How to Travel Alone

How to Travel Alone

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Some people seem to find it pretty strange that I’m so comfortable traveling alone. For me it was a simple equation: I wanted to go places my friends didn’t want to go and I wasn’t prepared to let that stop me. I thought that I would get lonely traveling alone, but that is so far from the truth. I had to actively take a day to myself here and there, just because I was constantly meeting new people.

On my first trip in South East Asia I met a great group of guys and we traveled together for near on two months. This wouldn’t have been possible if I had a rigid itinerary, so I suggest being a bit more flexible if you’re exploring on your own. Often it’s less about the places you are and more about the people you are with. It was an incredible trip and I’m so glad that I didn’t let my initial fears of traveling alone stop me from going. There are tons of benefits to traveling alone: it pushes you outside of your boundaries, it challenges you and it forces you to adapt to new situations all on your own. I firmly believe that everyone should travel solo at some stage during their life, the lessons you learn are invaluable.

Be Twice As Sensible
I have developed a personal rule which is that I wont go out for a night on the town when I’m traveling alone, unless I know the people fairly well or the city well. One night on Koh Phangan (I’m sure many travelers have stories that start out this way…) I made the mistake of drinking a few too many free buckets. I was with a small group people I’d been traveling with for a few days. When you’re traveling, time is different. The people you’re spending time with are around you constantly, sleeping, eating, everything. So a few days of friendship could feel like months of deep and meaningful conversation and lunch dates.

At point during the night I realised I was really drunk, so told my friends that I was going to to the convenience store to buy some water and to wait for me there. I came back 10 minutes later to find everyone had left. I panicked and walked the length of the beach trying to find them. It was 3am and I didn’t confidently know my way back to the accommodation. I tried to walk around the beach, waist deep in water, before realising it was a really bad idea. I tried to walk through the dark, gloomy forest towards our accommodation before I realised that was also a stupid idea. Eventually I made it home, but it was a pretty scary and stressful experience. In the morning my friends were all really apologetic, one of the other girls had gotten really sick and they were worried about her. Just be sensible, you can’t expect too much of people you’ve only just met. So, unless you have someone you can really trust to watch your back, don’t drink in an unfamiliar place. It extends further than drinking, too. It’s simple things like avoiding arriving in a new, foreign city alone at 11.00pm. You’d probably be fine, but if you’ve got all your things on you and you’re stumbling around to trying to find your hostel, you’re really just opening yourself up for potential trouble.  So, just try to minimize it.

Have a Backup Plan
Unfortunately bad stuff happens, even on holiday. The possibility of having your wallet stolen is so much more daunting when you’re alone in a foreign country. You need to have some backup plans in order to protect yourself incase something does happen. I would suggest carrying at least two cards with you, one that you keep in you wallet and one that you keep somewhere else safe. Don’t take your second card out with you when you go out, keep it tucked away in your room’s locker or safe. When I was in rural Indonesia the town I was staying in only had one ATM and my card just didn’t work. I had enough cash to carry me through my stay, but when an unexpected medical expense came up I had to pay for a driver to take me to the nearest town, over an hour away, in order to withdraw cash. If I had another card this might not have been an issue. I had similar problems with my eftpos card not working in Calcutta’s airport, but thankfully had some reserved  USD that I could change into local currency. Before you even leave for your trip, make sure you make copies of your passport. I even go as far to scan them and email them to myself, so I can always access them. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

How to Meet People On The Road 
It’s hard to describe this to someone who hasn’t been backpacking, but there’s this special openness in almost everyone you’ll meet. Maybe it’s because we’ve all taken the steps required to explore the world, or maybe because we’re united in the fact we’re all slightly out of our comfort zone- either way, I think it’s much easier to make friends on the road. The most important thing is to go where the type of people you want to make friends with, will be. If you want to meet other backpackers, the easiest way to meet them is to stay in a dorm! The more beds in the room, the more potential friends (though, the more potential snorers, too. But that’s an issue for another day). If you want to make friends with locals you can look to stay with someone on Couchsurfing or you can go to more local hangouts. Be approachable and approach others. There’s a standard backpackers conversation that starts off like “Where are you from, where are you going…” and while it’s sometimes painful to start it again, it’s an easy introduction. That dorm mate you spark up a conversation could wind up being your travel buddy for two months.

