Travelling alone can be a life changing experience. If you have done it before – maybe to your next city or your next state or to a different country, you will know. Every place has its own charm and if you have travelled alone, you will agree to me when I say that it gives you so many new perspectives, it shows you so many things which you might have missed when travelling with someone.
For me, my first solo trip was to Vietnam. You might have already heard me say but let me share it again – Vietnam was my first solo, first backpacking and first international trip ever. I have had my share of experiences – from good to weird ones and so I am pretty much a good candidate for you to get some ideas and tips & tricks from. Seriously, take my word…!!!
Travelling alone can be a life changing experience – it can be a good or a bad one though, being totally honest. So here are some pointers that you must always follow to avoid circumstances you don’t want yourself to be in.
Know your Budget well – When it comes to travelling, budget is the biggest concern and the one of the most important things you need to worry about – other than your documents. Know your budget well and how it translates to the place you are going to visit. For example, a 50,000 INR is a pretty good money for the place I am from, Guwahati. But the same 50,000 INR won’t be sufficient if you are travelling to any European country. So know how much you have and get a rough plan about how to spend those and where not to spend so that you are on the safer side of the spectrum.
Get your documents ready, specific to your destination – One thing that is really very important are your documents. Be it your passport, your international driving license, your health insurance, etc. These are the things that will actually help you out in having a smooth travel. Even if you lose all your money, never lose your documents because these will save you in your urgent situations. Suppose you got mugged, if you at least have your passport with you, your country’s embassy can help you out easily – without creating any hassle along the way. Also, some places will ask for extra documents from you. For example, if you have to visit Arunachal Pradesh, you will not be granted permission into the state, even if you are an Indian, without proper Inner Line Permit to enter the state. Same goes to other countries as well. Do your research well and get your documents ready.
Book at least first 3 days of accommodation – If you are going to a new place, even if you are travelling like a backpacker (who usually doesn’t have a plan), try to book at least 3 days of accommodation before hand to be super sure. This will save you a good amount of time and hassle as you need not worry about where to spend the night. New cities can be overwhelming, but if you have a place to crash, you have solved the major part of the trouble. When I am travelling, I will first make sure I have a place to stay the first night at least. I can plan the other things later. Go to sites like Hostel World (my go-to site for hostels) and book yourself a room after checking the reviews. It will be silly to be over-confident and later keep dragging your baggage along the streets and then choosing a really shitty hotel with questionable environment. You don’t want that.
Pack Light – I cannot emphasise enough how much important this point is. I have written in-depth blogs about why and how to pack light. You should definitely read about Reasons to Travel Light and How to Travel Light. It should give you a good head-start.
Take your time – A new place can be overwhelming. So many things to do. So many things to understand. So many people you can meet and greet. My best advice would be to take your time in understanding everything. Don’t be hard on yourself and push yourself to do everything right from the start. Take some time, go to a coffee shop, talk to the locals if possible and get the general idea of the place. Relax. You are travelling to break your routine life. Don’t rush.
Always have the option to stay connected – This is to keep a safe option while travelling. When I did my first bike trip from Guwahati to Jorhat (a rather small one but was my first), I switched on Live Location so that my father can see me all the time. This is a stretch but my point is, make sure you have connections ready for you when you need them. When you are taking a rented car, take a picture of the number plate and send it to someone. If you are booking a hotel, send the information to someone. If you are going out, leave your information at the hostel or hotel counter. There can be a number of ways you can be sure that you are well within reach. My point is, at least do the minimum so that you are safe in an unknown place. Use your phone to your advantage.
Know how to use the maps – When travelling, the maps can be your greatest friend. You don’t need to refer to the maps all the time but if you know how to read the maps (take reference of the major landmarks), you will be way ahead than most. Trust me, I actually learnt how to use maps, other than the basic navigation, while I was travelling Vietnam. Although I couldn’t understand the place names, I could understand the roads and the landmarks. It helped me a lot in finding my way through the streets, getting to coffee houses, getting buses, etc. As I was travelling mostly alone, the maps did help me a lot.
