Many of our greatest fears tend to be somewhat irrational in one way or another. From childhood fears about great white sharks being in a 8ft. deep swimming pool to dreaming about losing all of our teeth just because we ate one tiny grain of sugar; we’ve got a lot going on in our heads. From my experience, though, those fears pale in comparison to the doubts we face when we want to commit to something “major” like solo travel.
Quite often, we see reports about people losing all of their belongings after getting beaten up because of some no good thief at some paradise beach in Asia. Even still, we see travelers getting scammed left and right out of their hard earned money more often than ever despite being in the age of readily available information.
While issues like the ones mentioned above are perfectly good reasons not to travel, such issues shouldn’t be used as the impetus to forget about traveling.
From the moment you were born and, heck, even 2000 years before you were born; the same things that happen today had already been happening for thousands of years. Don’t sweat it too much and just forget about all the ridiculousness.
In time, once you get to actually traveling, you’ll find that your doubts and fears were just about as silly as a pineapple wearing sunglasses on a beach.
See? Hilarious, isn’t it?
1. Just pick a damn place
We all know at least a handful of people who’ve gone on and on about how they want to travel so badly that they’d do anything for a chance to do so. Yet, it’s been years since they started telling you about how they want to travel. By this point, you’ve probably lost count of how many times you’ve said “then just go already” in your head.
Don’t be that person that takes 4 years just to pick whether you should do it or not. Instead, just decide on a place and go already. Once you’ve made up your mind on travel, just go do it. Of course, that’s not to say to drop everything immediately (unless you really think you should).
While there are tons of places you probably shouldn’t go because of war, famine, or whatever else, there are a lot more places to go that are very traveler friendly.
Think about the types of experiences you’d like and what it is you’re seeking to learn. Based on the criteria you’ve set for your destination(s) make a short list of places you think have the most to offer for you.
For example: Let’s say I’m planning a solo travel trip 5 months from now. I’m looking to learn about how to live more in-tune with the natural world and learn more about cultures that I’ve never experienced before. IF, let’s say, I’m a person coming from some developed industrial nation, I probably won’t want to go to the U.S.A. when my main goal is to be more in tune with nature and learn about culture. While America does have a culture of its own, chances are, with its towering skyscrapers, America’s culture probably won’t be much too different from my own industrial nation’s culture. Instead, I could make a list of countries in Africa or Asia which has hundreds to thousands of years worth of cultural experience and knowledge still being handed down. I could plan to go to Ethiopia, Sudan, Bhutan, India, Philippines, China, etc…
On the other hand, if you’re unsure of where to go after much deliberation, there tons of apps/website out there that generate random country names along with short snippets of information about the country.
One such site is : https://random.country/ which I’ve personally used before.
Don’t be that ol’ foggey who paces around a room for hours as he thinks about countries to go to after having already crossed off 190 other countries while saying “I gotta find somewhere safer than that other one that had a flood 15 years ago. Who knows when it’s gonna happen again. I can’t risk it…”. Boy, sit down and just pick a damn place.
2. Research your destination(s)
One of the key factors in staying safe as a traveler is keeping up with what’s happening in the place(s) you want to go. While you may want to go to, let’s say, the Cayman Islands; you probably won’t want to be there once you actually get there because of how expensive it is to be there. At least, that’s if you’re a Canadian like me.
2 years ago, I went to the Cayman Islands on the first part of my 16 month backpacking trip. When I planned to go to the Islands, I was only looking at the gorgeous beaches and all of the amazing things people had to say about being there. What I didn’t take into account, however, was the exchange rate of Canadian dollars (CAD) to Cayman dollars (KYD). At the time of my trip, the exchange rate was something like 1CAD = 0.70KYD. That’s a loss of .30cents to every dollar! Ridiculous! Entirely an overstep on my part.
While ultimately the Cayman Islands was a fantastic place to go to, in hindsight, I probably won’t be going back anytime soon because of how badly the Canadian Dollar is doing right now.
Make sure to, before you book a ticket for your destination, look into the exchange rates. While the exchange rates shouldn’t be the straw to break the camel’s back (final deciding factor), it should be one of the feathers that allows the swan to soar (part of the greater whole).
Additionally, you should look into whether the country you want to visit is currently in a time of war and if all tourists on sight are being hunted. While it is on the extreme side of the spectrum, it has happened multiple times in the past so it isn’t too much of a stretch for it to happen again.
