After an unexpected turn of events this winter, I found myself in Thailand, not knowing that the coming six weeks were going to be some of the best yet most turbulent of my life. A one week holiday turned into a solo-backpacking adventure through South East Asia as I set out with no plan and ended up visiting a total of three countries and 12 cities all on my own. This may sound somewhat scary, and it definitely was, but it also turned out to be the best experience of my life. Solo travelling can be extremely daunting, but it’s an amazing opportunity to push your boundaries, meet new people and learn a thing or two about yourself. If you’re keen to give it a go, here are some of my top tips for how to survive travelling on your own:
It’s not all sunshine and roses
First off I’d like to say that backpacking isn’t just clear waters, beautiful beaches and never ending parties.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of that too but it’s also long layovers, missed busses, nasty hostels, stolen possessions, language barriers and bouts of loneliness and insecurity. I struggle with severe anxiety so to be put in an environment where every face I saw was a new one was really scary. I had moments where I was convinced I was a burden to the people around me and times where I just wanted to go back home. I had uncomfortable bus rides and got terrible bug bites that still haven’t fully gone away. When you’re travelling, and spending a lot of money doing so, there can often be a pressure for every moment to be perfect but that’s just never going to happen, especially if you’re gone for a long time. When you’re travelling for extended periods of time you need to make sure to take a day off or two, stay in your hostel bed and watch Netflix or sleep off a hangover guilt free. This is going to be your life for the coming weeks or even months so you can’t always be in holiday mode.
Choose your hostel wisely
Unless you’re an introvert who thrives off being alone, staying at the right hostel is an essential to finding cool people. Despite technically travelling alone, I spent the majority of my time surrounded by friends. I mainly stayed in party hostels – RIP my liver – and even if you don’t plan on going out every night, I’d definitely recommend having a look into them as they are typically the most social. The hostel will organise social events like pub crawls and bar games and make sure to get everyone involved. This is also where you’ll find most solo travellers making it super easy to connect. In my experience people were really friendly, so you needn’t do much more than introduce yourself and someone will invite you out to today’s adventure. There are some shady ones but usually there’s no pressure to drink at party hostels although you will have to expect loud noises late at night. In my opinion, that’s totally worth it for the experience of finding friends across the globe. If you’re heading to South East Asia some chains worth checking out are Mad Monkey, Slumber Party, and Blancos. You can of course make friends without going to party hostels though, and if you choose to not stay at one I’d recommend at least looking for a backpackers hostel. A special shoutout to Nana Backpackers in Vang Vieng because even though it’s not a chain its the sickest hostel you’ll ever see.
Be open to new people and new experiences
All of a sudden I found myself hanging out with people from all walks of life: from barely legal ‘gap yah‘s to people in their mid thirties who quit their jobs mid existential crisis, you’d be surprised how much you can find in common with people. Now, whether I find myself in just about any European country, Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, New Jersey or LA, I know I’ll have a couch to crash on and open arms to welcome me.
But don’t be an idiot
A week can seem like an eternity when you’re travelling and you quickly form close bonds, but don’t trust people blindly. When my padlock broke I stored all my money and my passport in the locker of a girl I’d known for less than a week. She turned out to be the sweetheart I thought she was, but in retrospect that probably wasn’t the smartest idea. People aren’t always who they seem to be so always lock up your stuff!
Be flexible and take it as it comes
I would come to each new town or city with a night or two booked in my hostel and extend as need be so that I could get a sense of my thoughts of the place before I moved along. You will also most likely meet friends in places that’ll derange your plans. The less you have booked in advance, the easier it is for you to make new plans with new friends and do what you truly want to do. Busses and trains are often cheaper last minute so might as well leave your agenda open for new opportunities. When I first set out on my travels I had zero plans on going down to the southern Cambodian Islands but after a friend told me all about Koh Rong when I was in Laos, I changed my directions and his recommendation ended up being my favourite stop of my entire trip.
Solo travelling is hard, but it is one of the most enriching things you can do. It’s like they say, travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.