This is a guest post by our great friend Heather from The Urban Gypsy. We met Heather in Central America in 2013, and have kept in touch ever since. You can follow Heather’s journey on her website, and read more about her in the bio below. In this article, Heather shares some tips and tricks for solo travel.
There are times when finding a travel partner can be quite a tall order. Not only do you have to agree on where to go (that is the easy part); but juggling careers, families and vacation time can be increasingly challenging. The first time that I was faced with traveling alone I had to overcome a giant mental hurdle. It would have been far too easy to forgo my travel plans and sit at home safe within my comfort zone. What I knew for certain was that life can’t stop because of other people’s circumstances. I had to find a way to experience my dreams with or without a shoulder to lean on (or in this case travel with). I have to admit that the biggest obstacle was getting over the fear of being alone. Once I actually started solo travel and doing what I loved, being alone was a piece of cake! Here are some tips that I have learned over the years that might help if you are contemplating seeing this great big world of ours solo.
Choose the right type of travel
With the internet at our fingertips finding the perfect type of travel is relatively easy. I have done various forms of travel throughout the years – from volunteering, to all-inclusive resorts, to backpacking to small group tours; the world is your oyster and it just depends on what exactly you are looking for.
Volunteering is a great way to become immersed in another culture, while at the same time meeting like-minded travelers. When I volunteered in Tanzania. I was able to stay in a home with people from all over the world. In the day we worked at our volunteer placements, and during the evening and weekends we were able to explore with our fellow housemates. The organization that I volunteered with was Cross-Cultural Solutions. They are a trustworthy option if you are looking for this type of travel, but I am sure there are plenty of other great organizations out there.
I can say without a doubt that the simplest and most cost and time effective form of travel has been small group tours. G Adventures is a prime example of a company that focuses on finding the perfect adventure that meets your needs while also centering on sustainable tourism. To make it more affordable they give you the option as a single traveler to share a room with other single travelers, which in turn cuts the price down dramatically. In my experiences of small group travel through G Adventures I have never had to worry about the logistics of where I am staying or how I am getting there; everything is taken care of once you set foot in the country.
Before I leave on any adventure I make sure that a loved one at home has a copy of all my travel documentation. I leave a copy of my passport, itinerary and flight schedule with my family as I think it is far better to be safe than sorry.
No matter where I have gone in the world, US dollars are the easiest currency to have on hand if there are any issues with my credit or bank card. Not every machine in the developing world is reliable, so having an extra stash of cash has saved me multiple times! I also make sure to never put all my cash in one spot. Separating your valuables is a good idea for safety and to have as a back-up if you ever do run into trouble. I find that it is also important to take the minimum amount needed on day trips. If you can lock up your credit cards and passport at your accommodation, take what you need for that day and you will save yourself a ton of worry.
Don’t be a target
Another tip that I highly recommend is wearing your purse or backpack so that you aren’t an easy target for thieves. When in crowded areas wear your backpack on your front like a baby. Yes, you may look a tad ridiculous, but pickpockets are crafty and quick and can get into your bag in a second. Try not to travel with a purse that has a thin strap. I have had two friends in separate instances have someone drive by on a moped and cut the strap right off their shoulder. Keep your bag on the side of the body that is away from the road and having it cross your body will also be another stumbling block for thieves.
Arriving at your accommodation
A great trick that comes in handy is when I check in is to take the business card or some form of paper with the name and address of the residence. You never know when you will stray away from the beaten path or need it to give to a taxi driver.
Be respectful of culture and dress accordingly
No matter whether you are at home or abroad, wearing revealing clothing can always encourage unwanted attention. During solo travel, unwanted attention can directly affect your safety. Be smart…mama doesn’t need to flaunt what she’s got!
In many countries it is important to cover your legs and shoulders. Make sure you are familiar with local customs before you arrive at your destination. You are treated with the same amount of respect that you give. Respect the local culture and you will be treated positively. I also suggest bringing a light scarf with you in your bag. At times you might need to cover your head, and this way you will be prepared.
Have a purpose
When you look lost and confused you immediately become a target for those looking to take advantage. It is OK to have a map and be unfamiliar with your surroundings, but my recommendation is to rip the map out of a guide book or fold it so it is less conspicuous. Instead of stopping in the middle of a crowd, figure out your route before venturing out. A coffee shop, washroom or even standing with your back against a wall takes you out of view from the preying vultures. I also believe that it is smart to walk with confidence and a purpose. If you look the part people will respond accordingly.
And finally… trust your gut!
No matter what you have scheduled or planned sometimes just listening to your gut is the most powerful compass you can use. I believe that we all have a sixth sense and if we get a negative vibe, chances are pretty high that we should get out of the situation.
Traveling is truly a gift that not everyone has the opportunity to experience. It not only teaches us about ourselves but opens our eyes to so many new ideas and cultures. I truly believe that everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their lifetime. It tends to push us out of our comfort zone and when we are in that place of uncertainty, this is when the magic truly happens.
My name is Heather Halpern and I am from Edmonton, Canada. I caught the ‘travel bug’ many years ago when I was a competitive rhythmic gymnast and since then I haven’t been able to quench the thirst for seeing more of the world. Even though I live a pretty regular life with a full time job, I try to go on at least one overseas adventure a year. This means, I skimp, save and try to live the happiest life possible throughout the year so that I can experience my one true love…travel!