Be Flexible 
When I think back to my favourite travel memories, most them include my favourite people I’ve met along the way. Often the company you have is more memorable than the place you’re in. Along your travels you’re likely to find some people that you just instantly click with and want to spend more time with. If your itinerary is set in stone, it restricts how much time you can spend with them. If your itinerary isn’t so rigid and they invite you along to join in for more of their trip, you’ll be able to say yes. There’s nothing worse than a jam packed time sensitive itinerary getting in the way of epic adventures, so be flexible.

13 Comments

  • Thank you for the great post. I am leaving soon for a tour of Latin America for around two years, I say around because I do not know what it will exactly be. Like you say stay flexible, that’s why I opted for two years. I initially wanted to leave for one year but ended up adding places I’d want to go and I know quite well others will add on the way. I am planning solo also and many people asked me again and again if I would get lonely, I’m pretty sure I won’t, has you said there are always other people to meet.

    • Izy Berry says:

      I planned to visit Thailand for a month and haven’t really stopped traveling since November 2010! You’ll have a great time – and there’s no need to worry about being lonely. You meet so many more locals when you’re traveling alone which adds a whole other dimension to your trip. I hope to make it to South America in the next year or so, so maybe we will bump into each other :-) All the best for your adventures, I’m sure you’ll have an amazing trip!

  • […] 1.5 years of travel, I’ll be honest and say that there are times when it’s difficult. Traveling alone has many benefits and I treasure it because of the special experiences it opens up with locals and fellow tourists […]

  • […] Stabbed Often I’ll meet people and they’ll be surprised that I like to travel alone. I rattle off the numerous benefits to solo travel and eventually I’ll be asked whether […]

  • Some good tips in here … I always remember all the people I met because like you said, it is more about them than about places I visit …

  • […] my first solo journey in Thailand. At that stage I was still a little awkward and uncertain about traveling alone, but by the end of my three day trip I had this certainty that I’d made the right decision […]

  • […] You will hardly be alone – of course if you take yourself to some remote island, enter a vow of silence and glare at anyone who tries to make conversation, then you will wind up alone. But for the most part, on my travels, throughout South East Asia especially, I had to make a solid effort to be alone. Here and there I would take a day out, just to watch my favourite tv shows, eat ice cream in bed and have a little mental space. It can be intense hanging out with someone all waking hours and then sharing a room with them at night. But the cool thing is, you will make tons of friends and meet new people. Still anxious about being alone? Read my post on how to travel alone.  […]

  • […] for the guests to use. There were tables and chairs scattered around, too. When you’re traveling alone, these common areas can be seen as places of opportunity – you can meet new friends to travel […]

  • Noelfy says:

    Really nice to hear about another female solo traveler…

    I was getting old waiting for me friends to come with me to travel. After I did my first solo trip to Porto in 2007 I realised how amazing is, and absolutely fits my freedom schedule. Noone is able to follow me :)

  • Chalsie says:

    Love your tips! Solo travel is a lot scarier when home, than abroad. There are times when I’ve been lonely, and homesick, but I just pick myself up and remember I may never be back in this city again so I better make the most of it. Works every time.

    Chalsie | The Workshop Co. x

  • Abi Yudhie says:

    Nice share Izy, as an Indonesian people i apologies about what happen to you in Kuta Lombok [http://www.thewrongwayhome.com/being-stabbed/]. But don’t forget for tasting Indonesia Coffee when you back again :)

  • Emma says:

    Looking to do some volunteer work in Siem Reap for 6 months, with a jot of travelling in between and your blog as been super helpful so far – thank you!

  • Emma says:

    I was just wondering as you have clearly spent such a long time in Cambodia – do you know of Kaya Responsible Travel? They are offering a fantastic career break but wanted some non-bias thoughts/reviews!