I feel like solo travel has the same effect on people the way bungee-jumping does. Some live for the thrill of it and others shudder at the idea. While I value the lessons that solo travel can teach, I probably belong to the second category. Although I don’t see it as a jump in the unknown anymore: I was pushed in the figurative ether at 15 and since then, I don’t think twice about navigating myself in a foreign land in a language I barely know. What I still find paralysing is the thought of having no one I can turn to and share with while having all these new intense experiences on the road. This can get crippling to me and I’m sometimes guilty of wasting days locked in my hotel room watching familiar TV shows and trying to forget the big new world outside. I’m not as bad as I used to be as I picked up a few tricks to get over this anxious feeling along the way. I thought I would share them with you today, for those of you who feel like travelling solo is an unsurmountable mountain. I promise you, it really is not.
1. PREPARATION IS KEY
I think you’ll agree with me that a lot of the anxiety lies in the unknown. Prior to your trip, get to know your destination. You can read your guides, make lists of the places you want to visit, or even better pin them on online maps. I find it very helpful to visually see the city I’m about to explore beforehand. There are countless apps now which allow you to do just that, Google Maps even released a similar function. My personal favourite app is Mapstr which is brilliant for customising (you can use different symbols and colours for restaurants, museums, cafes and so on… so you can find what you’re looking at a quick glance) and it works offline! Make sure you pin your accommodation and the transport stops near it as well. You’ll find that once you’re on location, it will have the added bonus of saving you time because you’ll naturally start exploring by area, not fussing with transport as much. It’s great to be organised but do leave some room for spontaneity though, that’s what’s travelling is for after all!
2. BLEND IN WITH THE LOCALS
The very first thing I do when I get to my destination is to explore the surroundings of my accommodation. I generally try to pick a hotel or an Airbnb in a friendly neighbourhood. Even if there’s no major attraction in the area, I make a point of visiting the local cafes, parks and getting my groceries in the nearby supermarket. It gives you a sense of belonging which ultimately makes you feel like you’ve got this, this is your ‘home away from home’ and there’s no reason to feel lost.
3. FIND YOUR ZEN
Touristy attractions can be a daunting place to start your trip with. I don’t know about you but the thought of mixing with crowds tend to make me want to curl up in a ball and forget about everything. That’s why if I’m on my own, I would generally start by visiting a botanical garden or a famous park first. Especially after a day of travelling, I crave to be surrounded by nature. It makes me feel more centred and keep the anxiety at bay. Nothing beats a peaceful place to find your peace within.
4. DO WHAT YOU DO AT HOME
It’s thrilling to experience a new culture but there’s nothing wrong in also seeking the experiences in which you find joy in your hometown. It is a failsafe and it brings you back to familiar territories. For instance, for me, it means looking for the best falafel and browsing local flea markets. It might not feature in your tourist guide or be the typical thing to do but it sometimes leads to hidden gems and ultimately, it makes you happy in a comforting, familiar way.
5. CARRY YOUR OWN SAFETY BUBBLE EVERYWHERE YOU GO
Sometimes, the crowds, the noises, the smells, it can get all a bit too much. When I’m out and about and feel like I want to block it out, I pop on my headphones and listen to a podcast. I generally opt for Judge John Hodgman because it is the one I fall asleep to at home. Not only do I associate it with the security of my own bed but it is also hilarious, so it helps me completely rid of travel nervousness. This trick can work with anything that brings you back to a safe place whether it is a Whatsapp group chat with your family and friends, a sniff of lavender essential oil or your loved one’s perfume, an engrossing book or your favourite album. It is good to have a transportable haven when you’re on the road.
There’s another thing that I can credit my newfound confidence on the road to. It is this very blog. I don’t ever feel alone when I’m travelling anymore because I now can share what I learnt on the road here or on Instagram. It pushes me to get the best out of all my trips so it can be useful to someone, I feel like my exploration has now a concrete purpose. So I’d definitely recommend to open a blog or an Instagram account if you haven’t done so already, especially Instagram as the sense of community is instant and really helpful.
I think the key when you travel solo is to do it at your own pace, it doesn’t mean you have to go all out and have your meals on your own in a posh restaurant. There’s nothing wrong with bringing your groceries to your room… actually it’s one of the things that I enjoy the most after a long day of wandering!