Staying sane while travelling solo

Last October I went on a backpacking holiday to New Zealand. Alone.

Considering all of my previous foreign trips had only taken me as far as a handful of EU spots, this was a big deal. What made it an even bigger deal was that my socially-anxious self was going it alone.

At the Green Dragon pub, Hobbiton
At the Green Dragon pub, Hobbiton

I made the deliberate choice to turn this into a solo adventure – an opportunity to do precisely what I wanted in a country I’d been longing to visit since my mum and dad came close to moving us all there in 1997. By the time I was ready to bite the bullet and go, my parents and two of my brothers had all visited New Zealand without me. It was long overdue.

What’s truly amazing is how well everything went. With the exception of one high-anxiety day (I was visiting Hobbiton and it was sending my brain into overdrive) and one high-misery day (which left me craving the company of my BFF and BF until a new activity perked me back up), I coped absolutely fine. Why? Because I prepared.

Here are a few tips on how to stay sane while travelling solo that I learnt along the way.

Pack smart

As someone who struggles to dress down, the packing element of my holiday was challenging – even more so because it was spring in New Zealand and I was doing the entire north island from top to bottom, so I knew the weather would be changeable at best.

The first thing I did was borrow a good, sturdy travelling backpack – get one that crosses over the waist and/or chest so that it doesn’t pull on your back. Pack a selection of comfortable clothing that still feels you – things that you can pick and mix for the most efficient use of space – as well as a couple of fancy pieces if you’re extra like me. Most importantly, take at least two plug adapters if necessary, a bumbag with lots of pockets and a microfibre towel – best purchases I could have made.

Having a splash in Taupo’s natural hot springs

Plan your route

While backpacking is about freedom, it’s important for anyone who has anxious spells to know where they’re going next. The first thing I did was plan a basic route based on activities I knew I wanted to do – that allowed me to book all of my activities and be aware of exactly where I needed to be and when. Most importantly, make sure you do things that will make you genuinely happy.

Organise transport ahead of time

Transport is something that a lot of people leave until last, but booking it all in advance made my life so much easier when I was moving to the next place every 24 hours. In New Zealand there’s no real train system, so I had to take coaches everywhere – I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t organised it long before going. Booking in advance made this seriously cheap and, in my two weeks there, not one of my coaches was late. They do it right over there.

Know where you’re staying

It sounds obvious, but I know plenty of people who have just winged their accommodation on backpacking holidays like mine. They rely on couch surfing with strangers or turning up at hostels hoping for the best – I wouldn’t recommend this. Even if you have to pay on the day, make sure you have somewhere to rest your head during your trip and don’t take silly risks (especially if you’re a woman).

A kaka at Zealandia, Wellington

Stay connected

Some people use travelling abroad as an excuse to drop off the radar – personally, I couldn’t handle that, and my nearest and dearest wouldn’t have been too impressed if I’d gone silent for a fortnight. After checking that all the coaches I travelled on and most of the hostels I stayed in offered Wi-Fi, I ensured that I bought enough additional data to last when I was in more rural areas and needed to check in with loved ones.

Make friends (or don’t)

If, like me, you want to do a lot of activities on your backpacking trip, it can be a really good opportunity to practice small talk with people you’re very unlikely to ever see again. While my spikes of social anxiety are decreasing in regularity the older I get, I’m still not great at talking to strangers; I very much used my trip as an attempt to remedy that a little, making temporary friends all over the north island as I did.

Of course, there’s no need to feel pressured to do that – if you want to keep yourself to yourself, do so. The people around you are strangers and you’re on an adventure. Do what makes you happy.

Have you ever travelled solo?

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