Traveling solo is an adventure itself and one should not procrastinate to travel solo once the thought hits. Because with procrastination, “sometimes later becomes never”.
My first solo travel happened by chance after a planned trip to Spain with a friend had to be cancelled. Went to Cairns, Australia in 2013. Prior to Cairns I had a semi-solo trip in Busan in 2012 where I extended for three days on my own after a business trip. That was a test for me if I can survive a solo trip as I had always wanted to try going on a solo trip.
Solo travel is addictive, trust me.
These are my thoughts when planning first solo trip. However, some may apply to subsequent solo travels and travel with others.
1) For first solo trip, think about going to a country that speaks your language. No doubt it will make a very good story that you went and survived a trip to a place where you don’t understand or know how to read a single word, you should be enjoying your first solo trip. Stressing yourself trying to figure out where you are, how to get from point A to point B and seeking help from the locals who may not really help, is not the first solo trip that you would want to remember. Of course, the other side of the spectrum is – if you survived all through that, you may pick up new things and/or learn something new about yourself. Follow your gut feel when planning your first solo trip. I think being able to be comfortable on your own in a foreign country is key. I decided on Cairns partly because of the language (English), saw a free and easy package that I really liked and it is kind of ‘exotic’ as compared to Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Tasmania or Brisbane. And whenever I mentioned Australia, these are usually the few that my friends would mention, but not Cairns.
2) Research and planning. This includes any travel documentation (ie visa, passport validity, vaccination, etc), latest news on the places that you are planning to visit, weather conditions, list the places that you want to visit and how to get there, safety precautions, major events etc. As much as it is more fun to go with the flow, having an itinerary does help. No matter how much you planned a trip, Murphy does love to throw a curveball every now and then. Best to have a plan/itinerary and change it along the way once you are there. Internet is a great source but information can be outdated. And it is best (I think it is important) to find out what are the travel documentation you need and most importantly that your passport is still valid before you buy your ticket. I have a friend who found out that she needs a visa when she checks-in at the airport for her first solo trip to Myanmar and another friend who realised that her passport only valid for three months when she checks-in at the airport for her first solo trip to Seoul.
3) Leave a copy of your itinerary together with contact number of your hotel, tour agencies, etc with your loved ones. Bring a hardcopy with you and save an offline copy in your phone (or any other gadgets that you will bring along).
4) Do check if your Foreign Affairs ministry (or equivalent) provide a service where you can register your travel itinerary. For instance, Singaporeans can register their travel itinerary with MFA eRegister. This is a volunteer and free service. . The information provided will allow the MFA to contact you in case of emergencies. A great example would be the recent earthquake in Nepal and in Kota Kinabalu. Upon submission, a notification will be sent either via sms or email (depending on the option selected) together with the nearest Singapore Embassy/Consulate contact details. Another ministry that provide such service is the Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
5) How many of us subscribe to data roaming? If you don’t and there is free WIFI, do post on your social media account(s). This is to let your loved ones and/or friends know that you are still in one piece. Of course you may have friends who would envy you sitting on the beach sipping coconut juice while they slogged at work. If you don’t feel like posting, sending a WhatsApp/LINE/Viber/WeChat etc works too. And if there is no WIFI but network coverage still exist, why not send a simple message? I WhatsApp my sister daily before I leave the hotel for tours/activities and when I’m back to the hotel. Will post pictures or check-in on my Facebook as well. As much as I love to be disconnected when on holiday, I would not want my loved ones to be worried especially if there are reported news of incidents either before or while I am there. Hmm..but what if there is no network coverage?
6) Upon arrival, breathe and take it all in that you had arrived! And it is time for you to explore and begin your solo adventure. It is good to have a copy of local maps as I mentioned earlier, sources from internet can be outdated. When you are exploring, it is important that you look confident and pretend that you are familiar with your surroundings. If you show that you are a tourist and on your own, it may attract unwanted attention. If you need to open a map, look for a place where it is not that obvious. If need to go online, look for cafe that offers free WIFI – most times you may need to purchase a drink or so. On my third day in Cairns I was approached by a lady asking where is the nearest supermarket. Fortunately I found and went to Woolsworth on my first day and managed to show her the directions. While shopping at an aboriginal arts store on my last day, the shopkeeper thought I was from Melbourne.
7) Local day tours are great. Not only you will be able to meet new people, the local guides may take extra care of you and you get to do whatever you want to do. I bought a free and easy package in Singapore to Cairns that includes all the activities that I wanted to do – snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, hot air balloon over Atherton Tablelands and white water rafting at Tully River. In addition to this, booked a half day city tour with an online agency and cultural performance plus dinner at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Each of these days tours are operated by different agencies. Totally had a blast not only from each activities that I had signed up for but also meeting the visitors and locals alike. Met an awesome and funky grandma who is in her 60s who was the first to jump off the cliff at Tully River.
8) Eating alone is not for everyone. And when you travel alone you may be forced to eat alone. You must be comfortable and able to enjoy your own company. If eating alone at public places for the first time is difficult for you, pack your food and eat it in your room. I usually use this time to observe the locals, visitors or simply bask in the surroundings (while enjoying the food of course!) For local tours, they will normally pair up solo travelers with other solo travelers. When I was at Tjapukai, they paired me up with another solo traveler from Hong Kong. Interestingly, she was on the other hot air balloon at Atherton Tablelands (there were two balloons that day). We chatted quite a bit on that night and shared travel stories.
Have you traveled solo before? What advise would you give for first time solo travelers?