An amateur traveller’s guide to travelling solo

I recently came back from a week-long holiday in Singapore. Despite what the title says, I wasn’t on my own—my sister was with me. But the real reason I was in Singapore in the first place was because my sister was a part of this summer program and I was there to make sure that she’d stay alive over the course of the week, like making sure that she was eating and sleeping right (seeing how my own sleep schedule is a complete train-wreck, that second one flew straight out the window from the get-go), wasn’t spending too much money (she was thankfully quite cheap with everything), and making sure that she didn’t freak out when she was bombarded with airport security (she did).

That being said, my sister being a part of this program meant that she had her own agenda for 3/4 of the day, leaving me to completely my own devices.

Now I’m not a seasoned traveller by any means, but I’ve had my share of globetrotting before. I’ve also been to Singapore numerous times in the past. However, during those times, a) I was almost always with my family or entrusted to a capable adult (I wasn’t mature enough for solo travel then), b) I let my dad or said adult do all the planning and the mapping of all the places, and c) it’s also been two to three years since I last set foot there. Though nothing much has changed in the Lion City, the prospect of being in a different country with different cultural standards by yourself is, to say the least, quite intimidating*.

It took me a while to get into the swing of things; those who’ve viewed my Snapchat story would’ve had a glimpse of that. But in those six days, I’ve managed to pick up some tips and tricks (combined with a bit of travelling knowledge that I knew previously) that not only reduced the chances of me cacking myself but also made this trip a lot more enjoyable and well worth it, and so I’d share them with you all on here:

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Safety first

An upside to travelling solo is freedom. You can plan your day however you like and change it whenever you want. You decide when you want to call it a day. You don’t have to plan around anybody or wait for anyone. You can make as many decisions as you want without any compromises. You can even take this chance as some downtime, reorganise yourself, and just relax for a bit.

But it also goes without saying that being on your own means that you’re responsible for your own well-being. With no one to watch your back, you’re going to be more vulnerable to multiple perils, from scam artists to even your own health. There are quite a few things you need to prepare and look out for in this one, so I’ve put it in bullet point form for your convenience:

  • Carry some kind of identification with you, like your passport. And by that, I mean the actual thing as some places won’t accept copies of your ID. You may not always need it, but it’s good to have it around just in case.
  • Having said that, always make copies of your passport, credit/debit cards, medical information, and other important documents. For even more safekeeping, scan them and send them to yourself by email as a backup. Make sure that they’re all, including the originals, in order.
  • Don’t have your eyes glued to your map, schedule, or phone while you’re on the go; check it before leaving your hotel/station/bus stop/etc. If you don’t, not only will you not be focused on your surroundings but it will also make you stand out as a tourist, making you an easy target for scammers and their ilk.
  • Be sure to check your belongings before leaving any establishment and public transport, most importantly any documents you may have on you, your phone, keys, and wallet.
  • Never leave your phone or your wallet in your back pocket. It’s like you’re asking for it to be stolen. Keep it in your front pocket or in a bag/purse.
  • Don’t store all your cash and/or cards in one wallet. Keep some extra, or the rest of it, somewhere separate and safe.
  • Keep to open public places, especially if it’s dark out, and walk like you know where you’re going (even if you don’t).
  • Learn the language. Or at the very least, familiarise yourself with it and learn some phrases like how to ask for directions.
  • By observing the locals, you can pick up their mannerisms, common phrases, see how they go about certain things, and mimic them (but  find out why they’re doing that, or at least have an idea, before doing it yourself, otherwise you’ll just look like a massive idiot and you’ll stick out even more). But the best thing about this tip is that it applies to anything, not just travelling. (Bit of trivia for you, this is basically how I survived my first year of university.)
  • Check-in with friends and/or family every day. Leave them a copy of your itinerary, tell them if you’ve made any changes to your plans, and always let them know you’re alright at the end of the day.
Research is your best friend

Two points I want to make for this. Number one, always do your research before and during the trip. Don’t just look up ‘Top Places to Visit in [insert place of choice here]’, make an itinerary, and that’s that. Check the weather forecast and pack suitably. Look up what’s considered proper and not like in terms of clothes, local customs (like tipping, for example), which areas are safe and which aren’t, etc. Of course, a lot of these things you can pick up as you go along, but it’s good to have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into.

Number two, it is so, so, so important to have data on your phone. Seriously, I cannot tell you the number of times Google Maps has saved my butt on this trip because I’ve already lost count. Because of this (also because roaming can cause your phone bills to skyrocket), the first thing I do the minute I land in wherever is to purchase a SIM card. Now I don’t know a lot about SIM cards, and which carriers in different places provide what kinds of services and how much they cost overall, so I can’t say much about it. But always double-check with your itinerary, do your research, and purchase one that’ll fit your needs best.

