The Solo Traveler’s Guide to Exploring the Unknown
The Art of Travelling Without Planning
Step 1) Plan your trip, Step 2) Buy your plane ticket. As most solo travelers would agree, these two steps are both the least and most important aspects of traveling alone. To be fair, buying the ticket is the most important. Not because you necessarily need to have a ticket to get where you are going, but because once the ticket is bought there’s no backing out. This is the beginning of a new adventure, and in most cases a new outlook on life.
In terms of travel, the word ‘plan’ tends to be used very loosely. Or at least I use it loosely. For almost all of my trips, I’ve found detailed planning to be more of a nuisance than help. If you’re going on a solo trip, I would try not to get bogged down in the details. No matter where or how you travel you are going to make new friends along the way, and with new friends comes new opportunities. Leave yourself open for anything. Booking ahead can restrict your options, so avoid it unless it’s absolutely necessary. At best, consider it only for your arrival night or during the busy peak periods. In my experience, there will always be a place to sleep and the rest will sort itself out.
Going Alone Doesn’t Mean You’ll Be Alone
Of course, solo travelling isn’t for everyone. Some people are programmed to love this kind of thing and others aren’t. You know yourself best, so do what you know is right for you. But if you’re reading this article you’ve probably had this internal dialogue already, so we’ll continue.
If you’re nervous about traveling alone I will be the first of many to tell you that a solo trip anywhere is one of the most amazing and wonderful experiences the world has to offer. You’re flying solo but you’ll rarely find yourself alone. You’ll find all kinds of interesting travelers who will welcome the company and you’ll have nothing holding you back from doing anything and everything you want to. I have a partner now, but I plan to continue taking those trips. Walk alone through the unknown and unchartered territories of the world. Keep the flame of this way of life burning bright. Like the old saying: It’s a fire inside. It grows and shrinks, roars or smolders, but once it’s lit it’s hard to extinguish. It’s a flame that, for me, will never burn out.
The Good, the Bad, and the Weird
Finding yourself in life altering moments is a happy side effect of travel. I’ve heard some amazing stories, and shared them as well – some of which I’m lucky enough to have experienced firsthand.
- Sleeping under the milky way in New Zealand and staying awake to see a true Irish sunrise.
- Climbing to the top of volcanoes where the air is so thick with sulfur breathing is almost unbearable.
- A one-month trip to India that turned into six years.
- I’ve drank Laos-Laos (a horrible tasting homemade whiskey best described as a mix of gasoline and bug repellent) with locals in a small town of Laos off the Mekong Delta where, despite having only hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate, travelers and locals were immediate friends.
- I’ve lived on beaches and slept in hammocks where the natives believe that if one sleeps outside on the ground at night the spirits come down from the tree tops to pay a not-so-pleasant visit to the invaders of their land. I’ve woken up on the same beaches to the stunning views of the ocean’s blue waters.
- The first cobra I ate was killed by a single shot of a slingshot by the welcoming and generous village hunters. It was eighteen feet long.
The trick to finding yourself in the middle of these wonderful experiences is to take the word “no” out your vocabulary when you’re traveling. Of course, use common sense – don’t get in the water if you can’t swim, don’t pay $100 to have your picture taken with a monkey, and most importantly, don’t blindly trust every person that you meet.
Most places are just as safe as your home town, but they’re also just as dangerous and much less familiar. Cover your drinks, don’t go down dark alleys, don’t eat the yellow snow… It’s usually as simple as using your common sense, but not always. As a general rule, it’s better to be over cautious than not careful enough. What I’m trying to say is: try strange foods, go to places you would never go, experience what your past has told you is too weird or wonderful to be real. Eat a bug or worm if offered, play with fire, and if a native suggests something or wants to take you to a place you have never been, do it. This is what traveling is all about, the new and strange experiences. The further out of your comfort zone you get, the more comfortable you will be out of it, and all those opportunities that come your way will be that much better.
The Culture is Half the Fun
It’s important to make an effort to learn about the culture and people. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’ve offended the locals. And trust me, it can be an easy thing to do. In New Zealand it was once considered offensive to sit on a table, and in Asia something as simple as pointing your feet at a person can cause quite an issue under certain circumstances. Learning the language never hurts either. Basic words and phrases such as hello, goodbye, toilet (very important), thank-you, sorry, yes, no, how much and where, are all worth learning in every country you travel to. The locals will respond to you much better this way, even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect. Don’t expect everyone to know your language, after all you’re in their country. As long as you show respect and make an effort, they’re likely to reciprocate.
Now all you need to do is set the date and grab that backpack, plane ticket, and camera and you’re ready to go! I’ll leave you with a few quotes that I’ve kept in mind during my travels. It’s your turn to go exploring the unknown.
“Livin’, tryin’ to attain what I need, traveling this world only me, but that’s just today.” – Sam Coleman, singer/songwriter I traveled with in Thailand
“After all is said and done, there is nothing to say so stop complaining. Take a rip out of life and never think twice about the way you stood there reluctantly waiting.” – Anonymous
“A Stranger is just a friend you have not met yet.” – An old saying a Kiwi friend reminded me of (this quote has led me into wonderful relationships with all sort of people from every walk of life)
“Just be excellent to eachother.” – Wayne’s World