As a woman eager to see the world as much as I could, I sometimes prefer to travel solo and meet all possibilities along the journey. Uncommon in the past, more Indonesian women now also choose to travel solo, and why not? Traveling solo helps conquer your fear and makes you gain more confidence. Still, many more are reluctant to travel sans companions, fearing their safety or that they would not enjoy being alone.
All these concerns can be addressed or prevented with some anticipation and preparation. So if you’re interested in exploring the solo traveler in you, here are 10 tips I can offer you to make the best of your trip.
Do the research!
Knowledge is power. Before hitting the battle ground, there’s no weapon more powerful than a good preparation. Gather some useful information before you leave. The more information you have before arriving in a place, the more likely you can avoid being scammed or wasting your time getting lost. While it’s true that being lost is part of an adventure when traveling, I prefer not to spend a whole day looking for directions or being somewhere I don’t want to be.
Before I go on a trip, I usually make a flexible itinerary to guide me. The itinerary will consist of day-by-day activities with details of addresses, costs, how to get there, contact persons, and maps.
Complete all documents
Don’t be lazy--prepare all your related paperworks and put them in an easily reachable pocket for you. I usually make copies of all my important documents such as passport, visa, identity cards, tickets, maps, and booking printouts. Don’t assume you will find a printer wherever you go. Always anticipate worse-case scenario.
Get connected with local people
There are so many ways to meet up and build network with local people before you even arrive at a place. Couchsurfing is one. A worldwide travel community, I can find free places to stay at other Couchsurfers’, but that’s not always the purpose of finding local people. Local people know their place. They can save your time and money by telling you the best places to visit in a cheaper way, or showing you the best street food in town. Local people can also tell you how to travel safe in their area, and explain the do’s and don’t’s there, so you won’t likely commit a faux-pas. Traveling is about taking a glimpse of a different life and culture. It can be fascinating, but it can also be shocking. The key is to respect all the differences and enjoy it to the fullest.
Make a packing list
True, women’s packing lists tend to be more complicated than men’s (this is not a sexist remark, just an observation). I make a list of things I want to bring for the trip. I’m the type who gets annoyed if I forget a simple thing – an adapter, or sunglasses. Of course we can buy them at most places, but spending money wisely is a good practice when traveling. I prefer to spend my money on tickets for attractions rather than spend it on stuff that I can actually bring from home. But traveling light is important to avoid extra baggage charge by the airplane. So try to pack less stuff as much as you can.
Teach yourself to stay happy no matter what situation you may encounter. Happiness comes from within. It helps you face any discomfort that you may have to endure. If you stay with a fellow Couchsurfer, your host may not offer the kind of convenience that you have at home. Your host may turn out to be a boring person. Or maybe the temperature is so hot in the place you’re visiting that you get slightly cranky.
Once when I visited Saigon, I was surprised when I saw that my host didn’t have a “normal bed”. We slept on the floor, not because she is poor, but because she was used to sleeping on the floor. Being flexible makes you more able to adapt to a new situation faster, and helps you enjoy the rest of your journey. Many people fail this part. That’s why they prefer to travel conventionally to control the elements of surprise.
Do only what you really want to do
This is the best thing about traveling solo! You can do whatever you want to do. You can just chill at the beach, or make some local friends on your excursions, or, join a short culinary course, or spend a whole day at a museum, or try parasailing for the first time. The list keeps growing.
You don’t need the approval of a travel companion. Traveling with people who are not into the same stuff as you can be frustrating. For instance, you want to avoid going to a mall while traveling, but your partner likes it. Or maybe there are times you just want to read a book by the pool, but your partner wants to rush from one place to another. Finding the perfect travel partner is important, otherwise, better go solo.
Leave contact information to people you trust
This is important for me. Before I travel, I print out my itinerary and give it to my sister, whom I live with. She’s not the nosey type who would contact the people I plan to meet in my travels, unless she really needs to or unless she hasn’t heard from me for too long.
Use technology to keep in touch with the world
I am a social media junkie. I use Facebook and Twitter and I blog too to let people know where I am and what I have been up to. It is a very helpful means to keep in touch with your family and friends, especially when you’re feeling a little homesick.
Be true to yourself, and use your guts
Listen to your gut feelings. When you sense something is not right, it probably isn’t. If you meet a person and something feels off with that person, listen to your inner voice and don’t fight it. If you train your instinct really well, you can understand whom to trust and whom isn’t during your travels.
If you don’t feel comfortable in a certain place, leave and find somewhere safe. Remember, you can always say No.
Put your eggs in separate baskets
I’m talking about money of course. Separate your money. If something bad happens to you, like getting robbed or losing your wallet, you still have cash somewhere. I usually avoid using a credit card while traveling, because the currency fee kills me, and I also try not to exceed the budget I set out before the trip.
If you’re not the solitary type, read this.
About Dea Sihotang
In addition to these, I do one more thing before I leave on a solo trip and that is to pray.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s pack up and go!
Dea has a passion for books, photography and traveling. A native North Sumatra, she was raised in Jakarta. Visit her blog www.deasihotang.com
and follow @deasihotang on Twitter.