What’s the number one adventure on your travel bucket list?
Maybe you want to hike and mountain bike in Bolivia. Or take a gap year in South Korea. Or finally trek Machu Picchu in Peru.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find a travel buddy with the same aspirations, timeline and budget as you. So what do you do? Hold off and keep searching for someone to go with you?
You could. Or you could backpack alone.
It sounds intimidating. Is backpacking alone safe? Heck, is it even possible?
Have no fear! We’re here to give you all the essential tips you need to travel the world on your own.
Backpacking Alone: 12 Tips for When You’re Ridin’ Solo
Prepare Like A Boss
1. Choose Your Solo Backpacking Route
First things first: Where do you want to go?
You’re on your own. Your destinations are completely up to you!
Here are some crucial questions to ask yourself:
- How much time do you have? If you want to take a year to travel, a faraway place halfway around the world might be a great choice. But if you only have two weeks, it doesn’t make sense to spend several days in transit before immediately needing to come home.
- What’s your budget? If you’re short on cash, going to an expensive location is going to cause you a lot of stress.
- Why do you want to go there? What does this place offer you that you can’t get where you are now? Is it the weather? Food? Culture? What’s so exciting about this place?
- What are the main activities you want to accomplish? Do you want to go visit ancient temples? Do you want to chill on the beach with a book in one hand and a coconut in the other?
Define the main purpose of your trip, and you’ll have a much better experience than if you just wing it. Once you know what you want out of the journey, it’ll be easier to map out a route.
2. Learn About Your Destination(s)
Study up on your backpacking route to make sure you’re able to hit the ground running. Since you don’t have a fellow traveler to double-check your information, make sure your research is thorough.
Here are some important questions to investigate:
- What’s the visa process? Do you need to apply for a visa or can you get a free one at the border? The Wikipedia page on visa requirements is phenomenal, but always remember to check with your embassy.
- What’s the climate like? Do you need to pack a sweater or a bathing suit? Is it going to be raining for 16 hours per day? Is this an area where dengue-infested mosquitoes live?
- What’s the money conversion rate? It’s insanely easy to overspend when you don’t consciously keep track of how much you’re spending in your home country’s currency.
- What’s the background of the country? Do a little research about the official language, predominant religion, history, geography and demographics.
3. Learn the Language
If you’re headed to a country where English isn’t a dominant language, make things easier on yourself by studying up on the local language. Speaking the native tongue is also a good way to show respect for a culture.
At the very least, learn the basics. You should be able to get these down in an afternoon. Focus on learning what’s most immediately useful.
Learn phrases such as hello and goodbye, yes and no, thank you and numbers one through 10. You should also learn to clearly express anything super important, such as a food allergy you might have.
You should do your best to become conversational. Being able to express yourself is valuable if you want to explore the area, lifestyle and culture.
While it might seem daunting, learning a language is easily achievable with the right tools. Using FluentU is a fun way to become conversational in a short amount of time. Every piece of content is taken directly from media and entertainment sources, so all of the language learned is conversational in nature.
Check out FluentU to understand commonly used grammar patterns, talk about complex topics using simple words and utilize common slang phrases.
If you’re backpacking around multiple countries, becoming conversational in all these languages might sound unrealistic. But with only one FluentU account, you can access learning materials for all the languages FluentU covers!
Whichever language skill level you attain, understand that having any language level ability will put you in favor with the locals. This will allow for a heartfelt connection to be fostered where an insurmountable barrier once stood in the way.
4. Pack Like a Solo Backpacker
First, get yourself an appropriate backpack. Don’t get one that’s too big or too small. And be sure get one that’s high-quality from a reputable store, such as REI.
Always opt to travel lightly. Only take the backpacking gear that is essential. If you have a “maybe” thought about packing an item, leave it out. If you’re truly dedicated to traveling lightly, search for a lightweight backpack.
“Travel light” is the great mantra of backpackers. When you need to move quickly between two places, ride cramped buses or walk long distances, carrying a heavy load is a major burden. It also saves a lot of money and time when you don’t have to check your bag on an airplane.
I like to ask myself, “Could I run with all my stuff?” If not, I know I need to go lighter.
5. Get Traveler’s Insurance
Canceled trips, dental emergencies, emergency evacuations. Frankly, the list is never-ending.
If you don’t have insurance and you find yourself stranded in a strange land, your fun excursion will quickly turn into a terrible nightmare.
