You’ve never travelled alone before and it feels like a huge challenge. It’s daunting and some degree of terrifying, depending on who you are, but it shouldn’t be! With our help, let’s turn those feelings into confidence, excitement and positivity! We want you to stop feeling like you haven’t got what it takes, everyone has it what it takes. Whether it’s for everyone is different but you’ve got it if you want it.
So what do you do now and how do you make the jump?
There are always stories of that guy or girl that your friend’s friend knows who went to Uganda with no money at all and they did just fine. Don’t be naive, the more money you have in the bank before you leave, the easier the early part of your trip is going to be and if you intend not to work at all on your big trip then every penny counts. Regardless of whether you slaved and saved for 2 years or if you just turned 21 and Mum and Dad gave you the… boost you needed, the money is in your bank. That is not to say that some destinations can’t be visited without tons of it. If you’re going to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa and you intend to work straight away then of course you’ll be able to take less than if you’re going around South East Asia for 6 months and want to party your face off. Pick a savings target and aim for it, for the more commonly travelled parts of the world, in terms of travelling costs, £1000-1500 (US$1500-2200) per month is a good rough target to aim for, in my experience, but see our country specific blogs for a more accurate representation. I would also recommend applying for a 0% Interest credit card (1 or 2 years at 0% is fairly easy to get) with a limit that allows the cost of at least one flight back home, JUST for those emergency moments that can happen at any time. That way you still have a year or two to pay it off if, unfortunately, the shit really hits the fan. Maaaybe you can chuck the odd ‘once in a lifetime’ mountain climbing trip that you can’t quite afford on it too, but don’t tell anyone we recommended that.
So you’re 6 months away from hitting your target and you’re feeling the buzz because you know what’s coming. Through the haze of hype don’t forget that it’s time to sort out the vitals:
Make sure it is valid and you have enough time left on it to cover your trip and then some. Some countries will be very particular about you coming or going if you’re passport is close to expiration (even up to 6 months away) and you never know if you’ll come home when you plan to, that is the beauty of travelling after all! It is a great idea to take a digital scan of your passport and email it to your personal account. If you lose your passport then you can still access your information in an emergency and I have been told in the past the embassy’s are able to speed up the process of printing a new one if you can provide evidence such as this.
Do the countries you are going to require a visa for recreational/tourist travel? Do any of your target countries need a form sent in to them 2 months in advance or can you pay a human $10 at a border, get stamped and walk on through. Due to these changing all the time, your best bet is to visit the countries government website or another great source of information is Project Visa.
A good friend of mine has an intense, and true, horror story involving a lack of travel insurance, a motorbike, a car bonnet and a very risky, blood soaked, bone viewing 12 hour flight home. Get travel insurance!! If you need it then it’ll be the best thing you ever bought, if you don’t then it really isn’t that expensive. Personally, we recommend World Nomads.
Common local diseases vary around the world due to weather and living conditions and certain precautions should be taken where possible. Malaria advice or medication and all vaccinations should be taken where suitable; for UK readers this can be done through the NHS and often for free! For the rest of the world, contact your local health organisation. Some vaccinations need multiple doses or a time to become active so do this well in advance of your departure date. Proof of a Yellow Fever Vaccination is required to even enter some countries so don’t be slack on it! Visit Vaccine Hub for for up to date information around the world.
There is a reason most travellers use a big 50L+ backpack to travel with and there’s also a reason why you see people who decided to take a suitcase on wheels dragging it along the floor because one wheel buckled after day 2. Get a good quality, durable bag that you can chuck onto your back and prepare to earn your travel experiences through sweat and maybe just a bit of blood and/or a few tears. A secondary bag for all your personal items, snacks, electronics and valuables is a must for those long bus journeys and to protect against the wandering hands of certain travel company employees. I like to try and purchase bags that have the odd hidden pocket or two if I can, just for those vital little lifesavers (spare cards & money).
With these foundations laid, you should feasibly be able to get home from anywhere in the world at any time, should you absolutely need to. Probably..
Now it is time for the fun stuff well, seeking out the fun stuff. The thrill of adventure of course comes from the unknown but it always helps to actually make it to the top of the path before you aimlessly navigate down it. I made this mistake on my first solo adventure by choosing to fly to Caracas in Venezuela, alone, in the middle of what was referred to by the first guy I met as ‘essentially a civil war’, with a lot USD in my pocket ($800 cash, don’t ask) and enough Spanish to say ‘A horse eats bread’. It’s another story but I promise you it’s not all that fun, even if it did put some hairs on my chest. It took me 3 days to feel remotely comfortable and was easily the most stressful period of time I’ve ever had whilst travelling. Better quality research, or any at all, before I flew out would have prevented most of my issues.
