The Backpacker's semi-serious guide to flying solo
Travelling on your own can be challenging. Photo: Getty Images
Everyone's flown solo at some stage. Some people love it, wouldn't travel any other way. After all, there's no freedom like striding out there into the world by yourself, with only your wits to guide you.
I've done many overseas trips alone, and it has its advantages. But it's not always easy, and after reading Dom Knight's excellent guide to living alone a few weeks ago, I thought it might be handy to pass on the favour to the solo travellers out there.
So here you go loners: your guide to getting around the world on your own.
Drastically lower your standards. The trouble with some travellers is that they're too damn picky when it comes to companions. As a solo artist, you have to forget all that, and take any company you can get. That might include hooking up with the German guy who plays the ukulele, or the girl from Newcastle who "just wants some normal food", but beggars can't be choosers, can they?
Hit the couch. Staying at a hostel can help you meet fellow loners, but if you really want to be forced into having company, Couch Surfing is your thing. Try avoiding human contact when you're living with a complete stranger in their studio apartment. And you're not only making friends with your host, but with your host's friends. It's like borrowing an entire social circle for a few days.
Adopt an ice-breaking affectation. You mightn't be the most interesting person alive, so what you need is some sort of whacky affectation that will get the conversation flowing. You might go for something clichéd, like sticking national flags on your backpack to indicate where you've been. "Hey, you've been to Liberia? Me too!" Or you could step it up a notch, and start wearing a cravat. Or make a habit of playing your guitar at 3am in the dorm room. Either way, you're meeting people.
Learn to dread two words: "Single supplement."
Go places you don't really want to go. Every week or so, make sure you visit a restaurant you really don't like the look of, or drag yourself around some shops you have no interest in, or force yourself to go to another temple that you really don't want to see. Before long, you'll remember what it's like to travel with someone else.
Develop a drinking habit. There are precious few places better to meet like-minded individuals than at the pub. Everyone's so jovial and open. And by jovial and open, I mean drunk and silly. Still, the pub really is the perfect place for a solo traveller to display their fancy foreign accent. This, of course, will probably result in a chronic liver issue and the loss of all your money, but look at all those new friends, eh?
Remember to shower. Travelling all on your lonesome, it might be tempting to get a little lax in the personal hygiene department. After all, who's going to know, right? Trust me: everyone's going to know.
Adopt a new persona. Maybe several. It gets boring being you, right? So why put up with your dated old "real" self when there's no one around to confirm its veracity? Start making stuff up! Today you might be a flying instructor from Vilnius. Tomorrow you're an oil baron from New Zealand. The next day you're a dolphin trainer from Guadalajara. The (fake) world is your oyster.
Become exceptionally good at Solitaire. This is a given. You will inevitably become freakishly good at all games designed for one person. Just don't go boasting about this when you meet new people.
Embrace eating out alone. First time you turn up at a restaurant by yourself it can be a little intimidating, like everyone's staring at the weirdo eating by himself. After a while, however, you realise the lack of stilted conversations and awkward pauses and requests to just have "a few" of your chips is a blessing. My advice: take a book or an iPad to while away those lonely waits for food to arrive.
Learn to time your toilet breaks. As a solo traveller you need to time your bathroom stops with military precision. Train stations, bus stations and even airports are not your friend. Have you ever tried locking yourself in a cubicle with a backpack and a daypack? It's a disaster. And there's no one around to mind them outside. These things have to be considered.
Become a "yes man". OK, this is the most serious of the lot. If you're going to have success as a solo traveller, you have to start saying "yes". Yes to experiences you're unsure are wise. Yes to people you're unsure you want to hang out with. Yes to cheap accommodation you're unsure will be clean. Solo travellers have to hang themselves out there every now and again. Good luck.
What's your advice for solo travellers?
Follow Ben Groundwater on Twitter @bengroundwater