The biggest mistakes solo travellers make are often really simple, preventable little things that can make the difference between an amazing journey of self discovery to a trip from hell. After travelling solo for the last few years, I’ve compiled as many of the mistakes I’ve made that I can remember by memory… and trust me when I say that I hope my mistakes prevent you from making the same ones!
Imagine being on the other side of the world on your own, things start going terribly wrong, and your family back home have absolutely no way of tracing your last steps to know where you could have been beyond what continent you’d be on. Further to this it is not uncommon to lose track of news and current events while travelling, so if your friends and family know your whereabouts, they can reach out with any warnings or updates on current events.
Similar to the above, it is also important to keep your loved ones back home updated, as more often than not plans change! I have always left a broad idea of my itinerary at home and almost always deviated from that, sometimes being in Serbia instead of my scheduled visit to Croatia… just because I heard about an event, cool city to visit or just felt like catching the next train departing! Social media is good for this and you don’t have to be “that guy” who updates 50 photos a day… just a quick status update to say you’re on your way to a new country or city is enough.
One of the mistakes I made recently was to get overly confident and think I didn’t need to keep carrying around a copy of my passport in case of emergency. I know many friends who have lost their passport and tried to convey through hand signals to foreigners their need to find the embassy, which would have been made easier with a simple photocopy and pointing system. For me, I found myself needing to hand over my passport at hotels for check-in and once it was not handed back, leading to a long line of events to retrieve it. It is always best to have a couple of photocopies to resort to, and I also keep a photo of my passport details on my phone as a backup of the backup.
I flew into Sydney on an early morning and made the rookie error of putting my purse down on the seat next to me while I frantically tried to detangle my headphones before the train to the city arrived. Halfway into my journey to the city I realised I didn’t have my purse and was forced to retrace my steps back to the original train station, as I wouldn’t have been able to exit the platform anyway, given my train ticket was in my purse! Luckily someone had handed it in (eternal gratitude), but if I hadn’t have been so lucky I would have found myself in the middle of Sydney without any cash or cards to retrieve any! The best idea is to always keep a little cash on you, separated in two different places in case of loss or theft. The same is true in foreign cities. Even though it is easier to use a card and travel cashless, it is much wiser to have a little cash in the local currency to fall back on.
Something I have not yet struggled with is not being adequately prepared for my trips medically (I usually go in to the doctor’s surgery and ask for all the travel-related immunisations I will ever need – as I never know where I might end up). But something I have struggled with is illness, leading to a couple of hospital visits over the past few years. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get travel insurance and how you can help yourself by coming prepared with a few simple meds for headaches, other aches (gals), becoming blocked up, or the illustrious Bali Belly, Delhi Belly… and all the bellies! To prevent falling ill overseas or being stuck in bed for days, research your destination and make sure you’re prepared for anything that might come your way.
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was to proudly state to everyone and anyone that I was travelling solo – which of course (for obvious reasons) was a really big mistake. This is of course different for different people you encounter, but if you ever get the vibe that someone is too interested in your travel itinerary and knows you’re travelling solo, then you’re in for trouble (or just a really clingy new friend).
Don’t have a ring on your finger? Time to get one! Over the years I have found one thing to be effortlessly successful: a fake engagement or wedding ring to fend off the not-quite-eligible-suitors.
As a general rule you should avoid walking alone at night anywhere in the world, but if you do happen to find yourself running late one evening or walking home from an evening meal, be sure to keep your wits about you by looking around you and never put your headphones in when walking home solo at night (better to hear what is going on around you).
Don’t feel bad for lying when you are travelling solo as not everyone you encounter will be a good person (!!!) Speaking from experience, there have been more occasions than I can count for which I should have lied. If you don’t trust someone or just don’t get good vibes from them, be sure to make up a little white lie to get yourself out of there, pronto! Saying something along the lines of “Well I better go, I’ve gotta meet my boyfriend in a few minutes” when said boyfriend does not exist is entirely okay if it gets you out of a sticky situation. Better to be safe than sorry!
This is a point I do and don’t want to make, because I’m kind of one the fence about it, but hear me out…
Having a budget is entirely necessary to keep yourself on the road. However some days you are going to overspend. Some days you will have the urge to splurge and some days you won’t feel like doing much at all. If you go over budget for 1 day in 7, don’t sweat the small stuff. If you do however go over budget every day for a week, you’re going to run into problems if you want to stay on the road.
I suppose the important point to make is to be realistic as to how much you will likely spend each day, times that by how many days you’re travelling, and add a little “fun kitty” to the end of your total for those days you just want to do something fun, splurge on some new clothes, or post all your old clothes home and buy new ones (sorry not sorry for doing that more than once!)
I’m going to be completely honest here and say that I haven’t always been as outgoing and open to making new friends as I am now. I wholeheartedly believe that blogging has given me the confidence to go out and meet more people, especially readers who reach out to me to meet up in their city! As time has passed me by, I’ve become more and more confident approaching people just to say hello, making conversation on the plane or in a coffee shop. Meeting people is now by far and large my favourite part about travel, getting to know their story and perspective on life. Someone once told me that we are a composition of our favourite traits from people we’ve met – taking a little piece (personality trait, perspective, mantra) from each person who inspires us and that comprising of ourselves. I love that.
When I took my first trip solo I was determined not to join a group tour, if even for a week. That being said, I was away for just under a month. On my second major solo trip, I went for a year. 12 months. 365 days. If I hadn’t have joined a tour group a couple of times throughout that year (in Scotland and in Argentina + Brazil), I would have driven myself mental. As much as I love spending time on my own, I also love people. Don’t be ashamed to join a tour because it “isn’t solo travel”… it is. Its all a part of the journey.
This is a mistake I slip in and out of, depending on my work load. As travel is now my full time job (or more accurately, this blog is my full time job), I now have lots of housekeeping to take care of daily – like emails, managing a small team, updating my blog, updating my social channels, editing videos, editing photos, etc. However before this was the case, I would spend every inch of daylight adventuring. I have been avidly trying to get that back – so that I can spend every inch of daylight outdoors adventuring and spend only a couple of hours at the end of each day online. Of course that isn’t easy when I’m travelling for months at a time, but I’m determined to make it work! Remember that you might never be in that place ever again, so you’ve gotta make the most of it!
Travelling solo means a lot of alone time (I know, I know, stating the obvious here!) But for one reason or another, this scares some people as they don’t believe they will enjoy so much time alone. I’m hearing you – this was me once upon a time. But let me tell you in complete honesty here, that solo travel leads you to actually like yourself. You learn more about yourself, you learn to love yourself and you learn what you like AND what you don’t like. You learn to control your emotions and to listen to yourself instead of others.
Lets finish on a high note and the most important of all – the biggest mistake you can make is to not go at all! Solo travel is intimidating to many and almost put me off travelling for a while, until I hit the age of 22 and decided that I would just do it. Worst case scenario I could come home, right!? Luckily I didn’t ever come home because I loved it so much, but it is always comforting to know that if times get tough, you can always come home and try again next time you’re ready. When people ask me “should I travel solo?” I always say “you’re halfway on the plane”. If you feel the desire to travel solo and are already considering it, you’re halfway there.