A lot of people thought I’d lost my marbles when I told them I was going to Japan on my own. Even if they didn’t say it in so many words, their phrasing of the question, “You’re not going on your own, are you?!” kind of said it all. Then again, I suppose you’ve gotta be a little bonkers to want to travel 6000 miles away from home to a country where you barely speak the lingo and have no one to rely on the other end. To most people, I guess it sounds like hell. But to me, it sounded like Heaven (Or ‘Tengoku’, if you’re in Tokyo ♥) Anyway, come to the end of the trip, I inevitably discovered that I was bang on the money. I ‘d had a wonderful time! But there were a few defining features that ensured my vacation would be a successful one. For anyone else eager to pack their bags and jet off somewhere alone, hang fire! Before you do anything rash, first, follow these tips.
- Check the safety level of the country: Best place to start! Measured by the Global Peace Index, 163 different states and territories are ranked by peacefulness (AKA, low crime rate, minimal incidences of terrorism, harmonious relations with other countries and a stable political scene etc.) and then scored whereby, the lower the number, the safer the country. I.E. Iceland remains the safest country in the world with a score of 1.096, whereas Syria’s score of 3.6 puts it right at the bottom (see the full report here) Obviously, if anyone’s been watching the news recently they’ll realise why it’s currently at the bottom, but for those who don’t, then I’d advise you check this report before you head out on your lonesome. On a side note, in case you get freaked out that your ideal holiday is ranked at number 35 on the scale, check to see where the country you live in is also ranked. For instance, the UK is number 57 in the chart, which sounds kind of scary, but if you know your home country reasonably well then you’ll be able to assess it a little more comfortably. My advice is to travel with someone else should the country’s ranking place above 78 because that’s where things start to go downhill. (I’d also just like to add that Japan is in the top 10 list of safest countries…#justsayin’)
- Do your research: Before I head out to any destination, I always gather a plethora of information on the place to help build an itinerary. Sounds boring, maybe, but as they used to say back in college, “Fail to prepare? Prepare to fail.” and I’ve followed that notion ever since. In fact, before I even book anything, I’ll see what the place is all about. For example, if there’s a particular landmark you want to see, then check out the travel routes nearby and what else there is to see around that particular area, so you don’t waste any time going back to the same place the next day. You may have a tight slot to work with, so get organised! Don’t waste your days.
- Choose the right hotel: Have you ever heard the phrase, “Buy cheap, buy twice”? Well, this kind of follows that principle. For any traveller (lone or otherwise) the cheapest option may not always be the best value (or safest!) When I looked up about staying in Dubai, for instance, many sites told me to stay out of Deira because, apparently, it is not the best place for single female tourists. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know for sure. However, I decided to follow trusted sources when booking mine, like Expedia, Trip Advisor and articles from the Telegraph as well as blogs from other people who have stayed there recently (for anyone going to Dubai, this 3-page hotel spread may be of interest to you) as they mapped out ratings, reviews, transport links and nearby hotspots that were catered to my interests. Thus, before you book anything, cover all areas within your planning first!
- Learn about important cultures: Most solo globetrotters aren’t interested in being crazy loud and getting drunk on the streets, anyway. But I feel it wise to mention that even if you are the most well-behaved person on the planet, you may still make a faux pas when abroad. It may not be a big thing, but whilst in Tokyo, I realised I couldn’t cross the road until the lights went green. You’re probably thinking I’m a nitwit right now, but this is really important! Even at 12 at night, where traffic is seldom and the only person hogging the road is a lowly cyclist, you DO NOT MOVE until the light goes green! If you do, you could get arrested! Although, I highly doubt it. Either way, I stayed put. Know little things like that will help you a long way when on your travels. So, do watch informative YouTube vids and read as many articles on the culture of the place you’re staying in as you can. Trust me, it’ll save your bacon.
