In hindsight, maybe travelling through Africa as a first-ever solo travel trip may have been a bit ambitious, but as they say, if you’re gonna go, go big! Do they say that? Maybe I say that. Anyway.
When I returned from that trip, as part of a charity fundraiser, I released my travel diary I kept while on the go and turned it into an advice book on Amazon. How To Clean Your Underwear in Africa, tells the tale of my first taste of solo travel. I flew into Nairobi, Kenya, and out of Johannesburg, South Africa, travelling overland all the way.
On this journey, I learnt a lot. A lot about travelling, a lot about people, a lot about myself and each chapter in the book is finished off with a summary of little nuggets of wisdom learnt the hard way, through experience.
With so much travel advice, especially for solo travellers in there, I thought it would be unfair to keep it cooped up on Amazon, hence this post, a summary of the summaries. There are some great tips for first-time travellers and even some nuggets for seasoned pros. As it turns out, most of them are just common sense, but then again, that has never been my strong point.
19 top tips and nuggets of advice for solo travellers
1) Do not drink too much the day before you fly.
Yep, learnt this one the hard way! Flying with a hangover is not fun. By all means, have a going away celebration with your homies, but be sure to leave a good 48 hours before your flights!
2) Get your jabs sorted in plenty of time.
When I saw the wooden shack at the side of the Kenyan Tanzania border selling Yellow Fever jabs, I felt so relieved that I actually did some research. Vaccinations are a great idea, unless you want Japanese Encephalitis to turn your brain to jelly, and some countries (such as Tanzania) require certain certificates before allowing you to enter. Remember some jabs, like rabies, require multiple injections, so be sure to book an appointment with a doctor early to discuss what you need and how long it will take to save rolling the dice with a wooden roadside jab shack.
3) Never leave your wallet behind at an airport scanner when you have lost your voice. In fact, don’t leave it behind at all.
Umm, so I did this in Dubai airport (read point one again). I put them through a scanner and walked off without them. I am a genuinely bad traveller, speak to anyone in my family, they are amazed when I even make it to the local shops in one piece. Anyway, I was in Dubai airport, three hours until my flight, no wallet, passport or phone, oh, and I had lost my voice (again pint one). Keep an eye out for that blog post coming one day, or the book on Kindle is just 99p ?
4) Visas can be bought on arrival but sometimes they can’t and it may be cheaper not to, especially in the case of multiple entry visas.
Visas can quickly become the most expensive part of a long backpacking trip, be sure to do your research, not just for cost, but also scams, such as this visa scam at the Thailand – Cambodia Poipet border. Also, think about if you will be entering a country more than once. I saved a lot of money by buying a multiple entry visa for Thailand in advance, it’s worth the time researching.
5) Ensure you get a price from the taxi driver before you get into the car and barter barter barter, you can get the price down as there are lots of taxis wanting your business.
Standard advice when travelling, be sure to agree a price first or expect to be screwed.
6) Not everyone who approaches you in the street is a crook, guides are a great way to see the local area and learn as you go, I guess you just have to use your intuition to choose the right one.
I met Charles on the street in Nairobi when looking for a map. I didn’t trust him at first, but luckily, someone in a small tourism hut confirmed he was who he said he was and could help me. It was such a stroke of luck as Charles was a true gentleman and ended up being an amazing guide. We did a walking tour of the city together (based on my taxi ride from the airport, I wasn’t getting in a car again!) and helped with many other things including buying train tickets for onward travel.
7) Buy your tickets for onward travel as early as possible.
More for peace of mind, but if I know how I am leaving a place, where the train or bus station is, how to get there, that kind of thing, I will relax and enjoy a place much more.
8) Tuk-tuks are awesome.
9)You will spend more money than you think!
I guess this should be ‘I spent more money than I thought I would’. But be careful, keep a close eye on your finances. Although everything seems cheap, expenditure quickly accumulates. A meal here, souvenir there, excursion. If you’re not careful your budget will be blown quicker than a stag party in Amsterdam.
10) Culture shock is a bitch, which is what I am putting the fear I felt for the first few days down to.
I had heard of culture shock but to be honest, I didn’t think much of it and thought I’d be fine. Man was I wrong. I grew up in a small country town in the UK, to suddenly find myself in downtown Nairobi was something I was not prepared for. I went for a walk and was back in the hotel about 20 minutes later. It was the most alone I felt all trip. But don’t worry, it gets better.
11) Take a universal plug if you want to keep your pants kind of clean.
A clue to the book title there.
12) If you feel exposed and that you stand out, do not sit under a television in the local bar/restaurant.
If I went back to Mombasa now I think I would love it, however, I arrived at a bit of a low point. I was not really in a touristic area and I stood out like a plum in a pineapple shop. When I found a cafe selling sausage rolls, I was so happy. I got my snack, sat down, and never felt so uncomfortable as everyone was staring at me. At least that’s what it felt like, it was actually the TV just above my head that had their attention, but I still felt incredibly awkward.
13) If you have to exchange money at a border make sure you negotiate and don’t change too much.
You can always find people willing to exchange currency with you at the border. Remember, this could be a scam, do you really know what the currency you’re buying should look like? Even if it is legit currency, you will be getting a pretty crappy rate, so negotiate and just try your best not to need these guys.
14) Learn a few words of the local language so you can initiate some interactions.
Even if it’s just hello, please, thank you and my favourite, where’s the toilet. There’s nothing like butchering a person’s language to bring a smile to their face.
15) Remember to work out how much you need to spend on visas throughout your trip and keep the money in dollars as it is the only payment many borders will accept.
Just take a bit of research, a separate wallet and good self-control not to spend all your visa money on a hike to see wild monkeys (yep, point 9).
16) You have to make your own choice about giving to kids that beg at the windows of public transport.
I wasn’t aware of this and quite shocked when I first saw it. It is a difficult decision. Do you give them stuff and encourage the behaviour or do you give them nothing, hoping if everyone does the same, then this will stop, which is highly unlikely.
17) Stay in hostels if you are travelling alone and want to meet people.
I wish I did this from the beginning. The first few nights I spent in hotels and it did not help with my culture shock. Meeting people is one of the biggest fears for the first time solo traveller but meeting people on your travels is easy, and you will meet some amazing people.
One of the guys I met gave me this advice. “If you are alone in a hostel, turn off your phone, grab a beer, find the largest group and just ask if they mind if you join them. This way there will be no pressure on you to talk, you can just listen, learn names, see what they are like, join in if you want but above all as it was the largest group the next day most people around the hostel will know your face and say hello to you.”
Great advice and it works.
18) Do the Devil’s Pool trip at Victoria Falls but make sure you book it before you go to Victoria Falls park.
Jumping in the Devil’s Pool was a bucket list moment and one of the highlights of my trip!
19) Have an amazing time, meet some amazing people, learn stuff, buy stuff, travel safe, be smart, trust, be trustworthy, live your life.
Do you have any travel tips to add?
So there you go. There are a lot more lessons in the book which is being well received. You can currently get a free digital copy by signing up to The Travel Blogs info bursts, a monthly round-up of some of my favourite posts that were pinned that month from all over the world and more.
Did I miss anything? What is your best piece of travel advice? Feel free to leave it in the comments for anyone looking for a bit of confidence.
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