There are two types of people in this world. Those that can't imagine what someone could possibly like about solo travelling, and those that are constantly bugged by others asking what they like about solo travelling.
I'm kidding of course, there's also a third type which I call the grey zone; people who would like to experience solo travelling, just to know what it's all about. If you're such a type I kindly invite you to read on, because you, dear sir or madam, are my target audience!
If you're one of the other types, feel free to stay too, you might learn a thing or two.
1. Art of travel (how to see the world on 25$ a day or less) http://www.artoftravel.com
Let's have a flashback to the time where I became a grey zone type. One upon a time I didn't have a single clue that solo travelling existed for 'normal' people, I thought it was something for hobos or guys in their midlife crisis who buy a motorcycle, ditch wife and kids and go travelling all by themselves through Eastern Europe. One day I bumped into the Art of travel website and I've read it from a to z, which took quite a while because it's more or less an online book, but I didn't care at all because it contained such valuable information. A whole new world opened up for me.
Probably the most important lesson I learned from this website is that all of my fears are needless. The unsolved questions which have kept me from solo travelling had all been answered, and the answers were so damn simple!
Q: Tourists get mugged all the time, what will I do when I'm out there by myself with no money?
A: First of all, 95% of the people who get robbed kind of asked for it, because they show off with their expensive camera, watch or purse. Don't wear expensive stuff and chances that you get robbed are a lot lower. Secondly, spread your money over your body so that they never steal it all and finally, if you find yourself in a situation on your own with no money, other travelers and local people will help you! They really do!
Q: Every day on the news I see people dying from horrible exotic diseases, won't I get ill?
A: Sad as it may be, the people you see dying on television don't die because there is no cure, they die because they can't afford the cure. For most of the exotic diseases you can either get a vaccination (Hepatitis, yellow fever...) or preventive medication (malaria...). If you also watch out a little bit - don't drink from jungle rivers for example - you'll be fine. Oh yeah, whether you like it or not, you will get diarrhea!
Q: What if I get lonely?
A: You won't get as lonely as you think you will. Isn't that a good start? Hostels for example are full of solo travelers who you can chat to. And when you're on your own you're also much more open for meeting new people. I can't promise you that you'll never be lonely, but you won't be very often, and if you are, write in your journal, read a book, listen to music or go out and meet people! Do you see where I'm going? It's all so damn easy!
2. Tripsource http://www.tripsource.com
The world of solo travelling tickled me. It tickled me hard! But I needed more information; Who travels alone? Where do they go? What do they do there? Where do they sleep? What do they eat? Who do they meet?
These are all quite important questions, and the best way to find out is by reading travel stories. And the best place to find travel stories is... (drum roll) BootsnAll of course, what did you expect? But I figured that if you're reading this article, chances are that you're already quite familiar with this website and therefore I present you Tripsource as alternative. There are quite a lot of travelers writing for Tripsource and the website also provides some background information about the writer which makes it easier to pick the stories from travelers who do what you like to do.
This is a very important phase before your first solo travel. Go to BootsnAll, Tripsource or any other website with travel stories and read where others have gone, what they liked or not, where they slept, what they did and especially what they did wrong. Remember that wise men learn by other men's mistakes.
3. The backpacking site http://www.the-backpacking-site.com
After reading so much stories about all kinds of people travelling all over the world, I thought to myself: If they can do it, why wouldn't I? I'd read about lots of different ways of backpacking, you could go on a shoestring or more luxurious, you could choose to hang around with other travelers during the day or to explore the place all by yourself, you could do whatever you want, where you want and with who you want.
When it's your first trip, it's of course not smart to leave home without a bit of preparation. Actually this is never very smart, unless your name is Brian Thacker - author of Where's Wallis? and Rule no5: No sex on the bus - and you make a living of unprepared travelling and writing about it.
So you need to prepare. You need to think about when you want to start your travels and how long you're going to stay, if there are any visa needed, if there are any vaccinations needed, what the weather will be on location and how you're going to dress in that weather, if you need a sleeping bag and/or tent and so on.
A very good resource in this phase of your travel plan is the backpacking site. Next to a lot of general information and a great packing list it has for almost each country in the world an overview of all the essentials: currency, climate info, visa info, emergency numbers and even a couple of phrases.
4. Couchsurfing http://www.couchsurfing.com
Even though I had never felt more confident about something then about my urge to travel, the fear of loneliness hadn't totally disappeared. And this is quite normal, because never before in your life you've been alone for such a long time. When you come to think about it, chances are that never before you've spent a whole day without seeing someone you knew from before, and now you're going to spend a month on your own at the other and of the world. No wonder this freaks you out.
Every solo traveler will tell you that you're not going to be lonely, that you'll meet lots of people, make lots of friends and that from time to time you will even wish that you had some more time for yourself. But it's normal that you don't believe this, because in general life you're not used to do stuff alone. You're not used to sit alone in a restaurant, go alone to a bar or even sit on your own on a bench in a park.
If you want to secure yourself from loneliness, there's Couchsurfing.
Originally Couchsurfing was brought to life to give low budget travelers an opportunity to get a free place to sleep. The principle is simple, if you have a spare bed or couch you announce this on the website, and people who are travelling in your direction sleep on it. In exchange they cook you a meal, they share their knowledge, learn you how to play the guitar or just keep you company. The other way around it gives you the opportunity to stay with people all over the world and live how they live. It's a unique chance to really get to know the people of a certain place.
Time passed by and the community grew extensionally and at the moment there are lots of members who don't have the intension of using someone's couch, but are just interested in meeting local folks. I always preferred staying at hostels because... I don't know... I just like to hang around in a hostel, but I used Couchsurfing numerous of times just to get in touch with people living in the country where I'm travelling. They have showed me places the guidebooks don't mention, they took me to local restaurants and most of all they kept me company.
Let's face it, the best way to get to know a place is with people who have lived there for their whole live.
5. Lonely planet http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
I was all set up, I knew where I wanted to go, when I was going and how long I was staying, I got my visa, created a packing list and I arranged a couple of dates with members of Couchsurfing. The only thing left was to get a decent guidebook.
If I can give you a valuable tip, don't take the first guidebook you get into your hands. The choice of guidebooks is actually quite important and totally dependent on the kind of trip you're planning to make. For example, I once took a 10 year old Dominicus guidebook to Iceland. Bad choice. It was full of background information about the island, how glaciers were made and which animals live there. All very interesting, but unfortunately what I needed was roadmaps and lists of hostels. As I generally tend not to learn from my mistakes, half a year later I went to Romania with a national geographic guidebook. I learned lots about the culture, about count Dracula and so on, but I had to find the bus schedules all by myself. See what I mean?
I picked the Lonely Planet here as an example, because it's considered the bible for backpackers. In my opinion, this isn't always a good choice because when everybody travels with Lonely Planet, everybody goes to the high rated hostels, which means that the hostel's quality of service might go down because they know they'll get their visitors anyway. On the other hand, the Lonely Planet is very often updated, so if you bought the latest one you can normally count on the mentioned prices and schedules.
Personally I prefer the Let's Go guidebook for backpacking, but I can surely advise Lonely Planet and Rough Guide too. If you like to have lots of background information about a country and its culture, you might want to consider taking a National Geographic with you. Most important is to take the latest version because - especially in developing countries - the train schedules and the quality of hostels and restaurants tend to change quite often. If I have to choose between a five year old Let's Go or a Lonely Planet from last year, I'll go for the Lonely Planet.
And one last tip: use your guidebook as a resource and not as your actual guide. It's not because something isn't in your guidebook that it's not good.
photo by alex-s