If you're traveling solo for the first time, you're probably overwhelmed with details - when to go, what to take, where to visit... But that shouldn't stop you from trying to avoid a few of the common mistakes made by first-time solo travelers - most travel rookies, in fact!
By the time you read this I'll be winging my way to South Africa for two weeks, specifically Durban and Pretoria. I won't be doing any of the 'fun' things this time around (mostly work and meetings) but I have been to this wonderful country several times already so I'll try not to feel too cheated. I'll be sure to post a few photos on my facebook page though!
Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #043
- 10 Mistakes of First-Time Solo Travelers
- Connecting with Women on the Road
- Travel News from Across the Web
- Cause of the Month: Rape as a Weapon of War
Mistake #1: Not worrying about a thing
I'm the happy go lucky kind - I don't need to worry about paperwork, lets leave that to others. A visa? Nah - I'll talk my way through at the airport. Vaccinations? Not me, they're bad for you and anyway, I never catch a thing. Passport? Mine's about to expire, but I'll be out of the country by then... Have you met this kind of traveler before? No problem if you have - as long as it's not YOU! You do want to worry, at least a bit. You've planned too hard for a great trip to watch it fall apart because you couldn't be bothered with a bit of paperwork.
Mistake #2: Over-planning
It may sound contradictory but just like not planning enough, you can overplan. You don't want to be so locked into your itinerary that if something fun or amazing comes along you won't be able to change. If you're the type that is more comfortable with a plan, then by all means make one - just leave a bit of room for the unknown and the unexpected. They may be some of your best adventures!
Mistake #3: Trying to see too much
This is an offshoot of overplanning but when you travel solo you may be tempted to try to cram as much as possible into your day/week/month, just to keep busy (since you expect to be lonely, right? see below for more on this). I've seen travel itineraries that would require a full pack of paper to print - or nearly. A year's worth of timetables, designed to get you on the bus at the crack of dawn, through the museum in the morning, lunching in a recommended and picturesque spot, running around town for a couple of hours seeing the sights, catching a quick bus to an out-of-the-way monument, and grabbing a bus to the next town for dinner. Relax! Breathe in, enjoy, luxuriate. You'll see everything you need to!
Mistake #4: Taking too much stuff
Start with a great travel packing list, and work your way back. Delete everything you won't use almost every day. No matter where you go, you'll find most necessities. You don't have to bring the kitchen sink along. My first major trip was like that - I packed so much I started shedding stuff along the way - my pack three years later weighed only 40% of what it had when I left. Being on your own you'll have to carry it all - and watch it when you run errands. Just take as much as you can carry easily, and leave all those fancy gadgets behind. For example: you love to read but you don't need a dozen books. Take ONE - and trade it in a second-hand bookshop as soon as you're done. Better yet, do what I did and get a Kindle (have a look at it on Amazon) and group all your books into one lightweight tablet. And then there's taking the wrong stuff - wrong voltage, cell phones with no coverage, wrong plugs...
Mistake #5: Assuming you won't get sick
You probably won't - but the best way to make sure is to leave home in the best possible shape. And that means getting your medical and dental checkups, making sure you have the proper vaccinations, get the right travel health insurance, and think about what to take along as a first aid kit. Take basic precautions while you travel because being on your own means you may not have someone to lean on right away if you get ill. Try to get into shape before you leave if you've been a bit sedentary, and use common sense - wash and peel raw food, keep hydrated, and watch out for excessive heat or cold. Get the best possible travel health advice before you go from expert websites like the CDC's travel site.
Mistake #6: Blowing your budget calculations
You can both over- and under-estimate your budget, and neither will help you on the road. If you calculate too high, you'll spend a lot more money than you need to, which means you'll probably travel for less time than you could have. Do it the other way around and you may have to come home too soon because you'll run out of money. Budgeting is something you might spend too little time on, to your detriment. This backpacking site has a good overview of budget costs, and there are plenty of travel calculators online (here's one as an example). I find the travel forums are often the best place to ask about travel costs - people who are in the country will be able to fill in the blanks for you.
Mistake #7: Panicking that you'll be lonely
You won't be - unless you make a real effort. There's something about travel that pulls people together. We all have something in common - a desire to see the world. It's so easy to make friends on the road, whether in a hostel or on a bus or just standing around looking different. Other travelers will want to know where you're from, where you're going, how long you've been traveling. Local people will want to know why you're alone, what your country is like, how much you make - and why you're not married, since they'll assume you can't be if you're traveling alone. What you'll rarely be is - alone.
Mistake #8: Looking too rich
If you're planning on spending your time in Switzerland or Japan, then go ahead, drip with jewelry. In a developing country where most rural people may live on less than $1 a day, it's obnoxious. Wearing lots of gold and silver also calls attention to you, in rich and poor countries, and is an encouragement to theft. It's not only jewelry by the way, but anything that looks like it might be worth reselling. A traveler I know once left his new Nikes outside his door to air them overnight. In the morning they were gone. Expensive, yes, but also his only pair of shoes. If you must have something expensive, hide it - this isn't the time to show off...