Smile- You are alone, not lonely. Whenever you get the chance, smile at people. Don’t give your creepy smile but a welcoming one. Nod your head a bit if you need to. This is a very good welcoming gesture and people tend to reciprocate to you. This instantly makes a connection and helps you make friends. You are travelling alone – that doesn’t mean you have to be socially distant from people (talking about post or pre Corona season). Trust me, the best advice you can get is from the locals. So make friends with them. Learn about them and their culture. I do that all the time. From the tea stalls to food stalls, from vegetable sellers to the rickshaw pullers. So many stories to listen to. This also boosts your confidence in the new place you are visiting
Learn the basic words and phrases – The best thing you can do while travelling is learning a few words and phrases in the local language. This is a great way to show respect, a great way to show that you care. It also helps you learn something new. Learning the local language helps you with so many things while travelling. You instantly make a connection with the local vendor you are visiting, you send out positive vibes, make them smile with your attempt to speak their language, all good vibes. For me, I can’t even count how many times I got free snacks, free tours, free banh mi just because I said Xin Chao (hello), Ngon (tasty), Toi Rat Theek (I like it), etc. I havent used the actual Vietnamese letters here but you get the point. This makes them smile or laugh because it shows you respect their culture and trying to show respect. Sit with them, laugh with them, eat with them. Make mistakes. Everyone loves the attempt. That’s why you are travelling, right? To learn about the place you are visiting.
Go to local meetups – Nowadays all the cities conduct small meet-ups for travellers where the locals come in and interact with travellers. This is a great way to meet up with your fellow travellers (your potential travel partners), meet local people who are enthusiastic enough to help and share information, etc. Yes, all meet-ups may not be trustworthy and so I would highly suggest you to check out meet-ups organised by the Couchsurfers to start with. They are the nicest people ever. (I am also a CS member, you know I am nice, right? *wink* )
Become a regular – One thing I would highly suggest is that, if you are spending like a week in some place, try to find a food joint or a coffee place and be a regular there. It can be for small breakfast, coffee time, etc. This helps a lot. For me, I would choose one particular food spot and go there regularly. With time, they start giving you extra stuff, they know what you like (or want) and would prepare them for you as soon as they see you, sometimes I got free stuff but most importantly, I made good connections with them. They would give small tips and tricks to roam around that city, they would share information about their place and suggest some local spots which aren’t touristy. Trust me, I roamed about a lot – to good places with no foreigners at all. Gave me a lot of inside picture about Vietnam. That’s the reason I can never forget Vietnam as it treated me so well.
Take Local Transport – There are a lot of benefits when choosing local transport while roaming around the city. One – it saves money. Two – it helps make connections along the road. Three – it shows you the real picture of the place you are travelling. Also, local transports are safer than private cars. You get to be with the locals all the time. So choose local transport whenever you can.
Try to avoid late night trips – I will say that even for your city. Late nights can be safe but also can be totally dangerous. If you are in a new place, it is best to avoid night-outs or if you really need to do that, stick to open and public places.
Emit Confidence all the way – It is easy to look confused or lost but when you are in a foreign land, it is best to show enough confidence so that others know that you aren’t new. You can definitely ask for directions but you can just smile and ask rather than being confused about the whole thing. Even if they can’t answer you, you can just say like “aah no problem, thanks a lot” and walk away smiling and ask when you are like 100m away and not ask every single person you see. Never show you are desperate.
Lie a little – Well yeah, lying is bad but it is also subjective. When you are travelling, you have to keep yourself safe at all times. Trust everyone but no one. When you are asking for directions, you can add that you have to meet a friend. This shows you aren’t alone. Asking for help is normal but don’t look lost and helpless about the situation (even if you are).
Trust yourself – See, you already took the hardest step of making this trip turn into a reality. You can really do it. Just trust your instincts and move ahead. Be calm as it will help you find solutions easily.
Listen to your Spider Sense – Most of the times, we are warned ahead in our minds about a situation. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. You don’t have to push yourselves if you really aren’t comfortable. Trust your spider sense as it almost always tells you the right thing.
What do you think of these points? Have anything else in mind?
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Your Friendly Neighbourhood Traveller