Saturday, October 08, 2016

13 Tips on How to Travel Solo Without Being Alone

On my own in Kiribati.

Out of the 198 countries in the world, I have visited almost half alone. No surprise, really, even when contemplating about future trips with very enthusiastic potential travel companions. There will however inevitably be a moment when our exact destination becomes an issue. 

Countries such as Somalia, Yemen and Syria typically lead to a very specific reaction. It boosts creativity better than anything else I have seen and results in an immediate abundance of excuses. A very rare house plant will suddenly need being tended to, an until now unknown girlfriend will of course need company when having her boob job done or it is utterly impossible to watch Donald J. Trump's next disgraceful move from anywhere but the good old armchair at home.

I can take a hint. 
A boy is ready to through out his fishing net in Brunei.

There are also many "normal" countries I have travelled to on my own. But that doesn't mean that I feel lonely, don't find company or miss out on the best parties or experiences.

Rather the contrary.

To travel alone is valuable in its own right, in my opinion. To venture exactly wherever I want at any given time, without having to spend time on convincing someone else that it is a great idea, being forced to compromise or risk having to go to the opera the next day as compensation in order to get him or her join you on your little quest of the day.

But sometimes, or rather quite often, it is lovely to share experiences on the road with someone. The question is only how to do that without risking the above dilemma. Below you will find a few tested and proven ideas to get in touch with people while travelling. They even work for shy people. I used to belong to that category, but travelling opened my mind in more ways than one. To travel is to look in the mirror and through binoculars and a magnifying glass - all at once and all contributing to your ever increasing smile. 

To travel is the only thing that really augments your reality.

There is only one general rule that applies to all situations that may occur by following any of the 13 tips below; Smile a lot and leave any arrogance at home.  

1. Just ask
To ask for a recommendation, whether someone simply wants to hang out or how to best get to A, B or G is the most obvious recommendation I can give. But it still used by far too few. Due to shyness, lack of initiative or a fear of rejection due to language barriers or cultural differences. So, how can this be overcome? One of the most legitimate things to ask about is the time. Just hide your watch before you do it, and you have an instant icebreaker. The moment you have established a conversation, it is a million times easier to continue it. This trick will even work across the road from Big Ben in London. You just have to tailor the question a little: "Are you sure that clock is right?" To question the accuracy of the pride of Britain might offend the average Brit, but you get the point.

2. Don't read a guidebook in public
Seriously, it is hard to offend people abroad more than by having your nose deep down in a guidebook about the country you are actually in. "Why the hell do you not rather ask me? I am from around here, and I know a hell of a lot better what you should do than Lonely Planet!" a guy in China once told me. This was back in my guidebook reading days. They have long gone. He certainly had a very good point. Then again, he might not have gotten in touch had I not read that guidebook in the first place.

Interviewing in Domincan Republic.
3. Use a professional camera or a microphone
I have made some travel reports for Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation from around the world. The moment I start asking people questions using a professional(ly looking) micropohone, heads start to turn. And you will almost always be approached by curious bystanders when the interview is finished. "What are you making? Where are you from? When will it be on radio/TV?"

4. Leave your passport visible
Everyone might see that you are foreign based on your skin colour, hair style or attire, but there is always something special about seeing someone's passport. Which exciting stamps or visas await? And you will even find out what the person is called and when he or she was born. "May I have a look in your passport?" will potentially start an interesting and inspiring conversation.

Jogging on the beach in
Dominican Republic
comes highly recommended. 
5. Go jogging
It is easy to forget to keep in shape while on holiday. It is, after all, a little bit of hassle - and it may be much more tempting to read a book in the hammock or to ponder over the ingredients in all the different cocktails in the pool bar. But a little run of 15, 30 or 60 minutes is unlikely to
kill you. And better yet, it is a great way to meet people. Just smile and greet the people you run past. Chances are that you will end up talking to them. And voila, you have company. The benefit may not be immediate, though. I once went for a run in the Marshall Islands. I was clearly not a local, everyone knows of everyone in Majuro anyway, and I got a few smiles and greetings during my 10K on the roads. My run still didn't make me any friends until two days later. "So, you are the running man. What the hell are you doing here?" a guy asked me. We still keep in touch.

6. Eat at the bar
Not much is more sad than sitting alone eating at a table in a restaurant. Additionally, by doing so, you signal that you would like the status quo to remain; Leave me alone. I mean, who walks over to a lone person sat at a table enjoying a seven course meal for a chat? The trick is simple, rather eat in the bar. At least you can comverse with the bartender, but chances are much higher that you get talking to someone else doing the same as you, or for someone to take the stool next to yours.

We met through Couchsurfing
in Pakistan.
7. Meet people online
There are some amazing websites such as Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club where you can actually find someone who will put you up for the night for free. People may have a spare couch or even an extra bedroom. Many people prefer to stay in hotels or hostels in order not to "intrude" or for an increased feeling of independence, but who said that you cannot meet people on such websites just for a coffee or for advice on what to do and what not to do?

8. Join a guided tour
I cannot believe that I say this. I thoroughly hate guided tours. But to be fair, it makes it much easier to get in touch with other people. The people you meet will rarely be locals, but fellow travellers can be great fun too. And chances are then that you can share travel experiences, contribute with mutual inspiration and exchange travel tips. The exception may be if everyone else on the tour are couples. Many couples tend to prefer their own company, and no one elses. I usually don't understand why they travel in the first place.

9. Use Tinder
I am not implying that you are travelling alone in order to hook up with random people or to get laid, but dating apps such as Tinder can actually be used to meet friends too. You are free to list the gender of the persons you would like to meet, and can always write exactly what you are after. Perhaps you need a hiking partner, don't want to eat dinner alone or just had a rough day and need someone to act as your temporary shrink. And even a date can turn out to be a good travel companion.

10. Take a course
Wine tasting, surfing, cooking or Japanese. Just learn something. You are virtually guaranteed to meet someone who shares at least one interest with you. One-on-one classes are rare, and even then there is a teacher.

Bussing it in Burundi.
11. Use local transport
How can you not get in touch with people that surround you like sardines? There will often be a language barrier, but there is nothing bad about sign language, reviving your drawing skills in yout notebook or finding a translator on the bus or in the shared taxi. He or she will often turn out to be the youngest person there, perhaps the only one ever having attended school, let alone being taught English, Spanish or French there.

12. Get tipsy
Or at least go to a place where other people are working on getting drunk. Two glasses of bubbles or a bottle of rum cures even the most serious instances of shyness.

He even opened the oysters in
Honduras. An unusual tool,
perhaps, but nevertheless.
13. Buy food in the market
Everyone loves food. And food, recipes and information about how or where the food or drink was made makes for great conversation material. There are rarely better places to meet people that share your interest in a food and spice market. Show interest in the produce being offered, and chances are that you will be invited to see a vineyard, pick your own cabbages or dine with a family outside of town.

Happy travels. Just remember that life is too short not to travel in HD.