It’s been a while since I started travelling on my own and during this time – I backpacked for the first time, I traveled Solo for the first time, I moved from a free blog to a proper website which I now own and write, I got my business card made (yay!), I have more friends and followers on social media than when I started (but of course).
One thing that has always helped me keep safe during travels and knowing the do’s and don’ts are the many travel posts I read before I commenced my journey and even throughout it. In fact, I still do and I guess will always do. It’s all cool to travel the world alone and live out of a backpack but it’s also important to be safe while you do that.
When I began travelling, I did it because that’s what I wanted to do and that’s what made me happy. But, eventually I realized that during my travels I am pretty attracted to finding out budget places, safe travel options for women, and try to contribute somehow to rural and eco-tourism factors of the place that I travel to. But, this is for another day.
Since, many of my friends and followers ask me how do I manage it alone and where do I stay and how do I ensure my safety and how do I pay for my travels, here is a dedicated post for all beginners (like me) which will tell you the exact steps and processes I followed and still do (I mean it, it’s real-time).
Know your forte: Everybody loves to travel but not everybody likes to live in extreme conditions with no electricity or no AC. On the other hand, not all of us can afford business class flights and luxury resorts. So, what is it that you want to travel for and travel like? I support my travels on my own. I like adventures and being a solo female traveller is an adventure in itself. Plus, I like exploring budget options, culture and people, and the possibilities of rural homestays. Also, do you want to write about your travels or photograph your travels? Then again, you should know what attracts you because unless you know what excites you, your writing or photography wont justify itself for very long.
Research: Simple. Spend days and nights on the internet, watching travel channels, reading travel magazines. If you are a first time traveller and not really sure if you want to take chances, buy a Lonely Planet. I have one. Though to be honest I am beginning to refer to it lesser with each travel experience. It’s good to go back to LP for guidance when I am lost once in a while but at times getting lost is the main motto behind travelling. Also, if you want to get into travel writing, spend a lot of time reading other travel blogs. I suggest The Shooting Star, Nomadic Matt, Wandering Earl, Absolutely Lucy, and Kiss From The World (I guest blog for them too).
Budget your travel: After you have done the basic research and decided upon the first place you are going to visit, sit down with a pen and paper (not computer or laptop) and a calculator and write down all the possible expenses you can think of. I will give you a head start – Stay, Food, Transport, Shoes (if you don’t have a suitable one), a rucksack (if you don’t have one), a daypack (if you don’t have one) a travel waist pouch (you will be surprised how useful can this be), any extra clothes you may need to pack, medicines, toiletries, batteries and torch, etc. Additionally, make sure you have proper walking/running shoes in case you wish to explore the city on foot. Make sure you buy them in advance and wear them a few times to avoid shoe bites.
Pack in advance and pack light: This is one thing I read numerous times on numerous websites. Normally, while planning a vacation we tend to keep the packing for the last day. However, when you are going to travel long-term, it’s highly important that you carry only the things that you would require and that you can’t find on the way. To ensure that it’s properly done, start packing a month or at least 15 days in advance. Put all the items you are going to pack in front of you neatly stacked and then sort them out by what you “must-pack”, “should-pack”, and “no-need pack”. And then, pack only the “must-pack items”. But remember to always check the weather conditions of the place you will travel to. (I got stuck in Darjeeling because I assumed that it will be sunny in March, however it was 3 degree Celsius and I spent half a day freezing to death and then spending extra on buying a rain coat and a hoodie).
Stay in hostels (Yes! Even in India): Most of us may not know this, but the concept of traveler and backpacker hostels is rapidly picking up in India. For example, Zostel. Zostel is owned and operated by a bunch of really cool girls and guys who live by the motto of “changing the way India travels”. And, I pretty much think they are succeeding in it too. Zostel is not just your regular hostel. It’s specifically a backpacker’s hub where not only can you stay for really less but also meet fellow travellers and share your stories and have a great time. (Just like the movies). Apart from Zostel, there are many such small-scale hostels waiting to be recognized by a few travellers to bring them to the limelight.
