A lot of people want to travel the world one day. Few actually do. If you’ve decided you want to embark on the trip of a lifetime, and you’ve found yourself doing it alone, either out of choice or necessity, don’t let the lack of company put you off.
A huge number of backpackers travel alone and have incredible experiences; experiences that, in many ways, can actually be better than when traveling with others.
But in order to get your idea off the ground, you’ll have to put in some time to seriously plan the adventure. So here are some useful tips to help you plan an unforgettable solo backpacking trip.
Figure out what you want to get from the trip
The first thing you’ll need to decide before any big solo trip abroad is what exactly you plan to get from it. You might have always dreamed of visiting Machu Picchu, or the Egyptian pyramids. You might be a history buff who wants to learn about a specific period. You might not care so much about where you go as long as there it has warm weather and beaches.
Something that happens all too often is an over-reliance on travel agents or other people to plan your trip for you. Do you want an off-the-shelf package deal from a travel agent, following the exact same schedule as countless others before you? Or do you want a tailor-made adventure, with the freedom to chop and change your route as and when you feel like it?
Whatever it is you want out of your trip, make sure you clarify it early on in the planning process.
Choose destinations that allow you to meet those goals
Don’t just go to popular places and get caught in the tourist trap. Take your clear-cut plan of what you want to get from the trip and use it to choose specific destinations that will allow you to do just that.
You can plan your whole trip around reaching that goal. Your money will go a lot further and you will probably get a lot more out of the whole experience in general. This is particularly important if you’re on a tight budget or timescale, as you’ll be able to better utilize your time.
Get a guidebook
Guidebooks remain an indispensable addition to any backpacker’s kit, both before and during a trip. Try to get one and start reading it way in advance of your trip. Potentially the most important reason for this is to provide you with motivation.
A lot of people have dreams of traveling around the world, but when you don’t put any effort into the research, and especially if you plan to travel alone, it’s likely the dreams won’t come to fruition. Taking a step like getting a guidebook and reading it regularly sets the wheels in motion and makes you much more likely to follow through with the plan.
Add to this the fact that you can get valuable information and advice to help you plan from a guidebook, and it makes getting one a near-vital part of traveling.
These days, you don’t even need to necessarily lug around a thick paper copy. You can easily download an ebook, or even just use free online resources like Wikitravel.
Think of ways to meet people
Obviously, the main thing lacking from a solo backpacking trip is having someone there with you all the time. To keep yourself sane, and generally enhance your trip, you should make sure to plan and incorporate ways of meeting other people. This is surprisingly easy to do. Following a few basic rules will make it even easier.
One of the best ways to meet new people is to join a volunteer program, like uVolunteer. Through programs like this, you have a chance to live and work alongside other volunteers, as well as local people, all while working towards a good cause. You will have the opportunity to really bond with these people on a level simply not possible with traditional travel.
A great idea is to stay in hostels and dormitories regularly. Living in close proximity with lots of other like-minded travelers is the perfect way to foster friendships and find new travel buddies.
Another good tip is to research and pre-book some good tours and group activities for yourself. Joining a guided group hike around an area you’d like to see is a brilliant way to combine an activity with socializing.
Nicoleta is the resident content blogger for uVolunteer. Nicoleta is an avid linguist, speaks fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector and working with major international development institutions and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. She is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel and has a soft spot for ethnic food.
Remember to leave time yourself
Whether you’re traveling alone out of choice or just out of circumstance, the chances are if you’ve decided to go for it, you don’t mind your own company too much.
If you’ve not traveled solo before, it might surprise you that often the biggest problem isn’t meeting people, it’s getting sufficient time to yourself.
With sights and activities filling up your schedule, you may find yourself struggling to get some alone time. This time is very important in order to give you time to plan your next moves and clear your head.
Because of this, it’s always advisable to ensure you have time set aside for yourself. For example, if you’re planning on staying in hostel dormitories most of the time, you could set aside some of your budget to stay in a private room occasionally. Also, don’t feel like you always need to join tours. Exploring a new area alone and without distractions can be one of the best options.
Have safety nets
Another major difference between traveling with others and traveling alone is that you lose some of your safety nets when traveling alone. If you’re careful and generally look after yourself then you’re very unlikely to have any problems, but you always want to be safe just in case. In the unlikely event that you do find yourself in a sticky situation, you should have prepared as many precautions as possible to fall back on.
Probably the most important thing is to make sure you always have access to money. Setting up multiple cards and opening more than 1 bank account are very good practices before any trip. Also, try to keep some emergency cash separate from the rest of your valuables (such as in a shoe) at all times. This can act as a useful final lifeline if you are robbed or lose everything.
The internet has become an integral part of everyday life, and this certainly extends to traveling too. When traveling, you will always want to be able to access the internet easily if needed. You will regularly use it to book accommodation, organize travel, communicate with friends and family, and do research for your next destinations among other things. For all these demands, 1 device just won’t do. It’s a very good idea to bring 1 main device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and a backup device for emergencies. An old phone would suit this purpose well.
Think of ways to document your trip
It’s amazing to experience all the wonders of traveling completely alone. You can have them all you yourself, getting something very personal from them. One downside of this approach, though, is that you might not have somebody who shared it to reminisce with. If you’re not careful, you can begin to forget some of the everyday aspects of your journey. These memories can be among the most special. The feeling of waking up with no responsibilities other than to see and do as many amazing things as you can. The total freedom. These are the things that can fade away without effort to record them somehow.
A classic but still very effective way to do refresh your memories for years down the line is to keep a travel journal. All you need is a pen and paper, or you can even keep it electronically. The joy you get from reading back your in-depth thoughts and feelings from every stage of your trip is truly unique. The pages will become more and more valuable to you as time goes on.
Something that is becoming increasingly common is keeping a video diary. It could be a recording of yourself talking about your thoughts, or just filming things you see and do. You can achieve this simply by using a smartphone or invest in a wearable camera like a GoPro or similar.
Whatever you end up choosing, you will not regret it
Seriously, I’ve never met a single person who decided to travel, either alone or with company, and regretted it. Sure, some people would change certain elements of their trips if they could go back in time, but the point is, it’s more important to just get out there and do it than worry about every detail.
Plan your trip carefully but make sure to go sooner rather than later to prevent missing out on something amazing. And use these incredible backpacking packing list.
Nicoleta Radoi is the resident content blogger for uvolunteer.net. Nicoleta is an avid linguist, speaks fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector and working with major international development institutions. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. Nicoleta is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel and has a soft spot for ethnic food. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.