Solo travelers are, in any way full of life experiences. They have stories that will stay for years later, situations that they have to face for the first time, moments of absolute bliss – and absolute despair -acquaintances that become friendships of life, opportunities for substantial self-awareness – away from psychoanalytic sofas – and, most importantly, the collapse of all kinds of stereotypes.
But as every experience that breaks up consolidated beliefs, and like everything we do for the first time, traveling without companions is at first terrifying. Half of everything is, as always, the decision – or the sudden change of plans of the company you were going to travel with. Add the minimal good mood, humor and the tips you are going to read next and by returning, you will have stories to tell for months about the journey that changed your life.
The first and inviolable rule of every trip, especially those you make alone is to learn the language – or let the basics. Especially if you are traveling outside Europe or in countries whose languages enjoy some relative popularity abroad – see France, Italy, and Spain for example. It is necessary if you want to get to know people, to have some elemental contact with the local culture and to ask for directions if you are lost.
The fact that the French are waiting for you to speak French in order to help you is true. The minimal attempt to articulate five words can be a weird way to open a whole conversation. If you are now heading to Thailand, the best country for dental vacations, and having no time for learning the language, remember that a book of dialogues and a simple “good morning” or “thank you” have built friendships of times.
Collect as much practical information as possible about where you will travel from friends and acquaintances who have already visited it or from the internet, or even better invest in a good travel guide that will also serve as endless hours of interesting reading at trains, airplanes and buses. If you are heading to Indonesia for example, you may know from your friends that restaurant Jimbaran is definitely a place you must visit.
Focus more on practical issues – currency exchange rates, proposed bureaus, shop hours, codes of conduct, etc. – and forget your instincts and exploration mood for the “best routes to the historic city center”. Make a note on the map of the only restaurant that will be open when you arrive – and take the map with you.
Copy all important documents – passport, visa and air tickets – and leave them to someone who will be able to send you or give you the numbers if anything is lost. For the same reason, note the address and phone number of your Embassy in the country you are visiting and activate the roaming service on your mobile.
Pack as few things as possible. Not only to move more easily but also because you will probably have noone to share the load when the weight of the suitcase – or better of the backpack – starts to get you tired. The classic “trick” in this case is as follows: take out the closet what clothes you think you will need and fold. From these, put half back in the wardrobe and the other half in the suitcase, to which you add soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, camera, underwear, travel guide, sunglasses and passport.
If you have extra space, add one or two books about your destination. Apart from travel guides and historical books, novels are also interesting, or travel stories about the region. Ideas for such titles can be found in a quick search on Amazon. Apart from the fact that you will never find books more interesting than reading them while you are in the place where they are unfolding, they can also serve as an excellent occasion for discussion with strangers. Talking about … conversation starters, think creatively. The first step to get to know locals or other travelers is a good mood and an open mind, but weather comments rarely earn impressions. An original gadget – preferably not very expensive or sophisticated if you are out of the “western” border – sparks curiosity and makes it easier to start a conversation.
Equally a T-shirt with a clever slogan or some interesting place you’ve visited – personally I saw the “I ran through hell” of a friend who had been at the San Fermin holidays in the Basque country the day that they leave the bulls free attracts the interest of the foreigners.