Here are the best travel insurance agents for solo travelers:
- World Nomads. These guys are pros. They’re travelers, explorers, nomads and journalists. They know how to keep you safe.
- John Hancock. Here are some great general budget insurance plans to meet most travel needs.
- IMG. If you’re into adventurous travel, IMG has some great policies to keep you covered.
6. Don’t Overplan
The best part about backpacking alone is, well, being alone. You can follow your own schedule without catering to someone else’s needs.
Be open to wildly diverging from your planned itinerary because spontaneous adventure opportunities will present themselves at every turn.
If possible, plan to take mostly overland journeys so you can buy a bus or train ticket on the day of departure instead of spending a lot of money on a non-refundable plane ticket. This will make last-minute travel decisions easier and more affordable.
7. Find Physical or Digital Maps
When traveling the world, you’ll quickly realize that Wi-Fi isn’t an inherent human right. It’s not always available when you want it to be. Cell phone data can be equally unreliable.
And while getting lost in a foreign country can be a great way to explore an area, it’s nice to be able to find your way back at some point.
You should always carry some kind of offline map. If you don’t want to lug around a bunch of physical maps, you should download an offline map app like MAPS.ME. You can also cache a copy of the region on Google Maps.
Alternatively, you can screenshot a map on your phone or take a picture of a physical map with your smartphone camera.
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Meet the Right People
8. Use Apps to Meet Fellow Travelers
Solo travel is fun, but so is meeting new friends on the road.
Get to know locals who can give you deeper insights into the culture. Or meet up with fellow backpackers to share your adventures with other travelers.
Here are some of the best apps for meeting people on the road.
- Couchsurfing. Meet locals for a drink, meal or travel advice. Or you can request to stay at their home. You can also meet up with fellow backpackers who are in the area at the same time as you so you can go exploring together.
- Tinder. This app is much more than a means to hook up. You will find a large amount of locals on Tinder that will be happy to show you around and give you a taste of their native land—without any expectations!
- Travel Pal. Find a place to stay, locals who want to give you local travel tips and even other solo travelers who want to organize a travel group together.
- Backpackr. Need a travel buddy? Hop on Backpackr and look for someone to travel with.
9. Stay in Hostels
Some people get freaked out over the idea of sharing a living space with another human. But once you get over that fear, you’ll learn a simple truth:
Hostels are amazing.
Many backpackers gravitate toward hostels because they’re good budget options. Keep in mind, though, that hostels are also offer fantastic resources for your trip.
You can find maps, discount coupons, transportation schedules and restaurant recommendations from the local staff. Most hostels also organize group trips and activities so you can explore the area with a fun group of people.
Because the best thing about hostels are the fellow travelers you’ll meet.
Many of these travelers are wanderlusters just like you, and they’ll help you fill the gaps in your research. Maybe you were going to go to a museum but Greg from the bunk above you told you that it’s a major tourist trap where they aggressively try and sell you expensive tea pots for three hours.
10. Don’t Forget About Friends and Family
It’s hard being on the road. You may feel lonely and homesick, and you’ll likely want to share your adventures with the important people in your life.
It’s a good idea to maintain a private group on WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat or WeChat just for your friends and family.
This way, they’ll get to see you and your great adventures, and you’ll have the opportunity to reach out and connect when you need to.
Live Like a Local
11. Buy a Local SIM Card
Get used to the fact that Wi-Fi isn’t always available, and even if it is, it may be unrelentingly slow.
If you need to look up something on the internet, text a friend or find directions, having a local SIM card with a data plan will be a lifesaver.
The best thing about many local SIM cards is that they’re usually very cheap. Most countries have some kind of pay-as-you-go system so you can top up with however much data you need.
12. Act Like a Local
If you want to get the full cultural experience, you need to behave like a local.
Do the locals eat with their hands? Then you should eat with your hands.
Do the locals hang out in tea houses? Then you should hang out in tea houses.
Engage the culture with culturally appropriate behavior. You shouldn’t do anything that makes you feel morally uncomfortable, but taking the initiative to behave like a local is a great way to experience a culture.
I’ll give you one little bonus tip: Have fun!
Backpacking alone doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating. In fact, it’ll probably become one of the defining moments of your life.
Don’t be afraid of new experiences and cultures. And don’t be afraid to have fun when backpacking alone!
Eric Michelson is a nomadic, philosophizing, peace-minded pluralist. He hopes to help bridge the divide between the diverse factions of the world by exploring various perspectives brought on by personal experience. You can follow him at Perspective Earth to learn more about his work.
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