Dear Solo Traveler,
Embarking on a journey alone, with the world as your only friend, is a remarkable and life-altering experience. Solo travel is an adventure that will teach you more about yourself and the world around you than any other. The only person to hold your hand is you. The only guide is a stranger.
As your wise friend Wayne, I’d like to offer you some advice, not to scare you or make you hesitate , but to empower you to make the most of this unique opportunity. Let’s discuss health, safety, trust, and the spiritual and mental aspects of solo travel.
1. Prioritize Self-Care: Your health is your most precious possession. Prioritize rest, hydration, and proper nutrition. Ensure you have travel insurance to cover unexpected medical expenses. I’ve found Nomads Insurance to be very good. Remember, its very easy to get carried away on the adrenaline of travel and forget to take care of your health. When you embark on your solo travel you’re taking your health adviser with you every day – and that’s you. Book some regular consultations with your head.
2. Vaccinations and Medications: Depending on your destination, make sure you are up-to-date on vaccinations and carry necessary medications. Get all this figured before you start your solo travels. You don’t need to pack a pharmacy (farmasi) and lug it around with you but get the basics sorted. It’s also smart to take some images of your regular medications so if you lose your bag you can show a drugstore (apotek) what you need.
3. Traveler’s First Aid Kit: Pack a small first aid kit with essentials like band aids and bandages, antiseptic, tweezers, pain relief, gastro medication, sunscreen, insect repellent, sanitiser, face masks, cotton buds, scissors, a little cold pack for burns and sprains, antibiotic ointment and some aloe vera gel. Red Cross first aid kits are the go.
4. Stay Hydrated and Eat Locally: Drinking water and trying local foods is part of the adventure. Just be mindful of hygiene and quality. And yes, strange but true – people did travel throughout the world before plastic bottles of water. Marco Polo wasn’t slugging from a small plastic bottle of water as he dined with Kublai Khan in his Heavenly Court. Main thing is if you can’t source filtered water, stick with water that has been boiled. And use a personal water bottle. Eating locally where everyone else is eating is usually the best bet. I rarely eat European in Asia or Asian in Europe etc, it just doesn’t make sense – but then again I did once eat a tasty chicken schnitzel in a German restaurant in Luang Prabang in Laos cooked by the South Korean owner, so what do I know! Just get your food freshly cooked- eat nothing that’s been cooked and sitting around on open air bench tops etc – that’s a recipe for illness. I am just going over this stuff because you’re travelling solo – so try to keep well, there is no-one else walking beside you.
Safety and Precautions:
5.Do Some Research: Prior knowledge is a very good idea. Reduce those surprises. Research the safety situation, monitor the news, stay au fait with the local customs. You’re travelling solo so take a bit more care. If your own country is suddenly very unloved by the country you’re about to visit, just don’t go. Back off and creep away.
6.Communication: Keep a reliable means of communication with you at all times. Get a good cell phone, a small power bank, a local SIM. It’s also a thought to register with your local embassy if you’re going to be in the country for a while.
7.Stay Connected: Update your contacts regularly about where you are going and when. Let them know any changes. No need to tell everyone in the world, just let the people who care about your existence know what you are doing. It’s also a wonderful idea to have a local trusted contact. Someone in the new country that you can call on. Solo travel means really utilising contacts, big time. You can even try linking in with some travel forums and travel advisory groups to arrange some useful contacts for solo travellers at your destination. Even a quick little tour when you arrive with a trusted local is a wise thing to do.
8.Travel Light and Blend In: It’s a smart precaution to minimise all those little things than can draw attention to you. Don’t wear the bling when everything in the main town is just shades of grey. No fancy jewellery, no T shirts with slogans, no camouflage gear because you’re a tough guy. There will always be a guy tougher than you that it’s best not to meet. And don’t wear those bright neon colours unless you’re hiking and need some visibility when you’re trying to wave down the helicopter. You don’t want the local thieves lazily tracking you in the bazaar because they can see your orange snapback from a hundred metres.
9.Trust Your Instincts: If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your intuition and remove yourself from any situation that makes you uncomfortable or unsure. Keep 360ing your surroundings. Get into that habit of surveying your surroundings and notice all the nuances. But don’t get hyper vigilant, because that can make you stand out too. Checking the internet on your cell phone for ‘precautionary safety advice’ about a new place while you’re standing in the middle of the town square and totally focused on the screen for too many minutes is plain stupid.
Trust and Making Connections:
10.Be Open-Minded: The attraction of solo travel is the opportunity to meet new people and experience different cultures all by yourself. Approach each encounter with an open heart and mind. This new person you’ve just met could be your next forever friend. Don’t spook them.
11.Be Friendly: Some of the best, purest relationships are made on the road. There’s something rich and bountiful about sharing time with other travellers in new surroundings when you both probably know you’ll never see each other again. It’s like saying hello to your life. Do it. Have a bit of caution but also stay open. This stranger could also be your saviour tomorrow. Probably not, but you’ve encountered goodwill. Like the Justin Townes Earle songs says, “ I don’t need no money, I’ve just been banking you tonight”.
12.Learn Some Language: Travelling solo, it’s just you. There is no-one else to do the talking on your behalf. You can’t stay mute and just nod your head while your companion does all the relationship stuff. It’s up to you. Knowing some local language and practising so you get it right will open lots of doors. It just shows you give a damn and at least you’re trying. A phrase book from Lonely Planet is worth an effort.
The Spiritual and Mental Stuff:
13. Embrace Solitude: Solo travel can be a deeply spiritual experience. It allows you to be alone with your thoughts, to reflect, and to connect with the world on a profound level. Sometimes you can even just disappear into the big sea of life and just be. That doesn’t mean forgetting your safety and health, but it will mean letting go, letting all those silly worries about your life fall away like so much extra baggage that you just don’t need. It can be quite profound just simply watching the world. I still love waking early after dawn and walking the streets and watching a new town and it’s people go about the business of preparing for another day.
14. Embrace Friendship: Travelling solo also means you’ll store up the appreciation for travelling with a good friend or family. Sometimes it is nice to just have someone who knows you extra well to talk about things you’re experiencing. But as I said before, stay open to new friendships. Your next travel could be with someone you met on that amazing solo travel last year.
15. Explore Your Curiosity: When you’re on your own the freedom is incredible. Solo travel means never having to restrict your passions, never having to rein in your curiosity for what’s just around the corner because of someone else. That is an amazing liberation. Want to just spend the whole day wandering through the art museum and gazing at the painters you love? Do it. Feel like taking a local bus out to the old Roman ruins and then take a swim in the sea afterwards. Just go. You don’t need to check in with anyone else’s plans or emotions but your own. This is a nurturing time for your spirit, use the time well. Go mad with curiosity.
A Few Parting Words:
16. Patience and Flexibility: Things won’t always go as planned, and that’s okay. Solo travel means that it’s just you, so if you make a poor decision you have to live with it. You’re out in the middle of the Maidan in Kolkata and the sky is suddenly dark and here comes a massive rain and you don’t have an umbrella. Tough luck. You’re going to get very wet. Don’t be too hard on yourself, just do your best and be comfortable with that.
17. Respect and Responsibility: It’s a funny thing but if you travel with a friendly albeit streetwise openness and humility the world will take care of you. Solo travellers sometimes have the most amazing experiences when strangers welcome them into their homes and their lives. It’s harder for two and definitely tougher for three or four but just being a solo traveller can leave you open to unique embraces and kindness that will, really touch your heart. You see, hard to believe, but in this world there are billions of nice good hearted people. Be one too.
So safe travels, dear solo traveller, may the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back.