There's no doubt that there's been a huge shift in the world of travel over recent times. In some ways, this was to be expected, after all, advancements in technology should theoretically mean that it's much more accessible to the masses anyway. Once upon a time it would have almost been frowned upon to travel solo. Now, it's completely fashionable. Of course, there are plenty of rules that you need to stick to if you take the plunge, so read on for some tips for solo backpackers.
Travelling solo: How to stay safe and have fun
1. Get your insurance sorted
Fortunately, the issue of travel insurance has been in the news a lot over recent times and it is a much more understood topic. In short, most people know that they simply have to venture away armed with this protection, whether it is single trip travel insurance or something more long-term.
2. Choose your luggage wisely
Pack lightly! Backpacks are great if you're planning on travelling through Asia as you may have to walk a few kilometres to get to your accommodation. Australia & New Zealand is generally OK to travel around with a wheeled suitcase.
And while some long-haul airlines might allow you huge amounts of luggage, it doesn't mean to say that you need to take advantage of this. On the contrary, if you do find yourself traveling solo with huge suitcases it's only going to hinder your experience.
It's good to know that most airport shuttles will drop you right by the door of your hostel and most tour companies will offer hostel pick up. For overnight sailing trips or 3 Day ‘off the beaten track’ adventures – hostels will usually allow free luggage storage when booking the tour.
3. Know the country you are going to
Make sure that you're aware of local customs. If the local women cover their shoulders – make sure you do to. Be wary of your footwear also – in places like Australia & New Zealand you can usually get away with flip flops, also known as ‘Jandals’ in NZ or ‘Thongs’ in Australia. However for those day trips or hiking trails always be prepared with a pair of runners / walking shoes. For the hotter months trekking sandals that double up as ‘fashionable’ are a great way to lighten your luggage for the girls. Also do not assume that the sun always shines in Australia and New Zealand. Cities like Melbourne and Auckland can be VERY unpredictable – sunny one minute, stormy the next! Always pack a pair of long pants or leggings and a jumper or cardigan! If heading to New Zealand or Australia during winter (June to August) – take a waterproof jacket!
4. Communicate with your family and friends at home
To travel is to be free! And sure you will be surrounded by new found friends every step of the way – but do not forget to touch base with your family and let them know each time you make a move! It also helps to get friendly with the hostel staff – let them know where you are off to for the day or if you have booked any tours.
Leaving your travel plans with family or friends before you go is something that isn't going to take anything away from your travels, but can just safeguard you somewhat now you are alone.
5. Plan Ahead
If arriving into a new city try and schedule to arrive during the day. We usually recommend booking at least your first two night’s accommodation – the last thing you want is to be stranded in an unknown city with nowhere to stay! Try to choose accommodation that is close to public transport or a hostel that includes airport transfers.
6. Keep your valuables safe
Ok so Australia & New Zealand are pretty safe places to travel to but we are never shocked to hear the every once in a while someone is the victim of hostel theft! Keep your valuables locked up in a hostel safe and make use of any lockers provided in your room. Unfortunately these things do happen so it always helps to take extra precautions. It's wise to carry your own padlock for lockers and of course to have padlocks on your luggage as well for when you're on public transport.
7. Have Back Up Documents
Before you leave make sure that you take a photo of your Driver’s License, Passport and Flight Details – store it on your phone, email yourself a copy and keep a printed out copy just in case! This will help with any lost passports.
8. Split your credit cards
Before you leave try to arrange a secondary credit card – VISA or MASTERCARD and Cash Passport Travel Cards are great! They allow you to withdraw cash without your card and help decrease the amount of foreign exchange rates you are being charged and gives you emergency access to a secondary fund in case you lose one of your cards! If you know you are heading on a night out and like a drink or ten – take one card with you (or just cash) and keep the other card somewhere safe.
9. Be Smart with your Smart Phone
Before arriving into a new location take a photo of where your hostel is located on a map. This always helps if your internet is not working in the area (quite common in remote parts of Australia & New Zealand). Always take your hostel business card with you – that way you have the address and phone number in case your phone goes flat. And for extra precautions – carry a small notebook with you EVERYWHERE! Include an emergency telephone number, the address and contact details of your hostel – and phone numbers of fellow travellers.
10. Don't be too tempted by technology
There's a fine line when it comes to technology as a solo traveler. On one hand, you should be looking to visit those places with free Wi-Fi as much as possible; these are a safe pathway to those waiting for your contact at home.
However, you most definitely shouldn't become too reliant on tech. You might be carrying your Netflix subscription across the pond, but that doesn't mean to say that you need to stay in every night and watch it. That's not what traveling is about and while you don't have to hunt for adventure on every day of your travels, sometimes you need to be conscious that you need to give yourself a push to get out there and enjoy what your new country has to offer.
11. Don't ask Google...
Following on from the previous point, let's build on the fact that you shouldn't rely too much on technology. Nowadays, one of the primary things we do when we need information is ask Google. Well, whilst traveling at least learn to take a more traditional approach. Stop and approach a local in the street, or maybe another traveler. By doing this, you are forcing yourself to talk to people, which can be one of the biggest problems a lot of people face when they are traveling by themselves.
12. Venture off the beaten track (but stay safe)
When you travel solo, one of the first mistakes that a lot of travelers make is that they follow the crowds. This is to be somewhat expected; after all, things suddenly feel a little safer if everyone happens to be going to a destination.
However, it doesn't have to be like this. Just because you are alone, it doesn't mean to say that you have to head to all of the tourist traps. This is the one occasion you have to follow your own nose. You don't have to follow what anyone else wants to do, and for this reason you should be looking to head off the beaten track and really find those local attractions that are untapped by tourists. Of course, you need to keep safety in the back of your mind at all times here, but the point we are trying to make is that you have full autonomy to head wherever you want - regardless of how remote it is.
13. Drink Safe
Never leave your drinks unattended and never tell strangers where you are staying. If you are walking home make sure that you organise to walk home with the friends you went out with – alternatively – take a taxi or an Uber – no matter how poor you are!
14. Be wary of some strangers...
If asked if you are travelling alone by a stranger, tell them that you are off to meet with your partner. In fact in some countries like India – it can help wearing a fake wedding ring! Your body language will play a huge part in attracting unwanted strangers – walk confidently and PRETEND you know where you are going! In most Asian countries you may have Tuk Tuk drivers / Travel Agents competing for your attention – try not to pull out a big Map with a confused look on your face... keep walking whilst catching a quick glimpse at your Google Maps
15. Bask in your own company
Finally, some people will approach this experience with utter dread. You might have been used to always traveling with family or friends, and this is a completely new experience for you that throws you out of your comfort zone.
However, try and view the positives. Solo travel has been found to bring the best out of people and even if you're something of an introvert, it's been found that these experiences can change your outlook and make you a much more confident person. Of course, it's not just about personal development, and let's not forget that this is probably set to be one of the most enjoyable and memorable times of your life.
Finally... Trust your instincts! Trust yourself and HAVE FUN!
Author: Craig Daniel is the CEO of Craig Daniel Marketing, a digital marketing agency. Backed up by ten plus years of experience in a variety of industries, including travel, marketing, and online technology, Craig is known for his skill in transforming company’s visions and goals into tangible revenue.