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Ten Travel Tips for the Solo Traveller

Travel is a recently discovered passion of mine. In the past year I have been fortunate enough to travel to Peru, Mexico, Turkey, Italy, France, Monaco and Spain. The past year has taught me so much about myself, the world, and (most importantly) travel itself. Having done the majority of my travel alone (while engaging in group tours along the way) I have been lucky enough to not have any serious run-ins with any travel nightmares. During my travels, however, I have been witness to riots, muggings, and assaults. These occurrences are not isolated to any country or continent, and are never deserved. I have also experienced travel-pet-peeves first hand, missed out on some great opportunities abroad for one reason or another, and a myriad of other unfortunate yet unforeseeable occurrences in my journeys. I hope that with my ten tiny tips you might be able to better optimize your experiences abroad!

1. The window seat is overrated.

If you have never flown, or don’t fly often, then YES! Splurge on that window seat. Take in the views. But, if you fly often or have a lot of flights involved in getting from point A to point B, trust me when I say the aisle is better. You don’t have to bother the people beside you whenever you want to get out, you have immediate access to the aisle, and you don’t have people leaning into your personal space to get a peek at those window views. Also, the aisle seats are the best because once the plane lands you can grab your gear and go!

This leads me to my next tip…

2. Travel carry-on only whenever you can!

There is nothing scarier than losing a luggage. This is only amplified when it’s lost in a country where you are facing a language barrier! This happened to someone I was travelling with when we landed in Peru. They had checked their backpack and it didn’t make it to the luggage belt. Thankfully I spoke the language and, even more thankfully, the backpack was located. This is not often the case. On my most recent trip to Europe, someone I met on the plane arrived in Barcelona with me only to discover that their bag didn’t make it. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to dent my travel budget by having to buy a new wardrobe. For this reason, I try to travel carry-on only as much as I can!

I like to know where all my things are at any given time. It will force you to pack only what you really need. Finally, my favourite reason to travel light is that you will never have to wait for your luggage again! Think of the time you will save.

3. Get a local guide!

As much as getting a guide can at times seem like a scam, I can’t emphasize to you enough how much of a difference a guide can make.

On a 12 hour layover in Istanbul, I decided to go on a tour of the city with a Turkish local who I had met in the airport. He showed me parts of the city I would have never been able to see on my own. He explained to me the histories and cultural significances of every site and sound. He took me to authentic spots for Turkish delight and fresh seafood. Him being local meant that he knew where everything was and when everything was going to happen. He made sure I was in the heart of Istanbul, right between the Haggia Sophia and the Blue Mosque for the evening’s call to prayer and break of Ramadan fast. This is not an experience I could have had anywhere else.

This is a sentiment that has been paralleled in all my travels: from the Colosseum in Rome to the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Peru which housed the famous Juanita mummy. All these experiences were enriched by having an experienced and local guide to explain the cultural significance of everything we saw.

4. Use TripAdvisor’s cheap eats section…and read the reviews!

In all my travels so far, I have used TripAdvisor to find out where the best and most authentic eats are (not to mention cheapest). I have found that restaurants really rely on TripAdvisor and I have been asked many times by restaurant owners to provide good reviews if I felt I had good service.

TripAdvisor will help you to see what’s available instead of just searching for some golden arches. TripAdvisor helped me to find some of the best pastries in Nice and incredible empanadas in Arequipa!

5. Locks Locks Locks!

I’d like to say that the world is a happy and safe place where nothing bad ever happens, but we all know this isn’t true. Maybe I’m overly cautious, but I like to bring one lock per bag I am travelling with plus one extra for hostel lockers.

From my experience, locks will effectively deter people from trying to break into your belongings. Of course if they want to grab your bag or slash it they can and unfortunately there is not much we can do to prevent this. However, aside from pickpockets and thieves, a real concern is hostel safety. As much as hostels are usually great and inclusive spaces, you never know who’s sleeping next to you. I would always lock my bags if I went to have a shower or to grab breakfast. I can’t recommend locking your belongings enough, especially at night. You might even be as cautious as I am, putting my items of most importance in my bed with me and locking the bag to the bed frame!

