GOING SOLO

Posted by on Oct 23, 2012 in Travel | 4 comments

Are we ever really alone when we travel?

Have you ever stepped off a plane alone? (yes)

In a country where you don’t speak the language? (yes)

With no idea what you are getting yourself into? (YES)

And didn’t know what you were going to do next? (never!)

 

Traveling alone can be a scary thing.  I’ve been doing it for years and have a learned a thing or two and every time I do it, I become more confident and curious because of it.

 

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

 

Are you thinking about setting off on your own?  Here’s how I did it.

In 2004 I did something I never thought I’d do – I got on a plane and headed to Australia – ALONE!  My first words of advice ‘baby steps’.  Yes, it took me almost 2 days to get there (crossing the international date line and all) and no, I’ve never been anywhere by myself before, but they speak English and except for the accent, it’s so much like Canada.  So if I was ever in doubt about how to get somewhere, where to find a bank, restaurant or train station, all I had to do was ask knowing that I would be able to understand the answer.  Menus are in English, bus and train schedules are in English, directions are in English – you see where I’m going here.  Taking just that 1 thing off your list of things to be concerned about can ease your mind enough to do it.

So after touring around Australia and New Zealand for a couple of months, things got more interesting.  I headed to Singapore and had 2 days to either freak out and not leave my hotel room (step 1, find hotel room!) or enjoy this life-changing experience I was currently having.    Now Singapore was a great baby step choice as English is widely spoken but I was now exposed to signs in other languages and a new and exciting culture.  And guess what?  Nothing terrible happened to me.

Ok, so now it’s time to up the ante.  Next stops: Thailand, India, Cambodia and Vietnam.  Another thing I have learned along the way is that English truly is a global language so if you go anywhere not too far off the beaten track, you will find someone who speaks English.

Then I was off to Japan and once I left Tokyo, it was my first true experience of being in a place where no one spoke English (there have been many more since then but I no longer worry about it).  Try ordering food from a menu you don’t understand and where most of the items are unrecognizable!  I’ll admit that the first time I entered a restaurant I was more than a little intimidated and bewildered.  Of course it never dawned on me that I wasn’t the first fair-skinned, light haired tourist that walked through their doors.  But what happened next put it all in perspective.  The Japanese woman running the restaurant I walked into took my arm, lead me outside (I first thought she was kicking me out!) and then pointed to the window.  Every item on their menu was sitting there, so life-like, in plastic.  I pointed to what I wanted, she made it, I ate it, and it was spectacular.  I should also mention that I’ll eat anything (note to self: do blog post on going-solo in China where they take the idea of nose-to-tail cooking very seriously) so if you are afraid of what might be served to you, you’ll need a very good phrase book!  People around the world all think the same way, even if it is in a different language.  It was in the best interests of the restaurant to figure out what I wanted so they could serve me and it was in my best interest to order and try new food – it’s a win-win!

Since then, I have gone solo to Scotland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Belize and China to name a few.  Some have been more challenging than others.  I have always spent some, if not all, of my trips by myself, sometimes on tours, and sometimes just with people I have met along the way.  As mentioned, I’ll eat anything but more importantly, I’ll also talk to anyone!

So my advice to you is:

  1. Always learn some basic words in the language of the country you are going to (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, yes, no).
  2. Have some local currency with you when you arrive especially if you arrive late at night so you don’t have to hit up an ATM at 2am – never a good idea until you know your immediate surroundings and even then I highly recommend doing all your banking in daylight hours!
  3. Have good directions to your hotel and know how you are going to get there before you even get on the plane at home.  A website that I have used for very basic info on getting from an airport to city centre is CityHook and check out the forums on TripAdvisor.
  4. Find a good guide book that works for you.  My choice is Lonely Planet – they have good maps, a good language section and will give you some ideas of what to do when you get there.  Also check with the information desk at the airport or tourist office and your hotel for local tourist guides, maps and suggestions.
  5. Research, research, research.  I spend many hours on Trip Advisor (especially in the forums) getting tips & tricks (learned how to avoid a 3 hour line getting into St. Peter’s in Rome), advice on which neighborhood to stay in, how easy local transit is, etc.
  6. Ensure your passport is in good condition and check the expiry date requirements of the country you are going to.  I use the Government of Canada website.  Also take a photocopy of it and email it to yourself so you you have a copy if yours goes missing or gets stolen.
  7. Always be aware of your surroundings and don’t make yourself a target.  While most people you meet on the road are harmless, there are those who make a living pickpocketing, scamming and stealing from tourists – or worse!  Arm yourself with knowledge, ask questions and listen to your “spidey-senses” and don’t be afraid of offending someone if you don’t feel comfortable about a situation.
  8. Finally, please don’t be one of those tourists who complain about how things are not like they are at home – if you wanted things to be like they are at home, then stay there.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

So if you’re looking to go somewhere by yourself for the first time (or second or third time) and want some personal experience advice, call me or send me an email.  I love talking travel and I will try to convince everyone to get out of their comfort zone and experience just a few of things of I have!  I have also created My Top 10 Travel Items of some strange and useful items I always travel with.

 

4 Comments

  1. Great blog! I’m looking at going travelling solo for the first time, my first destination being south-east asia. Im a tad nervous, but hearing people stories like yours makes me a bit more relaxed. Thanks!

    • Thanks so much! It’s pretty exciting heading out on your own for the first time. Remember to bring your common sense and you’ll do great! Safe travels!

  2. Hi Adrienne, love this post. I’ve heading to Japan at the end of October to work for 5 months then travel solo to SE Asia, North and South America and Canada for the remainder of a year. It’s my first solo trip and I’m feeling confident about the whole thing thanks to blogs like yours! Cheers :)

    • Hi Loui, thanks so much for your kind words. How exciting for you! I’m so glad you’re doing your research ahead of time. That alone lifts your confidence level as you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. I have to say Japan was my absolute favourite country (Paris is still my favourite city!) and am just a little jealous to hear of your adventure. Safe travels!

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