Get out of your comfort zone with solo travel in 2015
They say "Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone" and when it comes to reaching your goals and being happy, it's very true. The only way you'll grow and improve as a person is by constantly pushing your boundaries, so why not make 2015 the year you take those first (often scary) steps? Travelling solo can be a daunting idea, but once you're actually out there, experiencing new things and meeting new people - it's really not that bad.
We think everybody should travel solo at least once in their life, so we've come up with the basics that any lone backpacker needs to get motivated, get up and get on that plane!
Going it alone - why?
There are plenty of reasons why people in their 20's, 30's, 40's - in fact, people of any age - decide to travel alone. Maybe your mates don't want to head for the same destinations you do. Maybe you're into culture and museums and their idea of a great holiday is bar hopping in Corfu (or vice versa). Maybe you're one of the many who want to discover themselves on a solo trek or backpacking holiday. Or maybe you just need some time out to relax and unwind, away from anyone who knows you. Whatever your reasons for choosing to travel solo - congratulations. Deciding to do it is the first step towards making your dream a reality!
Before you go
Of course, your trip isn't going to be a memorable one without some planning. Ok, a lot of planning. Lots of spending hard-earned cash too as you book those flights and plan your route. You'll probably need to buy some travel supplies too, which could set you back a bit. What we're trying to say is that your dream trip won't come cheap, and chances are you'll need to do some serious saving in order to afford it - but it will be worth it, we promise! Many travellers research routes, flights and accommodation for months before taking the plunge and booking that return flight. Spend as much time as you can researching online, talk to friends who have travelled alone and buy some guidebooks and maps. Head for your local library where you'll usually be able to find plenty of guidebooks that you can borrow for free for your research! We'll share with you some of the most useful websites for travel planning - whether you keep these to yourself or share them with your friends is up to you:
http://indie.bootsnall.com/ (great for round-the-world or multi-stop trips)
www.statravel.co.uk (great for flights and accommodation too)
Where to head?
If this is your first time travelling solo, you don't want to end up in a destination that isn't welcoming to tourists or backpackers. Neither do you want to end up somewhere totally remote where nobody speaks English - save that for a few years down the line once you have several solo trips under your belt! There are a few destinations which are recommended for solo travellers - despite what you might think, the USA and Europe aren't usually on the list of top recommendations as you're more likely to find guided coach tours and groups travelling together. However staying in a hostel in a major European city usually means you'll meet at least a few friendly faces!
Billed as THE top backpacking destination for first-time solo backpackers, Thailand is one of the easiest, if not the easiest country in the world to go backpacking; no visa required for stays of up to 30 days, if you have a British passport! Thai people are very friendly and welcoming to tourists, and most people in the major towns and cities speak good English. Even in more remote areas, you should still be able to get by with the help of a Thai phrasebook. One of the draws of the country is the cost of living - it's very cheap to enjoy a holiday here. Expect to pay around £350-450 for a return flight in peak season (November-February) and find accommodation in hostels starting at £3/4 a night. Hostels do vary greatly in terms of cleanliness and facilities - Trip Advisor is a great place to start checking out some recommended hostels and their reviews.
You can comfortably get by on £25 or less a day per person, for eating, socialising and sightseeing; many backpackers take a lot less, whilst others will spend more. Thailand is often a popular choice for those wanting to explore Cambodia, Vietnam and China. If Full Moon Parties aren't your thing, we recommend stopping off briefly in Bangkok before heading north to Chiang Mai. Life in the north of the country moves at a slower pace and there's some beautiful countryside to explore, with hill walks and temples everywhere. Head for Ayutthaya's temple complex or spend a few days (or longer) in laid-back Pai.
Although it's not quite bas welcoming to tourists as Thailand, Cambodia is still a great place to experience solo travel for the first time and can usually be combined with your Thailand trip to see more of South-East Asia in one go. You'll need a visa to visit Cambodia and you'll find that Cambodian people are usually happy to see you! Cambodia is one of South-East Asia's poorest countries and is considered to be a little more adventurous than Thailand, with plenty of unspoilt islands and beaches. It's also very cheap to visit - expect to find a bed in a hostel dorm for under £3 a night and budget around £15-20 a day for food and sightseeing.
