Whether it’s standing at the foot of the Taj Mahal, wandering the streets of New York City or exploring the coral caves of a Fijian reef, travelling is all about forging unforgettable memories. Now imagine doing all of these things, but without the support of friends and family by your side.
To some, the idea of travelling solo is nerve-wracking. To others, the idea of mastering an unfamiliar city, meeting like-minded strangers and pushing beyond the comfort zone is too exciting to resist. So it’s no surprise that solo travel is getting more popular. In fact, in a recent Solo Traveller World survey, one in four respondents said they intended to travel alone in 2018.
It might be exhilarating, but travelling alone is not for the faint-hearted (especially for first-timers). Here are seven travel hacks to help solo travellers make their adventures as rewarding as possible.
1. Learn the language
Grappling with a foreign language is challenging at the best of times, but without the support of an extra brain by your side, it can be overwhelming. Getting to know the locals can be one of the most rewarding parts of travelling alone, and if you haven’t made an effort to learn at least the basics of their language, you’re setting yourself up for frustration.
- As soon as you book your flights, your travel insurance and start organising your itinerary, download a language app like Duolingo and get studying. Duolingo offers free classes in most languages imaginable, and makes the learning process fun with rewards and interactive activities.
- While you’re on the move, translation apps like Google Translate and Microsoft Translator are great for quickly looking up unfamiliar words and phrases. Google Translate even allows you to take a photo of foreign text, which it will translate for you on the screen.
- If you’re serious about truly immersing yourself in another language, Google’s Pixel Buds might be the technology for you. The earbuds connect wirelessly to Google’s latest smartphones, and can translate up to 40 languages in real time as you listen.
2. Watch your bags
This might sound like travelling 101, but keeping an eye on your luggage at all times is a serious challenge for solo travellers. Picture this: you’re at the airport gate and need to use the bathroom. Who do you leave your luggage with? In times like this, having a travel companion can make life easy.
- A great way to tackle this problem is to be extremely selective in what you pack. After all, one less item you pack is one less item to be worried about overseas. Try to minimise the number of valuable electronics you take with you and remove bulky items.
- Investing in quality theft-proof luggage is investing in peace of mind. Theft-proof bags are specially designed to deter thieves, made with slash-proof materials, lockable and durable zips, and concealed compartments.
- Brush up on how to watch out for pickpockets and use extra care around people who show an unusual amount of interest in you.
3. Make friends
Meeting people from all walks of life is one of the most enriching things about travelling overseas. When you’re travelling alone, chances are you’ll be meeting fellow travellers on tours, in transit and while exploring your destination. This can sound daunting if you’re not the most social person. But make the effort and you might just be rewarded with a lifelong friendship.
- If you’d like to meet people but aren’t sure where to start, try putting yourself in positions where you’re almost forced to interact with other travellers. Organised tours are a great place to start - just be sure to read up on reviews to find the best option for you.
- There are several apps on the market designed to connect like-minded travellers, and Meetup is one of the most popular. It allows groups to organise ‘meet up’ events for everything from hikes to meals, making it an easy way to turn strangers into friends in a foreign country. Of course, use your best judgement when searching for events and if anything feels out of place, try something else.
4. Know your limits
Travelling alone is a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and tackle situations that you otherwise wouldn’t. However, don’t let the excitement overwhelm you and listen to the sensible voice inside your head.
- Having a social drink with locals and other travellers can be a great way to unwind, but just remember that you don’t have the safety net of a travel companion to pick up the pieces if you overdo it. If you do go out drinking, keep a tally on your hand of how many you’ve had and stick to your limits. And remember, our travel insurance won’t cover you if you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- There are several apps designed to keep travellers safe. As well as registering your travel with safetravel.govt.nz, apps like TripWhistle Global SOS can build a strong safety net to fall back on. The app connects you with local emergency contact numbers, so you can be confident that you know who to call in an emergency, whatever your destination.
- If it’s your first time going solo and you’re a little nervous, consider travelling somewhere close by to friends and family. There are several enticing destinations close to New Zealand, which can give you peace of mind knowing you’re only a short flight away.
5. Be careful who takes your photo
What good is experiencing exotic sights and sounds around the world without sharing photos with friends and family back home! But without a travel companion to take your photo as you pose in front of the world’s wonders, doing so can be a challenge.
- More often than not, strangers will be happy to take your photo. But handing over your expensive camera or mobile phone to a complete stranger should make you a little nervous, which is why it’s important to pick the right person. Asking other solo travellers if they’d like a photo can be a good way to receive the same offer.
- For the best chance at getting a good image, make it easy for them. Set your camera to high speed and automatic lighting adjustment, and don’t forget to thank them.
6. Wear a ring
Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, solo female travellers have reported receiving unwanted attention from men. To deter this kind of attention, consider wearing a simple wedding ring to send the message that you’re not interested.
- Wearing a ring can sometimes be enough to deter would-be suitors, but ensure you don’t go overboard and attract unwanted attention of another kind. Pickpockets will target travellers wearing flashy jewellery, so keep it understated.
- For some women, the idea of solo travel is particularly nerve-wracking. Always remember that being polite is never as important as staying safe, so never feel that you need to talk to someone you don’t want to, and don’t accept drinks from strangers.
7. Unwind and enjoy
At the end of the day, travelling alone can be tiring, challenging and even scary. But take the necessary steps to stay safe, and you’ll come out the other side with unforgettable memories and a new appreciation of yourself.
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