2016 is seeing a surge in solo travel; in an age of ever-increasing connectivity, we are starting to value our personal space, swapping hustle and bustle for rest and resuscitation, allowing ourselves to switch off. Earlier this year we predicted that we’d be seeing a rise in solo travel, with more and more travellers seeking unwinding, fulfilling and liberating adventures on their own. Read on for our top tips about getting the most from your solo journey.
PACK LIKE A PRO
Pack light, then take a few more absolutely non-essentials out. No one is keeping track of the outfits you’re wearing (so you can try a little recycling chic with the clothes you do take) and this way, you’ll know you can carry everything by yourself. It also leaves room for the inevitable souvenirs …
Leave the jewellery and other flashy accessories at home – again, you are unlikely to be looking to impress. A good lock for your suitcase is all the more essential when you are the only one keeping an eye on it, and a slash-proof bag is a valuable piece of kit, particularly if you are making a long overland journey without access to your luggage.
Although solo travel is widely more common, and travel in general safer, than ever before, you should exercise that little bit more caution when travelling alone. Keep a couple of your hotel’s business cards on you at all times – useful to hand over to cab drivers. Save numbers of the local police station and embassy in your phone when you arrive.
Keep some cash on you at all times; don’t strap your entire holiday budget to your leg, but an emergency stash can come in very useful. Spread the rest out between your luggage and other personal effects – you never know when the $100 bill in your washbag might come in handy. In some areas, such as Latin America or South East Asia, USD are more gratefully received than the local currency.
Keep extra copies of your documents spread across your luggage; as much as possible, share your itinerary and accommodation contact details with family and friends, or pre-arrange times for a call home. Register with the local embassy and IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers) and consider a more comprehensive insurance policy for total peace of mind.
LOSE YOURSELF & LIVE LIKE A LOCAL
Travelling alone to a destination is the ultimate chance to totally immerse yourself in the native way of life: think reinvention as well as rest and resuscitation. Learn at least a few key words of the lingo – knowing how to introduce yourself will endear you to the locals much quicker, who will greatly appreciate the effort, especially off the beaten track. Signing up to courses or classes – such as cooking – is a good way to delve further into the culture, as well as meet like-minded people, should you want some company. Don’t just read the guidebook, read the paper; check out major local headlines, live events, even the weather, to get a more active sense of what is going on around you.
Look for like-minded locals; when eating out, find a seat at the bar and chat to the person next to you. In some countries, the concept of a lone traveller is all the more foreign, so your curious solo status may well bag you an invite to dinner. Learn how (and don’t be afraid) to say ‘no’, but in the right company, this can be as genuine an experience as you can find.
EMBRACE THE ISOLATION
Relish the invaluable opportunity for reflection and inward conversation; enjoy the different challenges you’ll face and perspectives you’ll find when you tackle travelling in an entirely new environment entirely by yourself. You’ll develop an inner confidence that is impossible to find with the safety net of someone else with you. Prop yourself up in a café and watch the world go by as you write in a journal, or practice your photography – looking through a lens is a great way to explore and uncover the neighbourhood.
Equally, don’t be afraid to recharge by ordering room service and staying in one evening. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things: learning how to keep yourself company is crucial, as much at home as on holiday.
INDULGE YOUR INDEPENDENCE
This is exclusively, entirely and unequivocally your time – so don’t be afraid to be slightly (or significantly) selfish with it. One of the many benefits of traveling solo is the complete mastery of your time and money – both are yours to spend as you please. Do you want to lie in bed for a few more hours in the morning before shuffling outside to lie in a hammock for a few more hours in the afternoon? Want to tick off every museum in town before tea-time? It’s your call. You can plan, map and craft every aspect of your trip to suit you; no more debating over dinner venues or arguing over activities.
Better yet, plan as little as possible, and enjoy the utter freedom and flexibility that comes with an independent itinerary. Let your whims guide you, eat whatever, wherever, and whenever you want, sign up for something at a moment’s notice. Reset your schedule as you please: if dining alone really doesn’t appeal to you, wake up early, be the first at breakfast (or head down to a food market), and focus on getting as much done in the daylight hours as possible – by 9pm, you’ll be curled up in bed with that book you always wanted to finish. Enjoy life without compromise – you’ve earned it.
As much as many solo ventures are inspired by and designed around the ‘digital detox’ – disconnecting from our devices and evading emails – the abundance of accessories designed to make our travel safer and convenient are put to very grateful use by the lone traveller. Free public wi-fi is increasingly available, turning our phones into guidebooks, GPS trackers, translators, booking engines; a decent editing app will have your pictures looking professional enough to turn your friends green with envy (see for yourself the next time you Skype them). Other apps can help you meet people in new cities as well as find couch-surfing or home-share accommodations, and be a handy back-up for any travel documents you may lose.
Of course, you should stall the social media and make sure the office inbox remains invisible until you return, but technology can be a very useful tool in your travel kit if you’re alone.