The DEFINITIVE guide on how to backpack solo

Perhaps you want to know yourself better, or you´re feeling like you need an adventure. Perhaps your friends bailed on you and can´t join you on the trip, or maybe you don´t have any friends (we don´t judge). The matter is that you want to travel, and being solo will not stop you - and it shouldn´t. We´ve done it before and here are our tips to maximize your enjoyment in this situation!

SECTION 1: Motivation is the most important factor.

We live in a society which is very focused on “what will others think of me?” The good news is that nobody really cares for long, and even if they did it shouldn´t matter anyway. Some people may tell you that you´re crazy and that it´s too dangerous, but many others will just be profoundly jealous of your courage to grab your backpack and fly solo.  We can assure you that you´ll experience very satisfying personal growth as a result of the challenge.

Backpacking freedom

What are the pros and cons of a solitary trip? Let’s start with the cons:

  1. You and only you are responsible for all aspects of the trip, so you’ll have to plan in advance and there will be no way for you to blame anyone else for any mishaps occurring during the trip.
  2. A large part of the time you’ll be lonelier than the Count of Montecristo. (Not necessarily a bad thing)
  3. You’ll have to exercise more caution, as you won’t be able to fall back on anyone else in the event of a problem taking place.
  4. There will be no friends with you to create common memories which you can reminisce about for years to come. (But you can make new friends).
  5. You’d better LOVE taking selfies because after a while you will be tired of asking other tourists to take a snap of you with a picturesque background. It should go without saying, but selfie sticks are prohibited for any self-respecting fashionable traveler.

Now let’s focus on the pros of this adventure:

  1. You’ll have plenty of time to think, meditate, and know yourself better.
  2. Most probably you will experience an increase in your level of confidence that will carry forward in your life after your trip. Less second guessing yourself.
  3. Obviously there will be no arguing with others in regards to the travel plan, itinerary, or whether or not you really should have that fourth margarita. (You probably should).
  4. You’ll meet exponentially more people and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the foreign culture much easier.
  5. Self-reliance is the name of the game. The solo traveler learns early on that he/she is all they need to survive and have a great time.
  6. Your extroversion qualities will grow in leaps and bounds, as it’s a position in which you either learn to block out social pressure or go home.

The truth is that tens of thousands of solo travelers take that first step on an adventure every year, and they are not better or braver than you. Go get them!

Traveler holding a map

SECTION 2: Be prepared.  

You’re brave but you’re not foolish, so this is where we will give you tips to minimize any risk factor that could make your vacations turn sour. Prior to commencing your voyage:

  1. Spend some money buying a good travel guide, preferably one including a general road map of the country to use as a reference if you get lost.
  2. Depending on your destination, consider investing some hard cash on travel insurance. You never know what kind of tropical disease you could catch, and if your credit cards will decide to go on strike at that precise time in which you need to pay for a hospital.
  3. Try to learn in advance some basic facts of the destination country and their culture, so as to not offend your hosts. This includes some basic communication in their language, which is always appreciated by locals, such as these phrases: “Hello”, “another beer please”, and “where is the bathroom”, (in that precise order).
  4. Learn the basic geography of your destination and general traveling times, to avoid being over optimistic and missing essential landmarks.
  5. If your destination is a country on the rough side, make sure to be up to date on the political situation. If the situation spirals out of control once you’re there, head for the embassy immediately.
  6. Make sure to carry a safe purse in order to keep your valuables far away from sticky third party hands. We obviously highly recommend the Baliloca Travel Purse since it can go over or under the clothes, fits all essentials and is fastened using two separate straps which makes it completely theft-proof.

And some advice on how to be prepared during your travels:

  1. Get in contact with your family and friends periodically, explaining where you are exactly and where you plan to go in the next few days. Try to do this every few days, for both their peace of mind and for them to have a starting point to search for you if something terrible happened.
  2. Think of what will you need to carry with you to that day trip. Will it be hot? Carry extra bottled water. Will you need a hijab to enter a mosque for example? Buy one and carry it with you.
  3. Common sense is key. Don’t take unnecessary risks, and try to appear as low key as possible. It’s better to under-dress than to look flashy and attract muggers. Think “broke backpacker”- this is the safest appearance.

