The idea for A Guide to Solo Travel came last week, when I met someone from Crawley, England. The furthest he'd ever traveled was Wales. One of his friends suggested booking a four-week holiday to Thailand. However, this 'friend' decided at the last-minute that he didn't have enough money to make the trip so he decided to come on his own. After a couple of days in Bangkok, he went to Chiang Mai, and I guess he's having fun!
Traveling the world might not be a priority for your friends or family members but this shouldn't stop you from packing your bags and booking a weekend break or buying a round round the world ticket. Having traveled on my own for short and extended periods of time I hope to assuage the fears of those considering a solo travel.
So you've booked your flight, but you aren’t sure what type of accommodation you want to stay in. On my trip to Asia, I stayed mainly in hostels and guest houses as they tend to be cheaper than hotels and make it easier to meet people. Most hostels comprise bunk beds, shared bathrooms and shared lounge; I've slept in rooms having 2 bunks all the way up to 9! Many hostels do offer female only dorms. Most guest houses are family run businesses and tend to have a cosy atmosphere. Some hostels and guest houses offer private rooms with varying prices, and hence different levels of comfort.
A major factor that could influence the choice of a hostel, is the social atmosphere. Is there a communal area for people to sit around, chat, and have a few drinks? How easy is it to meet people? There are some places that live on the reputation of being a party hostel, which could have a bar, happy hour, drinking games and music playing all night; with such, you won't get much sleep.
For hostel reservations, I use Hostelworld.com or get recommendations from other people I meet.
As soon as you walk in, drop your bags down, introduce yourself to your roommates and let the travel bios begin: ‘What's your name?’, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Where have you been so far?’, and ‘How long was your trip?’ etc. Throughout your trip you'll be doing this over and over, like having to enter your username and password for online banking, in order to progress further. You also get to ask your roommates what their plans are for the time they'll be spending there, if you want to meet for dinner, and eavesdrop on conversations (but get rid of this habit when you get back home!) A perfect way to enter a conversation is “I couldn't help but overhear you talking about X place”.
If you are concerned about your valuables, most hostels have lockers or you can ask to leave them with reception. Be warned, in a hostel you'll get next to no privacy – being woken up by the sound of people, snoring, leaving and arriving. This hasn't happened to me yet but don't be surprised if you woken up by the sound of a busy couple.
Stay in a hotel
If/when you get tired of sharing a room with other people, book a couple of nights in a hotel or private room, where you can have your own space, bathroom and get a good night’s sleep. I'm not saying you have to stay in the Ritz but you will be able to find something within your budget.
Go On Pub Crawls
Nothing like a bit of bonding over (a lot of) alcohol! You'll be forced to interact with other travelers, and the groups that form when you travel will be broken down making room for you. The only culturally enlightening part of a Pub Crawl is finding out which drinks have the highest percentage of alcohol. If you have a locker key, ask reception to hold onto it, and only take enough cash to get a ride home; and leave your phone at home!
You make plans destiny laughs
You wake up the next morning and you've got your new BFF travel buddies. You even have mutual friends on Facebook; it's unbelievable how much you have in common. You recap the next stages of your plans and make arrangements to travel to the next destination again or meet up again in the future; yes, it's that simple!
Go to bars on your own
Back home, everyone always makes fun of the person sitting on their own in the pub having a pint. When you travel, going out on your own doesn't matter; find a bar, preferably with a pool table. You won't have any trouble making friends on Khao San Road, Bangkok.
Buy a Local Sim
With Wi-Fi available everywhere, this is becoming less of a necessity especially if you are traveling to multiple countries. But in the event you may need to contact the place you are staying to let them now you are arriving late or get directions a local number comes in handy. Also useful if you need to contact someone in an emergency.
Dave Dean from Too Many Adapters, has written a useful guide for buying a SIM card in Southeast Asia. One thing to bear in mind is roaming charges within the country you are in. For example, I bought a sim card in Delhi, India when I arrived, but was living in Himachal Pradesh most of the time, so my calls and text messages cost me more; I was also unable to buy a data package.
Strapped for Cash!
When traveling on your own, the last thing you want is to be left stranded without any cash. Firstly, I would advise taking at least 2 bank cards with you, and keep them apart when you travel. If you inform your bank that you will be using your card abroad, there is less of a chance your card will be blocked for suspected fraud.
As a tourist, the chances of you ending up in no go areas are very small. If you have any concerns, ask at reception which areas should I avoid? For UK nationals, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website has a section for travel advice, which is regularly updated.
Some people turn their nose up at these because they don't like the idea of being herded around like a bunch of sheep; but given the opportunity I sign up, especially if they are free or funded by donations. They are a great way to meet other people and gain interesting facts about the place you are visiting.
Social Media is your Best Friend
The shared economy and social networks allow people to connect like never before.
*Couchsurfing isn't just about having a free bed for a few days, you can also arrange a get-together over coffee and a place for your bags while you wait to travel to your next destination. Dave from Traveldave.co.uk, wrote a comprehensive post on using Tinder* – not just for hooking up with locals but getting hints and tips on lesser known locations.
Also, a new app – Outbound*, allows users to compare travel itineraries and communicate with people traveling to the same destination as you.
Connect with people via Facebook groups, and post a message stating you are in the area and would like to have a rendezvous.
Following some of the above will go a long way to making your solo journey much easier. So all that's left is pick a destination, step out of your comfort zone and hit the road.
*As always, take the necessary precautions when meeting people you haven’t met before.
Do you travel on your own? What other tips do you have?