1/ Embrace your fear and do it anyway – travelling solo for the first time is scary and other than facing this fear head on, there is no way around it. I was very anxious and fearful about travelling by myself but thanks to my supportive friends, I managed to make my flight. If I had not taken that very first flight to Saigon, my life would have remained the same. So one brave and bold step can really change and shape your life. For me, I realised that my fear of travelling solo was based on nothing concrete and as with most fears, it was all in my head. We all have fears, whatever they maybe, which continue to grow and stem into something so big based on nothing rational or our experience. Also, it is ‘normal’ to be a little apprehensive of your first trip. I met many a backpackers who were nervous or scared about travelling solo. No matter our age or background, we share similar fears. So, essentially, whilst I was travelling solo, I was never alone.
2/ Expect the unexpected – coming from a Western, developed society can give the impression that many parts of the world function in the same way. This, in reality, is not always the case. Parts of South East Asia for example; road rules don’t apply and many a families are stacked up on their motorcycle along with anything else that fits. Public transport in some of the countries is non-existence not because they don’t want it but because it simply hasn’t been developed. Some things don’t run as smoothly as they do say in London. I came to accept that things may go a little pear shaped and we maybe delayed but it wasn’t the end of the world. I found it useful to see the bigger picture and not to fixate on the small detail. Truthfully, many countries in different parts of the world are not as developed as a Western country however, that said, they function just as well if not better with their own system.
3/ Cultural shock – regardless of how much you have travelled or where, there is certainly an element of cultural shock. Whilst I travelled to less developed countries, I wasn’t completely prepared for Saigon. It took me time to adjust to the humidity, the heat, the vast amounts of rain, the flying cockroaches and all the motorbikes. Sure, I had done some research and reading but essentially until you physically arrive in a city, nothing can prepare you. Our body and mind more importantly needs to adjust and accept the different cultures and lifestyles. What may seem absurd or wrong to us, is perfectly ‘normal’ and acceptable for locals. The only way around this, I found, was to embrace new cultures and to try and live as they do as much as possible. I found in Yangon, few people showered with hot water so cold showers was the way forward. Parts of Thailand, they don’t have a shower so it was buckets. Western facilities are not the norm and yet, of course, most people get by.
4/ Plan as little as possible – we all travel differently and whilst I met many a backpackers who had booked and paid for flights and hostels in advance, I am more of a last minute person. I spent years planning every fine detail to a tea but when I started to travel, I learnt, a little spontaneity goes a long way. It was hard to know in advance how I would feel in a city say and so subsequently, how long I wanted to stay. I noted recommendations from a range of travellers but essentially it was down to me on the day to truly know what was right for me. Not planning in advance thus, gave me the much needed freedom and space to move as and when I wanted to. I would have struggled with pre-booked flights and I saw others faced with the same predicament.
5/ Travel light – I can not emphasis this enough. When I left London, I left with far too much luggage and consequently, I really struggled. Not all cities have pavements or flat surfaces so trying to pull my suitcase along with me was a mission at the best of times. Regardless of how long you are travelling for or where you are going, backpacks are the way forward. Backpacks automatically reduce how much you can carry and this is a good thing. I over packed and then I had to lug all my stuff with me. Over time, it becomes less important what you wear and more attention is given to experiences instead. One generally does not go travelling with the aim of keeping up with fashion traits. Sure, people going on holiday or taking a break, it is different but those of us strapped to a backpack have little care for what is in fashion.
6/ Street smart – I urge solo travellers to be as street smart as possible. I didn’t travel with an expensive iPhone or laptop but I know many people who did, some had them stolen others had them broken. I’m not suggesting that travelling with no gadgets is the way forward however, I did question why some travellers felt the urge to bring their flashy phones and/or devices when exploring rural parts of Zambia. I was fortunate, I didn’t travel with anything too expensive and thankfully never had anything stolen.
7/ Trust the universe – I believe in the universe showing us a path and at the same time supporting us along the way. I believe there are signs which we may or may not follow but they are there. In the same way, we meet people at certain points on our journey for a reason. I trusted the universe for the three years that I was on the road and I must say, it worked out pretty well. Sure, there were many a times where I felt more confused then ever and I struggled but I had supportive friends and over time was able to make decisions. There is no wrong decision, I could have gone either way and either way would have been ‘right’. I truly believe that the universe conspires to give us what we really want if we know what it is.