These eight travel gems will help you conquer the world on your own terms.
Earlier this year I ventured into the weird and wonderful world of Japan for the first time. Apart from the few words I learnt at primary school, I could not speak the language.
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As I learnt the hard way, being alone in a non-english country has some profound challenges. For starters, how do you eat well and experience recommended local cuisine, have fun, make friends and not die while venturing into the Far East alone?
Thankfully, I made sure to speak to friends who had travelled solo before and racked their brains for some simple survival tips.
But not everyone has these solo adventurers at their disposal. So having done the hard yards to test their recommendations, I’ve consolidated my golden rules.
Tips For Travelling Solo
Get A Sim Card!
This may seem like a no brainer – but I met a lot of people who did not have a local sim card and it made life incredibly frustrating and dangerous for them.
Not only is it handy, but having a local data plan allows you to find out train connections and translating words on the go. In my 20 days in the country, I purchased a 3GB data sim card for $50 dollars. That might seem a bit steep – but it’s so crucial to making the experience easy while you’re on your own.
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It meant I could WhatsApp my friends and family back home, use Google Maps often and kill time on Facebook while waiting for a train. The best part about having a sim card was by far my ability to access google translate – it saved my life, especially in a country with no English!
PODCASTS PODCASTS PODCASTS
A friend told me that this tip was non-negotiable – and they were correct.
I was planning to take some fire playlists I’d made on Spotify with me, but I was warned that in times of transit without friends to talk to, I’d crave the intellectual stimulation that music just doesn’t provide.
Podcasts proved to be a great tool to help time fly, especially on trains, busses and eating a meal by myself. It was like having a conversation with really interesting people.
Learn To Love Thy Self
This one is the hardest. Some go their whole lives without learning self-love. Don’t be like them.
Learning to appreciate my own company was something I always found very hard to do. I now can’t get enough of it. It doesn’t have to be as pretentious as it sounds.
It’s as easy as getting a coffee by yourself, reading a book or jotting some thoughts down in a journal. When traveling solo, make sure you are comfortable with just ‘being’ and not always ‘doing’. You’ll end up really disappointed if your happiness rides solely on connecting with other people.
#Hashtag @Twitter Snapchat FB
It might seem lame – but make sure you use a consistent hashtag for your adventure to use on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever social media platform you fancy… err Myspace? It’s a great way for your friends and family to follow what you’re getting up to. The stronger your pun-game the better.
WARNING: Make sure you don’t get too caught up in doing things just to be seen doing them. We’ve all been there before, it’s not fun and it defeats the entire purpose of travelling alone. Make sure you do, see and experience what makes you happy. It’s your trip and no one else’s.
Don’t Be Afraid To Try New Things!
This is another obvious one. What’s the point of experiencing new cultures if you’re only going to eat at western restaurants? One of my most memorable meals was when I walked into a little restaurant, and I mean little. We’re talking a bar with seven seats around it, and that’s it! The menu wasn’t in English and the owners could only say “Welcome” and “Thank You”. I just pointed at a random item on the menu and put up a finger and said “ichi” (Japanese for “one”… I think).
This was a risky move, I’ll admit it. But it’s how I had my favorite bowl of ramen in all of Japan. Luckily, I only paid ¥800 ($9.50) for it!
Learn To Embrace The F***k Up!
Okay, so this one I learnt the hard way – but luckily I was with friends at the time. Yes, I wasn’t solo but this gave me my first taste of a mistake. A lesson I took with me for the rest of my solo journey.
We were travelling in between cities (there were four of us) and we were either napping or reading our books on the train. Out of nowhere, my friend popped his head up in panic and said “this is our stop, we need to change here!” We had just pulled up at a station, so none of us even questioned it. We just grabbed our bags and jumped off in a hurry.
We got off the train, the train leaves, and we’re not in Hiroshima. We’re in… well actually I don’t remember where we were. Because we were in the middle of nowhere. “It’s okay” we thought, the next train will come soon. WRONG! The next train was due in over an hour.
So what were we to do in the middle of Japan’s winter on the platform of a rural train station?
Sure, we could have been angry at our friend who made a mistake, or we could venture out into the void that is the Japanese countryside. That’s what we did. If it wasn’t for our 50 minute stroll I would never have seen that little town. Sure nothing was there – but it all adds to the adventure! No matter if you’re with mates or by yourself, embrace unexpected situations and throw yourself in to them. You never know what might happen.
Stay In Large Dormitories And Invite Yourself Along To Things!
This is a double-tip (lucky you!). Firstly, stay in large dorms in hostels. I found this to be a great way to meet people. You’re literally surrounded by 10-20 other people who are either in small groups or alone. You’re likely to find other people who can relate to the loneliness of solo travel.
Couple that in with ‘invite yourself along to things‘ and you’ve just made a friend! Each morning I’d have the same routine. Taking direct inspiration from Kendrick Lamar‘s song ‘Swimming Pools‘.
Wake up (drank), Shower (drank), Go to the common room (drank), See what other people are doing that day (drank), ask if you can tag along (drank), faded (drank).
Join A Tour Group Or Travel Group
I did this a few years ago when travelling in the Middle East – but many people do this in Europe with Contiki, Buss-About and TopDeck tours.
Tours are great for the inexperienced traveller as you’re thrust together with people and still get the luxury of time to move about by yourself. It really does give you flexibility, plus most of the stuff is already organised for you.
I found this a good way test the waters of a country and get your social and geographic borders sorted. It’s not the best way to truly experience the culture of a city – but it will boost your confidence and help you settle in. It also helps you target places you’d like to check out in more depth, with the added benefit that you’ll already have some basic understanding of it’s culture and how it operates.
So, there you have yourself a run-down on how to conquer solo-travel. While it may seem daunting at times, the quicker you learn to embrace travelling alone, the greater your experience will be – what are you waiting for!?