6. Learn the language.

I think this tip is one that has saved me in so many sticky situations (see the backpack incident above). Beyond being able to get yourself out of a jam, having a base in a given language will help you to better navigate for yourself in your travels. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, attempting to speak to locals in the country in which you’re travelling instead of expecting or hoping that they will know English will earn you a lot of respect, not to mention patience.

Speaking Spanish in Peru meant that I was able to avoid being in the middle of a riot! Which brings me to my next point…

7. Keep up with the social and political happenings of your destination.

I arrived in Peru this past summer, ready to celebrate their independence day in Lima. I had not done my homework prior to departure and failed to make myself aware of the political scandal that had unfolded a few days prior. Arriving in the main square, ready for the celebration, it was very clear that the tone of festivities was far less than celebratory. Not sure was was going on, I continued to venture through what I would later find out was a riot. It was only when the police came into the square in tanks and announced that they would be using force to resolve the situation did I understand that I was in danger. I was able to run back to my hostel before any serious injury, but I unfortunately did not save myself from experiencing tear gas (I don’t recommend it).

8. Go for a group tour!

I think group tours are a great option if you might be too scared to travel solo or perhaps you’re taking a long trip and don’t want to spend the entirety of it alone. This is what I did when I went to Turkey, spending some time in Istanbul and then meeting up with a group tour in Bodrum to sail around the coast. Group tours offer you companionship and shared experiences that you might not otherwise have. I still keep up with some friends from my time in Turkey and I will always remember and cherish the memories I have with them.

9. Take night busses.

If your trip involves covering a lot of distance, I can’t recommend night busses enough. My time in Peru involved journeying from Lima all the way to Cusco where I would venture to Machu Picchu. More recently, I did a tour of Europe where I started in Barcelona and made several stops until I ended up in Rome. The difference in these two trips was that in Peru I did the majority of my travelling between cities overnight—I got to sleep through the boring parts! In Europe, I opted to party more meaning that my nights were spent on the town and my days spent on a bus. I think that, depending on where you travel, either option can have its merits. I, however, definitely prefer to get my bussing done while I snooze so that I have all day to see the sights, swim, and sample delicious cuisines.

10. Pack for the weather and social expectations of your destination!

This might seem excessive, but trust me when I say it is essential. You might be wondering how I can recommend travelling carry on only while simultaneously recommending that you pack for all seasons and reasons. The answer? Air tight clothes bags. These bags have saved my life on all my travels, allowing me to pack for the beach, the party, the heat and the snow all within my carry on limits. Also, invest in a good set of thermals. Thermals are hardly noticeable and they will allow you to wear that great pair of a jeans without freezing!

This tip is especially vital if you’re travelling to South America. In my time in Peru, I experienced temperatures between 0°C and 30°C. There was snow in some cities and it rained incessantly in others. By having enough layers and articles for each season, I was able to stay dry and warm throughout my trip.

It is important to know what is expected of you socially in the countries you’re travelling to. You don’t want to dress inappropriately and offend locals. Also, by not fitting into social standards you are standing out as a tourist and a target. In my time in Turkey, I made sure to dress more conservatively in Istanbul, especially when I was visiting mosques and religious sites. I was able to dress more casually and for the summer heat when I made my way from Istanbul and to Bodrum. Had I not been prepared for both, I would not have been able to have the incredible Istanbul tour that I did.

Ultimately, no trip will ever be perfect and I would argue that it is these imperfections that teach us valuable lessons and give us incredible stories to tell (how many people can say they’ve been tear gassed in a Peruvian riot?!) I think it is important though to really do your best when travelling to respect the land you’re on and the people local to that land. It is vital that you take precautions to protect yourself and those around you. I’ve taken these lessons with me from country to country, adding new ones along the way, and my trips have only gotten better. I’m already counting down the days until my next flight! Bon Voyage!

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Actuarial Science student at Western University. Passionate about good data, better literature, and the best ways to be one's best self.
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