Current location: Gate A6, Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, en route to Chiang Mai.
I figure the only time I may have to write on this trip is while I’m in transit.
My days have been packed to capacity with tours, dinner outings and roaming the streets.
Since I began planning this vacation, people have expressed a healthy mix of concern and admiration for the fact that I was coming here alone.
I won’t pretend it’s an easy decision to make. Going anywhere alone can be intimidating.
Halfway across the world? To a country where you know neither a soul nor the language?
Well that…is straight up terrifying.
Or it should have been. But for me it was easier done than said. I don’t know why. Maybe I was fed up. Fed up of saying I wanted to go places and never going. Fed up of saying ‘Oh that’s on my bucket list’ while ignoring the fact that my time could be up any hour of any day and my bucket list remained unchecked.
I spend dumb money. All the time. I buy things that go to the back of my closet and never see daylight again until a year later when I decide to clear my closet to donate, and it gets thrown into the pile of ‘stuff I bought a long time ago but never wore and now it’s not my style anymore so bye’.
I figured it was time to start spending money on experiences and memories, rather than disposable things.
The next common excuse for me has been, even more so than finances, that unfortunately I don’t have a dedicated travel buddy. Not one in Trinidad anyway. There’s no friend I can message in the dead of the night and say “Hey, let’s go to Thailand nah.” and have them reply “Ok cool, will start looking at flights.” and mean it.
That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their priorities and interest. It just so happens that I don’t have one whose priorities and interests align with mine at the time I need it to. There are any number of limitations when seeking a travel companion – their finances, time, they were planning to go somewhere else, they don’t necessarily want to go where I want to go.
Again, that’s ok. That’s no one’s fault. But what I could not keep doing was allowing that to prevent me from going.
So I made the decision to get my shit together and book a flight.
I plan to blog more about my actual trip but I figured a good place to start would be some of the things I learned while preparing for this journey. Hopefully this will help or motivate any one of you who’s been thinking about taking the plunge and buying the ticket to actually do it.
1. Plan plan plan plan plan. As a solo traveler, and as a female no less, it was imperative that I have as much of this trip planned as I possibly could cater for. Now that’s not to say you can’t have spontaneous moments on your trip, but I spent a lot of time checking hotels, cross referencing reviews on TripAdvisor, checking the distance from said hotels to places of interest, evaluating public transportation options close to potential hotels, checking tours and comparing prices across different providers. One big challenge I encountered planning this trip was that many tours require two persons minimum. That, or you pay out of your eyeballs. For example, one tour increased to USD$130 from USD$50 because I am but one person. Eventually I found the same tour (and pretty much everyone offers the same tours) at a much more reasonable cost. I booked most of my tours on Viator and the balance on tour operators recommended on TripAdvisor forums. For hotels and flight I used Kayak and then checked reviews on TripAdvisor. For Thailand I originally reached out to one of those vacation concierge services. The price they quoted me was INSANE, especially since one of the reasons I chose Thailand was because I’ve often heard that it’s one of the most affordable places to visit. These people were recommending a budget of USD$300 a day! What?! I was going for 14 days. And that’s not even including airfare. So I decided to book everything myself. Sure it takes longer but my budget was half of their recommendation by the time I was done. So yeah, get ready for some serious leg work in the run up to your trip, if you want to save some coin.
2. Leave a trail. Again, top of mind for me in planning this trip was my security. Not that I’ve heard Thailand is an unsafe place per se, and my experience so far confirms that Thailand feels a lot safer than home. However, you can’t take for granted the fact that you’re out here alone and IF something happens to you…it shouldn’t be for lack of sense on your part. I printed off two copies of my hotel bookings and my flight confirmations and left a detailed itinerary with my parents, which said where I would be on each day – which tours I was taking, along with contact information for each tour provider. Let me put it this way (and of course this is morbid) if anything were to happen to me, God forbid, my loved ones should AT LEAST know where to find my body. Just saying. I also created a Google Sheet with the same itinerary and shared with a few responsible friends, just in case I had any changes to my schedule, I could update it there.
3. Stay in touch. I check in with my dad everyday. I also have an app installed on my phone – bSafe. Highly recommend it for solo travellers. It basically allows you to send friends (who also have to download the app) updates with your location. If you’re in a crisis, there’s an alarm feature that will send them a push notification, and start the camera on your phone, record for an amount of time then send that recording to them. I gave said friends my parents’ contact information so they could reach them if they got an alarm from me. I would have installed it on my dad’s phone but I don’t know if he would have been as proficient at checking it as my more digitally inclined friends. Once I got to Thailand I got a local SIM card. Since Thailand is such a tourist destination, there were SIM cards marketed especially to tourists, offering 7-day data packages and access to wifi hotspots. It’s ESSENTIAL that you have data on your phone while abroad. And roaming makes no financial sense. Pop a SIM card in your phone, activate data and also have a way to contact hotels, tour operators, new friends (ew) on the cheap. It’s a no-brainer.
