Friday, 15 May 2015

7 solo travel dilemmas and how to solve them

Taking photos on a cliff edge (Shutterstock)

Solo travel has plenty of advantages, but there will naturally be a few hurdles to overcome – some more predictable than others. Here's some advice for solving its pesky predicaments

1. Looking after luggage
You're all familiar with the golden rule to never leave your bag unattended, but with no companion to watch it while you pop to the bathroom in airports or on public transport, this leads to an irritating solo travel conundrum.

Strategically time your toilet break before you collect your bag from the carousel at the airport, or beeline for the disabled toilet for some extra room if you do have to haul it in with you. If you need to nip to the bathroom on a train or bus, do so just after a stop to give yourself plenty of time to report a theft if it does happen. Wedging your bag into an awkward position on a luggage rack can also deter people from even trying to steal it.

2. Taking photos of yourself
If you don't do selfies, you'll have to hand your camera to someone else to take your picture – a worrying prospect if you're travelling with an expensive one. Find someone with a better camera than your own to take the snap for you – chances are they won't want to steal your inferior model, and they'll probably know how to frame a decent shot too.

3. Applying sun cream
Unless you're a particularly limber person, there's always going to be that bit on the centre of your back that you can't quite reach with your sun cream. Asking a stranger to do it for you is a bit of an awkward solution, so retreat to the privacy of your hotel room or a bathroom to apply as best you can, saving you the embarrassment of twisting yourself into odd positions in public. Wear high SPF, long-lasting protection to ensure you don't have to go through the whole ordeal again while you're out – some brands claim to stay effective all day long.

4. Single supplements
If you're planning on taking a tour on your solo journey, you might encounter the dreaded single supplement, but there are ways to avoid this. Fortunately, some companies run tours that are suitable for solo travellers, with no extra charge for going it alone.

Also don't be afraid to approach the tour operator before booking to see if they can help, either by buddying you up with another solo traveller, or with a little negotiation on pricing – a tactic that could work particularly well off-season when booking numbers are lower.

You may also find you're charged extra for the same reason when booking hotel rooms independently, and a little haggling helps in these situations too. Alternatively, look out for hotels that charge per person or offer bedrooms for one.

5. Dining alone
Saying “Table for one, please” is a little uncomfortable when you're not used to it, but dining alone is something you'll quickly adapt to. Many solo travellers bury themselves in a book or magazine at meal times, but this can leave you closed off to conversation. Use eating out as an opportunity to catch up on your travel journal or draft emails to send home – keeping busy and looking purposeful will not only help you to avoid pitying glances, but also leave you open to conversation with inquisitive staff or other customers.

6. Being scammed
It's not uncommon for solo travellers (women in particular) to be targeted for scams, as people can assume that you're vulnerable. Polish up your haggling and negotiating skills before you leave, and carry yourself with conviction – strong and confident body language can go a long way. Be charming and polite at first, smiling to try and diffuse the situation, but if problems continue, walk away and find what you need elsewhere.

If it's a situation that you can't walk away from, such as being charged fake fees, firmly stand your ground and kick up a fuss. You might even have to really overreact, but sometimes it's the only way to avoid being ripped off.

7. Solo sickness
Feeling under the weather while abroad is an unpleasant experience even when travelling with others, but when you're alone it can be very miserable. It's easy to be an introvert in this situation, but it's better to let someone else know that you're not feeling well – a member of staff at your hotel, for example. It's reassuring to know that someone else has their eye on you, and you'd be surprised by how many people are eager to help a traveller in need.

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