Five things I learnt the hard way from travelling alone
Aside from time spent getting nice and cooked on a sun soaked beach – an activity that can be weirdly exhausting – travelling is always a bit of a test. If you’re doing it with other people, it’s a test of the relationship. Even before you go, differences in planning styles simmer maddeningly to the surface (otherwise known as games of “Who’s broke?” and “Who’s flakey?”) and then once you’re on the road, like Sun Tzu’s volcano edge, you will finally know who your companion truly is.
Travelling solo, on the other hand, comes with an entirely different set of problems, ranging from self-sufficiency and forward planning to crippling loneliness. While going to international fashion week shows is hardly comparable to climbing Kilimanjaro, I do have some experience in flying solo. As I lack common sense and an ability to think even remotely long-term, all of the wisdom I have gained from these jaunts has been from bitter, bitter experience.
As I’ve just packed my bags and headed off once again – for a somewhat more protracted journey this time – here are some things I needed to be reminded, that I thought might be fun to share.
Don’t get drunk
Imagine you had a really amazing house. With an incredible wine cellar, a fully stocked bar, and a Jacuzzi. Imagine you needed to go away for two weeks and you needed your fern-grove watered. The only way to do this is hand over the full access keys to your stunning, perfect party house, with its oodles of objects with value, both sentimental and otherwise, to someone else.
Look to your left, then to your right. Would you hand any of the people you are with the key to your house? No? In this metaphor the house is your personal safety. I’m not saying Short French Guy and Tara’s Cousin’s Friend Claudette will let anything happen to you. But they might, and might is bad enough. Sure, it’s fine to get a little sauced now and then at home, but you’re not at home and if you lose your passport right now, the pain it will cause in your arse will be so acute you will literally puke from it.
Introductions are everything
The best way to discover a place is with a local. You’ll see things you wouldn’t otherwise see, get access to places you wouldn’t otherwise get access to and just generally have a better time. Cool theory. Now ask yourself, when was the last time you, or anyone you know, met a tourist they had no personal or professional ties to whatsoever and invested hours in introducing them to the city. Ok. Now when was the last time that happened with a tourist you weren’t trying to have sex with? If you answered “never” that makes you normal. People don’t play magic carpets with people for no good reason.
It’s just not how we do. Sleeping your way into a circle is a fine way of getting to know a place, but if you’re not that kind of tourist, you should be automatically suspicious of total strangers who are keen to show you around. They could well be weirdos or packing some seriously ulterior motives. Knowing a friend who knows a friend who lives in a place you are going, on the other hand, is the best ever. That person comes with some context and is therefore worth their weight in gold, and if you get really lucky, they’ll introduce you to their other cool friends. Now put that wine bottle down.
Be prepared to get lonely
While travelling alone is fantastic because the only thing you have to compromise with is your savings account, it can also be incredibly isolating. As I mentioned above, socialising with total strangers isn’t always easy or advisable. The exception to this is other travellers, but if you’ve graduated from staying in backpackers you’re not necessarily going to run into any. This may well mean days at a time where the only communication you have is with service staff, which gets kind of depressing.
At this point most travel guides will tell you to work up the courage to go talk to strangers, but for your average introvert, that suggestion is pretty unrealistic. If you’re the shy type, but still crave human contact, I recommend finding the kind of accommodation that forces you into it, even if it isn’t as nice as you want or can afford. Alternatively, take a guided tour, or better yet the kind of class some locals might go to as well. The more tangible your reason for meeting someone, the less likely they are to be the kind of person who’ll spend the next six hours explaining to you the finer points of their unopened Pokemon Trading Card collection.
Learn baggage weights by rote and treat them like scripture
That extra $50-$200 you’ll have to pay if you’re over by even a little could be better spent on literally anything else.
If you’ve over-shopped, then congratulations, you’re about to learn the finer points of this country’s postal service. It is always a better option than paying excess baggage. Oh, and crying will only get you out of it in Italy, and only sometimes. Everywhere else you’ll just be that girl.
Be nicer than nice
You know those service staff who may well prove to be your only form of human contact for days on end if you play your cards shy? Be lovely to them. The people at the airport counter? Actively try to make their day better. In fact, be as warm as sunshine and as sweet as a peach to absolutely everyone you inter/trans-act with. You should also actively try to look nice too (brushed hair, no track-pants).
While you should always make an effort to be polite and pleasant, it becomes quintuple-crucial when you’re on your own for two reasons. The first is that you may actually need help with something basic and embarrassing at some point. You have, after all, only two hands. The second, more fun reason is that being a sweet, smiling, lovely young woman on her own is a magical key that unlocks the door to things like lounges you shouldn’t be in, extra apples at the grocery store and legitimate advice about where to go and what to do. Think of these little bonuses that come from seeming cute and harmless as the sunny side of women’s oppression.
(Images via Shutterstock)