Travelling solo is one of those things that seems scarier in theory than in actual practice. Like, going to the dentist, or taking a driving lesson, or asking your parents if your new boyfriend can stay the night.
Having no one to travel with shouldn’t stop you. Once you’ve taken the plunge and you’re out there in the world exploring unaccompanied you’ll realise that you’re alright, you’ve got this. Until then, we’re here to give you the pep talk you need to feel confident about your first solo travel adventure.
I’ve travelled the world solo for the last two years, and to be honest, not had any more problems than I would’ve had in two years in the UK. Nowhere is 100% safe right now, so you might as well enjoy life while it’s here.
1. You need to be on guard
Travelling relaxes you, it’s one of the many reasons why people do it. But, like a ninja, you always need to be on guard and ready for anything that could threaten your happiness equilibrium.
One of the most ridiculous people I came across on my travels, who totally flouted this, was a girl on the crossing from Mexico to Guatemala. She was acting all spaced out as got off the bus to talk to border patrol. She told me she’d taken a Valium to sleep on the bus. What an idiot! She was travelling solo and anything could’ve happened to her. I was speechless.
You’re travelling, you want to open your mind and see new things, but when you travel alone you have to be careful. Defences may come down at times they shouldn’t. Don’t develop a travel ego.
Don’t listen to earphones in the street, don’t be flash with your possessions, don’t flaunt your wealth and stay focused when you have your money out.
2. You need to be open
Which brings me nicely to a contradiction: you need to be open when you travel. If you don’t go beyond your comfort zone and open yourself up to new experiences, cultures and ways of life you’re just going to be living like you were at home, but in a different place. And then what’s the point of the airfare?
Try that food, go on that tour, speak to that person – all will enrich your life in some way.
In the past I’ve travelled with friends, with an ex boyfriend and alone – I can definitely say that by yourself you soak up more. You’re easier to approach and so it’s easier to make friends, and you don’t know what opportunities that could lead to. Don’t sit on your phone in hostels like everyone else, but be the person who talks and brings people together. The others will love you for it.
3. You need to be able to trust your instincts
There’ll be times when you’re travelling alone when you won’t really know what to do, who to go with and when to leave. This is the time when you need to trust yourself to make the right decision. You might also need to believe that you made the right decision long after that decision was made. Get me? My favourite saying is ‘you did what was right at the time’ – it’s saved me from a lot of mental turmoil.
From who to hang out with, whether a place is safe to visit and whether to eat or drink something, you need to learn to trust your instinct. Often, there’s no right or wrong and you’ll never actually know whether you made the right decision or not.
4. You need to be confident in yourself
I’m not talking about the kind of confidence that makes you stand on stage in front of hundreds, or even the one that allows you to talk to people. I’m talking about the kind of confidence that lets you say no to people and to things, that lets you trust yourself and keep your wits about you. The confidence that makes you a good solo traveller and the ability to lead yourself, not just follow others.
This can also be the confidence to be comfortable by yourself, and to be content around strangers too. It may take some time to grow and nurture, but you’ll learn fast when you’re travelling solo.
5. You need to be organised
The scariest moments from my two years of continuous travel, and ten years of exploring the world, have definitely been when I’ve been disorganised and I’m not 100% sure where I’m going.
When you get in a taxi have the address written down, preferably in the local language. You can’t just assume your taxi driver will know English. Also, research beforehand so you know where you’re going and how much, approximately, it’ll be. That’s just one example; knowing your transport links, expected routes and even what to eat in a destination can all help the experience.
Don’t overdo it though – allow yourself a little spontaneity!
Be organised and you’re more likely to be safe. When I was travelling Central America solo my parents were worried so I set up a Google spreadsheet where I filled in where I would be staying every night. Useful for me, and they could follow what I was doing.
Having the right currency when you arrive in a destination, knowing local traditions and practices, researching local events that might be happening and what not to do in each destination can all really help when it comes to travelling solo.
6. You need to be able to quit while you’re ahead
And ‘quit’ could mean anything. Whether it’s knowing when you’ve had enough of travelling solo and it’s time to join a tour, when it’s time to go back to England, or even when you’ve had too much to drink and its time for bed.
Having the confidence and ability to call it quits when you know it’s time usually requires some money reserves, so make sure you have some saved for that famous ‘rainy day.’
Hopefully you’ll never need it, and you can have a blow out in your final week, or have some money when you get back, but keep it in a separate account, just in case. Money equals choices.
7. You need to be ready for a life changing experience
Don’t fear travelling alone, you’ll only ruin your chance for a life changing experience. I’m not being dramatic; the first time you go out into the world alone it can’t be anything but.
The best way to overcome any kind of fear is to be prepared. Make the most of all the information on gapyear.com, read up on your favourite solo travel bloggers and take confidence from the millions of people who have done it before, and have the tales, tattoos, photos and life long friends to show for it.