10 Tips for solo travelers
Solo traveler is someone who is travelling alone. He/She might be alone but will never be lonely. The world is full of friends that we haven’t met and when you travel alone, chances are that you will notice them more and be more willing to open conversations. Or as in most cases, they will open a conversation with you.
When you travel alone, your senses are heightened. You see more, hear more, perceive more, absorb more and at an overall level your consciousness is at its peak when you are alone. I am a big fan of solo travel. Even if you have many groups that you can travel with – family, colleagues, friends, group departures, yet you must take at least one trip every year with just yourself.
On the other hand, if you are not able to find any companion for a trip that you really want to take, don’t wait. Head out alone. The basic tip for any solo traveller - specially for newbies - is to always remember that there are millions of people who are travelling solo in the world at any given point of time. Be it for business or leisure or research or army duty or anything at all. Billions of people of all nationalities, gender, age, socio-economic backgrounds, literate/ illiterate have done it successfully and so can you.
Solo travel can make you independent like nothing else can.
Here are my favorite tips for new and seasoned travelers alike that can make your solo journey a tad more comfortable and less anxiety-ridden.
Tip No. 1 : Don’t Appear Lost : Even if you are, do not appear to be a lost traveller, confused at a cross-road with a road map in hand. These days you can be far more discreet with maps downloaded on your mobile phone. It should look as if you are just reading an interesting message from a friend. If you do need to refer to maps or guidebooks, try and do it inside a shop or a coffee place. Appearing confused and looking like a tourist is like sending a signal to potential trouble-makers. And while on the topic of not looking like tourists, how about ditching those bulky DSLRs hanging from the necks?
Tip No. 2 : Act like a local : Just like a local back in your own hometown. Don't do things you wouldn't do even in your own city like giving your details to strangers, inviting them to your hotel / hostel without knowing them well. Or wearing dirty, hippie clothes. Or buying things from vendors at the very first price they quote etc. :-)
Tip no. 3 : Travel Light : Do not think of carrying your entire household and everything that you have ever needed just because you are alone. In case of an emergency, everything can be purchased locally. Made in China stuff is available the world over. You should only carry as much luggage as you can carry yourself comfortably. Remember you may have to sometimes run to catch trains / buses etc. or walk long distances within stations / airports itself. And you have to do everything yourself !
Specially for women : Do not carry cumbersome handbags that you need to constantly adjust or carry on your forearm (who invented this ??!!). Just use a backpack or a cross body sling bag. Anything which keeps your bag in your view and leaves your hands free is a good bag to carry.
Tip No, 4 : Research for typical tourist scams beforehand : Yes it is true. While bad people can keep coming up with new innovations to trouble people, each region / country has a specific pattern of scams. Like in Rome, fake police coming to you and checking your money for counterfeit currency is an old trick now. Paris is notorious for pick-pockets. So on and so forth. Read up on the standard con-jobs that tourists everywhere can fall prey to. Forewarned is forearmed.
Tip no. 5 : Learn to take your own pictures : Now that you have read up on the tourist scams, you'd know that handing your camera to strangers to click your pictures every now and then may not be a very smart idea. Make use of selfie sticks, tripods/ remotes, selfie options on your phone camera etc.
Tip no. 6 : Keep folks back home updated : Through whatsapp - calling, voice messages, pictures, texts etc. You could even fix a time at which you send them a message every day. Don’t make them keep checking your FB page or their phones to see if a message from you has arrived. Most parents don’t allow even their grown up children to travel alone because they are concerned for their safety. Keeping them updated can help assuage their fears.
Tip no. 7 : Single surplus charge : Although this is less common now but if you do find any of these charges in a hotel or a package, just look for other options who do not penalise you for being single.
Tip No. 8 : Try not to arrive in a new city too late in the night : Or if you can’t avoid it at all then be very well researched on how to reach your destination and confirm your bookings before-hand. You could ask your hotel / hostel for the best way to reach in the night as many modes of transports become unavailable at night.
Tip No. 9 : Avoid utopian expectations :
Human beings are human beings everywhere. Some are good and some are bad. Poverty is a reality everywhere leading to thefts or even general grumpiness. Sometimes the sights that you see might not be exactly like in the photos. And sometimes you might not see the Northern Lights or the mythical lion / sharks / whales that you came so far to see. Remember, the journey is its own reward. You will go back a changed person regardless.
Tip no. 10 : Acts of kindness : Just because you are solo doesn’t mean you have to withdraw in a shell. Open up. Don’t be shy of eating out alone, doing things alone. Talk to strangers. Don’t be behind a shield at all times. Smile at others. Ask them about their work, how their day has been and you will be surprised to see what a friendly place our world is and how we are all different and yet united.
Bonus tips for women
While I am not pro any kind of gender divides when it comes to travelling, it is true that women do garner more attention than men the world over and it is also true that in India, culturally women have always been more protected so sometimes they are ill prepared to travel alone, so it could help to keep these tips in mind. And then the more you travel alone, the more you will become accustomed with the following :
Tip no. 11 : There can be bad men anywhere. Just because Europe is deemed safer for women does not mean that you will not encounter an unruly drunkard who is flashing his genitals in a public park. Trust me it happens more abroad than in India. Be aware.
Tip no. 12 : White lies are sometimes ok : Invent a friend or a boyfriend or a husband who is waiting for you at the next stop or back at the hotel if need be.
Tip no. 13 : Danger has no gender : If you are meeting a new person (male or female), arrange to meet in a public place first. Your sizing up of the person may or may not be accurate but avoid going to any addresses that looks secluded. Starbucks Zindabad !
Tip no. 14 : Dress conservatively and don’t be a lout. Don’t draw un-necessary attention by getting drunk / wearing too much jewelry/ dancing on the roads etc. You get the idea ;-)
Tip No. 15 : When you feel danger, scream. In any language. Women raising voice alarmingly is a universally understood gesture and you don’t need to know local language to draw people’s attention.
Finally, the oft-heard tip 'trust your instinct' is overrated, trust me! If it was so easy to listen to what the instinct is saying, nobody would ever do anything wrong. Trust your research and then listen to what your instinct tells you. Instinct without researching and reading up in advance is just a guess so read, read, and read about the place that you are going to. And irrespective of things going as planned or not, be confident that you will be able to make it through and have many amazing stories to tell.