Roam alone: tips for the single traveller in Asia
Travelling alone fills some with fear but it's something that more people are venturing out to try. Here's our guide to the best ways to enjoy going solo
Text: Marissa Carruthers
Single travel can be the ultimate in self-indulgence. It offers the freedom to follow your own timetable, set your own agenda and move at your own pace.
There's no need for compromise, no arguments over where to go and what to see, and no worrying about whether your companion is enjoying themself. If you fancy staying out until the sun comes up, you can. If you don't want to spend hours traipsing around the museum, then don't.
However, single travel can come with its own challenges. Safety is a primary concern, as is loneliness and boredom. Then there's the seemingly unfair single supplement often passed on by tour operators, significantly hiking up the price of a holiday.
Despite this, setting off solo is a popular option for many as they shake off the shackles of travelling buddies, and the world is starting to cater to the trend.
"Travelling solo is a great opportunity to see the world on your own agenda," says Christopher Tin, owner of Hong Kong Travel Blog, a resource for travellers through Asia. "You'll be able to go wherever you want, whenever you want, and not have to worry about what other people want to do."
BEAT THE BOREDOM
Gemma Knowles, an American teacher who lives in Hong Kong, is a converted singleton who set off on her first solo trip to Cambodia in 2008 and hasn't looked back. "I was nervous but excited at the same time," the 29-year-old says.
"I was really worried about becoming bored of myself and, worst of all, not meeting people. I didn't need to worry. On my first night I was sat in a bar surrounded by a group of people who were also travelling alone. A few of us ended up spending the rest of my trip together. It was incredible."
Knowles' fears are a major worry for many, according to Dori Saltzman, editor at large of IndependentTraveler.com. "Another challenge can be fighting loneliness," Saltzman says. "For people worried about that I'd say stay open to conversations with other travellers in your hotel or find out where the expats hang out and go there for an evening."
Bars are a good place to meet people as the beer and conversations are both flowing. Backpacker hostels are usually full of fellow single travellers looking to swap stories. "Go and sit next to another solo person and you should be able to strike up a conversation pretty easily by asking where they're from," Tin says.
If playing beer pong and drinking isn't your thing, you could also meet like-minded people by signing up for day trips or classes, such as yoga, cooking or fishing. Many places offer volunteer programmes, eg building schools in Cambodia or digging wells in Ghana, where you'll find a wealth of fellow singletons.
Couch surfing (couchsurfing.com) is another way to meet locals and find a free bed for the night. If the idea of staying with a stranger makes your toes curl, you can meet a fellow surfer for a coffee or just trawl the forums to see what's going on in the city.
Eating alone fills many with dread. "This is a common challenge," Tin says. Get over it by chatting with service staff, who can also offer an insiders' insight into your destination, or bringing a book or magazine with you to read.
Safety is another issue, with lone travellers being an easier target for criminals. "Solo travellers need to be a bit more vigilant," says Saltzman.
Stick to open and public places, especially at night, and try not to stand out as a tourist. For example, when asking for directions say, "Where is the museum? I'm meeting a friend there."
Leaving a schedule with friends or family and letting people know where you are going and when you are coming back is also advisable. Facebook is an easy way of doing this while also making all your friends jealous of all the fun you're having. For a small fee, on websites such as safecheckin.com you can enter details of your trip. If you don't return, it will attempt to contact you. If unable to get through, it will contact your designated emergency number.
EXPLORE THE WORLD
Countries that are stamped firmly on the backpacker trail, such as Thailand, Cambodia, Australia and New Zealand, are popular destinations for solo travellers. "They see tons of tourists and backpackers go in and out of their countries every day so they're used to helping foreigners," Tin says. "Also, along with the sheer number of tourists, you'll be sure to find support and socialising opportunities during your journey."
Places with high crime rates and anywhere with political instability, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, should be taken off the agenda. It's also advisable to do your research before visiting a country. For example, while Cambodia is safe there is still fighting on a small part of the border with Thailand at Preah Vihear.
And you may want to wipe popular honeymoon destinations such as Bali and the Maldives off your list if you don't want to spend your time watching lovers strolling along the beach hand-in-hand.
STAMP OUT THE SUPPLEMENT
The single supplement is another scourge of the solo traveller. It is charged by tour operators, cruise lines and some hotels which are not making cash off a second occupant and can see prices rise by between 10 and 100 per cent. To avoid it, try booking with a tour operator that offers roommate matching or specialises in single travel, such as imaginative-traveller.com.
Operators often offer sales specifically targeted at solo travellers where the single supplement is either reduced or wiped off the bill.
One benefit of being a solo traveller is that you can cash in on some quirky accommodation that caters for your kind. Capsule hotels in Japan feature several small "rooms" or capsules with a bed and nothing else. Resorts are also popping up across the globe aimed at this market, such as the series of one-person beach huts that line the beach on the Thai island of Koh Chang.
So with all of this in mind, if you haven't already, then maybe now is the time to ditch your friends and go it alone. "Don't be afraid," Tin says. "There are thousands, if not millions, of people who travel alone every year and love it. You never know who you might meet — maybe your soulmate."