I recently read a travel article about a solo city break in Vienna. I was quite surprised that the writer thought it a big deal to have a weekend away alone. Of course I travel alone every year for a few months and have done for over fifteen years now, so I’m well used to it and wouldn’t have it any other way. Although my friends are always welcome to join me for a few weeks here and there!
The writers top tip for solo travel was to remember a phone charger (fundamental packing error there!). Here are my backpacking tips whether you’re going solo, with a tour group or with friends.
Carry a pack of tissues
When you’re travelling you use public toilets a lot. And believe me, they rarely have toilet paper. Some countries don’t use it, some have an attendant who will grudgingly give out toilet paper if you request it and sometimes it’s in a dispenser by the sinks, But the number of times I’ve forgotten to check and ended up in the cubicle with no paper… A packet of tissues is also useful for those greasy deep fried snacks you are bound to buy from a street food vendor or for wiping unidentified sticky stains off the bus seat.
Get familiar with the various Google Maps features
Now I do sympathise with those travellers who lament the fact that these days everyone is on their phones all the time and no-one actually speaks to each other in hostels or guesthouses. However, wifi and Google Maps have revolutionised my travelling experience, making me so much more confident and willing to go exploring.
I always check out the street area on Google Maps of the next place I’m moving on to, particularly the area around the bus station and the route to my accommodation. Then I can hop off the bus and walk confidently out of the bus station in the correct direction (usually!). I much prefer walking to taking taxis – mainly to save money but also because I can get an immediate sense of the area and stretch my legs after a long bus ride. Screenshot is also a great feature, so I always have a map of the area I need.
Always have small change
In Western society we’re getting used to cashless transactions, but coins and notes still dominate in most backpacker destinations. But you’re going to need small denominations as no one ever has change and of course the cash point will give you large notes… it’s an endless conundrum. So, the general rule is to always pay for accommodation (your largest daily expense) in large notes, even if you have loads of change. Otherwise you’ll end up waiting forever at the noodle stall while the vendor runs up and down the street asking everyone for change for your two hundred baht note.
Seek out street food stalls to pass a pleasant evening
A great solo tip for passing an evening is to head for the street food area, often a ‘walking street’ or local square where the locals go for their evening meal. Have a bowl of noodles here, a grilled corn on the cob there, washed down with a fruit shake from the corner stand and before you know it you’ve passed a pleasant evening. Just make sure you’ve Googled mapped the area, so you know how to get back to your accommodation.
Recharge using a power bank
One of my favourite travelling gadgets (and for those of you who don’t know me, I am the least tech-savvy person ever) is a solar panel power bank. It’s smaller than a paperback book, really light and gives around three charges on my phone or tablet. It’s great for long bus journeys when I can’t be bothered to read a paperback, use up all the battery playing silly word games and then need my phone to check the route from the bus station to the hostel.
A power bank is also good for security reasons, as you can leave your power bank to charge in a communal lounge or kitchen at the hostel, then charge your phone overnight in your rucksack. Always remember to recharge your power bank, so you don’t get stranded with a dead battery, especially if you’re using it for maps, GPS or a digital guidebook. On this note, I still prefer to travel with an actual paper guidebook, purely so I’m not constantly running down the battery on my phone.
Take a medium sized rucksack
This is definitely my top travel tip. Other travellers are always amazed at how small my bag is! But I’ve always travelled with it (it’s sixteen years old now) and I find I have everything I need. Otherwise you just end up hoiking a load of dirty washing around. For me, it’s really important that I can easily fit on crowded public transport with my bag. I’m always meeting other travellers who get so stressed about where they’ll put their massive bag on the standing-room only bus that they end up taking taxis or tourist shuttles everywhere. My bag usually fits underneath the seat or overhead, or at the very worst, it sits easily on my lap letting me rest my head on it for little naps on long journeys.
Pack a foldaway rucksack and a shoulder tote bag
The typical picture of a backpacker is a massive 80 litre rucksack on their back, counterbalanced with a day sack across their chest. Definitely not my luggage of choice! I like to move around with just the one medium sized rucksack, but of course when you’re staying somewhere for a few days you need a smaller bag for exploring. I have a foldaway rucksack that fits easily in my bag as well as a cotton tote bag. The small rucksack is essential for day hikes and bike rides and the tote bag is great when popping to the veg market or taking clothes to the laundry. I also use the tote bag on long bus journeys to keep food, water and my book in, as my rucksack is usually stuffed under the seat.
Another top tip for the tote bag is to use it as a shower bag. Shared showers in guesthouses or hostels never ever have enough hooks or a towel rail to keep your clothes off the floor. I hang the bag from the doorknob and put my clothes and towel in it while showering.
And my last tip, but very, very important – always have plenty of snacks!
Ah snacks! I eat far too many snacks when travelling. Especially crisps. Although since I had an allergic reaction in Guatemala City to a packet of Doritos which lasted three days, I am less keen.
On buses and when wandering the streets you are never far from a lady with a basket full of deep-fried snacks on her head or small boys with tiny packets of nuts, sweets and dried fruit, however it’s still a good idea to have a few snacks of choice in your bag. I often end up on a two hour turned six hour bus journey watching an endless parade of ladies selling oily, meaty snacks, desperately wishing I had bought that bunch of bananas from the little boy an hour ago. Or you end up arriving late into your accommodation, not wanting to venture out and find food, and are so happy to remember that you have a packet of nuts and an apple in your bag from yesterday.
Are you an avid traveller with some great tips? Feel free to share them in the comment section below.