Winter getting you down and craving sunny climates? Don’t have anyone to travel with. Go it alone! That’s what I did. It’s all well and good reading posts about how solo travel changes you, but what do you need to know before you go and when you’re on the road?
Check out my top tips below!
When I had first decided to solo travel to New Zealand in January of this year, it was during a time in my life when everything felt as stagnant as week old dishwater.
At the beginning of 2014 – I was living with my parents and working yet another lackluster job – I faced the prospect of continuing down the path I was already on, or drastically changing my route. So I booked a flight with the money I was saving for a deposit on a house I wasn’t sure I actually wanted, without even thinking about the consequences. Sure, I’d read countless travel books and blogs about what backpack to buy or the perfect way to pack, and waxed lyrical to anyone with ears about my travel plans, but I didn’t know what to expect. Not really.
As I sat on that Hong Kong bound flight – the first stop in a twenty-four hour journey – I began to chastise myself for picking a destination so far away from home. It was my first solo trip – what exactly had I been thinking? Had I completely lost my mind? Think about solo travel and all the books and films (Eat, Pray Love I am looking at you) which reduce these journeys to romantacised ideals and completely neglect to mention you might end up sobbing into your travel pillow on a long flight to another country.
Having said all this, going solo while you travel – and in any area of your life – is completely worth all this. You will go through a vast spectrum of emotions – fear, loneliness, panic, love, awe, happiness – and it is worth it for the sheer joy and the experience of being somewhere totally different and realizing that you did this, all on your own.
So if you’re planning your first solo trip, please don’t be disheartened.
Solo travel is miraculous in its ability to change you and afford you the space and time you need to think about your life. It also provides fantastic scenery as a backdrop and wonderful people as companions. Once I had banished those sneaky tendrils of doubt, I had a ball. Just keep these seven things in mind and you won’t go wrong!
Pack light but be realistic about the things you will need
No-one told me this. They just told me to pack light, which I did. 40 liters light to be precise. Although I have come to think fondly of my Osprey Farpoint 55 after all the things we’ve been through together, the reality is size does matter. I spent most of my five months engaging in a frustrating game of tetras, trying to slot everything together in the main compartment, and often ended up with my hiking boots dangling on the outside, whacking into everyone as I walked and looking like a right tourist.
Take some time out to research bags properly. It’s going to be just the two of you for a while. Leave some space in your bag for souvenirs and anything you might want to bring from home. As a writer, I bought a small laptop with me to help me feel connected to the world I’d left behind in England.
Oh, and bring a nice dress or smart shirt. You never know who you might meet.
Recognise that at times you will be lonely
Ask anyone, my mother in particular, and they will tell you that my five months solo travel was a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute I would be fine, happy, ecstatic and not giving home a second thought, and then the other I would be weeping uncontrollably and skyping my friends and family. If life is a rollercoaster, solo travel is a theme park ride on steroids. Expect to experience a wide spectrum of emotions in a short period of time. At times your confidence will be knocked and you will question your ability, and sanity, but take heart because it’s all worth it. The best advice I can offer anyone thinking of a solo adventure is this: it’s OK to feel not OK. Sometimes you will feel down – that twelve hour overnight bus or terrifying flight in a thunderstorm can leave you shaken – but travelling alone instils in us an ability to pick up the pieces and a steadfast resilience. You will come back a far stronger person.
Research your destination
While I am all for spontaneity, and I truly believe that most of the wonderful things in life happen to us in the spur of the moment, there is a need – especially when planning your very first solo trip – to know what’s in store for you on the other side. I’m usually pretty good at having all my ducks in a row, however, on a recent trip to Bali from Hong Kong I realised that not only did I not have enough cash in any currency to pay for the entry visa into Bali, but I’d forgotten to inform my bank that I would be Indonesia for the next month. And, to top it all off, I didn’t have a working phone.
Believe me, having to be escorted from an airport, with your passport held to ransom, and nervously tying every cashpoint you can find is not what you want to be doing after an overnight flight. A little bit of preparation goes a long way.
Enjoy doing what you want to do
The most wonderful and liberating part of travelling alone is the complete freedom that comes with not having a travel partner. I remember being sat in a café in Melbourne and watching a couple fall out over a guidebook while I sipped at my Americano. Now I’m not saying travelling with others comes with guaranteed rowing (I’ve had many great experiences travelling with friends) but there’s just something so luxurious about waking up and having the ability to decide exactly what you will do all day, guilt free! Whether you want to set yourself up in a café, eat cake and write, walk around a city, head to a museum, or leave your destination immediately, the decision is all yours.
It’s completely normal to be shy or cautious when stepping out of our comfort zone. It can be scary in any aspect of our lives but when you head out into the world completely alone and with only your thoughts for company, it’s not unusual to be frightened. When I arrived in Auckland I was severely jet lagged, a bit shocked that I’d actually gone through with it, and unsure what I was supposed to do. Fast forward four hours and I’m drinking in a local pub with three guys – an American, a Canadian and a guy from Tel Aviv – like I’d known them all my life.
Open up, be personable, be careful, but don’t be afraid.
Solo travelling is good for you. Scientists say so.
The International Journal of Travel and Tourism Research has found through that us solo travellers are a happy bunch.
Lead researcher, Professor Constanza Bianchi of Queensland University of Technology’s Business School, said the team found that the reasons for taking a solo trip ran pretty deep: ‘Travelling alone for holidays provided some participants with the feeling that they had more control over their lives and actions… Solo travelling also offered some participants the possibility of reflection and self-discovery.’
And lastly, be brave, be spontaneous but also be careful
Don’t forget you’re in a foreign country away from home. Have fun, be a little wild, but respect the culture and respect yourself. As long as you’re savvy to the destination, aware of your surroundings and have your wits about you – your trip will probably be life changing.