Setting out on your first solo trek can oscillate between liberating and nerve rattling, exciting, and debilitating. BUT, that shouldn't stop you from taking the leap and challenging yourself to take risks. After all, without risk there's no rewards, right? Get your inner girl or boy scout out and get prepared! Check out the tips below to prepare yourself for solo travel abroad:
Know your stuff
Read guidebooks and blogs. Even if you want to ace the art of wandering, when you’re going it alone it is best to have an idea of at least the first three cities or towns that you plan to visit, and a general idea on what it takes to travel between them.
Podcast courses in a multitude of languages have become widely available. Training your ear to conversational phrases in the countries you will visit and being able to communicate is not only helpful but polite. Even introductory greetings such as, “Hello, how are you? My name is…” will usually open a conversation with a smile, even if it is at the expense of your pronunciation.
Before you set out, take your loaded backpack for a test run. There is nothing worse than the dread of slinging on a heavy pack, especially under the blazing sun or a on crowded train. There are tons of articles and videos online to help you get your packing organized – heed the advice of others. A couple days before you leave, load up your bag with all the gear that you intend to bring along with you. If the weight is too unwieldy, make cuts. You don’t want to end up looking like a target or be knocked over like a turtle on its back when your pack outweighs your strength. Plus, you’ll end of needing extra room for the treasures you pick up along the way.
Be organized. Invest in organizing packing cubes, roll your clothing tightly, and sort by type. That way when you’re looking for shorts, you can pull just that cube from your backpack without disrupting the whole Jenga grid.
Buy something, toss something. To maintain a light pack, toss something whenever you make a purchase, or better yet, donate it to someone in need – many hostels have a box set aside for this purpose. If you’re on an adventure trek, consider packing t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, socks, etc. that are at the end of their life. Not only will you be eager to see a new item in rotation, you won’t feel guilty about shedding the worn one. Older, well worn items are even that much lighter, too!
Instead of walking around with your nose buried in your guidebook or map, or rifling through your papers looking for confirmations, take pictures of important directions or maps on your smartphone. Quickly referencing your phone as you walk through a busy station or street won’t look out of place. Even more importantly having a snapshot of the area your hostel is in will enable a taxi driver or store owner to help point you in the right direction if you’re lost or encountering a language barrier (Note: Assuming you will have phone service or WIFI is an assumption to avoid!).
… but don’t lose the experience in hyper vigilance
Know where you’re going, but don’t forget to slow down, look around, and take it all in. If you’re completely focused on beating the rush to the next reception desk, you might miss the best waffle stand, street performance, or a sign pointing out the evening’s activities.
While it’s responsible to have a loose idea of your destinations and goals, the best part about traveling alone is that you can go where you want and do what you want whenever you want. You can wake at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise or sleep until noon on a whim. You can accept a last minute invitation to hop into a car full of new friends to check out a stunning vista off the beaten path or jump on a train to a city you hadn’t considered just because your new friend’s band is playing there.
Be open to experiences that you otherwise might have to decline because your brother gets carsick or your bestie couldn’t care less about music.
Build a volunteer experience into your itinerary. Besides giving something back to the world you inhabit, you will discover and explore a new place, while meeting a bunch of like-minded folks who you can share the valuable experience with. They may even end up helping you to plan the next steps of your trip.
Even if you’re trying to get lost, keep someone in the loop regarding where you are and what you’re planning next. At the minimum, post a picture or reply to a text or an email now and then.
Traveling solo need not be scary or discouraging. More than likely, it’ll boost your confidence and self reliance in areas of your life beyond what you would expect. Go, do, become. You only live once.