Freya Stark, a British explorer and travel writer, once said, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.“
I most heartily agree. I am an adventurer and explorer myself. The adventures that find me with a travelling companion are far and few between, more so with each passing year. Life makes it difficult to coordinate schedules, agree on destinations, lodging, and food. Don’t even get me started on choosing road music.
Don’t get me wrong, some of my fondest memories are trips with friends and family. But lately I have come to appreciate the simplicity and unique experiences one can only find by walking a lonely road alone.
I compared notes with other accomplished solo adventurers. Here are our best tips and tricks for your next trip!
1. Be daring, but prepared.
So you want to go on that backpacking trip. You’re ready to hop on a plane to the Polynesian Islands. The open road is calling for a cross-country road trip.
Those are all amazing trips and require a sense of daring and adventure! But while you are daring, you must also be prepared. Do your research (good on you for starting that by reading this blog). Be prepared for an emergency.
What will you do if you get really sick on the trail? What if you get into a car accident?
There are some amazing programs to assist you. Organizations like Medjet and MedjetHorizon provide medical transportation. Many smart watches have a sudden impact feature that automatically calls emergency services in case of an accident.
Be prepared so you can be adventurous.
2. Understand the Culture
As Elizabeth at Awesome Wave commented, “Too often I see conflict, misunderstanding, frustration, and upset caused by lack of or mis-understanding of cultural differences. When one starts to learn about other cultures one begins to find means to compromise, understand, seek solutions and work towards peaceful encounters.“
When you travel, it is important to do some research before hand. Not only will you avoid misunderstandings, but you won’t feel like a fish out of water. It’s important to note that cultural differences extend within the borders of your own country, too. Don’t disregard cultural differences if you travel domestically!
3. Tell someone at home your travel plans.
This is another safety detail. It’s a good idea to tell a trusted friend or family member what your plans are. Check in with them occasionally, especially if your plans change. That way if something goes wrong, someone knows where you should be and your last location.
My good friend, Sara L., suggested, “Always have a check in and a message to send if something is wrong, like a code word. Meaning one person that you trust should know where you are and know if you need help.”
Depending on your trip, you might consider investing in a SPOT or a Garmin InReach. Both of these devices allow you to call for emergency assistance, have limited 2-way communication, and allow you to digitally check-in with your trusted friend or family member.
I’m a pretty introverted person. I don’t generally go out of my way to talk to people, preferring to enjoy my book and a cup of tea. When I first started travelling alone I maintained my distance and silence. However, I quickly learned the importance of talking to those around me.
First, for safety. The more people who are familiar with you and recognize you, the better. Second, that’s how you know where all the good stuff is. I would have never found the Poi Factory on Oahu without chatting up the locals.
If you have a hard time striking up a conversation with the local barista, check out what events, gatherings, or tours are offered at your destination. Many hostels, hotels, and city programs host a variety of events where you can meet new people.
That said, exercise good judgement and only meet people in public places. Don’t overshare your private information and don’t tell a stranger where you are staying.
5. Keep an open mind.
It doesn’t matter if you’re going to Chicago, England, or Indonesia. You’ll always find something new. You’ll find the unexpected. You’ll find the adventure.
My most interesting travelling experiences happened because I was willing to go out of my comfort zone. It’s easy to be confident when you stay in tourist areas where things are familiar and everyone speaks English. But to step outside of those few blocks brings you into a different world. That’s where you find the real world. The local haunts. The lodgings. The interesting activities. Nikki Misurelli commented, “A smile (and Google Translate) can go a long way, even if you don’t speak the same language.”
6. Plan something special.
When visiting a new place, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many things to do! Cool places to see! Food to eat!
When I travel, I plan one big special thing. That helps me focus my trip and provide a center point for the rest of my planning.
I am a huge Jurassic Park buff. The first time I visited Oahu, I knew that I needed to see where they filmed the movies. Not only did this give me a launch point, but it helped me decide when and where I wanted to explore the island. From the Kualoa Ranch (where the filming happened), I was able to have a picnic lunch across the street at the Kualoa Regional Park and slowly make my way back to Honolulu. This set the tone for the rest of the trip and gave me a centerpiece for planning the adventure.
That something special doesn’t need to be a “big” thing. My special plan for my last trip to Santa Barbara was order Hawaiian shaved ice from ParadICE on State Street. When I went to Florence, OR, I was excited to go sandboarding for an afternoon. On one of my trips to San Francisco, I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Choosing that one “special plan” is about focusing your trip and making memories. Don’t base your plan around what will look good on Instagram, but on what is important to you.