SECTION 3: How to socialize and fend away loneliness.

There are two types of people in the world, the introverts and the extroverts. The former will flourish during the lonely parts of the trip, and will struggle with the meeting people part of the journey. The latter will very easily meet new friends but will become restless and bored during the purely solo parts of traveling. Nevertheless, both types of people will learn new skills that will make them more well-rounded individuals in the long run.

Obviously during a long trip you WILL have to meet fellow travelers, but even for a short trip you should make an effort to connect with locals or other backpackers. It’s worth it and very easy to do. Most people are incredibly nice anywhere in the world. So who are the easiest people to befriend? We’re going to teach you a psychological hack that will speed up your friend-making!

Human beings develop friendships faster and easier with people who have the following characteristics, (in order of importance):

  1. Similar age.
  2. Same gender.
  3. Shared values and pastimes.

How does this work in practice? Try to remember a situation in which a group has assembled together for the first time, and think of how the relationships have developed. First, people will instinctively reach out to individuals of the approximate same age bracket; young ones will reach out to young ones first, more mature individuals will gather along with their equals. Within the similar age group, males will tend to most easily develop friendship with other males, and females will instinctively look to bond with other females. Finally, these new established groups will be further segmented into gaggles that share similar points of view.

Knowing this you can bypass many introductions and aim preferentially at meeting a similarly aged traveler of the same gender. This will be the fastest way to develop and acquaintance and perhaps a friendship.

The perfect day trip purse

Any time a social group meets for the first time, (for example an impromptu guided tour) there is a certain paralysis that lasts for many minutes and even hours, in which the members of the newly formed group share space but do not create relationships with one another, and sometimes may even shy away from speaking to each other. It’s critical to employ these first minutes of paralysis to launch your first conversations and establish social relationships. But who should be your first targets? (In order)

  1. Other solo travelers: These people share your same situation and will probably appreciate your company, as their travel plans may be flexible and they may be in dire need of conversation. This is the easiest type of person to meet, the only introduction required is asking “how long have you been traveling solo?”
  2. Fellow travelers from your same country: The second easiest traveler you will be able to befriend will be a group hailing from your origin country. If you happen to catch a familiar accent, don’t hesitate and just ask them where they are from and take it from there!
  3. Other foreigners (which are non-locals): The inhabitants of some countries like the US, Canada, Australia, UK, France and Germany are very extensive travelers, and some of them are very outgoing and happy to meet people.
  4. Locals: Meeting locals is always a bit more challenging depending on the country, but very doable nevertheless. To make it easier, catch them when they are not in a group.

And finally, some tips on some very good places to meet people efficiently:

  1. Youth hostels and backpacker hostels. These are the most outgoing places to hang out and share a couple of drinks with fellow adventurers. This is the Valhalla of solo travel. A typical backpacking hostel will have shared bedrooms which make it impossible to NOT meet people, but also smaller rooms for the more privacy minded travelers (or for those with a dislike for snoring), but with a bar nearby where you can still mingle. Most of these hostels have notice boards to share car rides and split gas prices, kitchen, etc…
  2. If you look around you when you’re in a tourist hotspot such as the Taj Mahal, the Sydney opera house, or the Eiffel tower, you’ll notice that you’re in the midst of a large scale backpacker hostel. Travelers from all over the world gather at the same places for a few hours. You can definitely meet travelers in these hotspots, especially if you see a solo traveler resting with a drink or trying to unsuccessfully take a selfie. The phrase “need someone to take a photo for you?” works wonders in this setting.
  3. Guided tours and package travel: Although most of the time unnecessary, if you travel solo, these tours can be heaven sent. A group of travelers from all over the world will be sitting in the same van or bus for hours, making it a great opportunity to meet cool new friends.

SECTION 4: Document it all!

Unfortunately considering that you won’t have an old friend with you, it will be impossible to reminisce with him or her about the trip years later, so you may even forget some of the incredible experiences that you have experienced during your trip. This is solved by carrying a diary with you, and taking notes profusely. No need to write like Charles Dickens, this diary will only be for your personal use.

Or start a travel blog and tell us about your trip!

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