What Instagram doesn’t show you about travelling solo

Hey gang,

What’s happening? I hope you’ve all been trying to spend time during lockdown in the most positive way possible.

Lockdown for me has given me time to reminisce about the places I’ve travelled to and the experiences I’ve had. A lot of travel businesses, airlines, hotels and hostels are slowly thinking of opening – subject to regulations of course – and are encouraging the public to start making a new bucket list for when we can travel again. It’s what I intend on doing when things for me settle down a bit. I’m going to be hanging up my backpack for a short while (Australia aren’t looking at opening their borders until 2021!) and focus on improving how I’ve been feeling. This has taken time to realise, with or without Corona around, but I think being away and alone for so long has finally knocked down the boundaries I’ve built, therefore allowing me internal space to let someone professional in and talk to them properly.

Whilst I’ve been mindlessly scrolling in those bored moments, I’ve noticed as always, the steady stream of Instaperfect Travel photos constantly being uploaded by every travel blogger and writer I follow. I’ve realised that I haven’t actually ever seen one of them post the OTHER side of what can happen when you’re travelling alone – because at risk of bursting Instaperfect bubbles here – it’s not always plain sailing, and if it is then you are very lucky. I don’t mean to upset your feed with photos of me in a random Malaysian hospital bed or with a bag of ice stuffed down my pants but that is EXACTLY what I’m going to do. The truth is, despite the majority of my travels being pretty smooth and easy, there are many occasions it’s been NOT so. I’ve been alone, or with people I’ve only just met, having to deal with these situations by myself. No mum to give me a hug, no best friend to call because the time difference has sucked or I just haven’t had data. So what do you do when you’re travelling by yourself and you’re faced with a bad, unexpected situation? Carry on reading and find out!

  1. What do you do when you’re admitted to hospital abroad?

Of all the things that you could do without when travelling solo, collapsing at a hostel reception desk in a hostel in your pyjamas is one of them. I’d just arrived in Penang, Malaysia, feeling pretty sweaty but had assumed it was a mix of hot weather and also panic having been upgraded (or downgraded) to emergency seat duty on Malaysia Airlines. Malaysia Airlines and I do not get on, and I had avoided flying with them, mostly because despite the fact it’s probably fine, I would just – as I always do – assume the worst and believe we were going to crash. Obviously, Penang’s airport had to be situated right by the ocean and I was convinced we were landing in the sea when we touched down safely on tarmac. Anyway, I’d arrived at my hostel feeling like I had a temperature but assumed it was one of the above and took some paracetamol before going to bed, now shivering like a leaf. I woke up three hours later, in a cold sweat, teeth chattering yet feeling boiling hot. Messaging a friend, he told me to consider going to hospital as I was starting to panic, feeling dizzy. As I walked to reception, I started to get hotter and hotter and began crying lying on the floor, feeling so hot I could barely speak. Eventually, the receptionist found a nearby private hospital and a taxi was called as I started to drift off. Bless him, the driver shoved me into a wheelchair as I was now unable to walk and tried his best to calm me down. He had no qualms reminding me it could be Dengue Fever, and it was frustrating that the hospital team refused to send everything to my insurance company, instead letting me slump in a wheelchair queuing to pay thousands of pounds on a credit card. An hour went by perhaps (or two) before I was eventually seen to they told me I had a temperature of over 40 degrees. I eventually passed out on a hospital bed whilst they hooked me up to an IV and carried out X Rays.

They said I needed to stay in hospital for further tests, and mentioned the possibility of many things. One particular doctor visited me a lot to tell me that he was certain I had Multiple Sclerosis because he didn’t think my reflexes were fast enough and then referred me to a NEUROLOGIST. Let us bear in mind I am still totally alone, now being told the possibility of having serious neurological conditions. I was passed around to a Urologist, a Gynaecologist.. every part of me was examined until they realised it turned out to be a severe case of acute tonsillitis – ridiculous seeing as my tonsils didn’t even hurt.

I was lucky that two people I’d met in India previously were staying in the same city and came to visit me, because I was really scared. The receptionist who had called the taxi for me in the first place had taken the photo of me asleep when I’d first got admitted. It was her first day working at the hospital and she wanted to show me she’d tried to visit but I’d been too out of it to realise.

TIPS TO REMEMBER:

DO ensure, if you ever find yourself in this situation, to take with you your passport, a print out of your insurance policy number and their emergency number. Most places tend to deal with your insurance company directly but there are instances like the above where they don’t and demand you pay. Remember to take your credit cards and any money you have.

DO find a PRIVATE hospital – either one the insurance company recommends or google one quickly. Do not go to a public hospital. Send your insurance company an email as soon as possible about your situation.

DON’T panic. Easier said than done when you’re in a foreign country being told your reflexes aren’t working – but breathe. Hospitals, doctors, the way they deal with things in general – are DIFFERENT in other countries.

DO keep ALL receipts of everything (medication, prescriptions, hospital stay receipts etc) and make sure you have all documents that they give you in either print or in an email to forward to your insurance company. Insurance companies require a doctor’s letter/note in order to reinburse you. Double check your policy to see if there’s anything else you need – you do not want to be short of the thousands you might need to pay.

