22 Solo Travel Hacks You Need Before You Begin Your Journey

Intrepid travellers Vahishta Mistry and Ansoo Gupta give the best tips for a no-stress trip.  
Solo traveller
When you're travelling alone, use a tripod or a selfie stick to take your photo instead of asking a stranger. Photo: Rajarshi Mitra/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Vahishta Mistry

He has backpacked across Europe and the US on a shoestring budget. 

#1. Research everything, plan nothing

The best part about travelling solo is the ability to change what you want to do on a whim or after a chance encounter (and believe me, you will have many chance encounters) so make use of the opportunity! Don’t pre-book tickets (except those that are needed for visa purposes) and try to be spontaneous. This doesn’t mean not doing your research. Learn as much as you can about the things you want to do, but don’t plan a specific order or itinerary. You’ll find that you’ll discover more, have more fun and reap the ultimate reward of solo travel: a sense of wonder that it’s all coming together. Booking websites that offer last-minute deals are a great way to not break the bank. When researching a location, it’s best to start with Google and TripAdvisor, and then narrow down options. Look for specialist blogs on the place you’re visiting as well. Sometimes you might find a few relevant magazine articles, but always check the date of publication to ensure up-to-date information. Finally, nothing beats going to Reddit, Couchsurfing or a similar community site to find locals from the area!

#2. Unplug (but not too much!)

Carry a smartphone with a good camera and load it up with a local SIM that has a generous data plan – this one item alone has saved me time, money and effort and enhanced my travel savvy immensely. You also need to know when to put it away, though. The advantages of having it are great: You can take pictures of things you want to remember (like monuments, landscapes and the location of your rental car in a giant parking lot). It’s helped me locate the best routes and the cheapest ways of getting places (thanks, Google!). It’s helped me stay in touch with people I met on the road. There’s a lot to be said for traveling unplugged, but the best way to do this is to carry a phone, use it as needed and then, when you’re done, switch it off so that you can enjoy the place you’re in!

A smartphone comes in handy to take pictures of what you want to remember. Photo: Geneva Vanderzeil/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

A smartphone comes in handy to take pictures of what you want to remember. Photo: Geneva Vanderzeil/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

#3. Panic button

Install a panic button application on your phone and pre-program it to contact your emergency contacts, with your location via an email or text message. Some apps can also constantly record and upload video, audio and location information. If something untoward occurs, hopefully this will help. There are many panic button apps on Google Play as well as the App Store, but here are two I liked: Panic Button for Android and Send Help for iOS.

#4. Note everything

When you’re travelling alone, the memories you make are unique to you. Record them, because there’s no way you’ll be able to remember the little details, like the name of that one bar in that one place that you visited three years ago. It takes a moment, but if you note down things that you did and places you went to, you’ll be creating a lifelong record that will, at the very least, keep your memories of this trip alive.

#5. Use protection

This is more of a life tip than a travel tip, but if you stumble upon the opportunity to have an amorous encounter, using protection could be the difference between a great time and a terrible memory. It would be terrible to have to cut your trip short to cure a nasty infection. And that’s the best case scenario. The worst case is something permanent, like AIDS. It’s important when travelling solo because when you’re on your own, in a new country with no one around to judge you, inhibitions are lowered much faster!

#6. Pack what you think you need, then halve it

Chances are, you’ve still over-packed. Carrying too much stuff is the classic solo traveller problem. Remember, you’re the only person there who will carry your stuff. Instead of loading up with baggage, travel light and see more! Most people usually overpack clothes – remember that you can always do laundry at your destination, so a couple of T-shirts and bottoms are enough. Also, sort your items from lightest to heaviest, and eliminate excess weight.

Travel light. You'll be grateful later. Photo: transformer18/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Travel light. You’ll be grateful later. Photo: transformer18/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

#7. Have a pet project

When you’re travelling solo, especially on longer trips, it’s best if you have a small project to work on. When I was hiking across the US, I took timelapse videos of parks, cities and the night skies. It became something that I felt was creative and productive, it gave me goals to accomplish apart from just being in a place, and it was a personally rewarding task as well. You can do anything you want – a guy I met in Philadelphia was sketching his way around the US. Someone else was writing her next album on the road. You can do whatever you like, just make sure you enjoy it!

