Solo travelling has gained traction in recent years and I’ve seen friends take month-long sabbaticals to backpack around Europe. It’s especially common for university students on their semester-long exchange abroad.
While it’s really exciting to be alone in an unfamiliar place and I haven’t heard of anyone returning from a solo trip with regrets, there are many ways for things to go south.
It’s also scary if you don’t have anyone to turn to, especially if you’re a girl. I’m not trying to perpetuate any stereotypes here, but it’s undeniable that girls are a little more vulnerable.
Besides being street smart and having some common sense, there are some precautions you can take to be safer. So girls, here are 10 lessons I learnt from travelling alone and some tips if you’re contemplating going solo.
1. Planning Is Key
And obsessive planning would be even better.
Start by making a wishlist of the places that you absolutely have to see and plan out your route. Visit places that are located nearby in the same day to save yourself unnecessary bus fare. Also, decide beforehand if you’re going to walk or take public transport.
Remember to download an offline map of the area you’ll be visiting on Google Maps! Consider taking a picture of your route or saving a screenshot as backup. This way, if you ever run out of data, you can just seek help from a local by showing them your itinerary.
2. But, Let Serendipity Take Priority
With that said, sometimes the unexpected and spontaneous moments are what makes traveling more exciting. Don’t be afraid to ditch your well-laid plans if something better arises.
For instance, I had initially planned to spend half a day at Lake Konigssee in Salzburg and then return to the city. But, by sheer happenstance, I came across this Korean guy I glimpsed from the previous day at one of the attractions in Salzburg.
We recognised each other and just naturally ended up exploring the lake together. It meant that I had to give up my plans for the rest of the day because we ventured further around the area than I had intended to.
It was worth it though! I ended up making a new friend and learnt more about Korea while I was in Europe. It also turned into an interesting story of fate to share with my friends.
3. Don’t Hesitate To Seek Help
If you just can’t locate a place or if you’re looking for an alternative route, don’t be shy about approaching a stranger for help.
Perhaps people are wired to be more sympathetic towards a lone girl looking lost but everyone that I approached was more than happy to lend a hand. Even more so than if I was with a group of friends.
But of course, look for the right people.
If you need help with directions, find a local. If you want someone to take a picture, try not to bother the locals. Instead, find another traveller and offer to help them take a picture too – it’s a win-win situation for both of you.
4. Trust Your Gut Instinct
Making friends is great but sometimes, you need to trust your instincts. If warning bells are ringing in your head, heed them. For instance, there’s a world of difference between the friendly stranger and a seedy guy who asks you to go elsewhere for drinks.
5. Keep Your Guard Up
This applies for whether you’re on the move or back in your accommodation. I’ve heard about so many friends who had their stuff stolen from a moment of carelessness.
Always stay awake on public transport and clutch the zips of your bags in your hand or find a way to keep them out of reach. A tip from my friend is to find a jacket with inner pockets where you can tuck your cash and phone into.
But if you’re on an overnight bus/ train and have no choice but to rest, make sure you lock your bags. Don’t be complacent, even if it’s just a small bag you’re clutching tightly onto.
Don’t be lax in hostels or accommodations either. I made the mistake of taking out my cash in front of a stranger once, thinking that she won’t go so far as to rob her roommate. Guess who found out the hard way when she returned to find her lock broken, her cash stolen, and the aforementioned stranger gone?
6. Spread Out Your Valuables
Heard of the saying “don’t keep all your eggs in one basket”? The same applies for your valuables. Always try to spread your cash and cards out into different bags. This reduces the chances of you being utterly stranded should some quick-fingered thief do away with all the money you have on you.
Also, try to hide your cash in odd places. I’ve heard of friends hiding theirs in Ricola sweet boxes and personally, I stashed mine in between sanitary pads.
7. Get Yourself Insured
Travel insurance is so crucial, especially if you intend to stay abroad for longer periods of time. It protects you in the event of flight delays, injuries, theft and more.
After discovering that my money was stolen, I immediately made a police report. However, it was essentially useless in terms of recovering my cash. But, I filed in the report for an insurance claim and managed to get back the full sum.
As I was travelling for my uni exchange, I opted for the insurance recommended by my school, which was this insurance package.
8. Start Early & End Early
When I was travelling alone, I felt safer moving around in the day. So, I made it a point to start early and to spend my nights resting instead.
Starting the day early is great if you’re visiting some insanely popular location like the Eiffel Tower. You don’t have to deal with jostling crowds and also, scammers and pickpockets will still be in bed. Bonus: you’ll get a photo without photobombers.
Besides, spending the night in doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy new experiences. For instance, you can chat with your Airbnb hosts or hostel roommates over dinner. Locals tend to have really interesting stories to share about the culture of their city and who knows, you may make a new friend whom you can visit in future.
9. Stay Connected
Honestly, with technology, you’re never truly alone. Make it a point to check in with a friend regularly so if you disappear off the grid, someone will raise the alarm. Also, this keeps any loneliness you might feel at bay.
10. Find Ways Around Your Limitations
Lastly, don’t let your limitations hold you back!
For instance, if there’s a place that you want to visit but you can’t get there through public transport and you can’t drive, just join a tour. It’s slightly costlier but at least you won’t return with regrets. Tours are also great ways to meet new friends and better understand the story behind a place.
Solo travelling really isn’t all that scary if you’re well-prepared. But, it does take a little push of courage to make the decision.
As much as I love travelling with friends, sometimes we get so caught up with our little inside jokes and conversations that we don’t get to savour the whole experience of being somewhere new.
Also, travelling alone is incredibly liberating because you don’t have to worry about your companion’s travelling style. If you’re still hesitant about travelling solo, start small – leave your friends and try spending a weekend alone.
Ultimately, just have lots of fun and do you!