Essential Tips for Solo Explorers
One of the most common questions I get asked by hopeful female travellers over the years is “how” – “how do you stay safe?”, “how do you get around when you don’t speak the local language?”
After five years of solo traveling in countries such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Iran and Myanmar, I’ve come to realise no one is ever 100% ready before hitting the road, and over-thinking the worst case scenarios will only ruin the experience. But to sate your wanderlust doesn’t mean taking unnecessary risks. From packing essentials, solo-photography to street smarts advice, here’s a list of 10 useful solo travel tips that will help you feel prepared, whether you are a first-time solo traveller looking for that extra push or a seasoned explorer.
Take Baby Steps
Not sure where to begin? Start off with a short trip or a weekend getaway on your own in a country close by. Choose a place with a developed tourism industry to support you, or a destination where you can speak the local language. I’d recommend building up to longer and more adventurous trips as your travel instincts and ability to adapt will come from experience.
Social media, with its many pros and cons, can be a great tool when traveling. Whether it’s just a tweet, a Facebook check-in, or a Snapchat, these digital breadcrumbs will assure your family and friends back home that you’re safe.
Make sure you keep a consistent schedule – say that my family doesn’t see my daily WhatsApp text for three days straight, they know something is probably not quite right. It’s also a good idea to share your itinerary with at least one friend or family member before you leave so that they can easily locate you if you had been vague about your whereabouts.
I know it can be daunting to figure out what to pack without much (or any) prior experience in the place you plan to visit. Whether you’re carrying a backpack or a suitcase, here are some tips on the useful items to pack:
– Lock(s): especially useful when staying at backpacker accommodation where private lockers are available in dorms.
– Travel medical kit: what goes into your medical kit depends on where you go. If you’re heading to countries where medical treatments and pharmacies are ‘less regulated,’ or where English is not widely spoken, you will want to be as prepared as possible. Mine usually contains painkillers, anti-diarrhea and cold/flu meds, bandages and alcohol swabs.
– Personal safety alarm: a good item to bring instead of pepper spray which is illegal in many countries. Makes a loud sound when you press it in an emergency.
Quick tip: The best way to save space in your baggage is to roll your clothes instead of folding them.
I’ve met people who travel without a sim card and I honestly have no idea how they do it. When you travel alone, the internet is your best friend for obvious reasons (Google Maps, Uber, last minute ticket/accommodation booking, etc).
Purchasing a sim card upon arrival and at the airport is the easiest thing to do and I wouldn’t recommend looking for one after you enter the city, as communication can be difficult if you don’t speak the language.
Act, Think and Dress Like A Local
When you’re visiting a country where the culture is different from your own, the last thing you want to do is attract unwanted attention or in the worst scenario, offend the locals or even violate the law. Observe what the locals are wearing and follow.
This is not only limited to, for example Muslim countries where women must wear a hijab, cover up the body, but with many countries across the globe. If you’re taking public transportation, act like you take it everyday. Try not to stand on the street with a map looking lost, but rather check the map, how to buy a ticket etc, before you leave your room or at a restaurant/cafe.
Speaking of unwanted attention… let’s get down to business. If there’s one piece of advice that I can give for (single) solo female travellers it would be this: bring a ring with you and wear it on your ring finger when necessary. It’s not like you have to put on the ring from day one. I’m always open to conversations with the locals whenever I get the chance as it’s the best way to learn about other cultures.
When it comes to chatting with men, while more than often are friendly and genuine, sometimes I find myself in a situation where the conversation suddenly goes in a completely different direction. Trust your instincts if they tell you something is off – and act upon it. The ring is the most effective approach I’ve tried so far to avoid any uncomfortable encounters.
Expand Your Instagram Gallery Like a Pro
Ever wondered how travel bloggers take awesome photos of themselves against canyon backdrops and snow dusted mountains? Turns out, it’s embarrassingly simple. The only equipment you need is a sturdy tripod (plus patience and not worrying about looking silly). Traveling with a tripod might sound like a hassle but it’s not if you carry it with the right bag.
Use Street Smarts
Travelling alone doesn’t make you a target. Your behaviour does. Walk purposefully with your head up (i.e. look like you know where you’re going even if you don’t) and avoid holding onto your phone on quiet streets. Walk next to couples or other women or even ask for help if you feel uncomfortable.
When I was in Sigiriya (a UNESCO World Heritage site), Sri Lanka, I was using the self-timer to take photos of myself, and a group of men were staring at me the whole time, which left me feeling awkward and uncomfortable. They then started following me as I stopped at another spot to set up my tripod. I was aware that they were standing on either side, and even as far as purposely standing in front of my camera. I decided to ask a couple in front of me to help press the shutter button instead of setting the self-timer. I definitely felt much more comfortable having done so.
It’s OK to be Scammed
What? I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. I’ve seen many travellers who are so stubborn when it comes to scams. If they know that they are being charged the “tourist price” by a taxi driver who denies it, they would stand there and argue with driver until they’re offered the “local price”.
Usually, you’re just wasting time and often the amount you’re paying isn’t much more than the real price. There’s no need to start yelling – and seriously who wants to be angry when they travel! If you can’t change the situation, the only thing you can alter is your mindset.
Embrace This Time Of Your Life
But most importantly, do not be afraid.
Solo travel is not for everyone – but if you never try, you’ll never know. The world is inherently a good place. Enjoy taking the time to be with just you and your thoughts – you’ll become more confident and self-reliant because of it.