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Tips for Going on a Solo Backpacking Trip

Tips for Going on a Solo Backpacking Trip

Travelling solo can be one of life’s most eye-opening, mind-expanding, joyful experiences.  This article will give you some suggestions to overcome the trepidation you may experience, especially as a woman, when deciding to venture forth on your own.  The best advice: Go for it!

5 Ways to Set Yourself Free and Travel Solo

  1. Make smart decisions

You make smart decisions at home everyday about what to spend money on, whether a situation feels safe, who to trust or not, etc.  Bring these smarts with you on your travels – don’t sell your brain for a plane ticket!  Even if you are on a budget, sometimes it is better to spend a little extra to stay in a more secure hotel or take a taxi at night.

  1. Meet people

Most of my travels have been solo, yet I have rarely felt lonely.  Using networks like Couch Surfing has helped me connect with fellow travellers and hosts who have been happy to hang out and show me their home town.  In backpacker hostels, the communal spaces provide opportunities to strike up a conversation and even in hotels there is usually a pool or a bar to linger at to find someone to chat with.

  1. Use a guidebook

Lonely Planet, Let’s Go, Rough Guides, DK, Bradt…. there are so many guidebooks on the shelves of your local bookshop there is no excuse for not being well-informed about a place.  It’s true that not everything should be taken as gospel (indeed prices are often out of date even before the book is published) but it gives you a good idea of what to do, where to stay, where the good food is, where to find banks and most other information you want when you get off an overnight bus/train/plane.  Often they have some sample itineraries to help you get the best of a destination.

  1. Join a tour

If the thought of doing everything yourself and fumbling your way through a destination is totally off-putting, there are plenty of tours all over the world to suit any taste, style, and personality.  Depending on the type of tour you choose, you will be issued with six or sixty travel buddies to keep you from getting lonely during your travels.  Often taking a tour will put your family’s hearts and minds at rest as you embark on your solo trip … but don’t feel forced to take a tour if you really want to experience total freedom.

  1. Take time out

Travelling solo can be exhausting as you are making all the decisions yourself, you feel like your guard must always be up, and you are often putting yourself in uncomfortable situations (going to restaurants alone, striking up conversations with strangers, etc).  So it’s important to take time out to nurture yourself.  It’s supposed to be a holiday as well right?!

Twelve years ago I travelled solo for the first time and experienced incredible freedom that changed me forever.

Being quite shy, stepping out of my comfort zone to meet people was a massive challenge.  Couch Surfing has been my staple travel site since 2006 because it gives me the opportunity to connect with local people and get to know a place on a deeper level.  Through this network, I have made life-long friends who I know I can call on the next time I might be flitting through on a long layover.  Armed with a guidebook and a local, I feel like I get to see the best of a destination – both the tourist sites and the best restaurants, bars and other bits of ordinary life.  When I travel, my focus is on connecting with the culture, and so this style suits me.  Of course when meeting locals online one must be careful, but reading profiles and references thoroughly and trusting my instincts has kept me safe and provided me the most wonderful opportunities and experiences.

Have you travelled solo? Or are you considering taking a trip but have some worries?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Book Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Book Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux is the story of the author’s overland travel from Cairo to Cape Town with all the adventures, people and places he encounters throughout the continent.

Paul Theroux travelled Africa from north to south in the first half of 2001.  Beginning in Cairo, he travelled down the Nile in Egypt, through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.  He travelled mostly by public transport including trains, boats, bush taxi, buses, cattle truck, rented Land Rover, canoe and hitch-hiking.  As a young 20-something-year-old, Theroux had come to Africa to teach in rural Malawi as a Peace Corps volunteer and so this trip 40 years later was partly a sentimental journey but also to see how much has changed since.

The book starts in Egypt’s capital Cairo and heads south into the land of the Nubians, Sudan.  Theroux travels all the way down into Kenya and then heads west to Uganda.  He catches up with friends in Kampala where he had lived several years earlier.  He takes a ferry across Lake Victoria to Mwanza in Tanzania and then the train to Dar es Salaam.  Another train gets him to Mbeya in southern Tanzania before entering Malawi where he visits the school where he taught as a young man.  This is probably the most demoralising point of the whole trip as he assesses the impact of foreign aid over the 40 years since he was there.  After the treatise on development (or lack thereof), he travels via the Zambezi River into Mozambique.  The next country is Zimbabwe where he experiences the effects of Mugabe’s regime on white farmers.  Finally he reaches South Africa and the luxury of the Blue Train between Johannesburg and Cape Town.  Theroux’s summary after this journey reveals a disappointment in the “help” foreigners have thrown at the continent but also the joy he experienced in meeting people as he travelled:

Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it, hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt, and you can’t tell the politicians from the witch doctors. Not that Africa is one place. It is an assortment of motley republics and seedy chiefdoms. I got sick, I got stranded, but I was never bored. In fact, my trip was a delight and a revelation.”

Dark Star Safari is an interesting account of Theroux’s travels, especially as he travels in Africa by means not dared by most.  He is very negative about the work of foreign development organisations, which is not entirely unfair I will agree.  Throughout the book however, Theroux’s style remains witty and entertaining.

Paul Theroux’s account of his overland journey from Cairo to Cape Town in Dark Star Safari follows his other stories of epic overland trips such as Riding the Iron Rooster in China and two books about the Silk Road.  You may enjoy contrasting Theroux’s wit and insight with Sihle Khumalo’s Dark Continent My Black Arse.  Khumalo also travelled the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo by public transport, but he has quite a different perspective being a native of the continent and focuses more on the travelling than the impact of foreign intervention.

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