This article was recently published on Stuff.co.nz
The most frequent thing people have asked me since I started travelling is “how do you have the guts to travel alone?” At first I found it incredibly lonely and intimidating, but now I don’t give it a second thought. Travelling alone is advantageous for many reasons, its challenging and rewarding, you get to do what you actually want to do, without compromise and you get time to reflect on places without distraction.
These are my 10 solo travel tips:
I always advise thoroughly researching destinations, but on solo trips research is even more important. I learnt this lesson the hard way. In 2012 I arrived in Bangkok at midnight by myself for a South East Asian group tour. My hotel transfer didn’t arrive and I had no idea how to get to my hotel, how much it would cost, or what the conversion from Thai Baht to the New Zealand Dollar was. After my scary experience in Thailand, I knew how important extensive research was.
2. Book Flights thoughtfully
When I book flights I always try to arrive before dark; something else I learnt after my experience in Bangkok. There is nothing worse than being stuck alone in a new city in the middle of the night.
3. Organise multiple sources of funds
Having access to local currency is even more important when you’re solo, because you have no friends to rely on if things go pear shaped. Depending on where I am visiting I take multiple credit cards or travel cards and local currency if I can get it before I arrive. USD’s and EURO’s are often good emergency currency to have with you, but remember; it’s no good bringing multiple sources of money if you don’t put them into different places. Some should be in your day pack, some in your main bag and some on your person. Remember not to walk around with your passport. Put it in the hotel safe or leave at the front desk if it’s an option.
4. Have an emergency plan
Who will you contact in an emergency? Do you have their info written in multiple places. Do you know how you would contact them? Have you got your travel insurance information with you? All worth thinking about.
5. Learn to read a map
I am always amazed at how many people lack situational awareness and map reading skills. Being able to read a map is imperative to travelling alone, it’s also really important to know roughly where you are even with out a map. The first question you should ask yourself before you leave the hotel is “can I point to North?”
An easy way to get your bearings on a city is to create landmarks for yourself. High buildings are best, but if it’s a more sprawling city, like London, then street corners, monuments, rivers etc can be used. I try to memorise areas as soon as possible so that even if my phone was stolen and I couldn’t find a paper map anywhere, I’d still be able to get myself back to my hostel/hotel.
I strongly recommend practicing map reading in your home town before venturing abroad. You’ll be surprised how quickly you pick it up. But don’t be one of those attention-grabbing tourists who walk around with a big paper map. Memorise the map before you go and only pull it out if you have too. Better yet: use a smart phone.
Be aware of where you are at all times, even if you’re being driven in a taxi, but don’t beat yourself up if you feel lost. It happens to everyone and most places have friendly people willing to help you.
6. Download apps
Download apps to help you navigate the places you’re visiting before you leave home. You don’t want to be trying to connect to Wifi in some dingy hostel to get the apps you need. Google Maps is the most essential. CityMapper is a good example of a navigational app. XE Currency is a good one to compare local costs to home.
7. Make friends
Obviously common sense applies when speaking to strangers, but making friends in a new city is a good way to keep yourself from feeling too lonely. Staying in hostels can be a good way to meet up with other travellers.
8. Don’t drink (too much)
This might seem easy for me to say (since I don’t drink), but if there was ever a time to lay off the booze it would be when travelling alone. Sure it might make it easier to approach new people, but it also makes you an easy target.
9. Take a selfie, or two
Just because you have no one to take photos for you doesn’t mean you should arrive home without a snap of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower. Just don’t be one of those annoying tourists with a GoPro on a stick.
10. Keep in touch
Don’t forget about your friends and family back home. They want to know that you’re safe and having a good time. Uploading a selfie to social media is a quick way of letting everyone know you’re ok.