After many journeys of travelling alone, with friends, with family or with colleagues I can categorically conclude that nothing beats travelling alone. It is the only path to genuine adventure and the only way to make a natural connection to a place. So here are seven useful tips for travelling solo:
1. Create yourself an alternative identity.
When travelling alone create yourself an identity that has nothing to do with your personal life. Many people can only exist in social circles of their own design because they are accustomed to comfort zones with no risks attached. So it’s difficult for them to understand why anyone would CHOOSE to travel alone. Add to the mix “FEMALE solo traveller” and you become an object of envy, intrigue, fascination, admiration and even bravery (I have experienced ALL of this).
So, when I travel alone I become “Girl Travels World“. Her story is interesting and adventurous enough to keep curious folks on all inclusive holidays intrigued for hours. It’s perfect if, like me, you loathe intrusive personal questions.
2. Talk to locals.
Local people who live in a place know a great deal more about it than you, your guide book and your travel agent all put together. TALK TO LOCALS. They will offer the best advice, give you insider tips and negotiate a better deal than you ever could.
This was how I discovered motorcycle taxis in Bangkok over 10 years ago. I made friends with a girl who worked in the local beauty shop (we are still friends). I mentioned that I would like to watch a Muay Thai fight. She sprung in to action and organised a motorcycle taxi (it belonged to her cousin) to race me through rush hour traffic in Bangkok to Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. A fight was scheduled to start there in just 40 minutes. I got there in time to watch the spectacular traditional Thai ceremony that takes place before a fight. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric and it turned out to be one of the most memorable travel moments of my life. There was no way that I could have been so spontaneous if I’d been travelling with a companion.
You must however, exercise good judgement in these situations and not risk your safety. This is something you will get better at the more you travel.
3. You do not need to be an expert navigator.
Maps, apps and satellite navigators are great tools for helping us find our way around. I regularly use one or all of these. However, don’t forget to use your natural instincts. I often find myself with absolutely no idea as to where I am. It is not necessary to always know exactly where you are. Travellers live for these moments. They are pivotal to any story teller. This is when (in my experience at least) something remarkable happens.
I was once lost on the cliffs of Dubrovnik, Croatia and found a tiny opening in a rock with steps leading down to a small beach. It turned out that this is where locals went to escape tourists during the summer months. There was a tiny make shift bar overlooking the sea, a place to park bikes and a secluded beach which couldn’t be accessed any other way. The best part of this story? The drinks cost a fraction of what they did in my five star hotel. And no, you will not find it in a guide book on Dubrovnik.
4. Notice the beauty in small things.
It’s easy to admire a grand mural, a historic fountain, a majestic waterfall or an iconic sculpture. But when I’m travelling on my own, I notice the smaller things – brightly coloured petals strewn all over the pavement in Colombo, children in a class room as I walked past a building in Madrid, a charred kettle on an open fire in the desert in Doha. When you don’t have to share your time, accommodate different schedules, visit attractions or search for “bargains” you make a more authentic connection with a place. Give the next place you travel to your wholehearted attention and it will captivate you.
5. DON’T go to places where your experience is “created” for profit.
Experiences such as shopping malls with “indoor skiing”, party places with never ending revelling or theme parks do not cater for solo travellers. If you go to these places on your own you will feel isolated because most such “experiences” are geared towards group travel. There is also little in the way of authenticity because the ”experience” is contrived and run for profit. As a solo traveller, you’re likely to be bored and a great deal out of pocket.
6. DO go to distant places which are well explored.
Begin your journey in places with well established travel communities. Many parts of Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) and also parts of Europe remain popular and you are likely to meet others on a similar journey. I travelled from Monaco down the coast to Cannes, Marseille and all the way down to the border of Italy on a solo trip a few years ago. I met hundreds of solo travellers on that trip – a Canadian yoga teacher, a Texan school teacher, a Taiwanese musician and many many interesting travellers. We ate, socialised and partied together. I am still friends with most of them all these years later. So even when travelling alone I had the assurance of others around who were doing the same.
Moreover, these established routes have been welcoming lone travellers for generations and cater well to their needs. Eating alone, drinking alone, walking around on your own are unlikely to warrant a second glance. Once you master well trodden paths you will build confidence for exploring more remote places.
7. Enjoy it while it lasts
Everything is temporary. This has always been my motto in life. It is not always that you will be able to throw a few clothes into a suitcase and hail a taxi to the airport. So I relish the time I’m able to book a flight on a whim and go forth with no real plan. It may not last forever.
*This post was inspired by Kate Maxwell’s “Seven Excellent Rules for Solo Travel”.