7. Research! Research! Research!
Read up on your destination ahead of time. The more you know before you go, the more confident you’ll be on your trip. Are there any coffee shops in walking distance to your lodgings? What’s the climate like? Do you need to be wary of pickpockets? What are some locations you’d like to visit?
A good guide book and map can go a long ways. Guide books can help you focus your research and often give you great resources for when you get to your destination. You can highlight or mark areas of interest. Then you know what do look into further and what gear you need to bring. It could be the difference between bringing full hiking boots or just a pair of running sneakers.
8. Give yourself a digital break.
You’re visiting a new place. It’s fine to take pictures, but don’t watch your whole trip through the view of your phone. Experience your surroundings. It’s too easy to miss the gems when you’re distracted by technology. Facebook and Instagram will be there when you get back home.
9. Put a ring on it.
It will come to no surprise to most of you lovely readers that men with expectations are less likely to approach or harass a woman they believe is taken.
10. Pack light.
When you travel alone, you don’t have anyone to help you cart your luggage around. The less stuff you have to carry the better. You’re going to save a lot of money and will be more mobile the lighter you pack. If you have less room in your suitcase, you’re likely to bring back fewer souvenirs, and they ones you end up with are the trinkets that you really care about.
This ethos holds true to you day bag, too. Don’t forget that since you’re travelling alone, you won’t have anyone to watch you bag if you need to use the restroom in a coffee shop. You won’t have someone to hold your things while you try on clothing in the fitting rooms. The lighter the better!
11. Keep an eye on your gas gauge.
If you are driving, always gas up when you hit a quarter of a tank. You may not be familiar with the roads and gas stations, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.
12. Don’t go out drinking alone.
Alcohol can be a double-edged sword. I know like most of you that it’s really fun to try local alcoholic drinks. From the hard apple ciders in Tacoma to the tropical ciders of Hilo, it is an experience to compare different drinks. But it’s important not to overdo it. If you’re travelling alone, you don’t have anyone to take care of you if you get drunk. It is easy to get into an unfortunate situation while intoxicated.
Sandy N. mused, “I personally love and enjoy [partying and drinking], however if I’m traveling alone, I’ll buy a bottle of wine and have a chill evening at wherever I’m staying, using that time to write in travel journal or what not.”
13. Zippers are your best friend
Unfortunately, pick pocketing is a thing. It doesn’t matter if you are travelling abroad or domestically. If there is an opportunity, then thieves will strike. Franni P. recalled, “I have been on a crowded bus in Europe and someone tried to pickpocket my phone out of my front jeans pocket and I almost didn’t notice! But zippers add an extra step and can make noise to alert you. I suppose velcro would also work too!”
Thieves tend to be opportunistic. By setting up barriers and complications, they are likely to target easier prey.
On the subject of thievery, it’s also a good idea to keep money in multiple areas. That way if your wallet does get stolen, you aren’t down the creek without a paddle.
14. Leave the tourist track
You’re travelling to experience something new (I hope). In planning to keep things local, not only are you supporting the local economy, but you’ll experience the culture. This is how you’ll find all the interesting shops, nooks and crannies, and adventures off the tourist track.
Let’s look at Monterey, CA. Everyone goes to Cannery Row and Carmel Beach. But did you know that there is a wonderful coffee shop in Marina called Coffee Mia (seriously… one of the best cups of sweet Italian coffee out there!)? How about the little Pacific Grove Natural History Museum? Why go to an over-crowded beach when you can chill with the locals and have open fire pits at night? You won’t find any of those things if you stick to Cannery Row and the well-known hotels.
15. Survive the flight
Planes are a marvel. They truly have made the earth a small world after all. Sadly, plane travel is not the most comfortable means of transportation. Crammed in narrow rows. The A/C blasting with its sharp recycled smell. Sitting uncomfortably close to strangers.
It can take a toll.
Be mindful of what you carry. Remember that you won’t have anyone to watch your stuff when you get a cup of coffee or use the restroom before the flight, so pack light.
When you’re on the plane, bring some light snacks and some refreshing items like deodorant and a hair brush. My secret weapon for long plane rides: breath mints.
16. Listen to your instincts
Have you ever had that knot in your stomach? Something felt wrong but you didn’t know what?
When travelling alone, listen to your gut. Humans are excellent at identifying patterns. We do it without thinking about it. So if something seems off, remove yourself from the situation. You’ll be glad you did.
What travelling tips and tricks have you learned over the years? Let me know in the comments below!