It’s not easy. It can be frustrating, overwhelming and daunting to even think about. On a solo trip or expedition, you are signing yourself up to be travel agent, head chef, chief medic, social chair, DJ, and porter. Likely, you will make decisions that will lead you to an undesirable location such as a sketchy part of town or up a steeper, more slippery and exposed scramble than you bargained for. But solo travel can be the most rewarding, inspiring and simple way of contextualizing what it means to be human through exploring new places and cultures, meeting new people and figuring out what makes everyone (including you) tick. Here are just a few tips for the art of solo travel.
1. Meet people. Locals, extranjeros–it’s all good. One of the most fascinating things about being a lone wolf is that it makes you open up. All too often, there is a tendency to use our compatriots as a social crutch in a foreign, often times uncomfortable land. Reach out, and don’t gravitate to just people who are from your country or speak your first language. Get contacts and stay in touch. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had have been when people I met traveling visit me, or I crash on their couch years later after only spending a week together.
2. Learn the language. Even if its just a few words or phrases, a little goes a long way. Not only will it heelp you out in ia pinch, it will open up new doors to getting insights into what new cultuures are all about. Plus, it’s a great takeaway andd as thee world gets more connected, speaking multiple languages allows for more authentic connectivity. Finally, it helps with thrift.
3. Be thrifty. While I’m not advocating stealing, find ways to come on free or practically free things. I recommend bread, coffee and camping as the basics. If you spend $4 USD a day on coffee and you are traveling for 7 weeks…well then you just need to budget based on your own needs. Saving is what enables a lot of people to travel and to stretch out trips. Some internet resources for finding free or cheap accommodations such as Couchsurfing or Hostelworld will help you figure out where to sleep. Bringing a one person tent can help with opening up a variety of options. They are quite small and can be pitched in urban backyards and allow you to do solo treks.
4. When in Rome… Whether it is drinking mate or just shooting the shit, figure out what locals do and where and how they do it. Figuring out why they do it is part of the experience of immersion and the joy of learning about new cultures. Learning what people enjoy to eat will also help you with rule 3.
5. Recharge your batteries. Do what you need to do to keep present. If you find yourself thinking or worrying aabout things back home, be proactive. Use all the time on your hands while you’re away to draft your goals and priorities for when you get home. If you find yourself desperately missing loved oness, put time aside for a Skype and cater to their schedule. You can also write a good old fashioned heartfelt postcard. Don’t forget adequate postage. I’ve had many an undelivered postcard, including dozens I sent from Egypt. There’s nothing like being excited when you get home and asking, “did you get all my postcards??” No.
Solo travel is exhausting. You are in charge of virtually all the decisions regarding your route and well being. You have to figure all this out on your lonesome, most of the time. When in doubt, consult your people either on the road or back home. Also, get adequate rest. My favorite place to catch up on this is by killing two birds with one stone by napping on those lengthy boat, bus, plane or train transits. There is something about the lull of engines that conks me right out. Don’t forget a Buff or some form of eye shade and ear plugs.
Finally, bring some creature comforts. I love to check out new podcasts or revisit old music I haven’t heard in a while. Sometimes writing can be a great reflective tool and there’s nothing like getting pensive when you have the time and perspective instead of lonely. Accordingly…
6. Document and share your experience. Whether its through writing, photos, or gifts with stories to them, sharing your experience with people who care about you can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the solo travel experience. This is also important because you don’t have your usual travel buddies to ask “remember that time when…?” Finally, this is a great way for you to share with others you meet along the way. Make the effort to stay in touch with them!
Finally, solo traveling can be a roller coaster of extreme highs of victorious scrambles to incredible lone view points and long nights of deep conversation with fascinating new friends from around the world. It can be lows of self-doubt, missing home and all your usual comforts. But my advice is that traveling alone is a totally awesome thing to do. Not only are we lucky to get to travel at all, sometimes making ourselves shed our usual norms and foregoing our dream team of travel companions can be one of the most exhilarating memories of your life and instil a confidence through independence and self-reliance which can in turn make you a more responsible and reliable person for others. After all, it really is just a blip in time in the blip in which is our short tenure on this culturally and ecologically diverse planet. So, don’t wait. Head out when you can, even if it’s solo and enjoy the ride!