The main draw is of course the temples of Angkor Wat, which are nothing short of spectacular, but there's plenty of history to soak up here too; the country has a troubled past. Phnom Penh, the capital, is home to bustling day and night food markets where you can enjoy food whilst sitting on a picnic blanket with your fellow backpackers! The country has its party spots, of course, such as Siem Reap and Sihanouksville, but for a quieter pace, the island of Koh Rong offers opportunities for scuba diving and unspoilt sandy beaches where you're likely to be completely alone! Whilst you're here, you may even want to try a traditional Cambodian speciality, fried tarantula (hmmm, maybe not!) depending on how adventurous your tastes are.
If you're considering backpacking solo in Europe, interrailing is a great way to meet people, or you could book a place on a solo tour or adventure holiday. You'll find loads of activity holidays available covering everything from cooking to photography and adventure sports - and you'll instantly have something in common with those you meet! Or you could just book some hostel accommodation if you're outgoing enough to strike up a friendship with fellow travellers.
Pack the essentials
Unless you're going somewhere really remote, you should be able to travel light - it can be tempting to pack everything you could ever need when you're travelling alone, but you can pick up most essentials at your destination. If you're going to be backpacking and staying in hostels, we recommend the following handy accessories!
- Mini torch (great for power cuts or in areas where electricity is limited)
- Travel adaptor plug, for charging your smartphone, e-reader and digital camera
- Waterproof bags (great for keeping your gadgets safe on road trips or at the beach)
- Travel washing line - these come with plastic suction cups so you can hang up your washing anywhere
- Mosquito repellent band and bite treatment cream or spray
- Sleeping bag liner - in hotter countries you probably won't need a sleeping bag, but a cotton liner is great if the hostel you're staying in is less than clean!
These are just a few essentials to get you thinking about the types of things that you need. When it comes to packing clothes, focus on essentials like underwear, socks and footwear as you can often pick up tops, trousers and skirts very cheaply at your destination - Thai markets are a great place to stock up on cool, flowing clothes that will stop you overheating in high season.
Travelling solo - the mental benefits
If you're the shy, introverted type, the idea of speaking to and befriending groups of other travellers might seem absolutely terrifying - it does get easier. There are plenty of mental benefits associated with going it alone on a round-the-world trip, or even a two week holiday. Here are a few:
- Increased confidence and self-esteem - once you've tackled Thailand alone, you'll feel like you can do anything!
- Self-reliance and independence - travelling alone means you need to look out for and look after yourself
- Freedom and the opportunity to take things at your own pace - one of the best things about travelling solo is that you can do what you want to do, whenever you want to do it. So if you're a morning person and you want to get up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, you can!
- Reduce your stress levels - travelling alone means you're free to take things at a slower pace than you would back home. There's nothing to stress about, and it's generally easy to move from one destination to another, booking accommodation as you go.
- Relinquish control - for those who have a tendency to be control freaks, travelling alone pits you against the unknown. Whilst you could plan every aspect of your trip down to the last detail, it's often more fun to fly by the seat of your pants. You might meet a great group of travellers and decide you want to head wherever they're going, so enjoy the opportunity to be flexible.
- Make some memories - too often we place a lot of importance on the things we own rather than the experiences we have and this doesn't make us happy. Meeting new people, experiencing new things and broadening your horizons will help you grow as a person and give you some great memories to take home.
- Motivate yourself - if you're feeling stuck in a rut back home - maybe your job is making you unhappy or you feel like you need to break up with your partner - a solo travel trip can give you the motivation and confidence you need to make changes once you're back in Blighty.
Stop sitting there and daydreaming about going travelling - just do it and push yourself out of your comfort zone this year. After all, you're more likely to regret things you didn't do than the things you did!