DO WhatsApp and phone your loved ones. It’s an obvious one but it makes you feel a lot better.

2. What do you do to prevent your items getting stolen?

Due to my insane anxiety, I’m on high alert most of the time with strangers. When I’m out, on public transport, meeting people .. most of the time I’m wary. I’ve been pretty lucky over the years that I’ve been travelling in that I’ve not had too much stolen, and (unfortunately for others) I’ve learnt from their mistakes. It’s rubbish when you have ANYTHING stolen and it’s made much worse when the thief seems to be your fellow backpacker. This was photo was taken shortly before my Nike exercise clothes were nicked from my bed, where I’d placed them before nipping out for some food. I’m not materialistic, as long as I have my health, my passport and my phone for my photos of my Grandad then those are the most important things to me. Equally though, it annoyed me. Kudos to them for climbing up to my top bunk bed without getting noticed, but they were my only hiking clothes and I could have done without losing £50 to an opportunist tw*t. But still, I learnt from that mistake. When speaking to the hostel in the hope that maybe it was given in in the ten minutes I had left for – because let’s be real, Nike is NOT cheap – they didn’t have anything. This also happened when I left my funky travel adapter by my bed. Not really items you expect to go missing but hey ho, I guess someone in the world is definitely enjoying their extended battery charge working out in my exercise clothes. I’ve seen a lot of people who just put their phone on charge on their bed, because you just EXPECT your dorm mates – whoever they are – not to steal, but that’s not (unfortunately) always the case. For every great person you meet travelling, there’s someone who isn’t. Let’s remember, we do let our boundaries down when we’re travelling, we bond quickly with anyone we chat to within seconds, but we don’t actually KNOW these people we’ve befriended and if things go missing, you won’t get it back easily.

TIPS TO REMEMBER:

DO lock up items that are of ANY value to you, safe in a hostel locker with a padlock or on you hidden. I’ve also stored things in odd items in my locker too to fend off anyone who might just and get into it. Valuable items are the obvious from money, spare credit cards and your passport to jewellery, expensive makeup or clothes (if you want to be careful that is). I also keep a padlock on my backpack because I don’t trust that someone won’t go through my things when I’m not there. Sorry, but I am not paying another £50 for Nike. Look out for your own things, even if you’re the only one doing so.

whilst travelling on transport

DO keep your hand luggage/rucksack ALWAYS on your lap. Many travellers I’ve known have been victim to being robbed by small children being sent under seats to open bags and taking the contents. This is not to scare you, I never SAW any of this – but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

DON’T listen to anyone on the bus (other than perhaps the driver) tell you to put your hand luggage up above. It’s sometimes another scam to take your belongings when you turn your head.

DO keep an eye out of the window per stop. Your main backpack will be stored below the bus/coach, but I read that one time someone saw their stuff being accidentally claimed by someone else and had to run out. This never happened to me but the story stayed in my head. Therefore, with most stops I take a quick look out the window to make sure my backpack hasn’t been taken.

DO keep your money, phone and passport on you at all times, hidden and separate to your hand luggage. I also pack a spare, old iPhone where worst case scenario, I’ve got something to hand over that isn’t valuable to me. It’s worked for others too.

DO keep an eye on your bag at ALL times. Even when you’re watching it, watch it HARDER. When I’ve been at airports and had to sleep, I’ve used one backpack as a pillow and another as a cuddle buddy. I always make sure a strap of the bag is tied around my ankle or wrist so that if some opportunist wants to try and grab one, they’ll have to take me WITH IT.

There is of course the memorable story of crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador and befriending some people on the bus. After we arrived at one point, we had to find a taxi to get us over the border and decided to leave our belongings all together, watched by a group member whilst a few of us bought food and coffee. One girl however, chose to stash them in the taxi office – unmanned by anyone, with no padlocks on any of her backpacks. Had we had known she had done this, we would have convinced her otherwise, but it was only when she and I returned a mere three minutes later that she walked to the office, and realised in that short amount of time, someone had gone through her backpack (which opened at the top) and snatched her Kindle and designer sunglasses (in a sunglasses box with her credit cards!) So, things to learn from this are to have your valuables WITH you, and if not, right at the bottom where an opportunitist thief can’t simply nick it. Ensure you or a friend are standing right over them (preferably with a body part attached) and to SEPARATE credit cards from other valuable items, spread around your bag.

3. What must you remember before hiking outside?

You might know this, you might not – but you must ALWAYS wear suncream – even if there is no sun. If you are walking in high altitude, the sun is SO much stronger than you think and you can get severely burnt without realising. Upon hiking to Machu Picchu through clouds and rain, I didn’t even see a sun ray, and so didn’t even think about putting on sun cream. It was therefore slightly unexpected when I woke up on our surmounting day so incredibly sunburnt I was unable to open my eye. At first, I thought I had an eye infection, because my eye was so puffy. Then I started panicking that I’d been bitten by some some of Peruvian spider that had got into my tent in the field we were sleeping in. After putting on Aloe Vera it started to feel slightly better and I realised that I’d quite literally burnt my eyes off. As the days went past, the only way I could stop the skin around my eyes, nose and cheeks from peeling huge amounts off was to use burn cream which helped the swelling cease and made me look less like I’d had a severe allergy reaction to something.

