Simple Tips for the Single Globe Trekker

I’m an only child. Granted, I have five step-siblings, but as much as I love them I first and foremost identify myself as an only child. Which might be why I actually really enjoy traveling alone. I can be totally content just hanging out by myself. Without question there are a million great reasons to travel with others, but every time I do, I’m itching to take an afternoon all to my lonesome. My courage has increased over the years. What started as quiet weekends alone at the family cottage became extended work trips in new cities, early arrivals in foreign countries where I’d later meet friends, and most recently, seven weeks all to myself in India.

Me at Incapirca ruins in Ecuador, circa 2004.

I cherish this time for self-reflection and self-indulgence. Some people think I’m crazy; some people think I’m brave. Realistically, I’m a little of both with a bit of practicality woven in. Anyone can (and should) do it! So if you’re thinking about it, here a few tips for a safe, comfortable trip (in no particular order):

  1. Always arrive in a new place during the daylight hours. Everything seems scarier and less certain at night. And legitimately, there are often less services and you pay more for the ones that are available. Most stories that I’ve heard of travelers being taken advantage of happen when they first arrive somewhere at night.
  2. Book a comfortable room in advance for the first night. I’m the kind of traveler who likes to see a place before I commit to a long-term stay, but it’s always best to know where you’re going straight away. Once you have your bearings (and a good nights sleep), explore your options.
  3. Be aware of your surroundings. Someone following too close? Shoot them a stern look so they know that you’re paying attention.
  4. Dress (a little) like the locals.
  5. When in doubt, over-tip. Better to have an ally than an enemy.
  6. People will stare. Consider it a compliment, but don’t glance back unless you want to engage them further.
  7. Print-out your tickets (plane, train, etc) and never let them leave your hands. Some airports and waiting areas won’t let you in unless you have a ticket (even if you think you can re-print it at the ticket counter). “Helpful” scammers will take them to lure you away.
  8. Be confident. Act like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing even if you don’t. If you need to ask directions or look at a map, duck into a store or cafe.
  9. Don’t give money to kids or any beggars. If you’re really concerned, talk to the state and/or donate to a campaign that helps. Giving money to people on the street is not a long term solution and will only perpetuate the problem.
  10. Be home before dark until you’re comfortable with your surroundings (and have solutions to potential risks).
  11. When traveling overnight by train, book the top bunk. It’s much easier to kick someone off at that height.
  12. Be flexible. Go minute-by-minute, day-by-day. Trip planning can be overwhelming and only truly experienced in the moment. Don’t be afraid of being lame if you need to reduce plans. If you’re inspired, keep pushing.
  13. Carry a friendly smile, but don’t overdo it unless you intend to be inviting.
  14. Trust your instincts!!!
  15. Bring sleeping pills (the prescription kind). They help to quickly get over jet lag and sleep on uncomfortable beds. Being well-rested and alert is critical when traveling alone.
  16. Pack at least one sarong – in a pinch it can serve as a towel, a blanket, or a dress.
  17. When paying by credit card, never convert payment to dollars at stores and hotels. Not only will you get a terrible rate, you’ll still be charged an international transaction fee.
  18. Make sure your ATM pin number is no more than four digits. Not all foreign ATMs allow this and then you’re out of luck.
  19. Take a headlamp. It seems geeky until you’re reading under a mosquito net.
  20. Ladies, pack compact tampons. Not only are feminine hygiene products sometimes difficult to find, the compact variety are a huge space saver.
  21. Traveling overnight? Sleep on top of your most valued possessions (money, passport, etc). Add some (secured) padding around them and they make a lovely pillow.
  22. Make sure people know where you’re going and where you’re staying, and check in often.
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One Response to Simple Tips for the Single Globe Trekker

  1. Amber L. says:

    Jen, this is awesome. Truly appreciated. I’m sharing these with my mom about to head on her first international trip. She isn’t going alone, but some of this will just bring her needed guidance. Plus, she may be more willing to take advice NOT from her daughter! 🙂

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