A rough plan for a route through a country, or at least an order of countries, won’t diminish any feeling of freedom or excitement. It doesn’t have to be followed, but it can help massively when you miss your bus because you’re an idiot and you blindly followed instructions and didn’t ask the driver of the bus next door… Bring up whatever maps app you use, type in the countries you want to visit and familiarise yourself with the geography and spot any major issues. Is there a big blue patch between countries that you didn’t expect to see? That’ll put a spanner in your plans to get a bus everywhere. I’m not being patronising, it’s easy to be nonchalant and this can lead to unexpected expenditure whilst you’re out there. Make your mistakes from the comfort of your bedroom and maximise the scope for fun during the adventure.
Once you’ve got your order of countries sorted then it’s a good idea to make a note, preferably physical, of the most common way to cross the borders. Whether it’s a slow boat from Laos to Thailand or a simple bridge walk from Colombia to Ecuador, it’s good to know what to expect. You’ve sorted all your visas by now so once you’re familiar with this put the notes in your packing pile. Buy an up to date Rough Guide or Lonely Planet and add that to the packing pile too; they are invaluable in those remote locations and you can show it to any old person without worrying about flashing your brand new iPhone to the whole street. Looking lost and holding expensive electronics is pretty much the definition of an easy target! It also doesn’t need WiFi to save your backside in a sketchy situation! The little maps given out by hostels are often very helpful as the local knowledge is accurate and the references on them, clear and concise.
The time has come! Once you’ve got the cash ready then the next task is to find yourself the best flight to your destination. Notice best not cheapest.. Some long haul flights, 1 stop LDN-SYD for example, can be upwards of 24+ hours of continuous travel. That is a very long time to be on a cheap flight, with uncomfortable seats, bad or no food (and no comp drinks, which is not cool) and little or no entertainment all for the sake of what normally works out to be a few hundred dollars. Be mindful of which airline you use and read reviews if you’re uncertain. Remember, those cheap flights that you see quoted often include no baggage and no food so make sure you’re going all the way through the process when you’re comparing prices! Always shop around!
Once you’ve booked everything then print off your booking details, save them on your phone and keep the email safe.
Here are a few of the big names to try when booking flights, if you aren’t going to the airline direct:
STA Travel – great for Students and 18-30s
HOT TIP: When using the major comparison sites be very careful of where you end up through the links as I have found very cheap flights before only to read reviews and find out that the travel company is renowned for sending you a text the day before saying ‘Sorry, we couldn’t secure your seat on the flight’.
If you’re a first time traveller, especially a solo one, I would say there is no better place to start than a good and popular hostel. Now let me guess, some of you are thinking you need a hotel for the first few nights? You don’t. Staying in a hotel only delays you leaving your comfort zone and you’ve just spent 14 hours talking to nobody but border control. There’s a reason that most people go to them and that’s because everybody else is there too! Oh and they are cheap! You will almost definitely spend most of your trip living in one so get used to it early on and learn how to enjoy them and feel comfortable in them.
HOT TIP: Hang a sarong/floor throw/towel/sheet around a bottom bunk bed for some privacy and if you’re a light sleeper then ear plugs too.
The main benefit of hostels is that you will instantly meet a group of people (your dorm mates) who will no doubt love that it’s your first night/week and be more than happy for you to join them for drinks, dinner and tomorrow’s beach trip. Get checked in, find your bed and say hello to the people around you or in the bar. It might feel weird to start with but you’ll get into the swing of it in no time. On your first venture out, be sure to make some mental or written notes on what surrounds your hostel. If you’re the forgetful type then write the address in your phone, on your face, on your bottom lip, somewhere. After a few too many Changs, when it starts raining and your buddy and you are arguing over which way the hostel is, an address or indicator might just stop one of you nearly getting mugged by a moto taxi driver. Another story for another time. Make some reference to your location, ground yourself. Remind yourself that the hostel is right by the church or the left corner of the plaza; find a landmark. Now, drop your stuff and go exploring!
