Don't be stupid! 5 Mistakes that Solo Travelers make often.
We solo travelers already get judged by friends and family for being a bit stupid. "Why would you go exploring central Africa all by yourself? So stupid" said my big sister. In my early days of solo travel, I admit I've given her quite a fair bit of evidences of my stupidity as a solo traveler. 12 years since, I'm wiser and still enjoy solo travelers around this beautiful planet of ours.
So while there are thousands of stupid mistakes solo travelers can do, I want to point out just 6 of these which I have made before. You will see that none of these are terribly difficult to do.
Mistake #1 - Going solo to look for company everyday
This is a problem of mindset among new solo travelers. They step out on a single ticket with the over-optimistic hope that they will meet new people everyday. I hate it to break it to you - solo travel has its fair share of both meeting amazing people and feeling amazing levels of loneliness. Yes going solo on a trip gives you very good opportunities to build relations across cultures, nationalities and genders. But as long as you're not a celebrity, you have to be mentally and financially prepared to be alone. My introverted friends thrive in that sweet space; extroverted ones less so. Of course if the whole point of your trip is to meet locals or fellow travelers, you can use apps like Solopacker or stay in hostels & guesthouses with common places to hangout.
Mistake #2 - Packing waaaay too much
If you're on a solo trip for business, this applies less to you. If you're on a solo trip for the first time, don't be that person who packs until their bag crosses the 20kg mark on the scale to look like a "real traveler". Don't you think you'll be buying souvenirs or books along the way? Pack light. My recommendation is one 15kg bag for a 2 week trip (or longer), or one 10 kg bag for a 3 to 5 day trip. That heavy snow jacket - yeah go ahead and put it in. Replace that fat pouch of toileteries with the jacket and buy your soaps, shampoos and toothpastes along the way. If it's a commodity, best to buy it en route (bonus: you'll be injecting money into the local economy). Bringing books and a laptop along? Err... bad idea. Books are available for free in most hostels and guesthouses - your trip won't be any less fun without your most favourite books on this trip. Laptops, unless you're a professional b/vlogger or photographer, are a bad idea to bring along. If I had a dollar for every lost or stolen laptop notice I've seen through my travels, I would be able to buy a laptop. Loss aside, smart phones and tablets are more than enough for you to stay connected to the digital world.
Mistake #3 - Thinking travel insurance is a waste of money
Let's put aside the fact that some countries impose travel insurance as a visa or entry requirement. My very first trip to South Asia, my check in baggage was delayed for 2 days. It stalled my travel plans, forced me to go shopping (which I don't enjoy) for new clothes, and I lost money on a train reservation which I had to forfeit to instead collect my luggage at the airport. Had I purchased the kind of travel insurance I use today, I would have recovered every single dollar of loss and expense over those two days. It doesn't matter if you're going to a "safe" or "unsafe" destination. Travel insurance, at the most basic and cheapest, is to keep you afloat above inconveniences of losing baggage, missing a connection or having a laptop stolen (which you shouldn't have brought if you've read the blog this far). If your work or routine allows you more than 4 solo travels a year, save up and buy a annual plan. If not, buy whichever insurance you can afford after a 10 min google search.
Mistake #4 - Expecting everyone to speak & understand English
I could have titled this stupid mistake as "setting yourself up for disappointment". It is naive to expect the locals in your travel destination to smoothly communicate with you in English. 'But aren't countries like UK an exception' you may ask? I say, No. Your ability to communicate with the taxi drivers or money changers is less to do with their linguistic nativity and more to do with the two of you understanding each other's accents, nuances and non-verbal gestures. My first trip to the Philippines, a largely English speaking nation, got me so confused when the locals would nod-up to mean 'Yes' to my questions. Not nod up and down. Just a single, gentle nod up. Try it - chances are you too think it means 'what?' or 'huh?'. But not to those locals. So forget about communicating in long sentences in English and go instead with hand gestures. If you wanna up your solo travel game, put in the effort to learn local words for basic stuff like "how much" or "where is". If the local tea seller can indeed understand your English (or your native language), take it as a one-time bonus which will probably never occur again.
Mistake #5 - Don't YOLO when you're Solo
It's not just a silly rhyme - stand by those words when you solo travel no matter how familiar you're with the destination. I have to characterize this as both unfortunate and stupid - when solo travelers go YOLO (you only live once) with unhealthy levels of alcohol, drugs or even something as quirky as a local hot pepper. If you're traveling solo, you are your primary care taker. I don't think it's fair to pass that burden to the local people, local authorities or to your loved ones back home. Err on the side of caution in what you consume or the adventures you indulge in, especially when peer pressure to go full-YOLO is high like in parties or dance clubs. If I sound boring, it's because I have once thoroughly embarrassed myself and taken undue advantage of my local host when I drank too much rice wine during a local festival in southern China. I passed out, fell into a rice field (the irony!) and, as my super annoyed host mentioned, was "untraceable for 2 hours until a dog found me". If there is an adventure that you absolutely must check off your bucket list, find a fellow traveler or trusted local - which you can find on Solopacker - who will accompany you.