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Backpacking Solo: Lessons for First Time Explorers

My Indonesia trip is the first ever solo backpacking trip I have done. I’ve been traveling regularly, but im always with friends, or if i do travel on the plane alone, I’ll be visiting someone. So, technically, I¬†still wasn’t alone. When my family and friends first learned about my solo trip, they were all naturally worried.

If it’s your first time to travel to a foreign country solo backpacker style, here are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way that I hope will help you in your trip.

1. Prepare your travel documents – all of them.¬†COE, ITR, itineraries, hotel bookings, and IDs always help. This is a must even if it’s not your first time, actually.

As a solo Filipina backpacker, I am at a disadvantage. Immigration officers are always suspicious of solo travelers, especially if they are females, because of human trafficking. Also, let’s face it. Filipinos are one of the many travellers who go rogue in other countries, aka TnT (tago ng tago).

The IO will always have questions. Some of the questions I’ve been asked were my university, course, return date, why am I alone, and, would you believe it, why am I still single.Just make sure you can answer them truthfully and confidently. If you read travel blogs, they will all say that IOs can spot the liars and unsure ones.

It’s not really discrimination, and we can’t really blame them for profiling passengers. On the brighter side, they are only really looking out for us – unless, of course, they are just power tripping.

2. Make a list of all the things you need. No matter how you think you are great at packing, you will always forget something unless you write it down.

I was already in Indonesia when I realized I forgot to bring my razor, baby powder, and extension cord – extremely useful because you’ll never know how many outlets you’ll have.¬†In my case, my room at Delta Homestay in Jogjakarta only had one outlet, and it was just for the electric fan, which meant that when I needed to recharge my gadgets, I risked having heat stroke. So an extension cord would have been really handy.

They also make for unnecessary expenses because you already have them. You just forgot to bring them.

3. Manage your expectations, especially when booking for a place to stay, because sometimes you do get what you pay for.

Delta Homestay is a very cozy place for travellers, but when I was booking, I never thought that the fan in my room was just the size of a laptop fan. The room was a little smaller than I expected too, but, hey, for 115000 IDR/night, I already had daily breakfast and bottled water and access to the pool. They also allowed me to check in early when I arrived. Of course, the staff was more than courteous, warm, and accommodating.

4. DIY itineraries are great, but joining tour groups are just as fun because you get to meet fellow travelers. When planning a DIY itinerary, you can search for tours by travel agencies and do the same. Just plan your route to make sure you know where to go and how to get there without wasting precious time and money. As for joining tour groups, you have the convenience of travel and schedule, and you also meet other travellers in the same tour group.

5. Locals are your friends. Tourist hotspots mean that locals are used to seeing and accommodating foreigners. They can direct you where you want to go, and they are more than willing to extend a helping hand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

6. Learn the local language. Don’t you just feel apreciated when foreigners speak your language even though they’ve just been vacationing for a few days? The same goes for the locals whose countries you visit. The most common phrases to learn are greetings, thank you, welcome, how much, where is… these¬†become especially handy when you’re bargaining.

Don’t be embarrassed if you can only muster words and incomplete sentences because it makes for a nice conversation when locals¬†try to teach you some local words.

7. Explore local delicacies. You’ve traveled thousands of kilometres, so you might as well try something different. Don’t go to the usual McDonald’s, KFC, or Jco, unless, of course, you have a cross-regional comparative study to accomplish. Try them out once just to see the difference, but as much as you can, go for the local food.

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8. In line with #7, don’t be afraid to try street food. If you’re concerned about hygiene issues, you can just go to the places flocked by the locals. Don’t drink the tap water if you have sensitive stomach. Just go for bottled drinks, and, of course, don’t forget to bring medicines with you. I didn’t really get around to trying out street food, but I did eat in the food stalls around the Monas and Kota Tua areas in Jakarta.

9. Disconnect – from the world and from your gadgets. Traveling solo means you have all the time in the world and for yourself. Update your loved ones regularly – that cannot be stressed enough. But spend the day exploring the outdoors, meeting new people, and enjoying your surroundings.

This also means no headphones. People will be hesitant to approach you if you look disengaged. This is also one reason why I choose cheap hostels. I don’t really stay cooped up inside my room all the time. Hang out with the locals and other backpackers, and learn from each other. If you decide to stay in, hang out in the lobby where other backpackers are more than eager to swap travel stories.

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10. Nature is the best cure for pain, depression, and heartbreak. A new environment will keep you distracted because it teaches you how big the world is, that everything is not just about you. It’s such a humbling experience to see the rest of what the world can offer, especially upon realizing that not everyone is given the chance to see and experience what you have.

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It’s okay to be scared because this means you acknowledge the risks and danger that come with traveling alone. I was already stepping inside the airplane bound for Jakarta, yet I was still asking myself if I was making the right decision.

I conquered Jogjakarta and Jakarta by myself, and it made for the best Christmas ever. Slowly, I am able to conquer my own fears and step out of my comfort zone, which I am used to anyway. Traveling alone just makes every decision I make a lesson and an accomplishment at the same time.

These tips are actually applicable to all travellers – groups, families, or solo backpackers. I guess there are things that just need to be emphasised more when you travel alone.

Travel makes you love life. So¬†don’t be a tourist. Be a traveler.


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