Solo travel can be exhilarating and life-changing. And, also, daunting. Here's how to take that first step.
1. Travel solo only if you are up for it
A dear friend of mine traveled solo once and was miserable. She retreated into a shell and remembers that as the worst holiday she has taken. And, she was in France.
Travelling solo for the first time can appear scary. Hell, travelling solo anytime can be daunting and I don't mean to dissuade anyone. Travel demands precious time and money and it would be stupid to not make it enjoyable. Figure out if you are up for traversing an experience in a new land without the comfort in numbers. It could be for the thrill of it, or because you need some alone time, or because your friends dumped you last minute. Remind yourself of your reason every now and then.
Solo travel is like getting married or eating wasabi. Don't do it just 'coz everyone else is.
But once you are ready to take the plunge, it's the most rewarding experience you can give yourself.
2. Pick a destination that’s benign
Pick a place that's less off-beat yet fun and where locals are welcoming of tourists. If you are travelling in India, I’d say Goa is a no-brainer for solo travel. It’s quite touristy, there are many activities to fill your day and no one will bother you if you lounge at a shack all day. If you are open to a destination outside India, Western Europe is a good place to start with a lot of atmospheric hostels and apps like blabla car that aid solo travellers. In Asia, Bali would be a good start for a virgin solo traveller.
3. Research and plan. Have a plan B.
Because it's your first time, it's good to arrive armed with information. Thanks to google and a multitude of travel platforms, you don't have to leave too much to surprise. Plan where you are staying, what mode of transport you are taking and what your day itinerary looks like. Make prior bookings wherever you can. You will be a whole less stressed if you have the main bookings covered.
Part of the fun of solo travel is to do things on the fly. Enjoy it when things go awry, but have a comfortable back-up. Distant relatives or a friend's friends are good safety blankets.
4. Sort the essentials
Exchange enough money in your home country. Have sufficient liquid cash.
Check the weather so that you are carrying the right gear and apparel, like a rain jacket or heavy woolens. You don’t want to be sick on holiday.
Even though everything is digital these days, carry print outs of all bookings. Technology fails sometimes.
Carry some familiar food.
Carry a list of emergency contacts.
5. Stay in the city centre
When you stay in the heart of the city, you are in the heart of the action. You will never be at a loss for things to do, whether it’s sightseeing or food options or hiring bikes or access to information. If you are feeling cooped up in your stay, you can always head to a nearby café for some people watching. Chances are you will find more people there who are travellers, who you can connect with.
6. Try to arrive in any new place in the day.
It's easier to gather your bearing around a new place in broad daylight. Delays and unprecedented errors are more easily sorted when places are open and people are at work, available to assist you. Also, it just feels more safe and secure.
7. Keep at least one friend informed of your whereabouts
Leave a copy of your itinerary with friends and family. With free wifi everywhere these days, it's easier than ever to stay in touch. If you’re not regularly updating your social media and letting people know you’re okay and having the time of your life, it’s good to keep someone in the loop so that there’s a point of reference or contact in the case of an emergency.
8. Trust your instincts
Enjoy the uninhabited liberation that comes with solo travel. But at the risk of sounding like a mommy, don’t take things for granted. Locals can easily identify outsiders. Not everyone is a crook, however, when things are not right, let your instincts guide you. Don't rely entirely on one person's opinion or online reviews. If you sense a discomfort, back out. It’s not worth the risk. Know your alcohol limits. And, have the numbers of local help or police handy. Carry a pepper spray.
Likewise, trust your instincts to trust someone you don't know at all.
9. Smile more
When you are on your own is when you have the opportunity to meet new and different people from cultures and ideologies unlike yours that can open up your mind. And, the best ice-breaker is a warm smile. Smiles are friendly, inviting, and universal. They can be translated and understood in any language. So use it generously and often. Come back with many more interesting friends from around the world.
10. Not everyone has to know you are travelling solo
Part of the problem or discomfort arises in how most people view solo travel. I often hear, “Why are you travelling alone?” sometimes with wonderment, sometimes with overtones of pity and sometimes judgementally, especially in India. You don't have to explain or prove anything to strangers, especially the overly nosey ones. I have handy excuses, I pretend to not understand the language, pretend to be asleep, or [my favourite] pretend to be an NRI. Do what works for you to continue enjoying your solo travel journey.
Remember, there are more good people out there than bad.
Most of my travels are marked by wonderful encounters with kind, genuine and earthy human beings who are as curious about you are you are about them. If it's your first solo trip you are likely to be closed and defensive with many of the strangers you meet. By keeping an open mind, no matter where you go, you’re more likely to get more out of your travels.
The word 'stranger' sounds negative, but I have learnt that strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet.