Before my recent trip, I’d never travelled alone before. I’ve done some long ass hauls – an eight-month trip in my gap yah being the most noticeable – but have always had people with me. This time, I knew I wanted to do a trip across South America but no-one I knew could come with me because of time and money restraints. So I figured screw it, I’ll go alone.
I wasn’t at all bothered with the idea until I started to mention to people I was going and invoked some cracking responses. People started asking me if I was sure, that I was being very brave; and don’t even get me started on the comments about cocaine. Now, I don’t want to sound picky (I definitely do) but I really don’t think a bloke would have gotten that same response from people.
Despite these comments genuinely freaking me out, I went on my trip alone. Spoiler alert: I loved it, didn’t get robbed, didn’t get kidnapped, didn’t end up trafficking any drugs. So if you are thinking about making a trip by yourself for whatever reason, I hope I can offer some helpful advice for those ‘brave’ souls who want to see the world by their lonesome.
You’re Never Really Alone
Seriously, you’re really not. You’ll spend most of your time in hostels meeting other people – I spent most of my trip with two Swedes and a Canadian I met in Lima. But the nice thing about going alone is that you don’t have an obligation to stay with them, and can choose when you really want to be by yourself, be that wandering around a city or just sitting watching a film.
However, if you are of the female variety there are times when being alone isn’t great: walking home alone at night, for instance. Find someone else to walk with, or get a taxi. They’ll definitely rip you off but it’s better than the alternative. Oh, and don’t be the guy who threw himself out of a taxi to avoid paying the $10 fare in Sydney and ended up with a whopping hospital bill along with a machine that had to (loudly) suck the pus out of his wound every hour. I’m not joking.
Choosing A Good Hostel Is Important
When I started out I thought rocking up and finding a hostel when you get to a place was the best way to go. Whilst this may be true of some places (South East Asia) doing this in other places can be a bit more difficult. A good place to stay can make or break your view of a city when you’re travelling alone.
I’d recommend finding somewhere with a hostel bar; if you’re alone having somewhere you can sit and have a drink and meet people is perfect. Also, definitely pay attention to hostel reviews, but take them with a pinch of salt. If somewhere said the facilities are shitty but the vibe was good, figure out if that’s your priority or if having a perfectly working shower is the most important thing. I’d recommend booking two nights in a hostel at first and then you have the option to change if you don’t like it.
Being Safe Is Easy As Long As You’re Not A Dick
It’s honestly that simple. As much as walking a hike with a sheer drop on either side is perfectly safe if you don’t loiter right at the edge, so called ‘dangerous cities’ are safe if you take certain precautions. Try not to keep your phone in your pocket, but if you really have to then keep your hand on it. Showing awareness of your belongings is half the battle in stopping people from stealing your stuff. But if you do decide to do something clever like walk home alone at 4am down a dark alley absolutely rat-arsed, don’t be surprised if someone decides you’ll be an easy mugging target.
Most importantly, listen to your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable going somewhere don’t go there, or ask someone to come with you. If you feel unsafe in a situation don’t feel ashamed to do whatever you need to get out of it: I’ve gotten out of two taxis in two different countries before on the basis of a bad gut feeling. I’ll never know if it was the right call, but better to be safe than sorry.
Read Up On The Dangers…
…But as with hostel reviews, take them with a pinch of salt. Before I got to La Paz, Bolivia my Lonely Planet book literally dedicated a whole damn page to the dangers, from pickpockets to fake police asking for your passport. It freaked me right out. But when I got there I found that I loved it and would have stayed longer if I could. Word of advice, though, if someone comes up to you in a foreign country and asks for your passport for no obvious reason, do not give it to them.
And for god’s sake don’t give them your pin number. Again, not joking, that actually happened. However, a place where reading up on the dangers really did help me was Buenos Aires: the inflation rate is off the charts in Argentina at the moment at 25%, and although I’m not entirely sure what that means, I learnt that because of this brand new iPhones can cost over a grand in sterling over there. A grand. Because of that little titbit of knowledge, whenever I had my phone out in public I was sure to hold my hand over the apple symbol so that it wasn’t obvious I had an iPhone, and voila, no stolen iPhone for me. I mean, I smashed it the week after I got back to the UK, but still. Whatever you read though, don’t let it put you off from visiting.
Listen To Advice From Fellow Travellers
They are the best people to get tips from about literally everything. They know the best hostels to stay at, areas to be in, sights to see, apps to download… I got recommended an app called ‘maps.me’ right at the beginning of my trip and it saved my bloody life. You just download the area you’re going to be in when you have Wi-Fi and it’ll show you places to eat, hostels and ATM’s, and you can ‘pin’ locations to remember them. Remember though, everyone’s experience of travelling is different, so roll with the advice you’re given but if it doesn’t work for you go ahead and do your own thing- which is after all the best part of travelling by yourself. Cheesy, but true.
If you’re thinking about travelling any time soon then check out Loot here. The app lets you put money aside so you can afford your trip and you can use the contactless card abroad without paying any additional fees. Perfect.