For those that don't know me, hi! My name is Emily, or The Miss McG if you prefer, and I've just travelled solo in Asia for the first time. I'm halfway through my trip; I've spent one month in Malaysia and am now off to Japan for part two.
Before I set off on this solo travel adventure, I felt pretty confident that I'd have a great time. I was looking forward to the freedom of doing what I wanted when I wanted and I was sure I'd meet lots of great people on the way.
After my first day as a solo traveller, I lay in bed thinking about how it had been and at this stage felt fairly mixed about it. I really struggled to engage anyone in the hostel so had felt rather lonely with only my own thoughts. ‘What have I done?' I thought. But from the next day, things got better and better. I met wonderful locals in parks, hostels and restaurants. I met other fantastic travellers in hostels, boats, bus stops and just about everywhere. It turns out I'm pretty bad at solo travelling though as during this month I had very little time on my own. But when I did, I cherished it. I cherished every moment of this incredible adventure.
As setting off on your own can be a very scary experience, here are some strategies I quickly learned:
1) Choose your accommodation carefully
Whilst being close to the main transport links can be useful for early flights etc., it can be lonely as many are ending their travels and not looking to socialise. Find a more central area for meeting people. Hostels are obviously a good shout and a good communal area is very important although you will want to choose one with the right atmosphere for you (relaxed or party).
2) Put away your phone
However tempting it is to get your phone out as a safety blanket in a hostel, put it away. People are much more likely to talk to you if you're looking approachable. And there is nothing stopping you from asking to join a group. Try asking if they know any good restaurants nearby (or day trips) and you may get invited along. When dining alone, I would sometimes look for other solo travellers and ask if I could join them – noone ever said no and I think they were generally appreciative of the company. Oftentimes this led to meet ups the next day too.
3) Get outside
If you're feeling lonely or unsure about things, the worst thing to do is to sit in a hostel on your own, listening to other groups laughing (remember, they may have met a long time ago). Instead, get out there and explore. I never felt alone when sightseeing or walking through parks – not in a bad way anyway.
And here are some other things I've learned travelling solo:
1) Don't book anything
Well maybe not anything – some flights or tours may need to be booked in advance and you certainly don't want to miss out. But the beauty of travelling solo is that you don't need to plan anything. You don't know if you will like or love the place you're visiting so tying yourself down is a pain. If you are done, leave. If you love it, stay longer. Obviously this may not work if you have a tight timescale but worth considering at least.
Dorms are great but take ear plugs and an eye mask! If you have time to check out the hostel, it's worth shaking the bunkbeds as if they are wobbly, it can be very annoying and you may prefer somewhere else. I would also urge you to practice walking on tiptoes; the number of people stomping around early morning or late at night is astonishing!
3) You don't need to travel as part of a tour group
It's often cheaper to just do the activities yourself. Eg. In Taman Negara, Malaysia, they charged 30 MYR to do a canopy walk trip where you get a boat to the canopy and back and entry to the canopy. If you do it alone you pay 2 MYR to cross the river (both ways) and 5 MYR to get into the canopy. Plus you get a really nice 1km walk thrown in for free. Talk to others to hear their tips. Obviously there are times when you will need / want a tour group and that's fine too.
As I love lists, I'll give you two more before I sign off. The three worst things about travelling solo and how to battle them:
Especially as a solo lady, you will of course be worrying about your safety. And I think this is a good thing as it stops you being reckless. But it's really not as scary as it may seem. As per most countries, you may want to think twice about walking in certain places alone in the dark but my experience was purely positive and people went out of their way to make me feel safe and happy.
Some things can be more expensive on your own; taxis, tour guides, hotel rooms (if no dorms are available)… But there are things you can do about this. Use local transport (in Malaysia at least, local buses were easy and very cheap – and it allows you to see the surroundings and meet people) and team up with others (in hostels there will be many people in the same situation so find people with similar plans and get a tour guide for the group). Teaming up with people in hotel rooms can work too but there was one time where I just allowed myself the luxury of a double room to myself as the only option – just enjoy it if it happens as once in a month isn't too bad.
This was a really frustrating one for me as when you're alone at a beach, there is noone to put suncream on your back. For most of my trip I had a sunscreen that you only need to apply once – that was useful if I met someone I knew in the morning as it would last four the whole day. On occasion I considered asking a stranger to help but never had the courage so would just cover up more. The other option that I didn't try was practicing yoga!
The three best things about travelling solo and how to make the most of them:
I have never felt as free ad I have this past month. I really did do what I wanted when I wanted. I think the key here is flexibility; my plans changed so many times over the month – after meeting other people, after falling in love with a town, because of weather…
You meet so many more people than when you travel in a couple or a group. After just one month I have such a network of people across the globe. We've shared stories, laughs and phone numbers. I know that I will never see some of these people again, which is a sad thought, but I also know that if I'm ever in Belgium, The Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Colombia, Poland… (the list goes on) I will give these people a call – and I hope they'll do the same in London!
I'm not going to write anything about finding yourself as that's not really me. For me it was more learning about myself. I learned that I have an ever-growing sense of adventure. I am more independent than I thought. I love nature and all that comes with it – including the leeches. I can be Bear Grylls when needed. I love my own company…
My main piece of advice though, if you're contemplating travelling alone but are having doubts, is just do it! You'll have highs and lows, sure, but you'll have so much fun and meet so many people. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.'
If you've enjoyed reading this, you may like to read my blog The Miss McG's Blog. Good luck and Bon Voyage!