There’s no doubting it: travelling alone can be an incredibly daunting experience. There’s nobody else to rely on; no safety net if things go wrong; nobody to pull you back into line when the excitement and adrenaline of travelling takes over. Travelling alone is also one of the most amazing experiences anyone can have though, allowing them to blossom into a more independent and confident person – which is why we urge anyone thinking about taking the plunge themselves to get that gap year booked and head into the wide world on their own! Many people do it, and the vast majority say it’s one of the best experiences they’ve ever had!
Of course, travelling alone does mean that there are certain things to consider, mainly when it comes to personal safety – although don’t for a minute think that travelling alone is unsafe. So, in our drive to make everyone’s gap years that much better – as well as safer – we’ve come up with 20 different tips for those travelling alone on their year away, with the most important one found at the bottom of the list…
- Prior planning. Planning ahead is really important. Those travelling alone don’t want to land in Bangkok, Cape Town or Lima without at least having some kind of accommodation arranged, as well as some basic information about the place. Of course, this need lessens with more experience but even seasoned solo travellers will do their homework prior to arriving.
- Spare your muscles. There’s always the temptation to try to pack absolutely everything you could possibly need, almost as if other countries won’t sell things like clothing and shower gel. The problem here? How is your body going to cope with hauling this much stuff across a city in sweltering temperatures? Instead, pack light and buy what you need when you arrive.
- It starts on the plane. The great thing about a plane is this: everyone is going to the same place you are. So, why not take the chance to get chatting to people and find out their plans? They might give you some great ideas about what to do, or they could even become great friends throughout your trip.
- Use hostels. Hostels are the traveller’s best friend, as they provide really cheap accommodation as well as the chance to meet like-minded travellers. Try to get a bed in a shared room, as otherwise the costs will start to spiral. Also, avoid hotels at all costs, as they are impersonal and expensive.
- Start slowly. This is especially true for those without much travel experience. True, heading into the far-flung depths of Africa might be your dream, but it’s also tough, even for experienced travellers. Maybe it might be better to ease yourself in slowly first, perhaps with a few weeks of solo travel in an “easier” country like South Africa?
- Don’t get too drunk. Getting really drunk can lead to many different problems, from medical issues through to being taken advantage of. This is especially true if you are drinking on your own. Make sure you know what you are drinking and don’t be afraid to order a soft drink occasionally! Also, make sure you keep an eye on your drink at all times.
- Be friends with yourself. It’s often the case that solo travellers will head straight for the tourist hotspots, trying to find others to share their journey with. While company is great, don’t forget that doing things alone can also be a really rewarding experience. So, force yourself to do what you want, not what others want – even if that means leaving them.
- Familiar friends. On the flip side from the previous point, there will be times when life gets you down and you need some familiar company. That’s when the expat bars and tourist hotspots are great. Go and hook up with other travellers and reinvigorate your passion for exploring, before then striking off on your own again.
- Take some tours. If you are having problems working out what to do, take a look online and find some tours where you are. These can range from day-long city tours through to month long tours of a whole country. They might not be the most independent way to travel, but they are better than sitting around doing nothing.
- Learn the language. People love nothing more than travellers who bother to learn just a bit of their language. So, when you are at a restaurant or bar, try to order in Thai, Hindi or whatever other language is spoken – it can be a great way to make local friends and discover the real side to a country.
- Find a favourite. A great way to meet locals is to find a favourite restaurant, with friendly staff, and dine there regularly. Once they get to know you, they’ll start chatting to you and provide you with some great tips on the place you are in. The familiar surroundings can also provide some comfort if things are getting stressful.
- Don’t be flashy. Common sense should really prevail here: if you are walking through a city with your iPhone on show and loads of jewellery, you are far more likely to be targeted by thieves. Instead, keep them out of show and only get them out when you really need them, preferably when in a safe place.
- Update your family/friends. It is important that, even though you are travelling alone, other people know where you are. You can use social media for this, or Skype calls, but it is very important: if something were to happen, you don’t want them looking for you in Paris when you’ve already moved on to Rome, do you?
- Avoid dark places. You wouldn’t walk through dark, unlit places at night in London, New York or Sydney, would you? So, don’t do the same anywhere else either! Try to stick to well-lit and populated areas, so that others can see if you are getting into any kind of trouble. It’s really just a bit of common sense, isn’t it?
- Always arrive early. If you are going to be getting multiple flights throughout your gap year, get into a habit of arriving early. If you don’t, all manner of different hindrances can occur that prevent you from getting to the airport on time. Also, you don’t want to be the unlucky traveller losing their seat due to the airline “overbooking”.
- Carry a rape alarm. This isn’t just for girls, and they don’t have to be used solely in the event of a rape – they also serve as great ways to draw attention for many different issues. The chances are you won’t have to use one, but it is good to have one just in case. Also, they provide peace of mind for many more nervous travellers.
- Selfie alert! A problem of travelling alone is not being able to get yourself into any of the shots – making your pics much less personal and like everyone else’s. So, learn how to take the perfect selfie. You can even buy a selfie stick to help, although be prepared for a few strange looks when using it!
- Cash is king. Never let yourself run out of cash, as in many places it is the only payment method accepted. It is good practice to hide a bit of money on you as well, just in case the rest goes missing. It is also a very good idea to have a few dollars on you too, as well as the local currency, as these are accepted readily in much of the world.
- Know where help is. Just because you are travelling alone, there are still ways in which you can get help if things go wrong. Ensure you have the contact details for your embassy in the country you’re travelling in, and don’t be afraid to contact them if you are concerned. With their help, most problems are easily sorted.
- Trust your instincts. This is perhaps the most important point of them all. We all know when something doesn’t feel right, and if you get this feeling while travelling, don’t do it! If the cab driver doesn’t look trustworthy, use another. If a bar seems scary, find another. Trust your instincts and you’ll avoid most problems.
If you are planning on travelling alone, we’d love to hear about all of your experiences. Why not contact us today and we might even publish some of your thoughts on your travels? That way, you can help others get out there and experience everything this world has to offer!