Thursday, June 4, 2015

Solo travel advice for those fresh out of high school

Travel advice for 18 year olds who want to travel solo
Image via Luis Barreto (check his stuff out, it's amazing!)

Recently, I got an email from a lovely reader asking me about solo travel at the young age of 18.

It really got me thinking about the advice I would give as advice is usually not my strong point. I sadly lack the sensitivity usually required to be great agony aunt material and because I'm possibly one of the most stubborn mules around, I was always going to have a gap year before I toddled off to uni, it was never an option to even doubt it for one second.

But obviously convincing mam and dad that I was mature enough, wise enough and responsible enough to have a cheeky wander around the world on my bill was not an easy task.

But like I said, I'm stubborn and I eventually talked them around to the idea.

And I did it, albeit I made a more than my fair share of mistakes along the way, but I did it. And what's more is that most 18 year olds can do it too.

Because if I can do it (anyone who knows me will know I'm quite possibly the biggest calamity around), you almost certainly can travel around by yourself too.

So when someone asks me, "Can I travel by myself at 18?" the short answer is usually, "Yes, you can."

Whilst the short answer may answer the question, it's not going to answer any of your worries, concerns nor questions. So this gave me a light bulb moment to compile an advice article for you young'uns who are considering venturing off into the big, bad world.

Because as great and amazing an adventure it is, it is possibly one of the most sh*t scary experiences in your life and you probably need some assurance that this is a good idea (short answer - it is).

And you can learn from my foolish mistakes, so you don't make them either.

1. Plan

Being 18 is a young time to travel solo but you can do it.

As unexciting as it is, you are going to have to plan. 

First of, think about where you want to go, the timeframe and the itinerary. Once you have a rough idea of what you want to do, you need to work out how much money you're going to need to do so. Don't despair if it's a lot more money than you currently have, there are ways around (more of which will be covered later) but having an idea of how much money you're going to need will help you plan your travels.

When you're thinking of budget, you need to factor in every single cost - you might be booking a single flight but you will need to remember that you'll need to buy a return flight and that will need to be considered. 

Insurance is often forgotten about but it is essential you buy it, do not forget to buy it. And check on the NHS's Fit for Travel website to see if you need any immunisations or antimalarials to make sure you are in good health for the duration of your stay.

Then once you've worked out where you're going and how you're going to do it, it's time to have the chat with the parents. They will be understandably worried, concerned and potentially against your travel plans so you need to get them on your side. Show them you've extensively considered what you want to do and how you're going to do it and this could get them on your side.

2. Save

Now you've done the maths, you know your budget and you need to save up.

Take a look at your spending habits - is there anywhere where you could cut down or completely cut out? Expenditures such as buying lunch, going out or clothes tot up so by making small changes, you can make big savings.

If you've got a part time job, you can put a bit aside every pay packet to go towards your travels. Put it in a savings account so you don't have easy access and watch your travel budget grow. 

If you're having trouble finding a part time job, have a look online. More and more remote jobs are being offered on online marketplace websites such as Elance, UpWork and PeoplePerHour and the great bit about them is that you can fit them in your studies. Make sure it doesn't take over however and ensure your studies come first.

Once you've finished your studies, you're free to find a full time job to do some serious earning for your travels. Most jobs on offer are in restaurants or bars and although the hours are anti-social, this means you can double the saving as you won't be going out as often as usual.

If you really can't wait to go travelling, have a look at working holiday visas or workstays. It's a good work/travel compromise and if you budget wisely, you could save a good amount of money to do some travelling during or at the end of your trip.

One big piece of advice when it comes to saving - don't save the bare minimum. A back up is a good cushion to have just in case and if you don't spend it on your travels, you can spend it to your heart's content when you're safe and sound back home.

3. Safety Precautions

18 may be a young age to travel by yourself but it's possible.

So you've convinced mam and dad, booked the tickets and saved up enough money - now is time to have a look at how you're going to keep safe whilst on the road.

Most of the safety precautions you will take will be the same as usual - don't walk alone at night or in areas where you are advised not to, take licensed taxis from taxi ranks, let people know where you are going and DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS.

OK, maybe not quite don't talk to strangers ever but exercise a bit of caution and if your gut tells you it's not a comfortable situation, it's fine to be rude. In fact, more than fine, be blunt, rude, do anything to get yourself out of the situation.

