Some people may say that travelling to a foreign land is a form of escapism and well, why not. If only to leave our present state to refresh our minds and gain new perspectives, I’d say this sort of escapism is good. Yet sometimes, finding a suitable travel partner – much less more than one – can be a pain in the neck. So to that I say, why not travel alone?
I’m no stranger to going solo, having visited the States, Europe, Asia and Australia, and having lived abroad in different countries for a total of 2 years so far. It may seem daunting at first, to be alone so far away from home but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (unless you constantly rely on antibiotics).
As this post is being published, right now, I am possibly having the time of my life in Milan – you guessed it – all on my own! Here are some tips that may help you on your solo journey.
1) Pack just what you need.
Don’t over pack. I’ve done that before, the first time when I went overseas alone for a 6-month exchange program in Canada. Imagine a tiny, scrawny 21-year-old with two huge luggages, both about over the 23kg limit each on planes, and another hand carry 3kg baggage. It was terrible physically, but somehow it didn’t register mentally. At that time, I’d just wanted to leave my country as much and as fast as I could, and nothing else mattered. But if you’d ask me now, I’d say just stick to one check-in and one hand carry. Also, leave room for shopping!
2) Have cash on hand.
This is the second most important thing to remember. If you don’t have cash, at least have a credit card or ATM card that works overseas. You really don’t want to be caught in a stressful situation of having no money to pay for something. If you have a credit card, make sure that it is activated for overseas use, and that the spending limit is increased to a comfortable amount.
3) Do some research first.
I don’t really know anyone who goes to a place without finding out what it’s like there beforehand. This is crucial as it can make or break your trip. Knowing things like weather, language barriers, cultural traditions, technological advancements, transport systems and political situations can help to shape the way you plan your trip. If a dictionary is needed, bring one along. Also, if you’re planning to travel by public transport, you might need coins to pay for tickets or passes. If it’s the summer, you won’t be needing as much clothes as if it were winter.
4) Plan your trip!
This should be the part that’s the most fun before you depart for your destination. However, most people put too much emphasis on this and make it stressful instead. Don’t sweat the small stuff; look at the bigger picture. You’re travelling for the experience and there are just some things in life that you cannot control, no matter how prepared you are. What I normally do is just make a list of things I want to do or places I’d like to see and then slot them into the days I’ll be travelling. It’s a good practice to leave time for travelling to and from the different venues, as well as some space for any unforeseen circumstances that may occur.
The main thing that you should keep in mind though, is the location and type of your accommodation, which should be catered to your travel plans. For example, if you are going to take the train out of the city for day trips, you might want to stay near the train station. If you’re looking for something more affordable, pick hotels with lower star ratings, BnB’s (try Airbnb), hostels or apartments outside the central area. Some questions you may want to ask are whether the hotel has elevators (very important if you have heavy baggage or equipment) or air conditioning; how safe the vicinity around the hotel is; what services they provide and what language the hotel staff speak. I generally read reviews and compare ratings on Trip Advisor and Booking.com before picking a place to stay. Choose a location that is best for your travel activities, not the other way round. Also, do look out for promotional packages!
5) Be flexible.
Things happen and changes will have to be made. If something in your itinerary has to be scrapped or postponed, due to reasons such as a sudden snowstorm, make sure you have a Plan B. Or C. If the train operator is on strike, you may have to cycle or take the bus. When you travel alone, you realise just how much you are at the mercy of the universe.
6) Be practical and keep an open mind.
If you’re going to be offended by the locals and their behaviour, then I’d advise you not to travel. Don’t expect others to act like you, think like you and talk like you. You are you and they are them. There will be things that may seem weird to you at first but with more exposure on your part, you’ll come to accept them as norms in our multicultural world. Always keep in mind that to them, you are the foreigner.
Reach out to the locals to find out more about their lifestyles. Make new friends. If you stay in a hostel, spend some time in the lobby or bar and mix around with fellow travellers. You’ll be surprised at who you meet there. I’ve come across a Japanese lady in her thirties (who looked ten years younger), groups of Chinese students, a middle-aged artist who illustrated his travels on canvas and even a downright nasty receptionist who refused to help me with my luggage.
7) Be appropriately dressed.
Dress right for the occasion. If you’re visiting religious sites or places of worship, it’s best to stick to plain clothes (no graphic tees) and be properly covered. Some temples provide a garment for visitors who need to cover up more. Walking shoes are a must if you’re going to do a lot of walking.
8) Have a positive mindset.
As the saying goes, you don’t know how strong you are until strength’s all you’ve got left. Or something like that. That’s why people have hope. And you, you need to think positively as much as you can. I don’t mean prancing unicorns and sprinkled glitter dust (snow, get it?) but the fact is that you’re alone. And if you’re going to sit around and mope all day, no one will be there to comfort you or cheer you up. You cheer your damn self up.
Sorry about that sudden outburst. I just really cannot stand unhappy, pessimistic people. Life is too short to fret about the not-so-significant things. Having a positive mindset will help you come up with solutions when things go awry, instead of ask why the problem exists. Besides, you’re on a trip. Make the most out of it.
9) Try local food.
This tip can be followed to some extent. If you’re not comfortable with trying Nam Tok or Haggis, don’t. You don’t have to force yourself, even though oftentimes pushing boundaries will lead you to interesting discoveries.
10) Avoid looking like a tourist.
If you’re alone, you’ll have a higher chance of being a target for conmen alike. Skip the DSLR if you can, and banish all handheld maps once you’re out of the hotel. If you’re lost, like I’ve been many times, don’t panic. Instead, take in the scenery and be thankful that you get to explore this little unknown gem. If someone suspicious starts to eye you, ignore them and don’t make eye contact. Just do what you’re doing and head somewhere with more people around so you are safe. Always look as if you know what you’re doing so you don’t seem vulnerable. If you are really lost, pop into a restaurant or shop and ask for assistance. Many people underestimate the willingness of others to help them when in need. In all my time abroad, I’ve never been mugged or robbed (fingers crossed) so hopefully this tip will help you.
These are all the tips I have for now. Do you any of your own? Add them to this list in the comments section below!
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