Signs That Tell You You’re Ready to Travel Solo

Monday, October 14, 2013

Photo taken in Singapore's Marina Bay Sands during my first solo travel.

Ever wondered what it feels like to go and travel solo? Or are you planning to try it out someday but at the back of your mind, you're unsure if you can handle such thing? If you answered "yes" to the above questions, then you're probably at the brink of trying it out. All you need is some shove, really.

In my three years out on the road, I've traveled to places—some with friends and some with myself—where it not only tested my patience but also tested my limits.

I started with a bunch of friends but then curiosity hit me like a slap in the face. Can I do it all by myself? No, I'm not an introvert but sometimes I prefer to do things under my own terms. All it took was a ticket to Singapore. And you could say the rest was history.

If you're like me, then you probably asked yourself the same question. Are you really ready to do it all by yourself? Don't fret. I've listed 5 essential things you need to have to prepare you for a nerve-wrecking yet fascinating experience of solo travel.

1. You have an open mind.
The world is a huge place but that doesn't matter. You're ready to take on the world. What fuels you is your passion to see it in a whole new perspective. It's cliche but an open mind is a good thing. Most of the time it is.

What if I'm not?
When you go out there, it's going to be different from what you're accustomed to—from the culture to the people's attitudes to the food—but embracing the uncertainty makes solo travel so exciting and satisfying at the end. That's the whole point.

Also, you might have heard that solo travel is a learning experience. Well, it really is. Much like everything in life. It's unavoidable that you will commit mistakes. Instead of cursing yourself for those mistakes, learn from it. In the end, you'd be surprised it made you wiser.

You see, it's not going to be the end of the world. You're in for a shock but whatever you do and wherever you are, keep an open mind at all times.

2. You have a sense of direction.
Geographically speaking, you know your 'way'. You have a visual map of the places you need to go and you practically have an idea how to get there.

What if I'm not?
You need to know your north, south, east and west. Why is it important? It's not easy to be lost in a place you've never been to before and I've had a few instances when I got lost. 

You don't really need a compass and remember the map reading skills they taught us in camping. We're in the age of technology—of fancy and overly priced cellphones. Use those to your advantage when you're going on a trip.

If you have a smartphone, download an offline map (to avoid roaming charges) of your destination and use the GPS (Global Positioning System) to point you exactly where you are. In my case, I'm using an iOS app called CityMaps2Go. It costs $2.99 but the lite version is free.

Other apps that I use are Google Maps and Waze (useful if you're riding a cab).

Something that I also love to do before I travel is to plot the places I'm planning to visit in my offline map so I can easily map out my itinerary. In fact, I'm doing it now for my solo travel in Hanoi next month. You can also use the Street View of Google Maps if you want to familiarize yourself to the neighborhood.

3. You're physically, emotionally, and financially prepared.
These three are the holy trinity of travel preparation and are essentially important in the planning process.

What if I'm not?
Travel can be physically, emotionally, and financially exhausting. A great deal of strength has to be exerted in all fronts; otherwise, you will end up drained whichever of the three comes first.

First of all, you need to be physically fit for travel. If you know that you have hypertension in your medical history, avoid doing activities that will push you to your limit. If you have allergies, stay away from what causes your allergies. It's also good to have travel insurance.

It's also advisable if you bring a few meds while you're out on the road—a paracetamol or something that will relive your upset stomach.

Going solo also puts an emotionally toll on you. It's going to be an overwhelming experience and the best emotional support you'll have is yourself  (unless you meet someone, of course).

Lastly, have a travel fund that will financially support you. Travel is synonymous to money. Learn to save a portion of your income (if you're working) or try not to spend your allowance if your parents still support you. Budgeting, on the other hand, is a different story.

4. You know how to budget.
Not only this refers to how you budget your money, this is also refers to how you manage your time. Both are limited and will run out eventually. If you know how to manage both, then things will be easier for you.

What if I'm not?
The good thing about traveling solo is that you're in command of what you need to do, where, and how far you're willing to spend.

Start by listing your travel itinerary and how much you think you will spend during your trip. It doesn't have to be down to the last centavo. Just a rough estimate will do.

Personally, I try to keep my itinerary as flexible as possible but prioritizing the places/things I really want to go and have. That way, I stick to my travel goals while the rest are icings in the cake.

Consider budget hostels rather than pricey hotels, too. You will save a lot of money plus it's really a good place to start making new friends.

5. You're open to making new friends.
Contrary to popular belief, solo travel doesn't really mean you're going to be alone. In fact, it's a good opportunity to find and meet new friends along the road. Sure, these people are strangers but you won't really know that they, too, are looking for new friends unless you try to engage in a conversation.

What if I'm not?
Like I said earlier, hostels are a good place to find other 'soloists' much like yourself. It's a melting pot of backpackers and travelers from all over the world.

Start by breaking the ice and engage in casual talk. They've been there longer than you so they're a good source of local travel information and may even give tips to the places you're planning to visit.

Make an effort to befriend locals, too. Not only it's a good opportunity to learn about their place (free tour guide, anyone?), they're also a good source of valuable information that not even your friends in the hostel may know.

When I was in Kuala Lumpur with my friends, the first friend I met was a van driver who took us from the airport to the hostel. I honestly have qualms talking to taxi drivers since most of them can be notorious and are known to be the kings of travel scams but there are still those who are real and honest.

Sitting beside him at the front seat, he was kind enough to share a little history of Malaysia in that 45-minute drive—from politics to the places to eat. He was so good that we even booked him to fetch us going back to the airport a few days after. If you're interested in this driver, contact Abd Samad at +6012-329 9075.

To some, solo travel is nothing more but a glorified self-finding experience but with or without someone, it's basically just same thing—you go out and explore. What sets solo travel apart is that you're pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, which can be very rewarding at the end.

It's hard to explain why I prefer to go and travel solo. It's not rocket science but it's going to be understandable once you've taken the plunge. Once you're out there, you will realize that Greg Anderson was right when he said, "Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

Go out while we're still young and explore.


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