Remember that time you threw away the map your homestay host drew for you on a napkin because you took five years of Spanish and can obviously self-navigate your way around the streets of Buenos Aires?
What about the time you lost your passport in South Africa and didn’t have a back up copy to prove what it looked like? Hindsight is a cruel beast. If you’re planning to go it alone, this list of things I wish I knew before travelling solo is for you.
Take half the items, double the money.
It’s cliché and overused, advice that I myself ignored before leaving the comforts of home. Lay everything you intend to take with you out on your bed, then opt for half the clothes and twice as much money.
No one wants to find themselves in a funky market knowing they don’t have enough room in their bag to take a beautiful travel themed item home, or even worse, in a market knowing you don’t have the money to purchase said item.
I unintentionally wore the same tie-dye dress for five days in Indonesia, most often thrown over my swimsuit. In Slovenia, my favourite denim shorts were the item of choice. In Norway, I was so cold that you never saw what I was wearing underneath my knee length down jacket anyway. Having 30 outfits won’t matter the same way an extra wad of cash does.
Even the most introverted traveller will make new friends.
Upon walking into my hostel in Fiji, I was informed by my bunk neighbour that he was going swimming and I should join him. I had spent the trip to the hostel mentally preparing myself to initiate conversation with a potential friend, and this certainly wasn’t how it played out in my mind. As it turned out, we were inseparable for the rest of the trip.
Language barriers, where you attended university, your last heartbreak and favourite flavour of pizza; none of this matters because everyone is ultimately in the same situation while on the road. Unless of course you’re in Italy, in which case bonding over pizza flavours is highly recommended.
Take copies of everything.
Your passport, credit card, travel insurance, medical notes, important phone numbers, itinerary, photo of your cat, EVERYTHING. Scan at least one copy of each, and store them in different locations such as your backpack, your handbag and the safe in your room. Alternatively, you can send digital copies to your family or trusted friends, though this means you’ll require internet access which isn’t always guaranteed in times of need. If things go pear shaped while you’re travelling solo, it’s up to you and only you to take charge and fix these problems yourself. Having the necessary info on hand alleviates the situation tenfold.
You really do need that travel insurance policy.
I know, you’ve already gone above and beyond your budget and you’re hesitant to make any purchases that aren’t 1000% necessary. You never know when you might shatter your fancy camera’s lens in Kathmandu or fall off your bike on a busy street in Thailand. At the end of the day, a travel insurance policy is a non-negotiable item. Not only will that piece of paper give you peace of mind, it will also give you coverage if an unfortunate situation arises.
Let your bank know that you will be overseas.
This one is often learned the hard way. Call your local bank before you leave home and ask them to put a travel notice on your account. It will take you all of five minutes and help you avoid becoming cut off from your precious funds a week later.
Delays happen and that’s OK.
Planes are rarely on schedule, buses break down, room keys go missing and you forget your phone at the cafe where you were charging it during breakfast. Build some flex time into your route, whether that means arriving in Romania a full day before your tour is due to start or booking yourself a hotel near the airport in Yangon in case you’re strapped for time before your flight. Delays to your meticulously planned itinerary will most definitely occur, and this is all part of the nature of travel.
Trust your gut.
There’s no need to be sceptical of every human you come across just because you are travelling on your own. Yes, there are a few bad eggs out there, but some of the best travel stories originate from the kindness of strangers and the diversity we experience in a new destination. Trust your gut feelings and befriend those who are kind to you while keeping your distance from those that aren’t giving off a good vibe.
Ear plugs are a seriously underrated item.
These tiny companions appear on recommended packing lists as often as they are left behind. (Hint: pretty frequently.) You’ll be grateful to have them when you’re trying to catch some Zs in a 12 bed dorm room or an overnight train.
Eat the street food.
Is it just me or is one of the greatest joys of travelling sampling the foreign cuisine? Good judgement is of course required here; a chicken curry that has been baking in the sun for eight hours should probably not be consumed. In some countries, you should not eat fruit that you did not peel yourself, no matter how beautiful it looks. If you’re in rural mountains where refrigeration is scarce, approach dairy with caution. It’s better to be safe than sorry and there’s no shame in going vego for the length of your stay.
This will be the first of many adventures to come.
You know this alleged ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure that you spent the last six months penny pinching for? The one that kept you up all hours of the night as the excitement of researching the must-see locations kicked in? Prepare to do it all again and again. You’ll return home happily spellbound by wanderlust and this solo adventure is only the beginning.
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