Take the train(specific to travelling in India): As kids my sister and I barely ever travelled without AC – either 3-tier or 2-tier AC railway coaches or flights. But, now that I travel on my own and travel so frequently I have come to realize that to be able to travel longer and stay within the budget I may have to forego this luxury. And, honestly it has been just about okay so far. I travel in sleeper coaches now and always opt for uppermost bunks. This way I am isolated if I want to, safe from any anti-social creatures, and have my privacy to eat, sleep, and read as I wish. Besides, it’s so inexpensive. (Imagine INR 600 instead of INR 2400). Also, try to carry biscuits, fruits, juice, and chocolates with you to avoid eating food from the station as it may not be so hygienic, and they can help if you have a sudden fit of hunger at midnight while your train passes through the remote jungles of Bihar.
Travel Off-season: Season or off-season is not really a problem for travellers unless you are visiting the place to witness a special festival or occasion. Most guide books say you shouldn’t travel during the monsoon, but somehow I find it better to travel during the monsoon – low tariffs and fewer crowds. Plus, the nature is at its best and freshest. And, it’s really easy to negotiate the room rates and cab fares since there are not many tourists at the time and you are going to be one of the very few travellers there, and amongst the only sources of income for the hotel managers and taxi drivers. Don’t forget to carry an umbrella or a raincoat and proper shoes. And, always keep a couple of days extra just in case you are totally unable to step out because of heavy rain or you need to delay your departure because of the same.
Stop Judging: Just because you are travelling alone doesn’t mean everybody is out there to get you. You would find people smiling at you and some may even try to initiate conversations. There is no need to be intimidated by that. When you travel alone, it’s the best opportunity to meet new people and fellow travellers during your journey. Smile often, say hello, and don’t hesitate to carry on a conversation. Before you know, you would have found yourself a travel buddy for the next leg of your journey. However, look out for suspicious people or people who are being too close or intrusive. Distance yourself from them immediately and if necessary seek the help of the safest person you find around you.
Double check before leaving: No matter if you are leaving from home for the first leg of your journey or whether it is the tenth destination on your list, always double-check for all the necessary items that you carry with yourself before leaving the hotel/hostel/homestay/train. Make a mental checklist. Even during normal days at work, before I leave home I have this checklist – wallet, watch, water bottle, lunch, and phone. It’s absolutely in the order of priority. If it’s hard for you to make a mental note of your set of must-carry items, make a written note on your phone, tablet, or notepad. Also, be very careful about ID cards. Keep a few photocopies just in case if the hotel managers ask for them for reservation. Avoid handing your ID cards over to them as you may forget to collect it and it can be a real hassle to get a duplicate one issued.
Keep someone informed: When I started travelling the only person who I kept informing about my schedule was of course my mother. Every time I booked a train or a bus ticket, I forwarded her the confirmation message. Same with hostel and hotel bookings. But, that was at the beginning. Slowly, I stopped booking hotels and hostels in advance but I still like to reserve my train tickets before travelling even if it’s under the emergency quota. But, as soon as I find myself a suitable accommodation I call, message, or e-mail my mom with all the details. Better safe than sorry yo! It’s really and totally cool to be on your own and to see the world but adventure is one thing and foolishness or carelessness is another.
Don’t forget to enjoy and disconnect for a while: Travelling solo is as much of an adventure as it is about finding your true self. I have learnt a lot about my thought process and mistakes and qualities during my journeys. I have realized how there are a few things that I chose to avoid and not look at, and how they needed to be dealt with at the earliest so I could be at peace with my inner self. I learnt how important it is for everybody to have their own space once in a while, to totally disconnect from the daily chaos of our regular life, and just take time out from everything. Unless you disconnect from your life back home a bit and for a bit, you won’t connect to the present, and then you will enjoy your travels only half as much as you deserved to. It’s okay to be selfish a bit and it’s totally okay to tell people to not bother you for some time. Don’t force yourself to stay in touch with people who aren’t bothered about you. Drop a message to your family once in a while informing them of your safety and whereabouts. Most importantly, enjoy every bit of your journey from the moment you make up your mind about travelling to the last day of your life that you will be travelling.
Updated: May 3, 2015