My first experience traveling alone, I was 25 and in Thailand. I spent the first part of my travels in South East Asia with my boyfriend at the time. He had to go back to his job after four weeks, but I, being conveniently unemployed at the time, decided that I wanted to stay an additional three weeks.
We had travelled through the South of Thailand, Bangkok and Siem Reap in Cambodia together, so I decided to head up north to Chiang Mai for my first week on my own. I was terrified when I boarded the overnight train which would take me from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Luckily, this fear only lasted a few minutes. As soon as I sat in my seat, I met a middle-aged couple from Canada. They calmed my nerves and since they had already visited Chiang Mai on a previous trip, gave me some advice on what to see and do while I was there.
A few years later, I took a week long holiday on my own in Morocco, where I explored Marrakech and Fes. Both trips were life changing and amazing. I learned a lot about myself and traveling alone along the way, so I thought I’d share some of this “wisdom” with you.
1. Know thyself.
Traveling alone is not for everyone. I do believe that most people are able to do it, but I strongly believe that it is suited to specific personalities. Before you decide to travel on your own, you need to ask yourself some very important questions:
Am I comfortable eating in a restaurant by myself?
Do I enjoy being in my own company for hours at a time?
Do I like being challenged daily?
Do I have good instincts regarding strangers and directions?
Can I be sober for an entire holiday?
Am I comfortable meeting new people?
Am I able to easily adapt to new situations?
If you answered any of these questions with a resounding “no”, I think you need consider if traveling solo is right for you. However, if you answered “yes” to enjoying being challenged daily as well, then this might just be the ultimate challenge for you.
2. Do your research.
It’s useful to know local customs such as appropriate dress (this is particularly important for solo female travellers), useful phrases in the local language, do’s and don’ts and places and sites to see (and areas to avoid).
If you’re a woman, do some research on the safety of solo female travellers in the country that you will be traveling through. Often times you will find lots of tips on how to stay safe and avoid awkward or potentially dangerous situations.
3. Make a realistic budget.
Traveling solo is more expensive than if you were to travel with a companion. When I travelled solo through Thailand, I ended up having to pay the cost for two people in many of the hostels and bungalows that I booked. This definitely ate into my holiday funds.
One of the ways that I offset this extra expense was to buy most of my meals from street vendors. Street food does get a bad rap, but from my experience it is delicious, extremely affordable, authentic and also less awkward than eating in a restaurant on your own.
4. Give your itinerary to a family member or trusted friend and check in with them as often as you can.
There was a moment when I was in Thailand when I had the frightening realisation that no one who loved or cared about me knew where I was. I had been on the road for a full day getting from Chiang Mai back down south to Ao Nang (this involved a night train, a plane ride, a bus ride and finally a taxi). It was just me and the male taxi driver (the last leg of my 15 hour journey). The road was so dark and I was exhausted. I spent the 20 minute taxi ride planning what I would do if something went “wrong”. Luckily, it was fine.
My point is let someone know where you’ll be and when. If only for their peace of mind (I’m referring to my mom here).
5. Trust your instincts.
When you’re traveling alone, the only person there who cares about you and your well-being is you. You’re it baby! Make sure to trust that little voice in your head that is there to guide you. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t trust anyone. The great thing about traveling alone is that you meet lots of new and interesting people. For the most part, all the people I met along the way were great and lots of fun. I tend to make friends with other female travellers, couples, or mixed groups.
6. Don’t get drunk.
Like I said in tip #5, you are the only person there who cares about you and your well-being. Most of the horror stories I’ve heard about traveling abroad have involved alcohol or drugs. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t drink at all, but you should do so responsibly. On both my solo trips, I generally avoided alcohol entirely (I think I had a couple beers in Thailand and a glass of wine in Fes).
Traveling solo is exciting and lots of fun! You get to make all of the decisions yourself. You get to do and see what you like. It does have some additional challenges, but it’s a great way to experience a new culture, meet new people and learn a lot about yourself along the way.
Happy and safe travels!