Tips I wish I knew before my first solo travel in Asia
My first #solotravel to Asia was in 2014, right after completing my studies. I started in Southeast Asia and went to India before flying back home to Canada. I recently joined Solopacker.com because I fondly recall how lovely the locals and fellow travelers were to me. Really, I made the best memories either with them or because of them.
However much help you can get, it is always better to be prepared before you head solo. I can safely say that 5 years ago I was one of the least experienced and least prepared solo travelers who kept screwing up her trip. Not a good feeling back then, even though it's kind of funny now.
;-) To join Solopacker, go to Solopacker.com/join If I had learnt about these 6 basic tips before heading out, I would have been less of a mess.
NEVER DEPOSIT YOUR PASSPORT.
This may surprise you, in particular if you come from a Western country, that some hostels & guesthouses will ask you to deposit your passport for the duration of you stay. This happens often in China, Vietnam & Cambodia. However, there is no legal reason for you to do so (despite what the hostel staff may say). I did not think of it this way back in 2014 and merrily deposited my passport who, lo and behold, charged me $10 a night if I wanted it to be kept in a locker instead of reception desk. Your passport is your property and you get to decide who keeps it as long as you have the proper tourist permit or visa in the country. They do require to scan a copy of your passport so please allow them to do that. "But what if they don't let me check in without depositing my passport?" In that case, play it safe and just find another place to stay. I have to add that this is based on my experience and knowledge up to today. So please do some google search or find a trusted local on Solopacker to get advice about local regulations.
PACK YOUR OWN FIRST AID KIT.
If you have a thousand allergies like I do, this is a must! I struggled to find medicine along my trip for two reasons. First, pharmacies are mostly a thing of major cities and tourist spots. And it is likely you are going to make the best of your solo trip and check out unconventional places, right? Yeah those places don't have a pharmacy for miles! And second, medicine labels are highly localised. Every culture is proud of their native language, and it only makes sense for pharmacies to carry labels in local languages. So unless you know how to translate 'Benadryl' in 12 different languages, it's best to pack your own first aid kit. I was the famous red nose and red eyes girl as I went to the deep jungles of east Indonesia. Funny, but true! Now I make sure I have medicine for basic stuff stomach flu, allergy, skin breakouts, high fever, cough and muscle pain. How big is this kit? It's smaller than my pouch of toiletries. My point being that packing your own first aid kit makes a lot of sense.
KEEP A FEW PADLOCKS.
This is pretty obvious, but I promise you 9 out of 10 solo travelers are hunting for one just as they check in to their first guesthouse and end up buying a crappy padlock for $20. Buy one when you are packing your bags! Forgot? Buy one at the airport before departure! Forgot again? Buy one from a local hardware store in the major city you arrive in. Forgot again? Good luck then! Don't blame your hostel for not selling top quality pad locks over the counter. It's not their main business. During my first solo travel 5 years ago I was always paranoid about my bag zippers being opened by petty thieves in train rides, hostel dorms or the storage dens under a bus. I could have simply bought a set of three padlocks for $10 at my local hardware store (now I do) and been assured that at the very least a visible padlock is a deterrent against such risk. Thankfully I had no incidence of theft back then but I sure would have had a more peaceful trip with padlocks hanging off my bag.
PLAN YOUR TOILET BREAKS. SERIOUSLY. LOLS.
No I'm not asking you to neurotically schedule nature's calls like Sheldon Cooper (TBBT!). If you are an experienced solo traveler or have a friend who is, ask them how troublesome it can be to go into a public toilet stall with a backpack or two. I must add that as a #solofemaletraveler this is even more challenging how particular we have to be about unhygienic toilet seats and missing toilet paper. I get it, it's hilarious, indeed. But not at the time it is happening to you! Having learnt my lesson, now I give 10 seconds of thought about upcoming pee stations, about not eating spicy food or drinking coffee ahead of a long bus ride, make sure I have a toilet roll ready to be pulled from the top of my bag, and a tiny soap stuck inside it's cardboard core.
NOT ALL BEDS ARE CLEANED EQUAL.
Bed Bugs! They're everywhere! For two straight weeks I had the undelightful company of bed bugs in my clothes and backpack like unwanted travel buddies (don't worry, travel buddies on Solopacker are all verified because it is a 'Invite Only' service). Just for the sake of saving money, I ignored the hygiene standards of this B&B in Cambodia. To be fair to them, they were a countryside facility so bugs and crawlies are commonplace. As a solo traveler, it is your responsibility to double check if the mattresses, bed frames, curtains or towels are not riddled with bed bugs. I'm sure you have seen a review or two online of the best hotels and hostels about bug infestation. I personally don't place the blame on anyone for this issue because I too unkowingly transported those notorious hitchhikers from my bag to other seats and beds along the way. Kudos to bed bugs for being resilient travelers!
ASK FOR DIRECTIONS ONCE AND THEN TWICE.
Yes you have downloaded Offline Maps. And yes you also have a brochure with a detailed map of the area. But if there is one thing I can tell you about traveling solo in Asia is that routes change. Why? because of all the construction and development these countries are going through for their people. The road your offline map suggested is suddenly a one-way street. The landmark you see on your map has gone through renovation and looks like two other buildings next to it. So please stay instinctive and ask for directions. Your guesthouse reception or local food vendor will almost always know the latest, shortest route. And if you are slightly less confident about directions like I am, ask once more along the way. When you are solo traveling, losing your way, especially closer to sun down, can seed some anxiety. Now it helps that Solopacker has created a feature for locals to help out travelers to get directions or even accompany them to an area of interest. You'll be surprised how many locals love to see their own hometowns through the eyes of foreigners who cared to visit them. It's a win win!