Mistake #9: Overdoing your electronics
The number of times I've seen travelers with the wrong plugs is too high to count. Most of the world doesn't use straight-pronged US plugs or three-pronged UK plugs so check! The same goes for the number of electronic devices: if you start pulling out an iPad, an iPod, a netbook, a cellphone and a GPS - and a charger for each - you're carrying too much. If you're curious about the world's plugs, have a look at this page. Better yet, just buy a universal plug adapter (this one has surge protection for your valuable equipment) and don't worry about your plugs anymore.
Mistake #10: Being inflexible
At home a ten-minute wait might drive you up the wall and into the arms of the customer service supervisor. In most other parts of the world waiting only ten minutes would be cause for celebration. You'll have to leave your internal time-clock behind and learn to 'go with the flow' and adapt to local mores. In some countries, right away may mean tomorrow, when I get around to it, and tomorrow may mean sorry, I don't have time but I'm too polite to tell you that. Societies have their own characteristics and one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to expect everyone to conform to your expectations. If you want things to be like home, then perhaps stay home. Out there, you'll have to learn to be flexible and adapt, and as a solo traveler you'll have plenty of opportunity to do so.
Would you like to connect with Women on the Road? Here's how.
- Join the growing Facebook community at facebook.com/womenontheroad and post on the wall about solo travel, safe travel and your travels
- Follow me on Twitter @womanontheroad for regular bursts
- Share your experiences with the rest of us by writing a story! This month, read about Volunteering abroad as a woman
- Ask me a question! This month, Angela asks for advice on an easy itinerary across South America. And another reader asks, How do you go about convincing the parents?
- Link to my website from your own blog or site
- When you visit Women on the Road, just click LIKE in the left-hand column.
Three great recommendations from Women on the Road
Saving money before you leave should be your first concern - but it doesn't have to be the only one. You can make money while you travel, and here are two great ways to do that.
If you've ever thought of writing to pay for your travels, you may be wondering where to begin. To help you find out I've put my own knowledge together for you in a free online course called the The Travel Writing Magician, available exclusively to readers of Women on the Road. Just sign up and get it in your mailbox in seven easy daily installments. Work the self-help assignments on your own and see how your writing improves after just one week. You'll never know if there's a travel writer lurking inside you until you try!
The other travel moneymaker is aimed at those of you who love the water and think living and working on a cruise ship is the most romantic job in the world. According to the authors of the Crash Course on Getting a Job on a Cruise Ship, it is. Their information-packed ebook takes you by the hand and walks you through everything from what skills you need, to how to prepare your application, to landing the perfect cruise ship job. It's amazing how much money you can put aside when your room, board and transportation are being paid for - not to mention getting to use the on-board luxury facilities and stopping in a different port each day.
Is planning your trip is giving you nightmares? Then run and get a copy of The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl's Guide. Find out how to plan and save up for your trip, break the news to your loved ones, take care of those last-minute jitters, and even how to deal with coming home. This e-book is short, light and to the point - no padding like so many other e-books. It's fun to read, and even after my own years of travel I learned a number of things from it I didn't know!
80 Things We Wished We Knew Before Traveling
Europe's 7 Cheapest Cities
20 Least Sexist Countries in the World
A Simple Fitness Plan for Travelers
Culture Shock in the Classroom: Teaching English in Ecuador
11 Reasons to Stop Dreaming and Start Planning your RTW Trip
The Effects of Long-Term Travel
Volunteering on a Sailboat
Travel Debate: One Country vs Multiple Destinations
Planning Travel with Dogs
Google your RTW Plans
For food lovers...
...and lovers of other arts
Endangered Art Deco in Curacao
Berlin's East Side Gallery
America's History Through Music: Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Fine Fiddling Direct from the Fjords
Keliki: An Artists' Village in Bali
If You're Visual
Rape as a Weapon of War
Rape has been used in wartime since Greek and Roman times, from rape and pillage to a more systematic decision to use rape to coerce and terrorize entire populations. None of this has gone away.
In the news recently there were claims that Libyan forces were systematically raping women among rebel forces, and at least one high-profile case has garnered plenty of media coverage.
And who hasn't heard of the atrocities taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo? In fact, a number of campaigns are trying to help stop the multitude of rapes - more than 200,000 since 1998 - that take place each month in some parts of the country.
In Bosnia during the war, tens of thousands of women were raped. Rape was used as a weapon of war in Rwanda in the mid-nineties. More recently, just look at Darfur in southern Sudan. And the list goes on. Women, by the way, aren't the only ones raped in wartime, although they do make up the vast majority of victims. Men are occasionally rape victims, as are small children - even babies.
Rape as a weapon of war isn't about sex - it's about violence and power. It erodes the fabric of entire communities and destroys whole families, not just the rape victims themselves. It instills fear in the women, who become too scared to go out in search of food and water - yet in war, it may still be deemed better to expose a woman to rape than a man to death by venturing outside.
War in itself is horrible. Rape to further it even more so.
For more information on this important issue:
To Buy or Not to Buy: The art of bringing mementoes home without breaking the bank or ruining the environment
(c) 2007-2011, Leyla Giray. All rights reserved. Women on the Road News is published monthly. Reproduction of any material from this newsletter without written permission is prohibited.