I was born with a traveler’s soul, stepping on my first plane before I could even walk or talk. Since my first flight, I have traveled to over 30 different countries, and moved to 6 different cities across the globe, all by myself. These are my words of wisdom for slightly nervous first time travellers. I know that what holds back a lot of individuals, especially women, from travelling is the thought about doing it on their own. I hope this gives you the push you need to get that backpack packed and that ticket booked. It’s time to go on that trip of a lifetime!
Depending on where you are going, you should have a rough outline on where you want to go. At the very least you should have a hostel booked for a couple of days once you have arrived at your destination and know how to get from the airport to your hotel/hostel. One of the MOST common scams are airport taxi scams, so be prepared. When arriving in Chile, I learned that there is a a service called a Transvip (a small private bus) that dropped of people at their respective locations for around US$6. one way. When I was checking into my hostel in Santiago, another new arrival asked front desk it if was normal to pay US$100 for a taxi ride. Do your research on the climate you are going to and be smart with what you pack SMART. Chic outfits for a night on the town can be bought, make sure to pack the basics: a sturdy pair of shoes, power converters, warm clothes (layer up!) and a copy of all important documents either on a USB key or emailed to yourself. Trust me, if you loose your passport, a copy can be quite the lifesaver.
Ease Yourself Into it
If you have never traveled alone by yourself and solo-travel irks you, then why not travel with a tour company. Yes you could do it cheaper on your own, but, again, it can be money really well spent to have the first two weeks of your trip with instant friends, instant roomies and someone showing you the ropes of travel. If you want to go with a company, try to make it a sustainable one like Apus Peru, G Adventures and/or Sumak Travel. Do your research as these types of community-based tourism companies not offer you a once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences while also supporting local communities in a way that is socially, financially and environmentally sustainable.
Travel, whether it is solo or not, will make you uncomfortable. New culture, people, languages and food can be a lot to handle but the best thing to do is to take a deep breathe and be open minded. During your solo-travels you might meet someone you really click with or learn about a place that you just can’t miss – these new meetings or revelations can lead to changes to your original travel itinerary. My advice is to keep an open-mind when traveling because you never know where the path might lead …
Trust Your Instincts
There are times that you can get swept up in the excitement of travel – meeting new people, seeing new places – but remember that bad things can happen on the road and it is always best to trust your instincts. Don’t be paranoid, but if a rare situation comes up when you just do not feel safe, then don’t worry what anyone else thinks, act on it.
Trust No One
People will tell you to expect the best when traveling – don’t expect everyone to rip you off or steal your stuff. The majority of people you meet will be good, and kind and happy to help you. Expect that and look for that. You will be surprised at the goodness that falls in your path. HOWEVER, expecting the best in people does not mean that you should let your guard down. I have heard of stories from people who were put in very dangerous situations because they believed that the locals were “happy to help.” Be suspicious AND most importantly never put yourself in a position where you have to rely on someone. When I was in Chile an acquaintance of mine almost got abducted from a club because she was too drunk to stand and someone took advantage of that. Her friends ended up ditching her; they didn’t want to babysit a drunk girl. Thankfully nothing happened. My advice is to: avoid getting too drunk, avoid stumbling home alone in the dark (HUGE no-no) and avoid going to unknown places with strangers. In the end, the only person you can 100 percent trust is yourself.
Yes, the last point was a little grim but being careful does not mean avoiding all human contact when travel solo. Meeting new people is the best part of solo-travel. When traveling in groups, most people have their friends as their travel safety net, meaning that they do not necessarily need to meet new people to have fun. When solo, travelers are forced to overcome any inhibitions they might have to meet people. But go beyond meeting travelers and learn about the culture of a place by meeting the locals. Learn about their lives. Be generous. Take small gifts. Share about your life. Immerse yourself and learn something new.
Loneliness is a big issue when traveling solo and a lot of travellers might try to overcome that feeling by going on Skype or messaging their friends and loved ones back home. It’s easy to get sucked into it. Before you know it, you are spending your evenings on Skype with your mom or significant other, telling them how much you miss them, instead of going down to the lounge in the hostel and striking up a conversation with some of travelelrs. Yes, it is super awkward when starting a conversation with someone you don’t know, but once you take that first step, it is all downhill from there. It just takes that one commonality that sparks a conversation, then others start to join in and before you know it there are ten of you laughing, joking and heading out together for a night out on the town.
Avoid Night Travel
As a solo traveller, I would strongly recommend against traveling by bus during the night time, especially if the bus arrives during the night at its destination. Train stations and bus stations are known as the worst areas to be in during night time no matter which country you are visiting. Whether I am in Paris (Gare du Nord), Brussels (Gare du Midi), Santiago (Estacion Central), Rio de Janeiro (Rodoviária Novo Rio) or Buenos Aires (Retiro), I’ve heard the same story: it is not safe. It may save time and money, but arriving at 4 am at a bus station in a town that you are not familiar with puts you at a greater risk. Furthermore, popular tourist overnight buses can sometimes be subject to attack. In 2013, for a example, a Cruz del Sur overnight bus on its way to Cusco was stopped by eight armed men and US$50,000 worth of goods was stolen. Although the probability of something like this happening is somewhat rare, the question is: are you willing to take the risk?
Don’t Afraid to Splurge
Adhereing to specific budgets is important, however if a certain situation arises, do not be afraid to splurge a little bit. Make sure to bring your credit card as unexpected costs can suddenly appear. When I was in Santiago, I booked a flight with Pluma to Rio de Janeiro. Little did I know that Pluma went bankrupt and when I arrived to the airport, there was no flight.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
In Panama, they had a saying, tranquilo. It is a saying that most of the country adopts, and that, frankly, drove me completely insane when I first moved there. I remember one weekend when my host family told me that we were going away for the weekend. They told me: be ready for 8 am! The next day we left the house at 8 pm. Bumps and hiccups happen. You will get ripped off. You probably will loose something. You will run into someone that just rubs you the wrong way. C’est la vie. Deal with it and move one – don’t let it ruin your travels!
And there you have it. My top tips for solo travellers who want to have a life changing trip. Don’t wonder “what if” – you will never regret the travel you do. Don’t use “I haven’t got anyone to go with” as an excuse. Just take the plunge.
Do you agree with my tips? Have anything to add?