Travelling solo never had much appeal to me until I had no choice but to brave it. Since 2011, I made a pact with myself to tag along friends and celebrate my birthday anywhere but in this country. But the following year, I have decided early on I’m not dragging anyone to wherever my feet would take me.
THE AESTHETICS OF LOSTNESS
While it’s fun to get lost with friends in a strange place, getting lost by yourself is as much as fun. However, there’s a safe way to wing it — don’t stop in the corner of a street to take out and spread before you a map. It will surely catch a mugger’s preying eyes. Don’t act too much of a tourist as well, walk confidently like you’re a regular at the place. If you need directions, get inside the nearest convenience store and ask the most trustworthy looking person. A good instinct will never fail you.
Still, the wisest move is to Google directions first from your hotel internet and ask English-speaking staff at the reception before heading out. Some hotels, backpackers’ hostels and B&B’s are kind enough to give you the best tips and touring directions.
For places, however, where there are still many locals who don’t speak English, like some provinces in China, make sure you let the hotel staff write on a piece of paper (in Chinese characters) the name of the place you’re going to. Show it to the taxi driver, hop in and enjoy the sights along the way. Oh, and keep in your purse another piece of paper with the name of your hotel on it.
WHAT TO CARRY AROUND
In my previous trips, I used to bring my passport wherever I go. For a tourist, it’s a must. But you can also leave the passport in your hotel’s safety box and just carry around a photocopy of it. If you’re a backpacker, hostels provide lockers for your valuables. Your passport is your lifeline in a foreign place so take good care of it.
Before your flight, check first on the exchange rate of your local currency versus the currency of the country you’re going to then have your money converted. Of course, there are foreign exchange booths and money changers in your destination but unless your hotel is sending a pick-up vehicle to the airport, you will need local money to pay for the cab.
Solo travels may seem more costly than shared trips. But if you plan a trip 3 or 4 months ahead, you have more time to research and come up with best deals. For budget flights, book months ahead, fares come cheaper. If the trip you planned doesn’t fall on a peak season, take your time looking for the best deal in hotel accommodation. If you’re reluctant to use a credit card for a hotel reservation, ask the hotel if it accepts over-the-counter cash payments upon check-in. Credit and debit cards come in handy when you’re traveling. For debit cards, ask your bank first if it has international withdrawal service.
FASHIONISTA OR FRUGAL-ISTA?
While it’s a “girl thing” that we pack clothes more than we actually need for the entire trip, it is practical to be frugal in space and make room for stuff you intend to buy. This is especially advised to those who go on promo fares. Remember, free baggage allowance varies according to your destination and/or the fare you have availed. You don’t want to end up paying extra baggage charges at the airport on your return flight.
Besides, if you have pretty much an idea of the activities you’re going to do during the whole trip, you can plan ahead what pieces you need. Throw in two or three extra shirts, then a bit of mix and match of what’s in your luggage will do the trick. Rule of thumb: If every piece in your luggage spells C-O-M-F-O-R-T-A-B-L-E, then you’re good to go.
Someone had it in her Facebook thread that one shouldn’t go on a solo trip if she doesn’t want to end up doing selfies and missing the grandiose of the Buddhist temple in the background. And she has a point. But the fun of every travel does not lie entirely on having a friend take your snapshot. It’s in meeting new people, smiling and talking to strangers, saying “Hi” and “Where are you from” to everyone you bump into. Where’s the fun in posting photos from your trip if you’re seen in every picture waving peace signs? Believe me, your FB friends want to see also the places you’ve been, not just your face. If you need someone to do the point-and-shoot, go ask a stranger, win a friend! In any foreign country, no one gets jailed for asking a stranger to take his picture.
ARE YOU GAME?
So what’s the best come-on of a solo travel? It’s having it your way — from the tiny details in your itinerary down to the knick-knack you would want to spend your last dollar on. Imagine setting an alarm at 4 a.m. so you can catch the majestic sunrise and its reflection on the pond in front of Angkor Wat at 5:30 a,m., but your BFFs are still snoring in unison. Wouldn’t it irk you a little when your friends egged you on buying something else with the last 3 dollars you were saving for key chains from Bangkok?
Whether you decide to be nomadic or a cautious tripper, going solo is okay. Every trip doesn’t always have to with a boyfriend, a BFF or a whole bunch of different minded co-workers. Sometimes, it only has to be with someone – and that is, yourself.