Solo travel was picking up as a trend when the pandemic hit India and locked everyone indoors. Back in 2019, a survey conducted by the global hospitality group Hilton revealed, “Forty per cent of travellers based in India intend to ‘go solo’ when they travel as compared to 25 per cent of Asia Pacific travellers.” The study involved over 1100 avid travellers between the age of 20 and45, who lived in metro cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi and Pune. In the same year, Google reported that searches for ‘solo travel’ between 2016 and 2019 saw a 131 per cent increase.
Solo travel can be described as one of the most thrilling, exciting and liberating experiences. It gives you a chance to self-reflect and grow, as well as discover a new part of the world in your own unique way. Ask travel vlogger Paramvir Beniwal, who is known for visiting some of the most dangerous places in the world like Ethiopia and Somalia, and he tells us that the experience is all that we’ve stated above and more.
Travelling alone can also be daunting, especially if you have never done it before. How safe will it be? What will I do alone? What about the stay? There are many questions that run through your mind. So, we asked Paramvir to take us through his trip planning process and help us compile a list of top solo travel tips for the wanderers among us.
Choosing a destination
For Paramvir, not just his but also his social media family’s interest matters when choosing a destination. He has taken it upon himself to show his followers places beyond headlines of international media, and gain a more immersive experience. But when it comes to other aspiring solo travellers, he suggests you take into consideration multiple factors before zeroing in on the destination:
- Your interest in the destination
- How explored/unexplored this place is (he prefers to avoid places that are filled with tourists)
- Visa process, if relevant
- Flight connectivity – avoid multiple flights,
- A basic idea of the current affairs of the country, potential scams, and its COVID-19 protocols.
Acquiring visa and permission/invitation letter
If you’re travelling within the country, you won’t require this but if it’s international travel, you may need a visa and permission/invitation letter. “Most countries require a visa to visit, and some even ask for a permission or invitation letter,” shares Beniwal who has visited more than seven countries so far.
To find out if your trip requires a visa and other documents, you must check at the country embassy or consulate website. Some countries like Thailand allow visa on arrival for Indians, while others require you to apply online. The United States and several European countries require your return tickets and hotel bookings, too.
When it comes to the permission or invitation letter, Paramvir shares, there are a bunch of websites like TripAdvisor, and traveller groups on Facebook that can help. “Look for a tour company’s number or a local’s contact. You can even check an application called Couchsurfing that helps you get in touch with locals as well as book a stay for free.” The travel vlogger, thanks to his social media reach, gets invitations from people across the globe.
Segregating budget and managing expenses
Travel, accommodation, food and miscellaneous – this is how Paramvir divides his budget. “You can’t save much on flights and local travel, but food and accommodation you can. Book your flights and get an idea of the local transport costs, and then whatever’s left in the budget, you can use for your meals and other expenses, such as entry tickets to tourist places, souvenirs, and tips. For my daily expenses, I usually keep a budget of INR 1000 to 1500.”
If your flights are expensive, you can look for cheaper stay options like a motel or hostel, or opt for couch surfing, where you can stay at a local’s house for free. “If my travel and accommodation are on the higher side, then I control my budget in meals – for instance, instead of eating out three times a day, I pick up a few things from a local grocery store to cover me for a few meals.”
As mentioned above, you can choose a stay based on your budget. If your visa process requires hotel bookings, you have no option but to book it in advance. But if it doesn’t, then you can research, get a fair idea of the stay options in the country, and book one when you land there.
Learn the local language
Of course, there are translator apps but learning a handful of phrases in the local language can make a huge difference in how you experience a city. Paramvir tells us, “It helps understand their culture better and shows the locals that I am genuinely interested in knowing them. I also learn the local language because then I can read the shop boards, address signs and basic things around the city. It helps me communicate better – whether I want to eat, hail a cab, find out where the public restroom is, and much more.”
“As soon as I land at the airport, I connect to the WiFi first and check Uber or the local cab service app to get an idea of the travel cost to my hotel. Then I head out and enquire with a local taxi guy for the trip’s price. The former exercise is to ensure the local taxi guy doesn’t overcharge,” he explains.
Safety comes first
Keeping your safety in mind is important no matter which country you are travelling to. Paramvir shares tips that can help you stay safe.
- Carry a box of first aid and medications for basic illnesses.
- Download the offline map of the city on Google Maps.
- Note down the taxi number or click a photo of the number plate, whichever’s easier.
- Share your live location with a close friend or family member, and keep updating it after every few hours, so they are aware of your whereabouts.
- Have a local acquaintance or friend, and share his or her contact with your friend or family member, too.
Have a local acquaintance/friend
No one knows the destination you’re in better than a person who has lived in it for years. Having a local friend or acquaintance elevates your overall experience. They know the best places to visit, those to avoid, where to buy things and what are the local charges for the same, and much more than any other research or travel experience on the internet can tell you.
“I usually make local friends via Instagram or the Couch surfing app. I write to them about my visit and tell them that their help could make a world of difference,” Paramvir shares. He searches for such people with the help of hashtags and location on Instagram. What helps him get a genuine response is his following on social media and the fact that he hosts travellers for free at his house in Delhi.
Lastly, embrace freedom and just be yourself. Don’t shy away from meeting new people, soaking in the landscape, and diving into the experience because YOLO!