For many of us, our need to travel is something of an inexplicable phenomenon. A slow burn romance between our hearts and the world. A hunger for the unknown, the obscure, for the beauty, the pain, and for the unfamiliar.
Travel enables us to become more empathetic global citizens due to a deeper awareness of global issues, cultural appreciation, and shared experience. By removing yourself from your regular life, you are automatically made aware of the hyperstimulation within our society; the idolisation of similarity, of subliminal messages telling us to become rich, sassy, Instafamous queens.
It’s only when you remove yourself from this bubble that you truly notice society’s infatuation with all things shiny. So often we are consumed, working jobs we dislike so we can buy things we don’t need. I mean, I love a mountain of precariously balanced Ab Swings, BB Creams, and Thermomixers as much as the next person, but it is only, well, stuff.
We are so often told of what we should do, what we can’t do and the associated dangers we face because we are women. Watch your back, don’t go out after dark, don’t wear a short skirt, don’t walk alone, don’t order the carbonara because Sandra once found a false eyelash in hers. No. Sorry Sandra, but we have the right to freedom and to explore this incredible, heartbreakingly beautiful world of ours and we will eat as much damn carbonara as we wish.
Use that fantastic brain of yours
Often, when you’re travelling, your brain needs to be switched on 100% of the time, analysing bus timetables, converting currency, memorising directions, thinking how to ask ‘May I borrow a pen’ in the local dialect without accidentally asking for something profane.
In your mind, establish a backup plan. Of course, don’t let plans take precedence over adventure, after all, you’re there to celebrate freedom, to eat weird things, to go skinny dipping and act on a whim. But keep that dependable little plan B in the back of your mind. Keep it sitting there, cross-legged on a swivel chair, stroking a cat, ready to spin around at any moment.
Learn the local language
Language will be one of the most entertaining and beautiful aspects of your trip. Even if it’s just the basics, trying to use it shows respect for the culture, a desire to learn and open-mindedness.
Never underestimate how much the locals appreciate it either. Also, read up on any cultural practices and faux pas which may be relevant to your destination. These could be as simple as knowing that you may be charged a cover fee if you eat from the bread basket, knowing that often you are required to validate your train ticket, knowing not to wear microscopic shorts exposing your bum cheeks while visiting a holy place, or knowing that a bidet is not a drinking fountain.
Book your next hostel before you leave your current one
You don’t want to be sleeping rough in a strange city because you couldn’t find Wi-Fi in order to book a hostel, or, getting to your destination and realising every single bed is totally booked out because of a Green Day concert. Fact, Green Day are still touring, beware.
Booking my next hostel before departing the current one was one of my most important self-imposed rules when I was travelling solo.
The one and only time I broke this rule I ended up in a small Romanian town in winter with no lei, no battery and nowhere to go. Please don’t tell my parents.
It can be okay to sleep at airports
However, check prior to arriving that they will remain open all night. Although I could now write a comprehensive essay on the number of filthy airport floors I have slept on and subsequently provide a detailed star rating system.
When I first started travelling I was blissfully unaware. Waiting for a 5am flight from Pisa to Budapest, the younger version of me decided to camp out overnight at the airport to avoid any potential dangers of trying to get there alone at 3am. I know, good idea, right?
After establishing my self-proclaimed luxury suite under a grimy row of seats and cutting the chewing gum out of my hair, I was to be booted out at 1am by a security guard into the European winter. Shady figures loitering around the car park. And packs of street cats. Yes, you heard. Packs of them.
At that point, I wanted to cry. I was scared. All I wanted was my mum. I wanted her to tell me that it was okay, that I would be safe, and that she had made potato bake. Sadly, sweet nada of that happened, so I sat out there until dawn, freezing and fighting off an infestation of street cats with my travel cutlery.
Take your own towel and padlock to hostels
Often, towels and locks are provided, but for a small fee. Small, though not fantastic when you could be spending that 5 Euro on the classic rice and beans, a ticket for a bus or to a museum, or even, maybe spent on beer. Okay, definitely beer.
You will feel far more comfortable knowing your camera, passport and money are safe while you’re out and about exploring. Now, lock ‘er up and get yo’ self to the pub.
Choose a hostel with reviews
A number of times I have landed at random houses who have claimed online to be hostels.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved staying with Uma and her granddaughter, eating fried eggplant and watching Bosnian gameshows, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Choose a hostel with a kitchen. Cooking at the hostel can save you a lot of money. Cooking and eating together is a fantastic way to meet new friends, learn some interesting recipes, breakdown cross cultural barriers, and basically establish world peace.
Get travel insurance
I know you’re probably as broke as me right now, but don’t even leave home without it. This is super important because when you get your wallet stolen at Brick Lane market or fall off a donkey in the Andes and break your legs, things will get real, real quick.
Insurance need not be expensive but ensure you choose a package that will cover you for whatever sort of activities you intend on doing whilst away. Some companies cover the basics like emergency medical and dental, and some will additionally cover activities such as zorbing, spelunking, and may even cover the Iron Lotus ice-skating phenomenon. Look it up.
I tend to provide a copy of my documents to a close friend or family member, just in case something happens to the originals. Often you won’t be able to use the copies in lieu, but it can be helpful to have access to all your personal records should something get lost.
Take a supply and the script for any medication you need
Also, take some gastro tablets with you. Without marvellous detail, being trapped in the bathroom of some underground hostel in Armenia with chronic food poisoning and a looming overnight bus journey is not fun. Don’t do this.
The beautiful and enriching cultural experiences and diversity that we travel so far to see can also occasionally make communication a challenge, especially when you’re after medical supplies or pharmaceutical goods.
In the days prior to the aforementioned food poisoning, I was on the hunt for paracetamol, and after a lengthy period of gesticulation with the pharmacist, I was given a hardboiled egg rather than a pack of painkillers, so please, take plenty with you.
It’s totally fine to feel overwhelmed
We have all had times when we are so far away from comfort and feel scared or alone. Scared of the unknown, scared of not coming home, scared of getting hurt, or breaking a heart, or a bone.
The most important advice of all: Enjoy the experience!
Go weeks without washing your hair, engage with new and incredible people and don’t continually check your social media.
There is nothing more wonderful in this world than having friends in faraway places. It feels as if the world is smaller, that you have a huge and colourful family, and most of all, it gives you a new-found perception of ‘home’.
You'll soon realise that home is not merely a place, but an unexplainable feeling, a warmth, a space where your mind and soul are entirely content.