As a solo female traveller embarking on my first trip it may seem like I’m less than qualified to impart any advice. However, the experience of planning a backpacking trip and making many mistakes along the way has led me to what I can offer: how to avoid making the same mistakes yourself.
If you’re a beginner traveller and don’t quite know where to start, my list of does and don’ts should hopefully prove useful in avoiding the common pitfalls.
DO think about the season before you book your flights (unlike me) because you may just find yourself in a blizzard when you were hoping for sunshine. Seasons are also a good indicator of how popular your chosen destination will be and will impact the flight prices. When I decided on New Zealand, I was so giddy at the prospect of my first ever solo trip it didn’t even occur to me that because of the different hemisphere I would be travelling from midsummer to midwinter. As it turned out, I would need more après-ski than After Sun. However, unrebuffed by the surprise, I’ve since turned my attention to the prospect of whale watching, hot springs, and skiing. Despite my chilly choice, the flights weren’t cheap being on the cusp of the summer holiday snow-chasing rush. If you’re on a budget it pays to aim for a month or two shy of this season. You get similar weather but without the busy hoards and extortionate prices.
DON’T leave visa applications to the last minute! This may seem like an obvious tip, but I did, and it created an unnecessary amount of stress. It was easy to put it off at first as it felt too early to even think about it. Then, two weeks ago it dawned on me that I only had a couple of months left until I was supposed to get on that plane and go! After that, there was a scramble to get the application completed and sent off. Next, I had to wait with bated breath and every finger crossed for the verdict. So, if you need one, don’t put off this travel essential as it determines whether you’ll even set foot on your destination. Unless of course, you’re a bit of a daredevil who thrives on living in the balance. Despite my recklessness, the visa came just in time and I was able to relax safe in the knowledge that my plans hadn’t yet been thwarted.
DO choose a tourism program to go with if you don’t feel confident. It can be an important safety net when you’re travelling alone for the first time. Contrary to certain beliefs, backpacking isn’t just arriving at your chosen destination and then wandering off into the wilderness with a tent and several Kendal mint cakes in your pocket. I have a huge respect for anyone who attempts such a mission, but your average backpacking holiday doesn’t require you to make a campfire from scratch in a remote region of the world. Anyway, most countries have strict rules about a pyrotechnic showcase. So, join a tour, especially if you’re a first-time solo traveller because the safety net will give you the confidence to branch off in your own time. Backpacking completely on my own was daunting. New Zealand became more obtainable when I decided to join a tour for the first month of my trip.
DON’T allow several weeks to fly past without making plans for your upcoming trip. Doing so is the best method to achieving instant panic. It’s easy to do with solo travel because there’s no one else to give you a prompt. You tell yourself it’s too early to book anything. Your plan to go abroad next summer becomes a vague repeated mantra and begins losing its meaning until suddenly reality hits you with a jolt, YOU’RE GOING ABROAD IN THREE MONTHS. Then you become a quivering wreck, overwhelmed by transport plans, hostel bookings, travel insurance, luggage, vaccinations etc. And you can’t shake the feeling that you’ll probably end up getting lost on your way to the airport anyway. Leaving leeway for spontaneity is recommended when travelling but personally, I prefer to know every single detail of my journey, particularly when there’s a flight at stake. If you’re someone who finds a lack of a plan terrifying, then don’t wait! Book and plan until you feel in control again.
DO make use of all the travel blogs out there. They’re a wealth of information from advice on what to pack, where to go, and who to avoid. When planning gets too much they become a refreshing antidote to the stress as they remind you why you’re going away in the first place. Suddenly sorting out what you’re going to do about your phone contract abroad doesn’t seem too bad when a stunning beach promising scuba diving and unlimited Mai Tais pops up on your Instagram feed. I’ve particularly found solo female travel blogs crucial in providing me with the confidence to travel by myself. Having taken up the challenge before us, they’ve done a lot of the legwork so that we don’t have to. Since nervously sitting down to google solo female travel tips for the first time all those months ago I have encountered a whole community of solo female travel experts who make it all look so easy! Without them, I wouldn’t know what to pack for a New Zealand winter, how to stay safe abroad or even how to plan a successful trip! I owe a lot to travel bloggers and I really can’t stress enough how valuable a source they are.
DON’T compromise your backpacking plans by letting anyone convince you that a solo trip is impossible to do. I’ve encountered many a muttered foreboding sentiment when I tell people I’m travelling alone, and it’s only made me more determined. Not having anyone to tag along with you isn’t the end. If you have a location that you’re desperate to visit but no one else is, or if you fancy a rewarding challenge, then travel solo at least once in your life. It’s the only way to guarantee that your travelling dream becomes a concrete reality. The bonus is that you get to book what you want without waiting for another’s approval. Learning to become confident in my decision to go solo travelling and kicking those mutterings to the kerb has been the most important lesson yet. Travelling alone is rebellious in nature because the status quo believes it’s dangerous. To do so shows a paramount of strength and fearlessness even though you may be quivering with terror on the inside.
DO work out a realistic budget in accordance with how much your travels will cost you. New Zealand is unsurprisingly not the cheapest and you can get a lot more for your money in places like Southeast Asia. But it’s hardly a hindrance if you work out a realistic budget and keep your expenses to the minimum. However, attempting to save money is challenging, and you may for a while have a less than frivolous lifestyle. Over the past six months, any suggestion of fun with a hint of a price tag has been replaced with a wince at the debt it’ll cause. I have a self-imposed ban on shopping and it has nearly pushed me to my limit! The sacrifice was established alongside moving out of London to my family home. I left my friends and boyfriend behind to start full-time work in a less than decent pub. Thankfully, it was worthwhile, and I saw a boost in my savings. It pays to make sacrifices if it means saving what you need for your trip. After all, as a solo backpacker, you don’t have the guaranteed luxury of splitting travel costs.
DON’T make your trip all about you (even though it is). If you decide to go solo, it’s a daunting prospect for all involved including your family and friends. The best option I’ve found is to communicate every new stage of my plan even if it means a new hostel booking or buying travel insurance. Filling them in on important bits of information about what you’ve organised and where you’ll be going helps them feel confident that you at least have some idea about what you’re doing. It makes the process less stressful and encourages a communal excitement about your travelling. It’s currently the only topic I ever talk about with my family. So much so that they’re probably sick of hearing about it and can’t wait for me to just go already! That, and I know they’re secretly all a little bit jealous.
DO spend time researching where your money ends up abroad. The world of travel and tourism has a huge environmental impact on the planet from sunscreen to noise pollution. In recent years, the tourism industry has improved vast amounts with travel agencies such as Thomas Cook removing elephant rides from their activities and taking measures against pollution. However, where there are consumers there are always those who will monetize through exploitation.
Tourism is a celebration of what the planet and its countries have to offer. It strengthens economies by creating business for local communities. Therefore, it’s in the tourism industry’s best interest to sustain that which it monetizes and protect it not just for future travellers and businesses but also for the wellbeing of the planet as a whole. You have an influence on this verdict. By putting your money into tourism which is founded on ethics and integrity you allow the industry and the environment to stand a chance and put exploitation out of business.
If you enjoyed this then you might like 10 reasons to be a solo female traveller!
Thanks for reading,