Monday, 28 September 2015

Top Tips for Solo Travellers

I first experienced solo travel when my work in International Education required me to travel to various countries to attend education fairs and meet with recruitment agents.  I well remember, on my first trip, being deposited by the bus on a busy city street in Bangkok armed with a suitcase, a laptop and a huge bag of promotional materials. The temperature was in the high 30s and  I had no idea where my hotel was because I couldn't read the street signs. Consulting my map I worked out that I needed to get up an over-bridge to the other side of the multi-laned highway.  As I staggered up the stairs a kindly local helped me carry my bags before leaving me to trek about a kilometre to my hotel.  Rather than being overwhelmed by this incident I enjoyed the challenge of negotiating a new city and was elated when I reached the hotel. This is one of the things I love about solo travel, to expect the unexpected.

So, before having solo travel thrust on me by widowhood, I had already had some experience of it.  I have travelled to many countries alone now and always enjoy my solo trips.  I do enjoy other trips I make with friends and family however most of my travel is alone.  Here, for what it's worth, are some of my best tips to get the most out of solo travel.

  • Be brave.  Don't be afraid to head off into the world alone.  It is not as scary as you think it is and the rewards of solo travel are immense.
A selfie in a handy mirror, Lisbon, Portugal 
  • Revel in it.  You can enjoy the freedom to do what you want when you want.  You do not have to consider another person or make compromises and you can change your mind whenever you want. I love just doing things as my heart desires, jumping on trains on the spur of the moment and exploring things that appeal to me.
  • Be street wise.  Take care of your safety.  Be friendly to people but always be on guard for scams and cheats.  That very charming person who seems so polite and kind and has offered to show you the city is very likely waiting their chance to rip you off. Never accept a drink from a stranger and always keep an eye on your drink, I have heard some people even take their drinks to the toilet with them just to be sure.
  • Talk to locals.  I have found that travelling alone provides way more opportunities to speak to locals than being part of a couple does.  Couples are usually involved in each other and other people do not wish to intrude. Be happy to open a conversation and see what evolves.  You have nothing to lose.
Sunshine, the morning paper, coffee for one and the sea = bliss
Mooloolaba, Australia
  • Eating out alone can be difficult for some people but I don't mind it.  More and more restaurants have communal tables which is a great way to meet people.  A quick google search will usually find these restaurants in your location.  Or take a book, e-reader or note book to the restaurant with you.  Once, in Hong Kong, a kindly waiter bought me a book when he noticed I was alone and had forgotten mine. Most places have free wifi now so you can surf the net to your heart's content. On my recent trip on Australia's Ghan train I particularly enjoyed being seated with different people for each meal.  I loved sharing food and wine with strangers and having some great conversations as well.
  • Take walking tours or day tours.  This is a great way to see the sights and meet people even if only briefly.  I usually do this when I am in a foreign city and have always found it rewarding.  A lot of tours include a meal so you can enjoy the pleasure of dining with others too.
 Photo by a friendly stranger on my
solo trip to the Czech Republic
  • Get into your photography.  Being alone means you are not holding anyone else up if you want to take half an hour to get the perfect shot.  Ask people to take your photo and offer to take theirs.  Most people are only too pleased.    Once again, though, be streetwise and careful who you ask, you don't want that precious camera stolen.
  • Be prepared to pay the single supplement if, like me, you do not want to share a room with a stranger.  Yes, it is expensive to travel alone but only for accommodation, everything else e.g. airfares, food and tours you pay for one.  Some travel companies will pair the budget conscious traveller up with another solo traveller.
  • Get up early and have a large breakfast, then get out exploring. You don't have to wait for someone else to get organised for the day. Many hotels include breakfast in the tariff and  I find a big breakfast takes me through the day with just a light snack somewhere along the way. As an older solo traveller I have no interest in night clubbing so I make the most of the day and relax in my hotel room at night.  That said, I have wandered the streets of many Asian and European cities at night and never felt uncomfortable.  Just ensure you always stay on busy, crowded streets.
Train journeys are great for meeting people
  • The old politician's trick, admire babies.  All parents love to have their children admired and this can often lead to a friendly conversation, especially on long train journeys.
  • It is normal to feel lonely sometimes when you travel alone, occasionally I have felt  overwhelmed by loneliness so that's when  I concentrate on all the good things about solo travel. I dash off a few e-mails, write my travel diary, watch local television and try to work out what they are saying, use up all the hotel room's shower wash in a big bubble bath, order room service and retire to bed happy and sleepy looking forward to the next day's adventures.

Finally...just try it.  We all have just one life and it is up to us to make the most of it.  If you don't enjoy solo travel don't do it again but I am sure you will find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  Enjoy!

And If you have any other hints please post them in the comments section.  I would love to have them!