Or even just look into things like the more common behaviours you should be aware of like: taking your shoes off before entering a home/building.
3. Set a number and commit to it
Many of us fall into that rut of repeating “I need to save more money before I can travel.” like a mantra to ward off evil spirits. While it is true that the more money we have saved up the better off we are, many of us don’t know when enough is enough.
Don’t get stuck with the idea that you need exorbitant amounts of money to travel. After all, even penniless monks throughout the world travel around for years and they still manage to do so without dying. If people who’ve literally taken a vow of poverty can travel around, experience new things, and learn: there’s not one damn good reason to say you can’t.
- Be frugal and don’t waste your money on unnecessary things like popcorn at the movies, soft drinks, junk food, etc…
- NEVER, EVER go into debt to travel. You’ll end up regretting it later on down the road.
- Even if you set a hard limit of how much you think you “need” for your trip and then take away 30% of that: you’ll probably still have tons of money left over to have a great experience.
So, to get yourself motivated, pick a number you’re comfortable with and try your very best to save that amount of money within a certain time frame so that you can travel.
- As a way to “set your ass on fire” so you go to travel: Once you’ve decided on the number you’re gonna save up to, book a ticket as soon as you can to your destination. This way, you probably won’t back out of your plans and keep going back to saying you still need more money. When the time comes for your flight, even if you haven’t saved as much as you’d planned to, you’ve still gotta go.
For example, when I was 18, I wanted to travel for at least a year. I thought I would need $30,000 but I knew wasn’t gonna get that anytime soon so I made a goal of $15,000 for a 16month backpacking trip. I booked a ticket about 10 months in advance and tried to get to my goal as best as I could. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to save up enough and I only wound up with around $11,500 saved up before leaving. However, I’d already booked the ticket 10 months before so I wasn’t gonna change my plans.
4. Get things in order so you don’t have to worry too much when you get back
Before you go, make sure you’ve got your bills paid and a way to file your taxes (if you’re gonna be away during tax season) as well as being caught up on your vaccinations/shots as well as any due diligence you’ve got to get in order like asking for time off or quitting if you want to. Just remember never to burn any bridges. You may end up needing to cross them later down the road.
5. Look for cheap (yet reliable) accommodation
There are a few staples when it comes to solo travel aside from the more “normal” way of looking for local hotels and hostels.
- Couchsurfing – Couchsurfing allows you to meet up with other travelers who are willing to host fellow travelers at their home. Just as the name suggests, in many cases you’ll be allowed to crash on someone’s couch or just about anywhere else they’ve got room in their home. This is the preferred method for many people to find accommodation (including myself) because it’s entirely free and safe.
- WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms allows people to stay at registered organic farms in exchange for your time and effort. Basically, it’s like a volunteering experience where you can learn and grow on an organic farm for free.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is great for rentals when you travel. While places tend to be on the more moderate side of the scale in terms of expense, some places can be quite expensive.
Don’t let this list be an exhaustive one on cheap/free and reliable accommodation. There are many other different ways to find great places to stay that are still perfect for solo travel.
6. Hope for the best, expect the worst
While on the road, you’ll always want have a worst case scenario accounted for. What would you do if you’ve gone and lost your documents like your passport? Or, say, you went cliff jumping and broke your back. What would you do then?
Always make at least 2 copies of your documents like passports, flight itinerary, I.D., etc… for safe keeping. Copies can be given to a friend or family member you trust to hold onto so that, if need be, you can have someone send your documents over. The other copy should be kept in a safe spot only you’ll know of while you travel (under the inner sole of your shoe, underwear, hidden compartment, etc…). As well, make sure to have different forms of currency available like bank cheques, travelers cheques, credit cards, heck even carry around egg shells if you have to. Just make sure to always have the worst case scenarios covered.
Even if things go all wonky on you, at least only 1/4 of your body will be stuck in quicksand instead of the probable 1/2 of your body that would have sank in by now if you hadn’t made preparations before hand.
- Always carry a first aid kit in your bag.
- Get a local map of where you’ll be.
- When it comes to food and water, always pack more than you think you need.
- Get traveler’s insurance in case you sustain any injuries while on your trip. There are many insurance companies out there so it’ll be up to you to find the best one to suit your needs. Especially when it comes to solo travel, you’ll what to have your bases covered since you probably won’t have anyone else to rely on but yourself was you travel.