Pack nice clothes

This is more of a personal preference than anything. I’m someone who feels the need to always look my best, no matter the situation. But I wasn’t in the right mindset while I was packing for this trip because I’ve only been relegated the role of babysitter and I was also quite nervous about the whole thing. So, packing light, all I brought with me were several t-shirts and shorts. And while those did suffice, being surrounded by smartly-dressed people made me realise that I’d made a huge mistake with my packing choices. Somehow, it didn’t occur to me that Singapore is one of the world’s most modern and expensive cities in the world, so it would make sense that the people would dress this way. But it also meant that I felt like a hobo every time I stood next to anyone. It wasn’t a great feeling.

But again, this is just a personal preference. If you prefer to go down the t-shirt and shorts route (or leggings; they are comfortable and practical as all hell), by all means go for it. If you’re keen on making good impressions on people you’ll probably never meet again in your life (like yours truly), then go do that. If it’s possible (and if you want), pack clothes that can be worn twice in a row to save space in your suitcase (for your convenience and for souvenirs).

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Goes with one book, brings back five more.

Bottom line is, dress in whichever clothes you’ll feel most comfortable in, but be sure to look up which ones are acceptable and which ones are a big no-no. Don’t forget to make sure that it’s weather/climate appropriate and always, always, bring some spare (this goes for underwear, as well.)

Always have small change

Not everybody will have access to a credit or debit card while travelling, and even then not all establishments will accept card payments. So having some cash will definitely come in handy. But don’t let all of it come in the form fifty or hundred dollar (or whatever currency) bills. It’s a lot more convenient for everyone (and some things, like top-up machines) involved if you have small change at hand. However, if you find yourself only owning fifty and hundred dollar bills, then you have to find a way to break it up, even if it means getting a weird look from the cashier when you pay for a bag of Doritos with a fifty-dollar bill.

Familiarise yourself with public transport

And by that, I mean buses and subway trains. Because if there’s anything I learnt it’s that taxis everywhere are expensive as heck. You’re also more liable to trickery with taxi drivers as a) they can take the longer route to get to your destination if they learn that you’re a tourist, and b) there is the potential for kidnapping to extortion.

I’m not condemning all taxi drivers—of course, there are honest ones out there—but the risk is there and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

But yes, when it comes to transport, I always go for buses and subways as it is more open and you can easily blend in with other commuters. Of course, they have their own risks, such as crowdedness during peak time (literally the worst), the possibility of missing your stop, there’s still the potential of thievery, etc.. But when there are more people about, the risk of getting scammed and coerced into doing something hazardous or potentially life-threatening is lessened somewhat. Furthermore, buses and trains always have a set route (unless there are external circumstances like road construction) and they often provide timetables and maps for both the route and the general area of their respective stop locations. However, if you’re looking for something healthier and even more cost-efficient, then…

Walk places

When it comes to travelling, there is nothing I love more than plugging in some music and exploring the city, countryside, wherever, to my heart’s content. In fact, I’d pick walking over public transport any day—given that wherever I’m going isn’t too far away. Of course, I’ll have Google Maps on me, but often times when I’m free-roaming I wander off from the designated path. Roaming around on foot also gives me a chance to get a feel of my surroundings firsthand. I’m still my own personal bubble, yet at the same time I’m immersed and the travelling experience feels a lot more intimate and exhilarating.

But that’s only one of the benefits. I should think that this is one of the more obvious ones, but it’s also good exercise. Walking doesn’t require you to have lots of stamina and endurance to accomplish. Besides, you can always rest a bit or hop on a bus back if you exhaust yourself. You can also take better pictures when you’re not hurtling at 50/mph on a crowded bus. And you’ll often find “hidden” things within your locality or run into the occasional quirky individual.

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You never know what’ll come your way. Hell, you might even surprise yourself.

Always plan your last day

Always plan your last day (yes, this deserves to be said twice in succession) because it is arguably the most important day of your holiday. You do not want to be stressing yourself mad rushing to the airport only to find out that you’ve missed your flight (or with any luck, it’s delayed. Still, you wouldn’t want to give yourself an unnecessary heart attack.) Pack everything the night before. Make sure all your documents are in order. Triple-check your flight time and give yourself enough time to be at the airport (I recommend two to three hours before your boarding time) so you can put airport security behind you sooner (because, as we all know, airport security is no joke; that, in itself, is already stressful enough.)

Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough, never throw anything an airport security person gives you when you arrive the first time because you might actually need it to fly back home. Trust me.

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And there you go, those are my tips and tricks for a safe yet fun-filled travel. If you’ve made it this far into my post, then I want to thank you for reading. I hope you found this article helpful. If you have any travel advice that you’d like to share, leave a comment to let me know. And if you liked it, feel free to share it with your friends! That would be amazing!

And before I leave, I shall leave you with a series of some of my favourite pictures that I took from my trip. Enjoy!

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Until next time,
Dev.

*In hindsight, I don’t know why Singapore struck me as nerve-wracking. I’ve lived in a different country in a different continent for about nine months while ‘adulting’ all over the place before this. Still came out in one piece. This was a cakewalk compared to that.

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