Travelling solo is a daunting prospect. You bought your tickets, you packed your bag, and now youre waiting for a bus/train/plane. All. On. Your. Own. Heres a 10 step guide to having fun, being safe and making sure you dont end up in prison for possession of paracetamol…
1) Split-second precision… sort of.
Its a safety thing. If you’re going somewhere alone, especially if it’s in an unfamiliar country, keep an itinerary detailing your leaving time, flight numbers and arrival home time (it doesn’t have to be to the minute – just a rough idea that can be updated as your plans progress.) Send this to your family/roommate or anyone looking out for you. This means if anything happens and you are delayed, someone will be looking for you. It also helps prevent barrages of “OMG massive ash cloud over Heathrow airport- are you ok???” phone calls if you’re in Australia and want some peace and quiet.
Scan your passport into the computer before leaving and e-mail it to yourself. Identity theft is sadly common and if you find yourself at the embassy reporting a stolen passport, you can help them out a little by showing them your details and all the numbers no one remembers.
Call the bank before you set foot outside the country. When banks notice your card is being used elsewhere (especially if you’re on a big shopping spree), they can deactivate it. And then you’re stuck. If you go to the bank beforehand and let them know youre travelling, they’ll put a note on your account so it won’t get shut off. And check you’re not using a soon-to-expire card. Trust me on this: realising your card won’t work half an hour away from boarding a flight is horrible. (The frantic and inevitable “muuum… heeeeeelp! call wasn’t fun either).
4) Secret stash
Buy a purse belt (yes, one of those horrible clippy things I’m afraid.) It fits under your clothes and holds the things that would cause the most problems if lost or stolen (contraception, phone top-up cards, bank cards, essential phone numbers).
5) Keep in touch.
Do you have friends/relatives living far away? Maybe it’s a good time to arrange a visit! Locals in an area can give you a trip off the beaten track that tourists won’t get. It also helps to have check-in points where people you know will be able to see you and make sure everythings ok – especially if you’re on a long trip. You could also return the favour sometime and have your friends visit you! It’s good to keep in touch.
6) Reach out
Sometimes it can get lonely – you’re in an unfamiliar place with no-one you know (and may not even speak the language). Find the nearest tourist info spot and sign up for walking tours, gallery trips, food sampling sessions – anywhere you can meet people. It’s nice finding people who speak your language but if you’re visiting a country so you can learn another one, be brave and go to conversation classes! Students often advertise for language partners. If they’re learning yours, the opportunity to talk with a native speaker is usually snapped up fast – you may even make a new friend. (See step four)
7) Birds of a Feather
Check out the local travellers’ bar (many cities have at least one). I was taking my first holiday in a long time and after a few days in sunny Barcelona, was craving some good old toast and possibly a full English breakfast. Having registered a couple of days earlier that there was a travellers’ bar ten minutes walk from my hotel, I put my head around the door… and was delighted (and full of toast)! It was a great find – the staff ran events and clubs, came from a variety of places so many spoke English – and were able to tell me about interesting places to visit. Barcelona Travellers’ Bar: I cannot thank you enough!
8) All… by… myself. Dont wanna be…
Finding the whole “completely alone thing a little strange? Homesick? Having a “travel buddy” can be great. They don’t have to be travelling as well – they can be at home and missing you – but if they’re travelling too, that can make for some interesting stories! The rule: you can call, e-mail, or skype each other at any time and hear each others’friendly voices. Aaaaw.
Talking of “aaaaw”, I recently had tea and a chat with Ruth my sis-in-law, who has travelled extensively. I asked her to pass on some words of wisdom and wrote the next two tips based on her advice…
9) Sleep for the Skinted
If you’re halfway through your trip and already down to your last few beans, save money on hotels and travel at night! Long flights are good for catching a few hours, and some places (like South America, the US and Australia) have 24-hour night buses and sleeper trains. Board one and wake up somewhere amazing… but do your research first. London buses may run all night but this doesn’t mean you’ll get a nice eight hours on one!
10) A cringeworthy game of charades
Put together a little medical kit – plasters, painkillers, tampons*, insect bite cream and most importantly medicine for anything embarrassing (diahorrea, cystitis etc). Coming down with one of the above is bad enough in your own country but trying to mime “thrush in Guatemalan is something no-one should have to do! It might take up a weeny bit more space in your suitcase, but picture Bridget Jones in “The Edge of Reason acting out “pregnancy test to a Swiss pharmacist and find a way to make that kit fit.
* Tampons are bulky and sometimes hard to find – try a Mooncup instead.
**CAUTION – always check the laws of countries you are visiting. Dubai, for example, will not allow drugs of any kind. Throw away that kit and pray cystitis doesn’t strike**
11) Always know where your towel is.
Douglas Adams was onto something! You can use a towel as an extra blanket, roll it up into a pillow, use it to bind an injury, cover your shoulders or hair if you’re entering a temple etc etc etc. Keep a towel with you at all times!
And to get you in the spirit if youre that way inclined, here are some travelly songs:
- – “Into the Wild soundtrack by Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam). Let’s ignore how the film ends – the soundtrack is amazing!
- – “Back on the Road Again (REO Speedwagon). Yep, it’s shameless old rock.
- – “Born to be Wild (Steppenwolf) from classic film “Easy Rider – for anyone wishing they were travelling by Harley Davidson! (If you are actually travelling by Harley, I salute you).
- – Anything by Sheryl Crow but especially “Soak Up The Sun, “Every Day is a Winding Road and “Leaving Las Vegas
- – “Badman Newton Faulkner is seriously underrated and this hippy “getting out of the city song gets in your head like nothing else! (Also, check out his cover of Massive Attacks “Teardrop)
- – “Caravan Girl (Goldfrapp). Have you seen the music video? It’s about a girl taking herself on a mini road-trip by skateboard and is uplifting and happy!
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