Use your finely acquired planning skills and make sure you know where you're going every time you go to a new destination. Reserve a hostel in advance, have an idea of how you'll get from A to B and if you can, try to arrive in the daytime. Once you've got there, you can change hostel but knowing you have a bed reserved will ease any initial anxiety and save you from flapping when you're on the lookout for a bed for the night.

When out and about or travelling, keep several stashes of money. Have some in your bag, your purse or wallet and ladies, your bra is your best friend in this case.

The same goes for cards - get yourself a Caxton FX card if you can, they give you good exchange rates and low charges (they say there's no transaction charge but there is a little one) - and have a back up card elsewhere, just in case.

As old school and outdated this is going to sound, have some traveller's cheques as a back up back up so say you lose all of your cards and money, you still have some. Even if they're stolen, if you have the cheque numbers, you can get them back.

Obviously keep a low profile with your valuables and yourself - don't be the obnoxious, loud tourist because that generally lands you in trouble you don't want to be in. Dress appropriately too, I know it may be blisteringly hot outside but if you're in shorts and flip flops whilst everyone else is wearing long dresses or trousers, you are going to get yourself some serious hacky stares (definition of hacky for non North-Eastern speakers) or unwanted attention.

As briefly touched upon, listen to your gut. If you feel like a situation is not one you want to be in, GET OUT. Your gut usually serves you well and it's worth using your instincts to keep your fine self safe.

I'm sure most of you know all of this already, especially as it's logical instinct that we want to keep ourselves safe, but I thought it was worth going over, just in case. The usual cause of people getting themselves in danger is the fact that staying safe usually costs a little bit more financially or is more hassle than going for the easier or cheaper option but seriously lads and lasses, just cough it up, your safety and well-being is worth way, way more.

4. Making travel friends and socialising

When it's your first time travelling, you're anxious about making friends - don't worry, you'll make friends on the road in no time.

I know this was a big social anxiety for me.

When I was 18, whilst I was a gobby little so-and-so amongst my friends, once I met new people, I was rendered mute. I didn't want to reveal my weird quirks and I was worried they would judge me. Once I started travelling, however, I realised I was going to have to put myself out there and say hi every so often.

You just have to put yourself out there. Start the conversation, say a few awkward questions and more usually than not, the conversation will be flowing in no time. If you have nothing else to say, just fall back on the usual "Where are you from? How long you've been travelling? Where have you been? Where are you going?" As clichéd as it is, you'll usually find some common ground.

Choosing hostels wise, go for hostels which have dedicated social spaces - you're in luck if it has a swimming pool, a bar or a chilling area. These are prime meeting places and you'll find yourself included in the conversation in no time. Even better, if they offer tours or events there, social hostels are where you want to be to make friends.

If you're going to be somewhere for an extended amount of time. try attending meet ups, language exchanges, playing for a sports team or keeping up or taking up a hobby. You can find loads of groups or events on MeetUp, Couchsurfing, at hostels or on Facebook.

Push yourself to say yes if you get invited to anything. 9 times out of 10, you'll kick yourself for saying no and you'll have a serious case of FOMO. If you get bored or it's not your thing, you can always go home.

5. What if I don't like travelling?

This could be what's in store if you go travelling by yourself at the age of 18

Maybe it's not right for you now, maybe it's not your thing ever, maybe where you've gone is not where you want to be. Sometimes travelling isn't exactly what you envisioned it would be and expectations may be disappointed.

If it's during the initial stages of travelling, give it time. Busy yourself doing excursions, working and making new friends - it may be that you're missing home and you've got a case of culture shock.

If after giving it a real go and you still aren't enjoying yourself, ask yourself why and once again, go with your gut. If you want to go home, go home. You may be able to change your ticket with a relatively small fee. If you need a change of scenery, go elsewhere. And if you don't like where you are staying, change accommodation. There is no one size fits all when it comes to travelling and you just need to be honest with yourself.

For the vast majority, however, travelling is one of the most enhancing experiences you can, especially at the young age of 18. Now is the time to take advantage of your responsibility-free youth and fulfil your wishes. I know I'm probably sounding like the biggest walking cliché around but if you don't do it now, you will kick yourself when you're older and have a job, bills to pay and kids in tow - although travelling is still possible, even with all of these responsibilities - it just requires even more organisation, planning and budgeting than now.

But the biggest risk of all is that you may even find you like travelling by yourself so much, you will find you'll want to do it again and again and again (guilty).

Are you 18 and planning to travel? What advice would you give to young travellers?

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