Lessons I Learned From Mistakes I Made On My First Solo Trip
After watching Into the Wild for the 100th time, I made the decision to travel alone, at least for a little while. I quickly realised that travelling alone pushes you way out of your comfort zone, but also teaches you a lot about yourself. Yes, you might get lost, lose a shoe or end up sick from some suss street food, but you’ll also come home with a handful of new friends and some amazing stories.
Armed with a Paul Theroux book and an unnecessarily expensive suitcase, I took off for a three-week jaunt around Vietnam. I learned so much in those three weeks, and while a lot of it was through a series of mistakes, it was the trip of a lifetime.
Some of these errors were significant lapses in my better judgement – like buying a $6 sim card from a street market thinking it would work – while others were small, like trying to find my hotel without knowing its name, let alone where it was located on a map.
Because of these, there are a few things I’ll do differently on my next journey.
#1 Follow The (Hostel) Crowd
When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to stay in a hotel. Once I had memorised the room service menu, watched the Vietnamese version of John Wick, and failed to strike up a conversation with a French family at the breakfast buffet, I realised I was pretty lonely and a hostel would probably be a better fit.
In a hostel, you’ll meet people from all around the world within a couple of hours and the organised social events will have you checking out with more friends than you arrived with. Shared rooms, pub-crawls and daily activities are all great ways to meet people from different walks of life, many of whom are also solo travellers.
Plus, you can always book yourself into a hotel at the end of a trip for a comfy bed, a hot shower, and some alone time.
#2 Say Yes!
Well, not to everything. But layover days spent sitting in a hostel trying to think which picture to put on Instagram should be replaced with a hike, tour, or some good old-fashioned exploring. There will be plenty of time for reflection (and making your followers jealous) when you’re home.
Sure, you can play it safe, but you never know what can come from saying yes to a question like, “Want to come to the local markets?” Other travellers, hostel staff and locals are full of wisdom when it comes to unusual and authentic ways to fill a day, and by setting out to explore the area, you could stumble upon a phenomenal restaurant, a secret beach or a bustling street market.
#3 Spend A Little More
Explore multiple prices for things such as accommodation, travel and food. Although the cheap option is great for your bank balance, the 24-hour sleeper bus journey through the mountains will eat up a significant portion of your trip. When you spend a little more on a 50-minute flight instead, you give yourself more time to explore and relax.
Splurge now and then – on a more expensive meal, a cocktail, or a more comfortable journey. You’ll thank yourself when you’re poolside rather than lurching from side to side on a rickety train.
#4 Leave A Little Wiggle Room
While you want some structure on your trip, don’t plan everything before you’re on the plane. You’ll want some flexibility, especially when you’re travelling alone. Hearing people in your hostel saying they’re about to embark on a six-day island cruise when you’ve already booked a night bus to a place you know nothing about is quite deflating.
By leaving a few days blank, you can embark on spontaneous adventures with other travellers or stay longer in a place you discover along the way.
#5 Leave Your Suitcase At Home
There’s absolutely nothing worse than waddling down a pot hole-riddled side street with your suitcase behind you while it bounces around like an off-road vehicle. Get a backpack and be mobile!
It also pays to be equipped for hiking, bike riding and any other traversing you might do. Being able to walk the streets with ease will allow you to soak it all in, and trust me, the view is good.
(Lead image: Philipp Kämmerer)