Most of us fear the unknown and unfamiliar, and travelling alone and venturing out into the unknown is one daunting prospect when compared to the comforts of our homes or travelling with friends and family. A thousand questions plague us, like what happens if you get stranded in a strange place? Is it Ok to go out partying at night when you’re travelling alone? And the worst feeling of all, eating out alone at a restaurant that full of couples or groups of people. As if these weren’t enough there are bigger worries stuck in the background emitting tinny warning bells, will I get attacked by bandits or mugged? What can I do if my car gets stuck in a ditch? But once you set out alone and realise how liberating it can be, these thoughts evaporate quickly to be replaced by the freedom, joy and the innate sense of satisfaction you get in travelling solo.
But to travel alone successfully, you still need to be aware of the dangers and the top tips on how to deal with extreme situations and have brilliant holiday on your own.
1. Know your strengths
As a solo traveller one of the first things that will trouble you is communication, and especially if you are generally a sociable person who is in the middle of everything the fact that you can’t communicate clearly with anyone to get your point across will definitely drive you crazy, so it makes sense to go somewhere you can understand and speak the language.
Brush up on your language skills, armed with the knowledge of the local language, even a few words, and phrases before you go travelling will make a world of difference to your vacation. Basics such as hello, thank you or how to introduce yourself will make starting a conversation so much easier. You can take it a bit further and learn to order a beer and count from 1–10 or even ask for directions; it sure makes all the difference. Locals will love it that you’re making an effort to learn of their ways and language and interactions become easier and conversations will flow, even if you’re a little rusty.
But then if you’re more of an introvert, the sort who likes to be in the background rather than the centre of thing then the language barrier won’t be a problem. You can spend your time watching the people, soaking some culture of those vibrant cities and especially if the café culture is fantastic; then you’ve got all the makings of a wonderful holiday.
2. Airport transfers
This is what most people worry about the most. As someone who’s travelling alone for the first time, it’s quite a daunting prospect to reach your destination and go from the airport to the hotel. Can you trust the taxis? Will they dent your wallet quite a bit? Should you risk going out to bargain with the taxis or rickshaws lined outside? And most importantly, don’t ever assume that nothing bad can happen, that is one thing you cannot be absolutely sure of. So in general it is safe to pre-book a taxi or take a Government taxi when you arrive at the airport. It is the safest option and better than walking outside and arguing with drivers for the best price.
3. Where do you sleep?
When travelling alone the prospect of staying alone in a foreign place might seem scary, so it’s always better to stick to something like homestays with the host family in residence or a serviced apartment – when you have a connection with residents when you’re travelling alone, it automatically builds confidence as they’ll help you in planning your itinerary better. Even if the hosts don’t offer to take you out around town, you’ll be able to scoop up a few local tips if you ask nicely and they might still arrange for transport too
One ready-made solution for solo travellers is hostels, especially if you’re on a budget. Of course there’s always the chance that you’ll end up spending more time with other tourists at the hostel rather than with the locals. And even if that happens you’d have made friends to go out on town with, so it’s a win-win situation.
If you are a female travelling alone it would always be better to stay at the ones a little off the beach, preferably one’s made with concrete or wood and have doors and windows which can be locked to prevent theft or worse; assault. Bamboo huts or flimsy huts with banana leaves for walls are all fun to spend a day in but definitely not safe for anyone to sleep in overnight; so wherever you decide to stay always ensure that your doors and windows can be locked.
4. You should get used to your own company
It can get really boring to be stuck on your own without anyone else for company, but as a solo traveller you’ve got no choice but to roll with it. Who knows, you might fall in love with the solitude and learn a few new things along the way.
And if you feel like socialising and you absolutely need company, new friends from a new city are always good fun. Chat up people at a cafe or use connections from social media to find out about friends or friends of your friends who live in that city, people usually respond positively and most of them would love to show you around their city. You could also hit the fan club for the local football team, the chess association or wine club say to make new friends instantly.
5. Take photos but take in the scenery too
Sure take as many pictures as you want, of course you’ll want memories of your vacation. But don’t make photography your sole mission, stick to snapping odd little details you notice about the place, a few selfies and pictures of important places as well. You tend to miss out on a lot of things when your eyes are stuck behind a lens, try to experience some things without a camera blocking your sight. Sure your family and friends back home will appreciate those pictures and the story that goes with it; but they’ll appreciate stories of your experiences more and you’ll feel greater for it too.
6. Don’t cut corners, go big or go home
Eating out when you’re travelling alone might make you feel awkward initially, and you might try to live on fast food just to avoid being in such situations. Please don’t, you’ll be depriving yourself for no reason at all unless the street food is something you shouldn’t miss. In fact, when you’re dining alone fancy establishments are fantastic places to spend some time in. And if you still want to avoid it, eating at a bar is an option you can look at; it allows you to be social while still leaving the choice of taking a table for yourself.
Of course you’re bound to feel lonely, but there’s a lot of perks to travelling alone – even something as silly as double-dipping your chips in the guacamole or salsa or shifting plans every hour, or just set out without any plans without bothering about someone losing their cool. You’ll figure it out, just don’t fret too much and learn to revel in your new found freedom.
7. Start early everyday
If you’re not looking to do the usual touristy thing that most solo travellers do, then you can skip the bar-hopping alone part and instead do something different and unusual. For a start, you could get up early, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and head out to explore the place on your own. You’ll be surprised at how many places and hidden nooks and crannies you can find when you’re sightseeing alone.
And sure you can party alone, but if you’re worried about safety it’s always better to head to the party with friends or other guests from your guest house or hostel, it always pays to be extra cautious when you’re alone.
8. Technology and terrible films will become your best friends
When you’re out on holiday, you won’t have too much time to spend indoors ensconced in a sofa watching television. It’s alright to spend the occasional night watching the TV in your guesthouse, but don’t make a habit out of it to avoid going out alone because you feel awkward. You’re out on a trip for a reason, if TV is what you wanted then you wouldn’t be out travelling alone.
And when travelling your smartphone or tablet will be your best friend and most places offer free Wi-Fi, meaning keep yourself engrossed in social media or terrible movies to while away some time on long journeys’ if staring out the window isn’t really your style.
9. Don’t bury your head in a book
Sure, we agree that travelling alone can be scary – and burying yourself in the pages of a good novel might seem like the perfect way to escape curious stares on public transport or in restaurants; but you’re on a solo trip so stare right back, chat up the locals and other travellers and learn new things. Save the book for the flight or bus and experience something new.
10. Stay Alert, Stay Safe.
Everyone should be mindful of their own safety whether you’re travelling alone or in a group and travelling alone can be both safe and a rewarding experience; all you have to do is take care of yourself. Large cities at night can be dangerous, watch your drinks when you’re at a bar, stay alert and keep yourself abreast of news; find out about any local scams and if you’re carrying valuables, keep them safe. Find out and save the emergency helpline numbers, hospital numbers on your phone, you might not use them but it is safer to have them and you’ll be able to deal with awkward situations confidently. And when in a foreign country always keep your passport close and safe.
11. Be firm when you reject advances
Sometimes when you’re travelling solo, the attention you get can be a little intense and unwanted. In such cases, decline politely but firmly, say “no, thank you” in the local language, or “absolutely not” – whichever you feel is more effective and walk away.
As a solo traveller your experiences are more unique than when you go in a group. Your make your own plans and schedules and the freedom and confidence you gain is unmatchable. All you have to be is fearless. Good luck and safe travels.