Hostel life can be easy and comfortable if you remember to pack beyond the basics. Although I try to keep my backpack as light and compact as possible, there are a few “extras” I always bring with me.
Here’s my list of seven things that you shouldn’t leave home without, whether you’re backpacking for a week or a year.
Locks: This is essential for staying in dorm rooms. Most provide lockers, but you are normally expected to bring your own lock. I prefer using a combination lock so I don’t have to carry around a key, but sometimes the lockers won’t fit a regular combination lock, so my small padlock that I use to lock my suitcase comes in handy. If you have room for the extra weight, a cable lock is a good tool for the solo traveler in case you need to momentarily leave your baggage unattended. (Which I don’t recommend, but sometimes you may leave your bag in a bus agency office or something while waiting for a bus. If you do this, always make sure all of the zippers are locked.
Today marks seven months on the road for me. While I’ve had the fortune of having visits from my brother and a few friends at various points on this trip, I’ve spent most of the time traveling on my own. During these months, I’ve encountered many people who think I’m either very brave or very crazy to be doing this, but I think this attitude boils down to a misunderstanding about solo travel.
In hopes of setting the record straight, I want to address the top three FAQ that I have been asked about my experiences:
1. Don’t you get lonely?
Almost never. The surprising thing about solo travel is that you’re only really alone when you want to be. If you stay in hostels or Couchsurf, you are constantly surrounded by people who are looking to make new friends. Moreover, locals seem far more willing to approach or open up to individual travelers as opposed to groups. Traveling alone better immerses you in new cultures, as you’re unable to isolate yourself with your travel companion, and are instead forced to meet new people. Ironically, I often crave alone time because I find that I am not getting enough of it!
2. Isn’t it dangerous, especially as a girl?
Not once in South America have I felt unsafe as a solo traveler. I take taxis at night, go out dancing, and take overnight buses, all on my own. While there are always dangers present, these are no different than the ones you will find elsewhere in the world. People get mugged in Paris, drugged in New York, and murdered in Edmonton, but this isn’t going to happen to everyone. The important thing is to exercise common sense and try to blend in, which is also easier to do as an individual than in a group.
3. What about those Latin men?
There’s no hiding the fact that latinos are flirtatious and forward. The best way to deal with piropos (cat calls and compliments) is to ignore them and act confident. As for guys directly approaching female travelers, don’t be surprised if most of the people who try to befriend you on this trip are male. Know your boundaries and be smart and safe, and you’re unlikely to run into any serious problems.
Overall, I want people to realize that traveling alone is not as risky or depressing as one would assume. I think the biggest problem I’ve found about traveling alone is that there is no one to watch my backpack while I go to the washroom in transit terminals, and I have to cram the darn thing into the stall with me!
But in all seriousness, the most important thing to remember is that the vast majority of people in this world are genuinely good. People you meet are almost always eager to help you and share their culture. Learn to trust a little more, take risks, and open up, and you will discover more about yourself and this world than you could ever learn traveling with someone else.
Have any other questions? Leave a comment! To gain some more specific tips for solo (female) travelers, watch for my upcoming article, “Tips for Solo Female Travelers.”
I don’t collect snowglobes or souvenir salt-shakers.
The stuff I’m bringing home with me doesn’t come from a gift shop.I’ve got dirt under my fingernails and rocks in my boots.
I’m not a tourist… and it feels fantastic.
This is my planet. You really should come see it sometime.
G Adventures (formerly Gap Adventures) has begun a new ad campaign, encouraging people who see themselves as travelers, not tourists, to embrace the experiences our planet has to offer. This brilliant video is part of a series showcasing the company’s different travel destinations. The rest of the videos can be found here.