10 September 2012

Travel Tip: Solo Travel

In Gulmarg, Kashmir, alone but never lonely
I travel alone more often than not, which has plenty of advantages and one big disadvantage: solo travel  is more expensive. When you're on your own, there's no one to split room costs with and no one with whom to share a car or jeep rental. Solo travel costs, even to relatively inexpensive locales, can easily spiral out of control. I've incurred a $1,400 phone bill (pre-Skype days) while traveling alone because I was lonely and recklessly phoned friends in the States. I spent $300 on a jeep ride that should have cost less than half that price because I was worn out and would have paid anything to get from point A to point B.

But I learned from my mistakes. Here are some tips for making solo travel more satisfying and affordable.

Choose your destination wisely. Traveling to South America alone? Choose Uruguay over Brazil. Uruguay, I'm told, is safer, prettier and much less expensive. For beach bumming in Bali, choose Candidasa over the better known beaches of Sanur, Kuta and Nusa Dua. Candidasa offers uncrowded, unspoiled beauty even during the height of the tourist season and costs far less than its more famous counterparts. And it's still close to Ubud, Bali's thriving cultural and spiritual epicenter that is always teeming with travelers.

Seek out community. All of my crazy spending occurred as a result of traveling off season in remote destinations. With no other westerners around, I felt isolated and off-balance. Now I know to choose destinations that offer built-in community. For example in India, Ashtanga yogis flock to Mysore year round, Buddhists and fans of the Dalai Lama swarm to Dharamsala. Built-in community not only insures you'll never be alone (unless you want to be), it also offers you opportunities to join up with other travelers for segments of your trip.

Make sure your mobile is travel ready. When traveling to a developing country, get your phone unlocked and purchase a local SIM card immediately upon landing in your destination. Alternatively, buy a cheap cell phone while you're there. Skype-able internet service is not always a given.

Volunteer. My most rewarding travel experiences came as a result of my volunteering at a local nonprofit. I babysat infant monkeys in Goa and worked as a receptionist at Bali Adoption and Rehabilitation Centre in Ubud. I met amazing people through volunteer work and had a ton of fun.

Peruse Lonely Planet. The guide most chosen by backpackers offers tips no other guide can match. Through Lonely Planet I learned about shared jeep rides, where I could show up at the center of a tiny Himalayan town—Pelling, for example—and for 70 rupees (less than $2) share a ride to another tiny Himalayan town five hours away. I worked my way from Kashmir to Sikkim via shared jeeps. Lonely Planet features comprehensive cultural information and the most practical travel tips. However, for accommodations, best to avoid anyplace mentioned in Lonely Planet. Overexposure by the guide offsets any perks the place offers.

Be smart. In conservative countries, dress like a local. Remain friendly, but not too friendly. Don't wander around alone at night in developing countries or anyplace that's remote. Bring a business card from your hotel or guesthouse with you so you can indicate where you need to go should you be unable to find your way back on your own. Register with your local embassy.

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Erin Reese said...

Great post, Lynn! I am a solo traveler, too, and I find your tips to be spot on. Staying in touch with friends via Skype is very helpful when being along for so long. I wanted to add that I recently purchased the Acer Aspire One D270 Netbook for about $330 USD. It is one of the best lightweight travel tools I have ever owned. I can now save my back a big hassle. It has a built-in Webcam for easy Skype, too.
Keep up the great posts!

margieinitaly said...

Solo travel has so many perks. I love it and agree with your suggestions here!