It’s almost midnight. The temperature outside has dropped to minus 5. And here I am, nestled beneath the towering snowy mountains of the French Alps in the comfort of my camper van. I bought my van four years ago and I’ve been travelling in it around Europe ever since. A couple of years back I spent more time in the van than I did at home! This year it’s been very much the opposite, so the opportunity to escape for a post Christmas winter break is very much welcome.
My sister and I were brought up travelling. My parents used to take us on long camping trips through Europe. We’d drive to Austria, Portugal, even Czechoslovakia. I always quite fancied Disney, my best friend at school went and got to meet Mickey … but nope, my mum insisted we pack the landrover and drive hundreds of miles to camp beside a lake in the middle of nowhere! Of course I’m grateful for those adventures now, they taught me more history and geography than I ever learned in the classroom, and more importantly gave me a sense of fearless adventure.
I love sharing my road trips on Instagram and inspiring more people to adventure. One of the questions I get asked most often is ‘do you really go alone?’. Yes, I really go alone! Solo adventures don’t scare me. Convention scares me. Illness, death, the inability to see more of the world .. that scares me.
What is it you’re afraid of when it comes to solo travel? Is it spending time by yourself? Is it worries over what could go wrong? Is it the fear of not having someone by your side to sort things out if they’re not going quite to plan? Okay, I’m going to be straight with you, I can’t tell you everything is guaranteed to run smoothly when you’re adventuring alone, but I can reassure you that all those worse case scenarios you’re dreaming up are very unlikely to occur.
In essence I guess it’s the unfamiliar we’re scared of. In our minds, something bad is less likely to happen in the safety of our own home, in the town or city we know well, surrounded by familiar faces. It’s irrational of course, because I could list a hundred bad things that might happen in your house. Nevertheless it’s a difficult fear to shake and until you’ve experienced the magic of solo adventuring those doubts will always creep in.
There are lots of little things I put in place to look after my safety and mental health when I’m travelling, here are my top five tips for travelling solo;
- Always let someone know where you are - first and most importantly, make sure a close friend or family member knows your plans. If you feel comfortable sharing your location with someone, apps such as ‘Find my Friends’ can be really useful. Simply sign up and share your live location with the other person. If having your mum monitor you 24/7 feels a bit much (note: she will literally be able to pinpoint the bar you’re in!!) temporary sharing via WhatsApp is a good compromise. If I’m driving a long way I’ll often ping my dad my location on an 8 hour share. He can then make sure I reach my destination safely. If you want to go a little more off grid, tell somebody your plans before you disappear. And let them know when they should expect to hear from you again.
- Back up power - hands down one of the best gadgets I’ve invested in this year! The Anker - unfortunate brandname - powerbank is a smallish, slim device that you charge up using a USB cable. Once charged it can then be used as an external power supply. It super charges my iPhone fully in just a couple of hours, it’s great for recharging my GoPro whilst I’m out on the snowy slopes, it can power iPads, bluetooth speakers, basically anything that requires USB charging. You can find differing power options on Amazon. Basically the smaller the unit, the less power it’s going to hold. Here is the one I’ve got. I love this because charging it just once is going to give you three or four charges of other gadgets. It’s a brilliant back up.
- Get out of your mind - There’s something incredibly brave and powerful in spending time alone. In todays connected society, it’s definitely something many of us struggle with. We’re never usually more than a text or a call away from our network of friends. The more time I’ve spent exploring alone, the more I enjoy it. That’s not to say I don’t love to share adventures, of course it’s wonderful to be in the moment with somebody else, but if I constantly waited for somebody to come along who wants to see all the same things and travel to the same places I want to experience, I’d be waiting forever! If you’re worried about feeling lonely whilst travelling solo, it can be a good idea to preempt that. If you’re not confident enough to strike up a conversation with strangers, booking onto an organised retreat or workshop can help break up any travel loneliness you might be feeling. I love podcasts too. They’re such a different experience compared with listening to music. Podcasts can transport you anywhere and transfix you for a while. I love any and all subjects. From space and the universe to true crime, comedy and everything in between! Don’t forget your headphones or bluetooth speaker and if you’re going to be off grid for a while, download the podcasts you want before your stuck wifi-less.
- Be alarmed - I get asked often if I drive my camper van abroad alone. Yep. In fact more often than not I’m travelling solo. The most common follow up question is ‘do you not feel scared at night?’. Actually the van feels super safe at night. I used to wild camp a lot in my tent and always felt a bit vulnerable with just a thin layer of canvas separating me from the outside world. But in my van I have a thick layer of metal! Plus the opportunity to drive away if I’m feeling really intimidated. I also have a great alarm system that sets the outside of the van, but disables the interior sensors. It means the alarm will sound really loudly if anybody messes with the windows or doors, but I can get up to go to the loo in the night without waking the entire neighbourhood! The alarm also has a panic button which I can manually trigger if I feel unsafe. The theory being, the incredibly loud siren would draw attention and scare away any would-be attacker. Thankfully I’ve never had to test that out! Carrying a personal alarm can help you feel safe if you’re in an unfamiliar town or city.
- Do what you want - solo adventures are a fantastic opportunity to do everything you want to do! How many times have you been on a family holiday and gone along with plans because it’s what everybody else fancied doing? How often have you eaten at a restaurant because it’s your partners favourite food - not yours. The great thing about solo travel is .. there does not have to be a compromise! This is your opportunity to see what you want, go where you want, do what you want - and if you don’t like it, guess what? You get to change your mind! Just because you’re alone, do not let that stop you from eating in a restaurant you like the look of, hiking a mountain you’ve dreamt of climbing, sitting in a hot thermal spa beneath the stars, or experiencing anything else your mind might conjure up! This is your opportunity to have the adventure of your dreams. Make it a good one.