#8. Carry entertainment

Although solo travel is great because it forces you to meet new people and takes you out of your comfort zone, it doesn’t mean that every single minute is like that – there’s a lot of downtime when you’ll really be by yourself, and it’s totally fine to tune out the world and pick up a book or listen to music. Carrying your entertainment options with you can save you money as well – a Kindle and a collection of e-books, or an MP3 player and a hard drive are far cheaper than hitting up bookstores and local record shops. If you can combine this hardware with local content, then that’s the whole package!

Ansoo Gupta

She has travelled to over 50 countries, and holds travel workshops for young Indians.

#1. Don’t appear lost

Appearing confused and looking like a tourist is like sending a signal out to troublemakers. You can be far more discreet with maps downloaded on your mobile phone; it should look like you are checking messages. If you need to refer to maps or guidebooks, do it inside a shop or a cafe.

#2. Act like a local

Don’t do things you wouldn’t do in your own city, like giving out private information to strangers, or inviting people you don’t know well to your stay. Acting like a local can even mean not buying something at the first price quoted by a vendor.

While shopping, it's okay to haggle if bargaining is the norm. Photo: Israel_Photo_Gallery/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

While shopping, it’s okay to haggle if bargaining is the norm. Photo: Israel_Photo_Gallery/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

#3. Research beforehand for typical tourist scams

Read up on the standard con jobs that tourists fall prey to.  A region or country often has a specific pattern of scams. In Rome, it is an old trick for police impersonators to ask to check if your money is counterfeit. Paris is notorious for pickpockets. Forewarned is forearmed.

#4. Take your own pictures

Now that you have read up on tourist scams, you know that handing over your camera to a stranger to click your picture isn’t the smartest idea. Use the selfie option on your phone or a selfie stick (in places where it isn’t banned), a self-timer camera or a remote.

#5. Keep folks back home updated

Use Whatsapp, call, leave a voice message or send a photo or text to make sure someone knows where you are. A great help to them is if you fix a time(or two!) in a day to send them an update.

#6. Check  if there is a single surplus charge

Although not a common practice, check if your hotel or package deal penalises you for travelling single. If so, you can always find options that don’t.

#7. Arrive early in a new destination

Try to reach your destination earlier in the day, or if you can’t avoid a late arrival, confirm your stay bookings beforehand and ask your hotel or hostel for the best mode of night transport in advance.

#8. Avoid utopian expectations

Crime is a possibility anywhere. Sometimes the sights that you see might not be exactly like in the photos, and sometimes, you might not see the Northern Lights, or the whales that you travelled so far to see. Remember, the journey is its own reward. You will return a changed person regardless.

#9. Open up to acts of kindness

Just because you are going solo doesn’t mean that you have to withdraw in a shell. Don’t be shy of eating out alone or doing things alone. Talk to strangers, ask them about their work or their day, and you will be surprised by how friendly people can be.

Don't be afraid to sit alone in a cafe. Photo: Francisco Gonzalez/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Don’t be afraid to sit alone in a cafe. Photo: Francisco Gonzalez/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

While I am not for any gender divide when it comes to travel, it is true that women do garner more attention than men the world over. In India in particular, women tend to be culturally more sheltered than men, and sometimes ill-prepared to travel alone. These bonus tips can come in handy when you begin travelling alone:

#10. Be aware of your surroundings

Just because Europe is deemed safer for women does not mean that you will not encounter an exhibitionist or an unruly drunkard.

#11. Invent a companion if necessary

A great way to ward off unnecessary attention is to just invent a friend or a husband who is waiting for you at the next stop or back at the hotel.

#12. Pick a handbag that leaves your hands free

Choose a handbag that you do not need to constantly adjust or carry on your forearm.  Pick a backpack or a cross-body sling bag – anything which keeps your bag in your view and leaves your hands free is a good bag to carry.

#13. Trouble has no gender

If you are meeting a new person, whether male or female, arrange to meet in a public place first. Avoid going to a secluded address. Starbucks Zindabad!

#14. When you sense danger, scream

Raise the alarm in any language. Yelling is a universally understood signal;  you don’t need to know the local language to draw people’s attention.

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    Vahishta Mistry is proud of his ability to adapt to anything. A few years ago, he quit his job, sold his apartment, and lived as a backpacker. He's now saving up for a farm in the mountains. He tweets as @vahishta

  • Ansoo Gupta has travelled to over 50 countries, and holds travel workshops for young Indians.

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