When I told people I would be travelling alone for a while, there were some mixed reactions. Family members were usually curious and asked exactly where I’d be off to, whereas friends were often very supportive and thought it was awesome (spoilers, it is). I feel pretty fortunate that I had the chance to be a solo gal out there alone, and to be one half of the “Double-Trouble-Dream-Team”: Em and Suze. I’d definitely made the decision to only visit countries on my own that I felt would be ok for a first time trip, and there is certainly a part of that which is due to the worries of others. I also think that those worries wouldn’t have been quite so vocalised if I wasn’t a female travelling alone. I’m so glad that I was able to experience countries in Asia with one of my closest friends, it would have been a totally different experience on my own, but I would definitely like to get out there and see some countries a little further out of my comfort zone during a solo trip, for the comparative experience if nothing else!
I didn’t find any real issues with being specifically a female solo traveller, I suppose I was more cautious at times such as walking through a city late at night, but that was never due to being a woman, and more a question of being in an unfamiliar place alone. I’d probably act and feel the same pretty much anywhere, but granted it’s fair to say being somewhere where I knew the language at least helped.
Personally, I think more can be said about being a solo traveller than it can about being a female traveller. Of course, for much of my solo time I wasn’t alone at all; I met some amazing people whom I still talk with regularly now we’re all home. And for those times that I was alone, if I hadn’t been then I would never have met some of my favourite people, particularly my Kiwis.
If you’re ever worried about travelling alone, there are SO many ways to feel better about it and to easily get to know new people. I started out feeling pretty lonely and not making many friends, it is tough to put yourself out there especially if it seems as though groups of friends have already formed, but we’re all backpackers ready and waiting to share a story! Here’s my top tips on getting into the swing of things:
1. Stay at a hostel which offers theme evenings
Most of them do, so that shouldn’t be hard. A good relaxed one might be movie night, or wine tasting night, there’s always loads of options! While it might not be the coolest way to have a chat, it will do the job. I chickened out numerous times to attend them, and do actually regret it, if only for the free food and drinks. And if it’s a totally flop, you know it’s not the method for you!
2. Chat with people in your dorm
An obvious one, but so easily forgotten. If you’re staying somewhere for an extended amount of time, they’ll become so familiar to you it’s worth knowing their names! Even if you just swap ideas of things to do, it’s a great way to relax and ease into making actual friends. It also helps to get familiar with those you’re hanging your washing out in front of, makes things a tad less awkward.
3. Use your contacts
I might just be lucky, but it just so happens that I knew of a few people already in the countries I’d be seeing on my own. My brother kindly sent me the contact details of a university friend, Marian, who I ended up staying with for a week in Melbourne, and my mum has an old friend who lives in Christchurch who again I stayed with. Countless other friends and family were incredibly kind and offered to put me in touch with those they knew, and it made life that little bit easier knowing that someone who knew my name was out there and willing to help out. This isn’t uncommon either, plenty of friends have recounted similar experiences, and the world truly is a generous place. I hope one day I can repay the favour!
4. Use the internet
There’s several ways to go about this, here’s a little breakdown of how the web is a traveller’s haven:
- I started off by making use of travel sites, there’s loads of blogs and ways to find other travellers on social media, but one good site I used was couchsurfing.com, and WWOOF.org. Couch Surfing was a unique experience (see: Auckland blog), but they have great events and meet ups in pretty much every city, and I went for a drink with a lovely girl who I had hoped might host me but couldn’t. People are kind and want to help any way possible, so talk, ask for help, buy them a drink, swap Facebooks and maybe you’ll gain something from it. WWOOFing is on a whole other level of social travelling, see my post on my actual experience here (more to come!) but the crux of it is that you get to directly talk and help out locals. Yes, you’re working with them, but if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason and you can’t WWOOF, maybe just asking for some local’s tips can be enough! Utilise the contacts you’re making, you never know what people can offer you. A change of plans meant I could no longer help pick fruit with a lovely family in NZ, but they were still kind to me and I knew I could ask them for any advice that I needed.
- You could quite literally post on social media, and see who’s about! I posted a photo to Instagram in Sydney, and an hour later an old college friend messaged me to meet up! We hadn’t spoken in ages, and I didn’t even know she was there but it was so so lovely and a wonderful way to spend an evening of reminiscing, swapping stories, and catching up on each other’s lives with a familiar face.
- A little bit of an odd one, but it’s actually served me pretty well. At peak boredom and loneliness I would talk with people on Tinder, not really expecting anything, but it’s nice to have a chat about anything and everything with someone on your time zone. If they’re a local they can help you out, and if they’re a traveller you could get swap stories! I absolutely advocate for this, but maybe I’m biased because I met some awesome people through it. You can make it quite clear, if you wish, that you’re purely looking for pals. People will understand, and I know of people using it for this rather than the usual “dating” intentions of it. Having said that, I did meet up with people from it, which was even better because I was making friends, having fun, and didn’t have to put up with my own company for a few hours. And one thing I learned from travelling is that as a backpacker, you’ve always got a conversation ready. It might seem tedious to be asked the same questions over and over (freshers flashbacks!) but it breaks the ice and you can quickly tell people about yourself and learn about them too. Locals and travellers alike will know you’re a traveller, and want to know your story. Cue lovely friendships blossoming!
5. Sign Up!
Again, this one can take on a few meanings. Whether it’s just for a day, weeks, or longer there’s lots of companies ready to help you out. Here’s what I found out:
- At the beginning of my solo travels, I went on a couple of day trips to see the outer sites of Melbourne. While I didn’t get particularly lucky with chatty seat neighbours, a few people did and doing something as simple as “would you like me to take your photo?” when they’re struggling with an awkward selfie can start the ball rolling.
- I never really did this, but I do know of people who signed up for specific schemes. Whether this is a work abroad scheme (such as through WWOOF or BUNAC) or just a company that “get you on your feet” they might be able to point you in the right direction at least. Lots of hostels have travel clinics for your questions, bookings, and socials to attend. Keep an eye out for Happy Travels, Mad Travels, and of course STA are big in Australia and NZ, and in Asia they are pretty abundant in the backpacker district too. A quick Google search will find you loads of options.
- On the other hand, you could sign up pre-trip for a tour like I did with the Kiwi Experience. It’s a little bit annoying with some of the problems, and can seem like a cop out, but it can really take a lot of pressure off and you meet some of the most wonderful people. It’s a condensed way to travel, sure, because you’re limited to what you can do and where, but for being on your own there’s not many better ways to make instant friends. Of course, you’ll still be nervous before joining: “what if I don’t make friends??” but trust me, you will and within a couple of days you’ll forget what you worried about. And even if those people aren’t really your cup of tea, the beauty of flexible hop on hop off buses is that you can just hang back and wait for the next lot!