Solo traveling is an activity that has probably been done by many people due to its convenience and ease. This trend is becoming more popular in this era of globalisation where essential information can be obtained from a variety of media sources. However, I think that it is important to prepare yourself with some necessities before you travel to avoid overspending and other unforeseen circumstances that can ruin your trip. When we were young, the only things that we had to worry about when packing were our favourite outfits and toiletries because our parents would deal with the rest. So now, what are some essential tips you should be aware of before you travel?
1. Book Flight Tickets
Flight tickets constitute a large amount of cost in your travel expenses. If you start researching early, your travel expenses can be reduced significantly. To secure a good deal, it is recommended to purchase the tickets 4 to 8 weeks in advance as that is the period when most airlines decide whether to increase or decrease the price of the flight tickets. The departure date should fall in the midweek because the traffic is lesser within this period of time.
My suggestions for search engines that can help you hunt for cheap flights are Skyscanner and Momondo as both sites provide adequate accuracy regarding the lowest fare available from all airlines, including budget airlines.
2. Apply for Travel Insurance and Travel Visa
Travel insurance is essential regardless of any destination you’re planning to go. Read through the terms and conditions or any section that provides information relating to reimbursement for any loss, injuries or even flight delay. I would prioritise medical insurance because medical conditions are unpredictable and treatments tend to be expensive wherever you go. Approach different insurance companies that provide these services so you can compare the prices.
Applications for travel visa vary from one country to another. Getting a travel visa can be done either upon arrival to the country or through online applications. Some countries may require you to go through interviews in an embassy near your town. I would recommend to apply for the visa one month in advance before you travel because dealing with visa can be quite a complicating process.
3. Pack Appropriate Clothes
Malaysians live in an equatorial zone where we mainly experience the summer season all year long. Due to our lack of experience with the different seasons, we should be extra cautious about the clothes we pack in order to feel comfortable under any temperature or weather. I use accuweather.com to predict the weather and temperature of my traveling period before I arrive in any country. In addition, I always bring a hoodie along with me whenever I travel because long hours of flights can really give you the chills.
4. Bring a Medical Kit
You don’t need a large first aid kit. A small one would suffice as all buildings and venues with high risk activities usually have first aid kits and emergency plans available. In case you are unsure regarding what to bring along, here are some of the essential equipment in my medical kit for your reference:
- Water-proof antiseptic plasters with different sizes – Treats cut wounds
- Antiseptic cream – Prevents wound infection
- Hydrocortisone cream – Treats inflammation, swelling and redness
- OTC diarrhea medicine – Treats diarrhea
- Paracetamol – For nausea and headache
5. “Less is More”
When you pack your belongings, you have to master the art of choosing important items so you will not need to carry a heavy luggage for no reason. Here is a disclaimer: having less items in your bag does not mean you have to buy disposable items that you can discard at the end of the day. Furthermore, if you’re traveling for a longer period of time without any access to laundry services, just wash your clothes by hand with body shampoo. No one really cares, trust me.
6. Find a Place to Stay
Accommodation options can vary from A to Z. A few common types of accommodation tourists often opt for are: Homestay, Dorm, Hostel, Hotel, Resort and so on. As the list goes on, the price increases along with it. For homestay, I would recommend Couchsurfing and Airbnb. These two are the coolest apps that can offer the best local experience. Dorm and hostel wise, I would go with Booking.com and Hostelworld as they offer a variety of hostels with good navigation and reasonable prices. As for hotels and resorts, I would go with Booking.com or Hotwire for recommendations.
7. Learn a New Language
It helps a lot to be able to speak the common language of the place you’re traveling to. People might be more hospitable to you if you just greet them with “Good Morning” or “How are you?” in their language. Two of my must-learn phrases are “Where is the toilet?” and “How much is this?”.
8. Research on the Culture and Traditions of Each Country
We all know each and every country has its own unique traditions and culture. Believe it or not, Malaysia has a very different culture from its neighbouring countries like Thailand and the Philippines. It is good to do some homework before your trip so you do not end up doing the things that are culturally acceptable in your place, but not for others. Culture shock is inevitable and it is okay if you don’t feel comfortable at some point. I believe it comes with experience and general knowledge. Perhaps, you can start making international friends and talking to tourists around your place? This can train you to get out of your comfort zone and also prepare you for your next travel.
9. Be Flexible with Your Travel Itinerary
You might be wondering why I put this as the last point. When you travel for a period of time, you will come to realise that everything does not always go according to plan. Thus, my advice for planning your travel itinerary is just to glance through some travel websites like: Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet. Both websites have tons of information you can access for any travel spot. You can get more information from the receptionist in the hostel or hotel that you’re staying.
If you happen to make some friends while traveling, gather them along for some crazy road trip or spontaneous adventure! While planning itineraries are important, it is also essential to be flexible and go with the flow. Try not to limit yourself with certain activities or places you should go. Sometimes the wrong choices can bring us to the right places.
Traveling alone might sound really scary at first but once you have stepped out of your comfort zone, you will be surprised by the amount of fear that you have conquered throughout your journey.
Solo traveling is not a reckless act because if you’re being conscious of your surroundings and your actions, you’ll less likely become threatened. If you do not like the idea of being alone, I suggest for you to become friends with the people that you will meet during your travels, because who knows, you might find a lifelong friend or partner in crime just by doing so!
By America Lee Yan Yi