7. Get the best gear you can
When it comes to traveling alone, you’ll probably be on the go quite a lot. Get the best quality stuff you can before leaving for your trip. Get a good bag to hold your stuff that’s not gonna rip while you travel. For solo travel, it’s important to get a great set of clothes and shoes that are comfortable to move around in as you tend to move around a lot more when you solo travel than you would by traveling otherwise.
8. Get a decent travel phone
While on the go, you’re gonna want to have a phone with you even if you’re just using it to call taxis and/or the authorities to report that gorgeous lady that stole your wallet. Don’t get some cheaply made rinky dink brand that’ll break from 1 drop of condensation being built up from you exhaling as you speak into the mic. Get a phone that isn’t too expensive or flashy yet serves whatever purpose you have of it. Besides, those cheap phones break really fast and you’ll just end up adding more waste while condoning the “waste culture” mindset.
9. Booking your ticket(s)
I tend to book my tickets through either cheapoair.ca or skyscanner.ca because of the awesome deals but you can go through any site you’d like. Just be aware of the fact that, most of the time, the first listed prices on large flight fare companies aren’t gonna be the cheapest so you’ll probably save a few hundred dollars if you look around on budget sights as much as possible. While booking cheaper flights usually means longer layover times and more transfers, just think of it as part of the journey. Or, if you’re a money pinching goofball like me, think of the $150 you saved just by waiting an extra 5 hours for your transfer at the airport. Regardless of whether you solo travel or not, you should be looking to save wherever you reasonably can.
10. NEVER EXCHANGE CURRENCY EXCEPT AT TRUSTED ESTABLISHMENTS
Notice the emphasis with the all caps? Yeah, it’s pretty damn important this one.
At practically every single destination you’ll go to, you’ll find counterfeit money in circulation. As a traveler, you’ll tend not to have the time nor the know-how to spot every single fake out there. Let’s face it, criminals are fantastic at what they do and sometimes it’ll be impossible for you to tell if you’ve been scammed until it’s already happened.
There are tons of scammers out and about on the streets that will make up any multitude of excuses to convince you to give them your money in exchange for “currency”. While some cases can be placed aside as real situations, more often than not, if someone’s trying to exchange money on the street (especially if they’ve got a calculator in hand)- you’re gonna get scammed.
11. Start your days early
During my 16 month backpacking trip, I had the awesome experience of being an adventure guide. During my time as an adventure guide, I got used to waking up at around 5a.m. and noticed how much more I was getting done because of it. As they say, “The early bird gets the worm”. Plus, the earlier you wake up, the less traffic there tends to be when you’re trying to get from point a to point b and further. Trust me, spending 2 hours in traffic because you woke up at 7a.m. instead of 6a.m. is gonna kill your vibe.
12. Don’t walk around like a googly eyed baby with starlight in his/her eyes
As travelers, we tend to look around at a lot of things with brightly lit faces full of enthusiasm and vigor. A lot of the time, on the outside, it looks like we’re seeing everything for the first time. While it may appear to be nothing worth noting, looking like a tourist is the last thing you want to do when you’re actually a tourist. Why? Well, it’s because of scammers and thieves you see.
The more we look like easy targets who know nothing of the happenings around us, the more scammers will try to take advantage of us. Most of us tend not to “know the value” of our money once we exchange our currency which makes it really easy for scammers to take money from us.
Always try your best to look like you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing. Even if you’re lost in some urban jungle whose name you can’t even begin to pronounce where the alphabet looks like the scribbles you made in grade 2, just play it cool like you’ve got the next 50 years of your life planned out in advance.
As a solo traveler, you’ll want to gain the skill to be able to put your fake face on and start pretending you know exactly what you’re doing.
13. Don’t be afraid to tag along with other travelers
Many of us tend to veer away from other people. Whether it’s because of a societal conditioning or maybe that person to the left just smells a little too much like 20 day old unwashed armpits, we all have things we tend to stay away from.
When it comes to solo travel, though, the aversion from things that make us “uncomfortable” is quite detrimental to our trip.
Be willing to step outside your comfort zone once in a while; take the risks in life that seem worth taking. The ride might not be as predictable if you’d just planted your feet and stayed put, but it will be a heck of a lot more interesting. Edward Whitacre, Jr.