We’ve all heard one of those crazy solo travel stories. It usually happened to a ‘friend of a friend’, where some dream vacation quickly spiralled into a travel nightmare. Sometimes the stories involve a handful of flight cancellations, other times luggage gets lost, on rare occasions somebody even gets sick in public (and not in a good way – enough said). Gross. If they’re really unlucky they might get some twisted combination of all these things. Earlier this year, that was me.
While I managed not to get sick in public on this trip (barely), my week-long adventure involved some “challenging” elements to say the least. But from it I learned invaluable lessons in how to be smarter and safer while travelling, and how to keep a positive outlook when things are simply out of your control. Here’s some of my hard-earned wisdom, you know, just in case you end up being that ‘friend of a friend’ one day. Let’s begin…
1. Memorise your online banking logins
If you lose all of your cash and cards, having access to your online banking will be key to continuing your travels. If you can’t log in without your username and password automatically saved on your phone or computer, you can’t access money. Memorise your account number, login and password before you leave home or have it written down somewhere safe (that means not in your wallet). When I was left card-less and cashless with only spare change to get me through five more days of travel, being able to access my online banking (and a friendly fellow-Canadian traveller) saved my butt. A quick online banking session, an e-transfer and a stroll to the ATM later, I was back on my feet and ready to indulge in some local comfort food and a drink… or three.
2. Be prepared to get sick
All seasoned travellers know that food poisoning can happen, and when it does, it can be ruthless. Be smart about where you’re eating and ask your local guide for tips on where to eat so that you can enjoy the local cuisine worry-free. If you have more adventurous foodie tastes, go prepared. Before my trip I went to the travel doctor for an antibiotic to combat any kind of food-induced sickness, which was a lifesaver. Preventative prescriptions are also available if you are really worried about getting sick.
3. Insure your valuables
I never travel with nice or expensive stuff in my bag, so paying extra money to insure myself for those ‘just in case’ and ‘what if I lose my $8 H&M t-shirt’ scenarios never made sense to me, until now. I lost my cash, camera and was not able to secure a few extra comforts during my delayed flights because I cheap’d out and went health insurance only. So if you’re travelling somewhere far far away, or your flight was expensive, or the places you’re visiting might be a little rougher around the edges, or you want to bring your DSLR camera with you – get insurance to cover the basics. It will feel like you’re throwing away money when you get back safe and sound, but if you run into a little back luck it’ll be well worth it when the replacement cash, camera, flights etc. magically appear.
4. Download apps before you go
Even with the best phone plans, running data while travelling can add up quickly. Most accommodation these days has at least spotty Wi-Fi available – but access to internet opens up a wide range of apps you can use to chat with people back home for free. Plan ahead and have your favourite communication tools on your phone before you leave on your solo travel adventure. Let your friends or family know how you’ll be reaching out to them so they actually check WhatsApp, Facebook chat, Skype etc to see your messages in real-time. That way, if you need a money transfer, somebody to lean on, or assistance of any kind, somebody at home has your back and you can get in touch with them efficiently.
REMEMBERING THE POSITIVE
1. Take things in strides
With solo travel, it’s easy to get caught up in a pity party, or become paranoid once you’ve had a taste of bad luck. Your friends aren’t around to whip you back into shape and pull you out of the dumps, so you have to do it yourself. Take a minute to remember how much you planned, saved and worked to go on this adventure. Break your days into half-days and take things as they come. If you have a bad morning, set yourself up to have a fun or relaxing evening and do something special to help you hit the mental reset button.
2. Believe in karma
Bad things are known to happen in threes, or fours in my case. Once your cycle starts, combat it with a few good deeds. I can’t say for certain whether Karma is real or if good deeds actually stifle future bad luck, but showing kindness towards a stranger, helping somebody in a time of need or any sort of selfless act will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It will also make somebody else’s day a little bit better, and maybe they were waiting for their own luck to turn around. So if you can’t control the bad luck you’re receiving, try to control the good. Go out of your way to help brighten somebody else’s day and your Karma might just smile on you.
3. It’s your trip and you can cry if you want to
Let’s face it, a rough trip can put even the best of us on the verge of a toddler-style melt down. So if you’re having a bad day and need to cry, just let it out. Once you’re done, you’ll automatically feel better thanks to the endorphins that your body naturally releases during a sob sesh. There’s also something empowering about embracing being openly sad as an adult instead of faking our way through being ‘fine’ when you’re not. If you’re somewhere like an airport, maybe try to keep the hysteria levels to a minimum and opt for one of those ugly-face silent cries instead (think Toby Maguire in Spiderman kind of cry).
4. Remember the positive
The world is full of good people and incredible moments, but for whatever reason, the bad tends to outshine the good. From the negative news headlines we fixate on, to how we talk about exes we once loved, to how we remember our not-so-perfect travel experiences. But it’s important to make a conscious effort to remember the best parts of your trip even when things have gone wrong. No sarcasm, or cynicism allowed. That delicious street food stand you went to three times in two days because you just had to have more, the warmth you were shown by total strangers at the bus station when lost, the pristine views you were privileged to see day after day. Write those memories down, print out those photos and don’t forget to remember the positive experiences you had along the way.
Ready for a solo travel adventure? Roll solo on a group tour with Intrepid. Most of our travellers are travelling alone. You’ll fit right in.