I grew up on the dream of an ‘Eat Pray Love-esque’ experience. I wanted to see the floating markets of Thailand and winding cobblestone streets of Paris and find my true self, in the overly romanticized way that pop culture has convinced us we can only achieve through travel. I imagined it to be a series of picture-perfect moments, mouthwatering new food that I would always instantly love and interesting conversations I’d have with people from all over the world whilst sipping beers against the backdrop of a painted sunset. And while this is not to say that travel cannot be all those things, as seventeen-year-old me found out when I took my first trip on my own, it is also equal parts planning, frustrating language gaps and having to wash your socks in hostel sinks. Here’s everything I wish I knew before taking my first solo trip.
Travel (like life) is not perfect
Judging from the carefully curated Instagram feeds of every travel blogger out there, you would think otherwise. But the truth is that travel has its fair share of ugly moments. When taking my first solo trip, the first time I flew on my own I had a connecting flight. At the absolute last moment, the terminal we were to land at had changed and so I found myself stranded in New Delhi at 2 am, along with three heavy bags, trying to figure out how to make it to a terminal almost thirty minutes away. Not fun.
That certainly wasn’t an instagram-able moment and it was overwhelming in all sorts of ways because, in all my research, I had never prepared to feel so confused and lost. And hey, odds are, you’re probably also going to end up getting lost at some point (I get lost every trip). Accepting that things weren’t always going to go according to the plan was one of the most liberating things for me when taking my first solo trip because after that I truly allowed myself to enjoy the moment for what it was instead of worrying about what it could have been or should look like.
Plan To Have A Plan
That being said, having a plan is always a good idea. When you’re traveling on your own, you don’t have anyone else to rely on to give you ideas and options for what to do. So make sure you do your research and know what attractions you want to cover. Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path! For instance, even if a city may be famous for its nightlife, if that isn’t your scene, feel free to tailor your itinerary to your tastes. One of my favorite things to do, for example, is to visit the local grocery stores every time I’m in a new country. Not only does it give me a fantastic insight into the local culture, but it’s also a cheap way to get delicious food. Always make sure to give yourself a buffer day (or even two). There’s nothing worse than cramming your schedule full of things to do and then missing out on them because life happened.
Stay safe but don’t let your fear overwhelm you.
As long as you are aware of your surroundings and have done your due diligence on the culture of the country you’re visiting (for instance, you may want to reconsider wearing shorts in a country like India), you should be good. When I was struggling to manage my bags on the shuttle bus I finally found to take me between terminals that night, a very serious looking man helped me carry them with the kindest smile. The world may seem like a scary place but there’s also a lot of good in it, you’ve just got to allow yourself to see it.
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Don’t Pack So Much!
While on the topic of managing your luggage, let me just say that you’re probably only going to end up using half of what you’ve packed. Maybe even less. Seriously, just do yourself (and your shoulders) a favor and ditch all the excess stuff, anything you really need, you will most likely be able to buy at your destination. However, make sure not to forget a basic first aid kit, including a fever reducer of some sort because you never know when you might need it urgently.
Travel can be lonely
When you’re not used to your own company, traveling alone can be really jarring at first because there are no distractions from your own thoughts. Use this time to redefine your relationship with yourself and find out what really makes you happy. I went from being someone who couldn’t eat alone at restaurants to actually enjoying it now.
That being said, one of my favorite things about travel is the opportunity it provides me to connect with people from all parts of the world. As a first-timer, it might seem intimidating to talk to all these worldly people who manage to fit everything they own into one backpack (at least it was for me) but once you break through the ice you’ll realize that there is a lot to learn from these people and you’ll probably end up staying in touch with a lot of them and even meet up on future travels.
Take Trips With New Friends
Another great thing to do is plan day trips and excursions with your new friends so as to split the cost of transport. I did this when I was in Ladakh and have remained friends with some of those people even now. Grouping up is also a good idea when you’re going out to experience the nightlife, vacation time is party time but you don’t want to wake up concussed in the hospital!
Connect With Locals
Remember to step out of your comfort zone though and don’t just talk to fellow travelers. Take the time to talk to locals and learn about their way of life. Some of my most eye-opening experiences and best stories have come from me taking the leap of faith. If it’s safe to do so, you might even want to consider hitchhiking.
Traveling on my own and taking my first solo trip has allowed me to push my boundaries further than I’d ever have imagined and has given me the ability to be bold in my decision making. Go with the flow and be open to new experiences, I promise it will change you for the better.