Fifty Things I Learned Traveling Solo

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I recently finished two years of globetrotting which took me everywhere but Antarctica. Along the way I let my stupidity get the best of me and had several near-catastrophes.

Here are 50 things I learned while backpacking solo. Study them for a smooth journey, or ignore them and have an adventure.

  1. Trust your gut. Always.
  2. Never trust a taxi driver.
  3. When budgeting, remember to plan for transportation costs, tips, and bad exchange rates.
  4. Never use your back pockets.
  5. Never have any combination of your money, your phone, and your passport in the same place.
  6. Keep physical and digital copies of your passport, shot records, reservations, and receipts.
  7. Buy travel insurance. “Walking off” a broken foot isn’t a learning experience.
  8. The window seat gets the best view, the aisle seat gets the most legroom, and the middle seat gets both armrests. No exceptions.
  9. Have two bank accounts and two debit cards. Keep the cards separate.
  10. To build immunity, eat citrus and lick a doorknob at your school or office one week before your trip.
  11. Use Workaway, HelpX, Couchsurfing, or hitchhike, but carry a knife in your shoe.
  12. Sign up for Western Union and verify your account. Give enough money for a flight “home” to a close friend who will be able to wire it to you via Western Union if you have an emergency.
  13. Look up taxi rates and standard bribery costs before going to an area.
  14. There’s no shortage of manual labor in the developing world. Bolivians don’t need you to build them a library.
  15. Never judge a book by its cover, unless it’s Mein Kampf.
  16. Put “Tourist” on your visa applications. Always.
  17. When you catch a robber in public and yell at them, it may shame them or they may stab you. Know which will happen before yelling.
  18. There are no such things as “bad” travels or bad countries, there are just bad experiences.
  19. Traveling with more than one bag is more trouble than it’s worth.
  20. If you’re bored then you’re probably boring.
  21. Always keep enough money for an emergency taxi to anywhere in the city hidden on you.
  22. A bulging money belt will stop pickpockets but won’t fool robbers.
  23. Never anger a woman who has an elaborate The Aristocats tatoo.
  24. If you’re not qualified to do it where you live, you’re not qualified to do it overseas.
  25. Don’t get so caught up taking pictures that you miss out on the experience.
  26. Hostels are a cheap, comfortable way to meet Americans, Australians, or Germans. If you didn’t come across the world to hang out with them, consider other arrangements.
  27. Never turn down free pizza
  28. Larry King said it best: “I’ve never learned anything while I was talking.”
  29. If there is no meter, negotiate taxi fees before getting in. Never put your luggage in the trunk.
  30. If there is a meter, ignore what the taxi driver tells you about extra expenses. The meter will work and any required taxes or fees will be displayed prominently.
  31. Know the difference between being nervous and being afraid.
  32. If you’re a fun person, people will like you. If you’re not, they won’t. It has nothing to do with your nationality.
  33. Research banks or credit card companies before you leave and find one with favorable exchange rates and low international ATM fees.
  34. Know what the local scams are ahead of time. If you’re the only one doing something, there’s a reason.
  35. If hitchhiking, offer to chip in for gas. If couchsurfing, offer to buy beer.
  36. If you don’t know anyone but want to have fun, attach yourself to the weirdest person you can find.
  37. “I wish I would have gotten more sleep instead of seeing that volcano,” said no one ever.
  38. If you dress like a teenager, you’ll be treated as one.
  39. Never ruin the surprise by reading every detail about a place you’re about to visit.
  40. Foreigners like McDonald’s more than Americans do.
  41. You don’t need to know the local language before traveling, but you should know the five W’s, numbers one through ten, and basic threats.
  42. A place can never be truly beautiful if it’s full of ugly hearts.
  43. Wear pants to visit religious monuments, even if it’s hot outside.
  44. Life’s not fair. If you’re reading this it’s probably not fair in your favor.
  45. Buy a gym sack with a zipper pocket for day trips and bus rides, but store it in your main backpack when you have both.
  46. Push yourself hard, but recognize your limits. Every corpse on Everest was an extremely motivated person.
  47. When in Rome, do as the Romans*
  48. You’re not smarter than police officers, immigration officials, or robbers.
  49. Don’t let somebody else’s opinion change yours. I feel that Pucon, Chile is a filthy place full of filthy people. Others call it a paradise. Only your experience can tell you how you feel about it.
  50. Life is as beautiful as you allow it to be.

*Not applicable if you surround yourself with bigots.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.

 

10 comments

  1. Awesome list… loved the Western Union tip.

    Never heard about eating citrus and licking doorknobs… is that at the same time like a shot? (And is still okay if my co-workers look at me weird?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • The doorknob bit jumpstarts your immune system by getting you incredibly sick very quickly and exposing you to every type of germ and virus imaginable, and then later your immune system will have seen it all. Do it at your own peril.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Solid, man. This is something that would benefit a great deal of people and you’ve summarized it efficiently and can relate to most of your points. Lots of good advice to include in your book here, plenty of room for elaboration.

    Like

  3. Some great ideas. I was fortunate when travelling as I already had friends in many different countries and so could stay with them. Also doing any kind of voluntary work wherever you go is a really great way to learn a bit of useful language and to really get to know a place, even if only for a few days.
    That first long trip off months simply made me want to do more!!

    Like

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