I get some incredible stares for being so tall in Latin America where people are much shorter. So I’ve got used to it and if they are staring at me, I’ll often comment “Hola hombre pequeno”, “Hello, little man!” (with a cheeky smile) and they love it. They are fascinated and ask how tall I am and often want a photo with me. They also often call me “Big Show”. *rolls eyes*
13. Most of the world’s people are kind, helpful and friendly. But every country has it’s twats. But you’ll make yourself more of a target if you appear to be lacking in confidence/know-how. Set your own expectations in your mind before engaging with locals. How much you want to pay? Where you want to go? How do you want to get there? Share with the locals the information you already have so they know you’ve done some research. This way they’ll respect you more for having some knowledge as well as knowing you can’t be messed with or ripped off.
14. Go on group tours solo. There will be other solo travellers on the tour and you might get chatting and end up spending the rest of day together, enjoy a beer together or another day of exploring. It’s an easy way to make friends.
15. Be inquisitive. Don’t be afraid to ask even the most mundane of questions just to get some interaction with locals so they know you’re a real person. They will often be sat beside you on a bus wondering so many things about you, but they don’t dare to start the conversation.
16. Get orientated. I have a very good sense of direction and tend to be able to tell where I am. But I’ve met some people that actually frustrate me with their lack of awareness. You’re travelling solo! You need to know where you are at all times, even without Google Maps to guide you.
17. Domestic Flights: board last after everybody else! There will normally be at least 1 spare seat with extra legroom. And make sure you know how to politely ask in the local language if you could possibly sit there instead. I’ve never been refused.
18. Stay safe. Don’t be afraid to ask locals if an area you want to visit is safe for you to go. They won’t be offended, they’ll be proud to be able to tell you that this “once dangerous area” is now safe for you to visit and give you tips. Or on the contrary they’ll advise against you going there because they want you to enjoy their city and not be in danger.
19. Walk at night in groups or use taxis. Wherever you are in the world, the night time brings out the bad guys. If you don’t feel safe, just use a damn taxi you cheapskate! As a general rule they are cheaper in less developed countries. Possibly £1 for a mile journey.
20. Chat to the staff. I’ve found that when you’re travelling solo and make it known to the hostel staff, they tend to take more of a liking to you and look after you and give you more advise. I suppose for them, you’re a better option for a chat than the group of 10 drunken “lads” who are only ever asking “where can I buy drugs?” or “where’s the nearest party?”.
21. Join facebook groups. There are so many facebook groups for all the regions of the world. For example “Backpacking South America”. These groups are so handy for asking tips, and you’ll also get loads of great tips from simply reading other peoples posts that show up on your timeline.
22. Travel with Insurance!! I meet some people who don’t. But let me tell you… becoming ill in a foreign country and finding yourself in a strange hospital where everything is in a foreign language is one of the most daunting experiences I’ve been through alone. And even worse if you’re worrying about the bill at the end. Don’t risk it!
23. Eat alone! One of the most “scary to do alone” activities of all time is surely eating in a restaurant alone. But it’s such a nice experience. You normally get extra special service from the staff and you can people watch to your heart’s content. If you really don’t enjoy it, have your “big meal” at lunchtime when the crowds are less romantic etc etc.
24. Some days you’ll have bad days. You’ll miss home, possibly feel lonely or perhaps downright “lost”. Do whatever you need to for yourself. Perhaps you need to spend a few hours video calling your pals from home, or maybe your parents. Maybe you need to read a book or go and get drunk. Listen to what your mind wants!
25. Don’t tell your mum everything! Mums love to worry! Thinking of going paragliding or skydiving? Perhaps you’re next city is notoriously dangerous for drugs gangs. Perhaps you’re feeling lonely. Maybe you got sick. Tell your parents after the event if possible to show that you managed to stay alive and looked after yourself. Just keep them up to date with your general location.
26. Be rude. Sometimes you need to be rude. You’ll recognise these situations when they arrive. Maybe somebody is clearly taking you for a ride or won’t leave you alone. When you feel uncomfortable, walk away or be clear and firm with your instructions.
27. Don’t get too drunk (famous last words). But seriously know your boundaries. Often I’ve got myself stupid drunk, but I am much better in this foreign environment at knowing when it’s time to go home. And I leave immediately.
28. Use Uber. Even in countries where it’s illegal (it’s illegal for the driver, not you), it’s still available – they may just ask you to sit up front (to look more like a friend). But it’s cheap, and all journeys are tracked and recorded.
29. Tell people your story. “I quit my job, sold my house and set off travelling”. You will meet inspirational people on your travels, but you might be the inspiration to somebody else.
30. Make sure you backup your photos from your phone and camera. So many people I have met who lost their phone, but hadn’t set photos to auto-upload to the Google/Apple cloud. For these people there’s only one word…. Buffoons!
31. Don’t take the piss. Respect local customs, traditions and ways of doing things. Or…explain and apologise if you need to do something your own way.