Thoughts and tips on travelling alone

If you’ve ever thought about whether you should travel alone, the answer is DO IT. I had thought about it for the better part of last year and during January of this year I had a “Fuck it” moment and booked a flight for Bangkok for a 2 week solo trip. As a relatively reserved and cautious person, this was a big step for me. Luckily it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Going into the constant stream of “what ifs?” can be a fruitless endeavour as you soon get overwhelmed by everything that can go wrong. I found travelling alone to be almost soul healing and character building. In this post I wish to share my experiences and things that would have been helpful and things I did that were helpful before I embarked on my adventure. Much of what I write here will be well known by seasoned travelers, this post is written from the perspective of things I wish I knew before I traveled and in the hopes of helping new travelers like myself.

With no prior solo traveling experience and gear, I had wanted to pack as light as possible. I didn’t book any check-in luggage for the trip there but had intended to do shopping on this trip so I bought 20kg of check-in for the return trip. I had a total of three bags, my main bag being a 3-day crumpler backpack in which I stored my backup duffel bag to be used to store shopping. I had only brought two pairs of shorts, two shirts, underwear, socks and shoes. The rest of my bag was soon filled with tech stuff like my 13-inch Mac-Book and charger, some GoPro mounts, first-aid kit, kindle. My other bag was a camera bag which held a Nikon D-30 with a second lens.

The bags I had brought were luckily enough although at the end of the trip I was walking around awkwardly hugging my duffel bag. The camera bag became rather cumbersome as I ended up using it as my day pack to carry extra things like a water bottle, crucial for any trip!

I unconsciously adhered to a couple of principles that I later read on a post by a writer I respect, Tim Ferris, on a 2007 post he wrote. An oldie but a goodie. The principles I followed were:

  1. Travel light, minimization and simplicity.
  2. BIT – Buy it there. Don’t pack unnecessary things such as too many “what if I need this” items. I have a strong belief in minimization! If you can get it there and don’t particularly NEED it, forget about packing it.
  3. Don’t buy if you can borrow. A lot of things end up getting used only once, I borrowed a DSLR, toiletries bag and GoPro amongst other things which made my trip so much more economically viable!

Organisation is what I think is an incredibly important part of traveling.

What I was glad I brought:

  1. Toiletries bag with a hook. This was amazing, it kept everything together and some of the hostels I stayed at had no where to put bottles of shampoo/ face wash and this is where the hook was a lifesaver!
  2. Rope/string. There are so many situations where a piece of rope (3mm thick was the one I used) could make life so much easier. On my trip, I used my rope to support a power adapter as it kept falling out of the socket! Other uses include washing lines, keeping things together, tethering things. I also used rope to tether my GoPro to myself as a redundancy in case my mount broke after all the lost GoPros that happened on my trip.
  3. Locks for my bags. Just the added peace of mind made travelling a lot more pleasant.

What I wish I brought:

  1. A microfibre towel. – A fast drying towel that can be packed into a tiny package is absolutely invaluable. I found myself awkwardly sitting on the beach unable to lie down without a towel.
  2. Cards. – An ice-breaker and time killer, often times I found myself without things to do to pass the time and cards offer the perfect opportunity to get other travelers together.
  3. A ball of string. – Similar to cards, this can bring people together. I got this idea of a guy I met in my hostel in Bangkok. Making bracelets for other travelers and having them make them for you is a great way to bond and create a physical reminder of people you’ve met. Also a great way to pass time! Was great when we were sitting in the hostel waiting for our bus.
  4. A good combination padlock. – I did not know this before but most hostels will make you use your own padlock. I ended up buying a really bad one on the streets of Bangkok which I later broke very easily after the combination kept changing itself.
  5. A jacket. I thought I wouldn’t have a problem with being cold travelling to a tropical country. 95% of the time I was okay and could get by even when it got cold at some points, if I was travelling longer than 2 weeks it may have became a more significant issue. Tim Ferris recommends bringing something similar to this.
  6. USB Wall charger with multiple ports. Pretty self explanatory, I thought I could get by with charging my devices off my laptop. I did, but it was cumbersome and slow!
  7. Powerbank. My phone was a very important item while travelling! As much as it would have been nice to have the “disconnected” journey, GoogleMaps saved me a lot of time and grief. There were points where my battery was dangerously low which left me feeling a little panicky. A powerbank gives that extra piece of mind of always having backup power! In the end, I bought one the day I was to leave for home, ironic.
  8. Purpose built travel underwear. I had about five pairs and could have reduced space and weight by getting some Exofficio lightweight underwear. Recommended by Tim Ferris and also a couple of other travel blogs I read, I would have got 2 pairs and reduced space.

