With travel opening up after two long years, we are sure you are raring to go exploring. Considering everyone’s busy schedules—whether it’s your partner, family, or girlfriends—you may not always find travel companions. But why wait? The thrill of solo travel is like no other. “Travelling solo is a very liberating experience as it allows you to travel on your own terms and it makes you responsible as well,” says travel blogger and photographer Parnashree Devi who blogs at My Travel Diary. Of course, it can be an intimidating experience, especially if you have never done it before. We bring you a definitive guide on solo travel, so pack your bags and get set to go adventuring.
Safety is the biggest concern when it comes to women travellers, particularly while travelling solo. “If you are travelling for the first time, start closer to home. Research the neighbourhood where you plan to stay—I generally pick a central area, which has a constant flow of people,” says travel blogger Ami Bhat who blogs at Thrilling Travel. Online blogs, reviews of hotels and homestays in the area, and social media are all great resources to turn to for this research. “My Safetipin is also extremely helpful; it’s an Indian app that offers a safety audit of a location on various parameters like how safe and trustworthy people find a neighbourhood to be,” says travel blogger Divyakshi Gupta who blogs at Quirky Wanderer. When it comes to choosing a hotel, review websites like TripAdvisor are a valuable resource. You should always try to arrive at a new destination during the daytime. After checking into your room, Gupta suggests looking for network jammers (multiple smoke detectors can be a tell-tale sign) and for two-way mirrors—put your fingertip on the mirror and look closely at the reflection; if your fingertip and its reflection touch tip to tip, it is a two-way mirror. “These are basic things to check to make sure your privacy is not compromised,” she says.
Other safety tips include buying a local sim card when travelling abroad and saving numbers of the local emergency services, embassy or consulate, and your hotel or homestay. “Also, write down important phone numbers on paper and carry them with you in case you lose your phone,” says Devi. Carry multiple photocopies of your travel documents like passport, visa, travel insurance (please get it!), emergency contacts, etc. as well as save soft copies on your phone and to your personal cloud, Google Drive, etc.
Common sense rules like keeping your cash, valuables, and passport safe become even more important when you’re on your own. Dress comfortably and, depending on the destination, conservatively—for instance, in rural India and in countries like Egypt. “Avoid venturing out at late hours alone. You are after all not in your own city,” adds Bhat. And if you go to a bar, never leave your drink unattended. When it comes to the bag that you carry around—whether a purse, tote, or backpack—make sure it’s easy to access and something that you’re used to carrying. I prefer a small or medium-sized cross-body sling bag so that I can access my cash, cards, and phone quickly, and it’s not that easy to flick since it’s in front of my body and I’m practically wearing it.
A whole host of apps have made travelling easier and safer. “My top tip would be to download offline Google Maps to the destination you are travelling to since online connectivity cannot always be relied on”, says Gupta. If you’re travelling to a country where English isn’t widely spoken, a translator app like Google Translate or Microsoft Translator can be extremely useful. Downloading personal safety apps like Smart 24X7 or bSafe can also be helpful—these apps help you generate a panic alert or SOS just by the touch of a button or by voice activation. “Keep your family or friends informed about where you are travelling and staying; leave a hotel address and a local number with them,” adds Bhat. Of course, it goes without saying, always keep your phone charged and carry a battery pack if you are going to be on the road for extended periods.
POV—you’re on that dream road trip in India, driving on a national highway past quaint villages and towns or perhaps in a state transport bus on an overnight journey—and suddenly you need a bathroom. “The app Toilet Finder is a saviour on long road trips although some work needs to be done when it comes to its accuracy; sometimes it shows you a clean toilet but it turns out to be really dirty,” says Gupta. She also recommends carrying PeeBuddy, a female urination device that lets you pee while standing up; it comes in single-use and reusable variants. In addition to that, you should carry a supply of your feminine hygiene products—you don’t want to go hunting for sanitary pads or tampons in a new town. And I recommend carrying them even when you’re not expecting your period because you know, Murphy’s Law! A basic first-aid kit and medications for common ailments like fever, diarrhoea, and allergies are also essential.
Of course, no destination is 100% safe, and no solo travel guide will completely prepare you for everything on the road. However, every trip is a learning experience, and over time, you will become adept at travelling alone. The most important thing to remember—apart from all the advice above—is to have fun, be present at the moment, and make memories of a lifetime.