There are multiple ways of finding a hostel and you will experience them all on your trip but seeing as the internet was invented and it is a beautiful thing, get yourself onto Hostelworld and type in the city you arrive in. Look at ratings and reviews, read descriptions and suss out the vibe you are after. The other relatively safe option is to use your newly purchased book but remember these are only correct at the time of writing and I can confidently say you wouldn’t be the first person who spends an hour searching for a hostel that no longer exists because of that. Once you’ve whittled it down, check the address for distance from the airport or train station (however you get to where you’re going), do you need to take a taxi, is there a bus route? Many hostels offer airport transfers as part of their price or supply information on how to get there from the major transport hubs. Once you’re happy with your choice, book yourself one or two nights. Remember you can always extend your stay somewhere when you are there but you will struggle to get refunds if you want to leave early!
HOT TIP: We used to read the 1 star reviews and if it said “was kept up all night with loud music and parties” then we booked it.
It is always a good idea to check whether your phone is going to work in your new temporary home and if it does, whether you have a world traveller type plan attached already. This varies hugely between network providers so speak to them directly. On that note, the digital world is great but batteries still die so it’s a good idea to print out your hostel reservation, the address of the hostel and maybe a rough map. Let’s just say taxi drivers around the world aren’t all as good at navigation, or even map reading, as the black cabbies of London!
HOT TIP: Something we’ve experienced in various parts around South East Asia is taxi/tuk tuk/moto drivers telling you that the hostel you are looking for has closed down, isn’t open today, isn’t very good, is miles away etc and then trying to take you to their own hostel or their friends hostel. Trust the reviews you’ve read, trust your instincts and stick to your guns. If they won’t take you or listen to you then there’s plenty of other drivers who will, never be afraid to get out of a vehicle!
Now, the easy part! What do you need to pack? You don’t need to me to teach you how to dress and I definitely don’t have any style tips for you so see our ‘What To Pack’ checklist for some guidance.
Here at A Hot Minute we take life incredibly seriously so we recommend you should have at least one of each of these in your bag before you leave:
HOT TIP: Don’t put all of your cash, credit cards, debit cards, emergency cash and money belt in the same place. Spread them around your bags and person so if you leave a bag somewhere or someone gets their hands inside of one, you will still have a back up.
From two young guys that have memories worse than their Grandfather’s we recommend you get yourself a journal which is obviously totally different to a diary.. Right? You’re about to fill your life with brain bursting experiences, daily/weekly journal entries will keep those smaller details safe and sound ready for you to read through and relive the glory days in years to come. For any of you who have seen The Beach (all of you right, travellers and all that) there is a very valid point to be taken from it. You only remember what you write about or take photographs of. Memories fade and become blurred over time and as you begin to experience more then they become harder to recall. From two guys who started travelling as long as 8 years ago, take it from us when we say you will get instant joy from reading your journal in years to come and you will forget that cute little town in Guatemala that you stopped at and chatted to the old local woman.
Finally, it’s all about the headspace. We are both mental health advocates and serial overthinkers prone to bouts of anxiety and are both annual partakers, fundraisers and awareness raisers for the wonderful charity that is Movember. We like to talk about this subject with each other, with other people and to aid other people along their journeys through our own experience. So let’s see if we can settle some of those nerves for you now:
‘What if I don’t make friends?’
You will. Trust us, you will.
‘What if I don’t like it?’
Travelling and adventuring is not for everyone and it is absolutely 100% ok to not enjoy it. However, if you don’t go and give it a try, then you will never know the answer (we think you most probably will!). If you do find out that it’s not the lifestyle you are after, or the country you chose wasn’t right for you or you straight up miss your family and friends too much then, because you’ve covered all the bases in this blog, you have the money and\or means to get yourself home. Going home is not a failure. Knowledge gained is never a failure.
‘What if I can’t get money out?’
Although you are travelling solo you are not alone. Hostels are full of information, maps, those people that checked in 6 months ago but forgot to leave and other travellers with the same problems and woes as you. Nevertheless, I like to make sure I have a little bit of emergency cash for whichever country i’m in (and a few of those precious US$) stashed around my bags just in case. People are very kind and no doubt somebody will lend you money if you are truly stuck, but don’t ever bank on that happening. Pun absolutely intended.
The ‘What If’s’ can get overwhelming and seemingly never ending but remember that most of them are just nerves and those questions will be answered within the first week of your trip. You’re also not alone in feeling them!
HOT TIP: We love to use Headspace to settle ourselves when the anxiety starts to build with a few minutes of meditation a day. After all you are probably going to buy some hareem pants and try yoga pretty damn soon..
Good Luck and Enjoy Yourself!
You’ve made it to the top of the path, now you can aimlessly navigate down it. Welcome to the world of travelling, life is about to get reaaalll fun!
N & G