4. Don’t overpack. This is a good rule even if you’re not travelling alone, but especially essential when you’re the only one available to tote luggage. I’ve been in some really horrible situations as a solo traveller before, in places like London, no less, so I wanted to be sure I could manage my baggage on this trip, both from a security perspective and a struggling to get up some steps perspective.
5. Be realistic about your timeline. I knew there was no way I could see and do everything I wanted to do in the time I had. I had to prioritise. Jet lag is a bitch. I’m running on about four hours of sleep a night since I’ve been here because my body thinks I’m trying to take a day nap. Taking that exhaustion into consideration, as well as travel times, distance from sights, duration of tours, etc, you need to know what you can do in the time you have, and be willing to cut some things off your check list, where possible.
6. Conquer public transport. This is a big thing for me no matter where I go. I’m not a big fan of buses but if there is a metro, I dey. Get acquainted with the various public transportation options, since you won’t be splitting the taxi fare with anyone and that cost can rack up. Luckily for me, Bangkok has about a bousand different ways to get around and I was able to learn the MRT (subway) and BTS (sky train) system pretty quickly. It’s so much cheaper and quicker than taking a cab.
7. Make Google Maps your bestie. Any map service should work but Google Maps is my personal pick abroad. I use it to map out my journey regardless of mode of transportation. I also use it to get an idea of what taxi fares would be like, know how long I have to nap on a tour bus, and just generally a way to figure out where the f I’m going if I’m walking. It’s saved my butt more than a few times. You also have to stop and ask for directions less, which is important for me as a solo female traveler because I don’t necessarily want to give anyone the impression that I’m lost, ever, in life. This circles back to the importance of having data on your mobile.
8. Get familiar with the culture. Before I left I looked up some of the cultural disparities between my home and my destination. You think “Oh I’m going on vacation, let me pack my shortest shorts and strappiest tops and get ready to skin out.” NAH. Thailand turned out to be a very conservative country. Most of the temples enforce a strict dress code for visitors – no bare shoulders or knees, and no tight fitting clothing. I can’t lie, getting dressed here has been challenging but I’m getting better. It’s also useful to know what’s generally frowned upon in a country so you can not do those things. Check your attitude once you board that plane because you are no longer on home turf and you are in people country with no contacts. No Visa face here people, only jail.
9. Find contacts. Look up the embassy or consulate of your home country in your destination country. If there isn’t one, find the closest one to you. Ask around among friends to see if anyone has any friends or family where you’re headed, so at least you have a number and a name if anything goes awry. Trinis like salt, there must be a few where you’re headed. Ensure that they’re fine with you contacting them if need be and save that number.
10. Keep your phone charged. Without a functional phone, most of the technological aides I described earlier, as well as the basic function of calling your hotel or taxi is null and void. Invest in a few battery packs, keep them fully charged and walk with extra charging cables. Don’t assume you will find a port or an outlet everywhere you go. Be sure to check the electric socket where you’re going too. Never know if you may need a converter.
11. Invest in a monopod. A lot of people like to scorn selfie-sticks. I think that’s more ego and less sense to be honest, especially if you’re travelling alone abroad. If you don’t like the idea of using an extendable monopod, then make sure you’re cool with close, tightly-cropped pictures of yourself, no pictures of yourself at all, or constantly depending on a stranger to take a photo for you. About a month before I came I bought the new Go Pro Hero Session 4, which is a miniature, hardier version of the popular camera. I also bought an extendable monopod and a head mount. This is probably the best thing I’ve bought in a while. It not only captures video but time lapse photographs, and you can download the Go Pro app to your phone to control it remotely. Bear in mind this version of the Go Pro has no screen on the back so you’ll be flying blind unless you hook up to the app.
Those are all the single traveler tips I can come up with at the moment. I think I covered the most essential bits.
Sorry if this post doesn’t have much by way of pictures and whatnot, like I said, this is a rush job.
For prettier and more entertaining updates you can follow my trip on my social pages – @CeolaB (Instagram) and CeolaB (Snapchat).
Hopefully this encourages you to take that vacation you’ve been meaning to take, and go to that place you’ve always dreamed of going, even if it means going alone.