“Screw it, let’s do this!” we called out loudly. We paused the movie, Googled the location, looked at each other again and yelled, “Let’s do this!”
I was in a hostel with my newly-made travel friend watching a documentary about Peru. The scene that caused so much fervor showcased the cascading Gocta Falls in Chachapoyas of the northern Amazonas region.
The following morning we had bus tickets in our pockets for that very night and the remaining nights in Cuenca, Ecuador, were cancelled. With this much eagerness and excitement I started my Peru journey.
Such spontaneous behavior is how I’ve done all of my journeying. In fact, ever since I first traveled abroad on my own to Spain from my native country of Latvia at the age of 20 I have played it by ear.
My first three days in Peru were spent exploring with Wouter, a man from the Netherlands, who I had met just ten days prior on the road. After visiting Kuelap, Yumbilla and Gocta, we said “I’m curious where we will meet again” and parted ways to continue our separate journeys in different directions.
Here you can see the first outcome of solo traveling: you will always meet people on the road. With some of them you connect so well that you may decide to travel together, whether it be for a few days or an extended period of time.
Many of my friends ask me, “Isn’t it boring? Isn’t it dangerous? How do you travel solo? I wish I had your courage.”
Personally, courage is the most important factor when it comes to traveling alone. I often think of the inspiring words of Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho: “Travel is not about money, it’s about courage.”
I am a blonde woman who has traveled solo on countless trips—and I’m still alive. If I had listened to what people said or the stereotypes and preconceived notions of certain destinations, I would be staring at a world map and dreaming about traveling rather than actually experiencing it.
I understand that this lifestyle might not be for everyone; however, I encourage people to travel solo to broaden their perspective of the world, humanity and themselves. To be in the constant movement not really knowing what’s next; to be confronted with new ideas, plans, destinations, challenges and acquaintances turned friends. I call traveling solo the school of life.
When traveling alone I am able to become a part of the places I visit. I try to avoid going on the guided tours which normally bring to the common tourist attractions. I love to integrate with locals and to have a neat experience.
Here are my top tips for solo travelers based on my own experience:
It’s important to keep in mind while traveling that what may be a new destination to you is the home to many. You don’t need to feel threatened by the unknown if you follow your instinct. Give positive energy, chit-chat with people, but always be aware. Don’t let anyone (even yourself) cross the line of respect or take advantage of your being a foreigner on his/her own.
I don’t look to influencers on Instagram or online articles claiming the “Top 10 Must-See places” for travel advice. For the best things to see, eat and do, the best resource is the community of locals. Ask them where the local markets are, what are the best hikes nearby, etc. Research what languages are spoken in the country you’ll visit and try to take some free online courses or invest in classes. And if you are at a basic level of Spanish (or less), try to find a common language (remember, a smile always works) until you build a stronger vocabulary. If you keep trying it will happen!
Whether it’s for an explanation, guidance or directions, more often than not people are willing to give you the information you need. Just because you are traveling solo doesn’t mean you have to do absolutely everything on your own.
While traveling alone it’s natural to experience a sense of loneliness—especially when you come across something so breathtaking that you’d like to share with family or friends. Make a phone call or take pictures or a video and share it with those you miss (at least virtually). Instagram stories help as well. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I need to express it, need to share it, need to let the world know! After sharing, believe me, you’ll experience relief.
If you want to talk to someone in real time, go to a hostel, join a free walking tour in a city, or even pop in a bar and strike up a conversation with the bartender. It’s easy to find other solo travelers along the way. Usually I start a conversation by asking some recommendations, they will be happy to explain or to share their experience.
I don’t stay at fancy resorts or hotels, ever. Sites like Couchsurfing and Workaway allow travelers to feel less like a tourist and more like a local (even if just for a night). All of my hosts have been male, and I’ve been sure to review their profiles and check for references before booking. As well, for a female solo traveler it is important to look for a space that provides a private room and bathroom. Your safety is not worth saving money, so if you ever have doubts or are unsure just book a hostel!
Don’t make strict plans or create expectations that will only disappoint when something unexpected happens (and when you’re traveling abroad, something unexpected will surely happen). Embrace your spontaneous side and be open minded. Remember: when traveling solo in Peru or anywhere in the world, you have the freedom to make the most of it.
If you are traveling solo and looking for adventure, it’s worth doing some research to check up on the physical stamina required for a hike, rafting trip or whatever else you may be interested in. Take care of your health and have travel insurance. (If you have any specific medications, I suggest to take it with you, as I find the prices of the medical and hygiene products pretty high.) If you head out on an excursion on your own, be sure to have the number of your host or the local police station on hand.
There’s no better way to discover hidden gems in a new city than by strolling the streets alongside locals. If you need to go longer distances or save time, hop on the local bus (or combi, in the case of traveling solo in Peru). Before embarking, ask other passengers or people in line how much they pay for the ride so you don’t get the special tourist rate (overcharged).
Traveling solo in Peru, a biodiverse country, means you can experience all four seasons in the matter of a few weeks. I packed my backpack (38 L), a day backpack, three different kinds of long pants, a pullover, rain jacket, hat and gloves, a few light t-shirts and an outfit for “going out.” When traveling alone in Peru (or anywhere), most of the time you’ll be a sporty chic, believe me. It’s the most comfortable and the material is light and dries quickly. Choose colors that blend together so you can mix and match. Sneakers and flip-flops are absolutely enough, unless you are going to do proper hikes in the mountains. Even then, you can often look into renting equipment.
All photos courtesy of author