What I wish I didn’t bring:

  1. DSLR. I came into this trip with the notion that I would be taking amazing photos and documenting everything. While I did take some great photos, the DSLR was more cumbersome than anything. Looking back now a small, compact digital camera or even a mirror-less would have been better.

Money management

Going into this trip, pick pocketing was something that I thought would be a problem. I went and got myself one of those undershirt money belts. After a couple of days, I returned back to using my wallet as the money belt become uncomfortably sweaty, being in direct contact with my body whilst I was walking around the whole day. I heard stories of attempting pick pocketing on Khao San road where the local women would hug you and try and grab something from your pockets but I personally never encountered any issues.

I spread out my money throughout my bag, carrying enough cash for a day and the rest spread out evenly in two different place in my bags. I always made sure to have a contingency fund, which for me in Thailand I kept at about $50AUD equivalent in foreign currency, in case I lost track of my spending or my wallet was stolen! The key point was to not put all my eggs in one basket.

This helped me on Ko Phangan where I had an incident with my scooter and they quoted me to pay them 3000THB. I persuaded them to lower it to 2000THB, with the help of some of my hostel staff, as that was all the cash I had in my wallet!

When overseas, ATM withdrawal fees become one of your worst enemies. In Thailand, I had to pay 200THB (around 8AUD) per withdrawal. Over my trip, I had to withdraw four times, translating to around 42AUD just to access my money! A ridiculous expense that could have escalated quickly, I was quite calculative in when I withdrew my money.

First Aid

I spend a lot of time outdoors and have done wilderness first aid and a senior first aid course to be more comfortable with handling injuries. For this reason I am into self-reliance and so brought a first aid kit with me on my solo trip to Thailand.

Below are the things I brought and wish I brought in my first aid kit, some of them came handful when I got coral cuts while diving but getting injured whether serious or not is almost a certainty while travelling:

  1. one or two roller bandages,
  2. a triangular bandage,
  3. strapping tape (useful for sprains and other injuries and can also use to fix any broken equipment),
  4. bandaids,
  5. burn aids,
  6. Fixomull (dressing for small cuts and stuff, multipurpose, cheap and helps the healing process),
  7. Antiseptic,
  8. Earplugs,
  9. Sleeping mask,
  10. Scissors (a small pair to cut Fixomull, I ended up buying a pair at a pharmacy in Thailand after being unable to tear their equivalent version of Fixomull. Obviously not being able to take on airplanes without check-in, easily purchasable for less than $3 at a pharmacy.)
  11. Several critical medications, most important are those dealing with travelers diarrhea, one bout of that can seriously ruin your trip as it did with my brother who took an early flight home after bad food poisoning in Vietnam
    1. Painkillers – Nurofen/ Panadol or any other equivalents
    2. Charcoal Tablets. For the absorption of toxins in the stomach
    3. Gastrostop. For stopping a leaky outlet!
    4. Travallen (Prevention of diarrhea)

Obviously I would tailor the kit to where I was going. If I was going to do more outdoor activities I may be inclined to take more bandages and so forth.

Final thoughts

While sometimes it got lonely travelling by myself, the benefits outweigh the negatives by so much. I met a lot of great people along the way from around the world, had amazing experiences (some of which I never even thought about) and also learnt to be more independent.

Share any thoughts and tips you have on travelling alone! I’d love to hear how to improve solo travelling.

 

 

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