|In Gulmarg, Kashmir, alone but never lonely|
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.