Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Have you ever shelved a travel plan just because you couldn't find a travel companion? It happens all the time due to mismatch in work schedules, shortage of annual leaves, different travel objectives, different gender (this do happen in conservative societies), etc. However, these are the pre-conditions to taking the first step to travel solo instead of killing the travel idea just because you have no companion.
I have been travelling solo on most of my journeys in the last 12 years and have gained invaluable experiences from those overseas trips. To put it simply, I travelled alone when going for long trips as not many of my friends can afford long leaves from work. Neither do I trade-off my travel objectives just to get others — with deviating objectives — to team up for a journey. Don't worry, travelling solo doesn't mean you will be lonely.
Many a time, travelling alone allows more freedom and flexibility to do what one desired most. It will be a time to explore the destination as well as to discover more about your own self — your ability to adapt and being independent in solitude. And you can make new friends from around the world too.
In this post, I will share on the things to expect and to be prepared when travelling solo. I will also highlight situations that do not encourage travelling alone.
1. Know Yourself
Before deciding to travel alone, ask yourself if you can travel in solitude.
- Are you independent enough?
- Can you make your own decisions?
- Are you scare of being alone, eat alone or even sleep alone?
You will also need to be able to communicate with others amicably — travelling alone doesn't mean you need to isolate yourself from the rest of the world. As a matter of fact, people who always travel with companions and over-relying on their companions always find themselves unable to interact directly with locals in foreign countries. So, ask yourself this question:
- Do you always stand behind your travel companions when they ask for information, pay for expenses, etc? In other words, have someone been holding your hands all this while?
If you are always doing that, you will need to put yourself on the front line and start being in control. In fact, you can get to know more about yourself and your abilities — and inabilities — when on the journey. This is why many travellers said that "travelling is more about discovering your true self". What you used to know about yourself may not be true.
If you think you can manage travelling alone, start planning for your first solo journey. It will be a test on your independency.
2. Pick a Suitable Destination
Having decided to go on a lone journey, the next key thing is to decide on a safe travel destination. Most places in the world are safe for solo travellers but not all — especially the lesser travelled regions.
For male solo travellers — like me — it is easy to pick almost any place and go.
For female solo travellers, there will be more considerations when choosing a destination. Places that have high crime rates, especially against females, are best to be avoided for unseasoned first-time-solo travellers. It will not be enjoyable if you need to be on a high-alert state throughout the whole journey.
Some Muslim countries have particularly strict rules in regard to females, especially single females walking on the streets. Find out their rules and know what to expect before embarking on the journey. If you need to can your openness about the way you dress and your disagreeing thoughts about local culture, do it and adapt to the conservatism until you are out of those countries. Otherwise, find another destination that best suits your character.
If you are really worried about travelling solo, plan your first solo journey in a nearby country or in a country that you had been to. After getting used to going around alone, you will be able to plan further and longer journeys to places that you had not been to yet.
In 2006, I did my first solo trip in Malaysia for 13 days before embarking on a 23-day journey in Eastern China alone. From than on, travelling alone is a piece of cake to me.
3. Travel Safe
Safety is always a lengthy topic, but I will briefly run through the more important aspects when on the trip. The bottom line when it comes to safety is always to use common sense — how you stay safe in your hometown is generally how you will stay safe abroad.
Being alone, you will need to take care of your own safety as there won't be others to watch your back. Also, travellers from "very-safe" places have the tendency to be overly complacent about safety.
Join a day tour or form a small group to visit any secluded spots.
When in doubt about certain travel information, especially text written in an alien language, check with accommodation staff or a trustworthy third-party.
Walk on paths with more people. Avoid walking in the alleys alone or in the dark.
Don't keep looking at your mobile phone when on the streets. Take note of your surroundings.
Stay away from alcohols and drugs. Stay sober when alone.
Don't accept drinks from strangers and make sure you finished your drinks before leaving the table for the washroom. Don't drink anything that has left your sights.
Don't stay out too late at night.
The list can go on and on. More importantly, manage your trust and distrust of people well. Generally, most people can be trusted — except those people that walk up to you and seems unusually friendly for no apparent reasons. When that happens, ignore what they said, just smile politely and walk away. If you are not sure if what they said are true, seek second opinions or ask Google.
4. Get to Know Other Travellers
Travelling solo doesn't mean that you will be lonely — unless you choose to be so by keeping to yourself throughout the journey. On the initial onset of a journey, you may think that you will be travelling solo, but you may be able to get to know other travellers along the way and partner with them to visit certain places of interest.
On one of my solo trips, I spent 3 months travelling in China but I was not really alone most of the time. I partnered with fellow travellers with common objectives for few days and changed partners along the way as I journeyed across Southern China. You can read my travelogue on the long trip. I briefly mentioned where I got to know other travellers and teamed up with them to go places.
If you want to find other travellers to travel together, don't stay in hotels. Hotels usually do not have a social environment to promote interactions between travellers. Also, travellers in pairs, or small groups, and staying in rooms will usually keep to themselves. It will not be easy to get into their circles.
The best places to know other travellers are usually the international (youth) hostels. Well, most youth hostels in European countries have age limits that cut-off at 40 years old but hostels in Asian countries usually do not have age restrictions — older travellers have more spending power than youths. So, hostels can be a place that suits all. They do have rooms too.
The common areas and dormitories of hostels provide great meeting places for solo travellers to meet one another from over the world. Mingle around and find out each other's travel plan for the next couple of days, team up with those whom you can trust and have the same objectives as you. If for some reasons you need to break away from other travellers, just excuse yourself with other plans. It's a test on your communication and interpersonal skills.
See? You don't really have to be travelling alone. Over times, you may even like this way of travelling instead of sticking to someone you know throughout a journey — even after some conflicts.
5. Refrain from Sensitive Talks
When you are travelling with companions, you will have the tendency to discuss a lot of things with them when confined to a small group on the trip. Since they are your close acquaintances and know one another pretty well, you will probably talk about personal issues and many other things under the sky. All discussions are kept within the group.
When you are tavelling solo, you will have opportunities to mingle with locals and get to know other travellers from other places. Without knowing them very well, it will be better to refrain from discussing sensitive topics, especially religious subjects, political issues and sexual matters. You will never know how the other parties will react to what you said. They may be closely-related to a religion or supported a political party you commented on. To people from conservative societies, they may deem sexual discussions as an act of sexual harassments.
In short, talk only about travels and probably introducing your own country to them as a travel destination. Just smile away any topics that may be inappropriate — especially the three topics mentioned above.
6. Manage Your Money
Unless you have the money to splurge on standard hotel rooms (usually for two persons) and eating in restaurants, you will probably want to save some money. It does not make sense to travel alone but incur travelling expenses for two persons.
In most cases, solo travellers usually travel like budget travellers — staying in hostels or in single rooms, eating at cheaper places, etc. Also, most flight promotions on long-haul carriers are meant for two to go and not applicable to solo travellers. So, flying to a far-away destination will cost more. This may influence the travel destination too.
To sum it up, travelling alone can cost a little more when compared to travelling with a companion (after splitting expenses by two). So, manage your money wisely if you don't intend to spend more. However, don't torment yourself if you can afford paying for the luxury level you are comfortable with.