From barely making it on time to hop on the scheduled buses, trains and flights; to not bringing enough cash and having none of your cards work; to being yelled at by locals and almost receiving a penalty for your ignorance of the local laws—when it comes to travel, anything can happen.
When you venture out into the world, you will experience unexpected twists and turns throughout your journey. No matter how experienced of a traveller you are or how detailed your itinerary is, life simply happens. Sometimes lessons are learned from misfortunes, other times you experience adventures of a lifetime.
Travelling alone is liberating, but requires greater responsibility on yourself. There will be situations and circumstances you'd come across that you wouldn’t anticipate.
Every country, state, and city is different, and unless you've travelled and lived there previously, you're a foreigner and you need to travel smart.
Here are some quick tips and reminders for first-time solo travellers:
Do your research and plan ahead
Always make time to plan ahead. Every traveller is different and planning itineraries could be quite a hassle. Ask yourself, what type of traveller are you? Are you the laid-back type that just wants to relax and do a few activities a day? Or do you aim to accomplish as many things as you can in one day? Take note of what you're interested in to maximize your time, whether it's sightseeing, hiking, visiting tourist attractions and museums, tasting exquisite cuisines, café-hopping, or more active activities.
Most certainly, your itinerary does not need to be planned down to the minute and jam-packed with activities. Some spontaneity is fun, though a lot of the times it's best to plan your schedule to coordinate with your companions, prevent unnecessary stress, and provide excitement for your travels.
Bring emergency cash
Whenever I travel, I always bring cash with me. I would make the trip to the bank or a currency store and exchange a decent amount of money to survive for my trip. Although ATMs are available at the airport, banks and convenience stores, one should not solely rely on withdrawing money then.
You will likely need cash to reach your accommodation from the airport, it will take some time to find ATMs, and in a worst-case-scenario, your cards may not work. I also usually bring emergency cash with me in USD to exchange into if I ever run out, which has definitely been a lifesaver on several occasions.
Packing less is actually more. A backpack or carry-on will allow your trip to be more carefree, physically and mentally. The idea is to not just pack light but to pack smart. Checking the weather beforehand and packing accordingly and creating lists will make your life that much easier. When packing, ask yourself questions like, do I really need this? Will I wear it? Be a minimalist to avoid paying extra luggage fees, and keep in mind that you will likely purchase more items over time to add onto your load.
Remember that you are on vacation, so make sure that you actually take that time to relax. There will always be a number of things to do and never enough time to accomplish everything, so prioritize and go with the flow. Some activities may take longer than others, it may take some time for you to locate the area, you might meet other companions along the way, and plans will likely not turn out the way you want them to. But that's life—and that's okay, just enjoy the ride. You worked hard for this moment, to be here for this short while, so stay positive and open-minded to everything anew.
Planning is always beneficial, but you could always go down the spontaneous route of not planning as much and seeing where life takes you. For one of my recent trips to trip to Malaysia, I had a well-planned itinerary down to the dollar, downloaded offline maps, subway maps, etc. Being prepared saved me a lot of time from having to ask around for help.
I met up with a friend and we travelled together for a few days, but due to some unforeseen reasons, we decided to go our separate ways. Upon arriving at the bus terminal to purchase my ticket to the neighbouring city as planned, the ticket times didn't match my schedule. I then discovered that Singapore was only five hours away for a reasonable price. It was right then and there that I knew I had to go and booked a spontaneous solo trip to Singapore for the Lunar New Year. I absolutely fell in love with Singapore. It’s trips like these that are most memorable. I've experienced a new culture, made new connections, and proved to myself yet again that I'm capable of so much more.
When travelling alone, trust that the universe has your back, but also know that there is a place and time to take chances, and there is a place and time to travel smart and stay safe. As a traveller who has experienced many unexpected turn of events, I highly recommend travel insurance for your own safety and peace of mind. And as amazing as it is to be able to tell your story of the time you hiked the tallest mountain in Korea in a typhoon—it was likely not the smartest and safest thing for you to do.
Originally published on Verge Magazine (February 25, 2017)