Tips and Tricks, Travelling Solo Article cover photo
20 June 2016

Tips and Tricks, Travelling Solo

Sometimes it’s by choice and sometimes by necessity, but at some stage all of us will travel alone. Travelling solo has both advantages and disadvantages, as David Bowden explains.

It’s a lot easier making decisions when you travel alone as you can do what you like, when you like – it really is the ultimate in self-indulgence. You have no one else to blame when things don’t go to plan and, you can take all the glory, when something really fantastic happens.

However; when there’s nobody to look after the bags when you use the toilet or accompany you down that dark laneway to that highly recommended accommodation on Airbnb, maybe having at least one other travel partner, isn’t such a bad idea.

Here are a few tips to ensure those who venture out on their own to discover this wonderful world we all call home, have safe and amazing experiences.

Safety first

There’s safety in numbers. Solo travellers are more vulnerable than couples or groups so you need to be constantly on your guard. This doesn’t mean being paranoid but being extra careful of possible threats and dangers.

Stay in touch

Inform people of your travel plans especially if travelling alone to a dangerous area. Many governments have an online registration service where travellers can provide personal details so they can be contacted or warned of any risks that come to the attention of government intelligence. These days, it’s easy to put a posting on Facebook or Instagram to let your family and friends know of your planned activities. Note down the phone number of your embassy in the country (s) you are travelling to before you head off on holidays.

Single room supplement

When two people share a room; they share the cost but when you travel solo on an organised group tour, it’s almost expected that you’ll share a room with a fellow traveller. Two singles will be expected to share even if they don’t know each other. Single room charges are incurred for those who don’t want to share with a stranger. A few companies do waive the single supplement for the first single to book and some agents like A2A Safaris (www.a2asafaris.com) can negotiate discounts on single room supplements.

Counter cyclical travel

Travel off-season where possible to have a better chance of avoid single room supplements. Hotels are more accommodating when they have rooms to spare. There are other useful ideas at www.solotravelerblog.com

Look at me

Selfie-sticks are the ultimate aid for solo travellers – they were invented for solitary souls roaming the planet.

Going local

Some solo travellers like sticking to themselves while others travel solo to meet people. Solo travellers need to assess each situation as they arise with some criminals preying upon the naivety of foreigners. Excessive drinking or drug taking is unwise with new-found friends and knowing the legality of taking drugs in each country is important. On the positive side, those who travel with an open mind will experience an amazing array of unplanned events and activities.

Dedicated floors

Women’s only floors are becoming increasingly popular in some hotels so if you’re concerned about safety (and you’re a woman) ask when making a booking. Normally, there isn’t an extra charge for this. Check out www.zafigo.com for other tips for female travellers.

Upgrade material

Single travellers have a greater chance of being upgraded when flying. However, airlines usually start moving their loyal frequent flyer travellers to the pointy end before singles so join the airline’s programme too. Dress smartly, smile a lot and be nice to ground and air crew and you never know; you could be enjoying Champagne and caviar.

Arrive during daylight hours

There’s nothing worse than arriving in a new destination in the dark so book your travel to arrive during daylight hours. It’s wise to at least book the first night’s accommodation in a new destination and to research how to get there while travelling to the destination. Try and look as confident and not like a tourist. Looking lost with a map is a dead giveaway.

Pack light

As a solo traveller you can’t depend on anyone else; you need to be self-sufficient and agile and the best way to do this is to travel light so that your luggage stays with you the whole time. A backpack will free up your hands to deal with maps and apps, hand over money and write notes. Before you travel, put everything you think you need on a bed and then halve it (especially clothes). Washing clothes each night saves on the outfits you need – carry detergent and use the in-room hairdryer to dry them.

Layers of luggage

Take a daypack within your backpack. Leave the larger pack in a secure place (with the concierge or a railway locker) and use the smaller pack for daily sightseeing trips. Take a chain and lock to secure your luggage on a train or bus for when you need to use the toilet or the dining car.

Lonely vs alone

Travelling alone need not mean you’re lonely. Solo travellers are mostly comfortable with their own company and have ways to entertain themselves when they’re alone. Fellow travellers should respect someone’s privacy and shouldn’t assume they’re lonely.

Ring of confidence

Some experienced solo female travellers wear a ring on their wedding finger to keep unwanted admirers at bay. Don’t tempt robbers by wearing valuable jewellery or expensive watches.

Speed dial backup

The thought of losing your phone is unimaginable but it can be even worse if you don’t have at least a few important phone numbers backed up in a safe place.

Insurance

Travel insurance offers peace of mind for when you fall sick, injure yourself or lose your luggage. When you’re by yourself, it’s even more comforting to know there’s backup. Read the fine print to see what’s covered and what isn’t and record the company’s 24-hour emergency number in a few places in case you need to contact them. Label your bag with your phone number as that’s the quickest way someone can contact you should it be lost.

Be a book-carrying traveller

There’s a bookshop in Phnom Penh whose tagline is: always carry a book so you don’t look so damn stupid. This is especially important for solo travellers; you’ll need something to replace the conversation and getting lost in literature is the best way. Meal times are the worst times for singles (it’s called solomangarephobia) and if you want privacy; read your book. If you want to meet people; ask to be seated at a communal table or bar.

Meet the locals

Have lots of photos of home on your Smartphone as they’re a great icebreaker for getting to know the locals, especially curious children. Learn at least a few words of the local language too.

Illustration: Eric Wong; Images: Rachel Tan