- Prep some food: Talking of bacon, you might want to bring some food with you in advance. I only say this because being a vegetarian in Tokyo was a bit of a nightmare. Not only is it frowned upon to eat on the streets, but they barely catered for vegetarians in the shops either! I was pretty freaked out. Thankfully, I bake my own protein granola and packed a tonne for the week to keep me going. That way, even if I could only graze for the rest of the day, I’d had a good start. It may not seem wholly relevant to safety, per se, but if you’re travelling to a country where you barely speak the lingo, having enough food to suit your dietary needs is vital. Either that, or you’ll go very hungry!
- Download appropriate apps: Once I’ve booked my holiday, one of the first things I do is head to the Play Store and download as many relevant apps to my phone as possible. In order to make your stay super easy, I recommend installing an app which includes a map of the city and the ability to create highlighted lists of landmarks and monuments etc. you wish to visit. That way, you can easily see what’s near what and start working to build your itinerary. Then, add to the app collection by installing a transport guide (I typically go for Metro/Subway/Underground apps because that’s what I use the most when abroad) and find out which mode of transport best suits you depending on where you’re staying and where you want to go. Also, linking back to the whole food prep business, there are further apps you can install which will help with specific dietary requirements, such as Happy Cow, for vegetarians and vegans. Most things are on apps these days, just make sure to read reviews of them and whether any of them can be used offline because not everywhere you go will have WiFi!
- Take the right amount of money: Let’s face it, most places don’t just operate with physical cash now. Notes and coins will one day be obsolete, I’m sure. But until that day comes, working out how much money you’ll need to take with you on your travels is an important thing to account for. Some places do work more with plastic than paper (like Mastercard, for example, which is widely accepted) but for anywhere that requires cash payments (taxis, tips, food etc.) then you’ll need to work out how much to take depending on the length of your stay, how long it’ll take to acquire (currency exchange can take up to 2 weeks to arrive sometimes! Especially if where you’re heading to is outside Europe or the US, so BE PREPARED!!) or whether you have to get it once you’ve reached the other side (like in Tunisia, where you have to exchange currency once there. However, you can use dollars for trips out, as they accept that, too.) Get it all done in good time and you’ll be fine. But don’t take more than you need! If your room isn’t fitted with a safe, then you’ll be tempted to carry it with you everywhere you go and if it gets lost or stolen you’ve had it. Be sensible and limit your cash. You can always convert more, anyway.
- Check whether you need a Visa/ESTA: Apart from checking whether you have a suitable travel plug for your hair straighteners and phone charger, finding out whether you need a Visa is pretty important too. Some of these things can take a while to sort out, and whilst some of them can be done the other end, you may find it handy to do prior. In the case of a trip to the USA, sorting your Visa or ESTA beforehand is a must! Especially if you’re planning on staying for a while (3 months, for example). They can be rather costly sometimes, too, and can require travelling to an embassy, so make sure you allow for that. However, many of these applications are done online now. I find it best to check on GOV.UK website to be sure.
- Avoid booking experience days via websites: Unless you want to spend an unnecessary fortune, do your best to get to these places on your own. Either, book through the venue itself or just go there outside of peak times (again, this is all about research) You’ll find the experience is a lot cheaper when you’re independent with it. Thus, know your destination, allow the cost you expect during the time and season you want to go, map out a route via your app and do it solo!
- Don’t take an unmarked taxi!!: This was one of the first things I saw at Haneda Airport. Legit taxis will have a symbol or certain colour, numberplate etc. for you to work out whether it’s the real McCoy. But if you’re unsure, please don’t take it! Check beforehand or with a member of staff at your hotel/airport to make sure. Also, pro-tip: if the taxi is of an expensive brand (e.g. Infiniti/Lexus) know that it will cost you more to travel, if it’s a hybrid (Toyota Prius) there may be a surplus for that vehicle, but these will still be cheaper. Obviously, if you can avoid taking the taxi completely, that’d be the best, as most places are reachable by bus/metro anyway. But if you really, really can’t get to your destination any other way, then only take clearly marked taxis and ask the price of the drive beforehand.
BONUS TIP! Kettles are IMPERATIVE. If your hotel/capsule/air b’n’b etc. doesn’t have one, find another! No trip is complete without the ability to drink a nice cup of tea.