We’ve just caught up with our friend and freelance reviewer, Emily McDonnell, who’s shared some tips from her first solo travels…
2015 ended with a bang and I found myself facing a plethora of new horizons – a prospect that was both terrifying and exciting. My one resolution for 2016 was that I’d travel alone for the very first time.
I began talking to friends about travelling solo and was overwhelmed by the positive stories I heard. I decided to test the waters in April with a visit to Dubrovnik, and after an inspiring and empowering week, I took the plunge and booked a trip to Singapore and Malaysia.
Now that I’ve done it, I can only encourage others to do the same – it opened my mind and reinvigorated my soul (perhaps a little dramatic, but true all the same). But taking the decision to go it alone is a big one. Here are a few solo travel tips from my own experience.
Take the plunge
Yes, my New Year’s resolution was to travel alone, but saying it and doing it are two very different things. You’ll have lots of concerns. Will you get lonely? Will you hate it? Well, you’ll never know unless you try! One lunchtime, I turned to my friend and muttered “I’ve just booked a flight to Croatia”. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Pick a destination that matches your interests
It sounds obvious, but make sure you choose a destination that suits your interests and personality. Rome is great for culture and food, but it’s constantly busy and buzzing. Langkawi is naturally beautiful with lots of gorgeous hidden beaches, but evenings can be sleepy.
Test the water
Baby steps are OK. I was so convinced I’d get bored of my own company that I booked a four-night break in Dubrovnik, where I knew there were plenty of sights to keep me entertained. I enjoyed it so much that I then booked a three-week trip to Asia!
Do what you feel like
If you feel tired and grumpy because you got caught in a Croatian thunderstorm, and you just want to eat a huge bowl of pasta and curl up for a nap, then do! And by the same token, if you decide you want to visit your fourth botanical garden while in Malaysia, then do! Travelling alone is about empowering yourself, not about doing things because you feel you should.
Don’t be scared to eat alone
I was terrified of going for my first solo meal. I sat in my Dubrovnik apartment contemplating getting some bread and cheese from the supermarket instead. Even after psyching myself up and heading out to my chosen restaurant, I freaked out, purposefully took a right turn instead of a left, and went to a cliff-top bar for some Dutch courage. But nobody blinked an eyelid when I asked for a table for one. I had my book for company between courses, but I didn’t make as much use of it as I thought I would. It was really enjoyable.
People are nice
I had so many interesting conversations with a whole variety of people who I wouldn’t have met had I not been travelling alone, and my life genuinely feels enriched because of them. I spoke to older couples who wanted to share their adventures, families who told me about the trials and tribulations of awaiting GCSE results, and locals who tipped me off about their favourite hangouts. I went for day trips and jungle dinners with people I’d only just met. I quickly learned that people are far more receptive to body language than I’d realised. If I was feeling sociable I just looked up and smiled; if I wasn’t, I kept myself to myself.
As a single woman, I was of course concerned about my safety. But a few simple measures can help:
Research where to stay. It’s always worth paying more to stay somewhere where you don’t have to walk back in the dark or along an empty road – your safety is far more valuable than money.
Make sure your phone is fully charged and can make calls. And memorise the local emergency number, just in case.
If you’re in a taxi or walking home, have a fake (or real) phone conversation with someone to let them know you’re on your way back and can be expected soon.
Write down the address of where you’re staying. I nearly got stranded because my driver had never heard of my hotel, and I didn’t know where it was.
Give someone at home your itinerary, and if you can, chat to the receptionists at your hotel to let them know you’re going out for dinner. They will then be aware of your movements and may keep an eye out for you – plus they’ll probably have some good tips!
Get a feel for the area before you head too far at night. Watch how people interact and how things work. In Kuala Lumpur, I started with a short walk down a brightly lit road to a nearby sight. Once I felt comfortable, I went for a cocktail further afield.
If you’re a woman, consider wearing a fake wedding ring. It might sound strange, but it can ward off any unwanted advances.
Learn the local transport rules. Do people get taxis through an app, from a taxi rank, or just hail them on the street? Are buses reliable, and how late do they run? Can you get the metro, and which station is closest to where you’re staying?
You really don’t need as much as you think you do. I had a few go-to outfits which I wore constantly. Comfort over style is definitely the way forward!
How often do you take time out just for you? Say yes to that spa afternoon, to the organised excursion, to the tacky souvenir. I promise that you’ll never look back and say “I wish I had that extra £10”.
Ensure you get some pictures with you in them, as they’re the best memories – either ask people to take a photo, use a self-timer or invest in a selfie stick. I get a smug smile whenever I look back at mine, as I’m proud of myself for having travelled alone.