Solo trips are rising in popularity. And Google search trends reflect this. I guess it’s because there are a wealth of travellers out there documenting the joys of solo travelling online. While I knew that the whole ‘finding yourself’ aspect to solo trips was probably a bit of cliché, I felt like it would be a cool thing to try out. So, down it went on my (very long) travel bucket list.
To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have done it unless an opportunity came knocking at my door. I was recently in between jobs- a time when most of my friends weren’t free. I had a friend living in Nagano, Japan who was willing to host me. And because costs were pretty reasonable as I was flying out of Thailand, I figured why not take Nike’s advice and ‘just do it’?
The plan was to explore Tokyo, take a day trip to Mt. Fuji from Tokyo, and then spend the bulk of my holiday with my friend in Nagano. Although not without pitfalls, the journey was quite enjoyable. I thought I’d share a few (probably straightforward but useful) tips about how I went about planning my first solo adventure.
- Choose an easy/safe country.
I’m not one for making comparisons between countries as each place is unique in its own way. But it’s fair to say that as a first-time solo (especially female) traveller, I’d feel more comfortable in certain places over others. Japan, apart from the language barrier, struck me as a pretty safe and easy place to travel solo.
Iceland is another recommended place for first-time solo travellers. It’s cheaper to get to from Europe, and most people speak English. When I was there two years ago, I remember our walking tour guide telling us how safe the country was. She had to point out that most embassies don’t even bother with security!
- Get internet
If you’re navigationally challenged like me, Google Maps is your new best friend. You can also make use of Google Translate. The image scanning feature (while far from perfect) is pretty useful if there’s no English menu. As roaming charges can be pretty expensive, it’s best to sort something out beforehand.
Don’t just rely on your own service provider but check with other service providers in your country if there are any packages/deals. If not, look into getting a local sim once you land or a pocket wifi. I know there were rental options for pocket wifis at Tokyo Narita airport, for instance. A quick google search should give you all of your options.
- Familiarise yourself with routes beforehand (and stay calm)
I decided to mark every single important place on Google Maps. The list included the station closest to my capsule hotel and all of the sites (along with their respective stations) that I planned to visit. I’m glad I did that because when I arrived in Tokyo, I had technical problems (More like I was an idiot and didn’t think to turn on data roaming on my phone).
I ended up taking a convoluted route to my capsule hotel, but it still felt like a huge accomplishment as I did so without data on my phone. I also wasn’t aware that my Tokyo subway pass did not cover the JR lines (Spoiler alert: there is more than one company running the trains in Tokyo). While things don’t always go to plan, it still helps to plan.
- Meet other travellers
Some people have the misconception that solo travelling is all about being on your own. But the truth is that there are many avenues to meet with other travellers or locals. You could try out Couchsurfing events, Meetup events, stay in social youth hostels, or even go on day trips with a tour.
When I was in Stockholm this summer, I used Couchsurfing to find a local host and even went to a Midsummer’s festival event with another host. My friend and I met loads of other travellers from all over the world. In Tokyo, I took a Japanican tour to Mt. Fuji along with 8-10 other people.
- Remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place
Despite having avenues to meet other people, it’s a no-brainer that you will be on your own for the most part. I was sitting at Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful garden (although, probably much more beautiful in spring/summer/autumn), and felt lonely. I realised that it’s not the destination, but it’s the journey that matters.
I found myself mesmerised by many of the places I visited but was even more excited to send pictures and tell stories to loved ones. But in moments like that, I reminded myself why I was venturing out in the first place- that I was lucky to be able to travel solo and that it in a way it tested my survival skills.