Your’re finally doing it. You’ve quit your job… or scheduled some long overdue leave and planned an adventure to some exotic destination… by yourself. You have a million thoughts running through your head and none of them seem to be good ones. What if something goes wrong? What if you need help and there’s no one around? What if you’re too afraid to try something new by yourself? Solo travel can seem like a daunting experience but it doesn’t have to be. Traveling on your own isn’t as scary as most people think. In fact, if planned properly, it can be the complete opposite, giving you some of the most empowering adventures of your life. Here are some of my whimsical travel tips to help you plan your first solo adventure.
SAVOUR EVERY MOMENT OF YOUR FIRST FEW HOURS
No matter what people tell you, first impressions will always last a lifetime – you’ll always remember the first sights, smells and sounds on the streets around you and how you shuffled around with your luggage wishing you had packed less on the taxi ride to the hotel.
KEEP EXTRA CASH WITH YOU
You never know when something will go wrong, so having a secret stash of cash kept away in an old lip balm container can be a lifesaver. I like to store my passport and ID cards in a different section of my bag too. Should my wallet get stolen, then my passport is still with me.
TRAVEL WITHIN AND AROUND YOUR DESTINATION
Don’t forget about the small unheard of places. Read the travel guides, use the apps you downloaded and browse through the glossy magazines placed on the desk in your hotel room. Get off at few unexpected stops whilst riding the train. You’ll be surprised at what you may find: a quaint little town, a small market or a beautiful art gallery.
TAKE A GOOD BOOK AND RELAX
A dear friend recommended The Hobbit to me during my six month study abroad trip and it was a pretty fitting book for that period in my life. Read something you wouldn’t normally read whilst travelling and try to read the daily paper from your destination.
GO TO McDONALD’S
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt on my travels, it’s that McDonald’s everywhere is completely different. In The Netherlands, the McDonald’s franchise was colored green and yellow and they had the most delicious stroopwafel McFlurries. In Egypt we could get a jumbo meal for a fraction of the normal price. In Bali, the ingredients used to make the patties were so different that, well, it just didn’t taste like a normal McDonalds burger and in Singapore, we had curly fries as a symbol to remember the Indian Ocean Tsunami that hit in 2004. No matter where in the world you are, you’ll always find the familiar golden M of McDonalds but the experience you have will be different and reminiscent of the place around you. That in itself is an experience you shouldn’t miss.
KEEP EXTRA COPIES OF PERSONAL DOCUMENTS AND REGISTER WITH YOUR EMBASSY
You never know what’s going to happen. In 2004 my family and I found ourselves narrowly escaping the Indian Ocean Tsunami when on holiday in the Far East. In 2010 we missed the riots in Egypt by a few days. In 2011 we were stranded in Barcelona because my wallet had been stolen and in 2012 we narrowly missed a cyclone in the Seychelles. Call it luck but whatever it may be, it’s always a good idea to register with your consulate in the country you’re visiting. Should anything bad happen, they will be able to help you.
ALWAYS FIND A WAY TO CONTACT HOME
With technology these days, it’s easy to send a quick email or update your Facebook status to let people know that you’re okay whilst in transit. After arriving at my destination, I usually buy a local sim card and call home. It’s often much cheaper than activating international roaming. Always let friends and family know where you are and that you’re okay. Also, let them know that you love and miss them.
More often than not, I find myself buying lots of memorabilia to take back with me: a new sketchpad, a necklace, a t-shirt, a fancy dress, a pair of shoes, books, some gifts, and lots of chocolate. That’s why it’s always a good idea to pack light. Oh, and roll your jeans. They crease less and take less space.
TAKE SOME QUIET TIME TO THINK
More often than not, the fast paced everyday life makes it difficult to reflect on the decisions we’ve made and what it has meant to us. So find a quiet place and take some time to think. Think about a loved one you’ve lost, a relationship you’ve ended or a dream waiting to happen. Often being in a new place helps to put things into perspective.
WHEN IN ROME
Stop doing the touristy things. Keep your eyes and ears open and watch the locals. Experience what it means to really live in the city you’re visiting whether it’s riding a bike, shopping at a market or trying the local cuisine.
You’ve got to really go outside your comfort zone if you want to experience something magical but remember, there is a fine line between adventure and stupidity. Everything should involve a calculated risk. If something feels unsafe, it probably is. Remember, you’re on your own so you need to take charge of the decision making process.
LEAVE ROOM FOR NEW MEMORIES
In the end, have no regrets, make few mistakes and just dance. Don’t be afraid to explore this beautiful Earth. There is so much beauty hidden around you, you just have to look.