Not sure what’s worse – the squint or the bandana which matched the sunburn so well

TIPS TO REMEMBER

DO take a small first aid kit when you’re hiking, especially camping – you don’t know when it will come in handy.

DO bring Aloe Vera (obviously) but ALSO burn cream (which was an absolute life saver) in your first aid kit. Rehydration salts will also be helpful to replenish lost minerals. Remember to take your first aid kit on your hike – which I nearly forgot to do.

DO remember sun cream, water and a hat to protect you from the hidden rays you can’t see.

4. What do you do when you have an allergic reaction?

If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll know I can’t eat gluten or dairy without being in excruciating pain, throwing up and sh*tting for days. Too much information? Sorry, but that’s going to get a whole lot worse in this paragraph. With that in mind, I’m aware that with a language barrier, things can get lost in translation. I know a girl who had a peanut allergy and therefore had “I will die if I eat peanuts” translated into every language on a sheet of paper for the country she was visiting. I’ve now learnt how genius this idea is, because whether or not you’ll die, it’s easier to get across the seriousness of the situation – still didn’t work in India though when I ate vegetables coated in a sauce with gluten and ended up collapsing and crying in a supermarket on the floor.

This story digresses slightly from the one I’m going to tell you. The fact is I KNOW I’m allergic to gluten and dairy, but I didn’t expect to be allergic to wax in a beautician. I visit beauticians in every country for a wax (Colombia, Peru, Cambodia, you name it, I’ve been there) and I’ve never had a problem. I’ve always enjoyed the different methods and found it funny when they’ve looked at me like I’m alien and confess they’ve never seen a British vag*na before. ANYWAY, there I am, in a smart looking beauty shop in Thailand getting a wax *ahem* and feeling great. Shortly after paying and walking to my hostel, where I’ve stayed for so long I’m considered a voluntary staff member, my v*gina starts BURNING THE HELL UP. I have no idea what’s happened, but it’s now getting so painful that I can barely walk. As I arrive, I am pretty sure my lower regions are now visibly on fire through my shorts and I limp to my room to find some cooling cream, past all the guests getting visibly drunker and trying to encourage me to go out with them. I reach my room and find an assortment of creams. I try Aloe Vera – and can confirm it makes it worse. Baby lotion – MAKES IT WORSE. I am now throwing water on myself because it’s like my v*gina has eaten a Prawn Bhuna curry and doesn’t have anything to cool it down with. I struggle downstairs and tell the receptionist to urgently get me a bag of ice, and once he gives it to me, I sit on the sofa, bag of ice down my shorts, FINALLY feeling better. It is now quite late and a group of girls planning on going out ask me if I want to join before noticing where my hand is at. Five girls and I start laughing over my awkward beautician encounter and one of them later becomes a great travel friend of mine (hey Ana!). So there I am, making friends with a bag of ice down my pants – how the very best friendships are made.

TIPS TO REMEMBER:

DO make sure people you’re with are aware of any allergies or intolerances you have. Carry whatever equipment you need with you – an Epipen/Inhaler etc. Peppermint pills work well for stomach problems.

DO have your allergy/intolerance printed in the language of the country you’re visiting.

DO your research on the beautician you’re going to – don’t just find a random one on the street. Let them know if you’ve got sensitive skin and don’t end up like I was, chilling with guests with a bag of ice down my pants (but if that DOES happen, at least you know ice works right? You’re welcome).

5. What do you do to keep safe at night, travelling solo?

Travelling by yourself can be scary, I’m not going to lie to you. There are some people who are not fazed by it and that’s really great, but for me, I always wanted to do it and felt like I’d conquered fears when I had done so. I felt like travelling by myself taught me to be more dependant on ME, I had to plan the steps from A – B – C safely and figure out when I felt it safe to trust people and when I felt it wasn’t okay.

A lot of my travel in South America was done on night buses to save myself money on a stay at a hostel. I enjoyed arriving in the morning, although sometimes, when it was very early and everything was deserted, I felt a bit nervous. Night buses are a popular way of travelling and I felt safe the majority of the time. Not EVERYTHING was pre planned because I started to enjoy having just the basics thought out, leaving the rest to chance and fate, but the little things I did in advance made things run a little smoother.

TIPS TO REMEMBER:

DO: Have maps.me downloaded or Google maps offline so even if you’re saving your battery on your phone, you can watch where you’re going and when.

DO: Think ahead. Find a local hotel/café that might be open when you arrive, to get your bearings. South America is the most wonderful country but I rarely ever had my phone out in public – the amount of times people got their phones nicked this way was ridiculous. It happens everywhere, at home, in Asia – it’s easy and you don’t want to be stranded. I was once dropped four hours earlier than I expected in some random, empty town at 6am. I was meant to be joining a tour at an agency at 9am but I hadn’t a clue where I even was, so under cover of my bag I quickly found a hotel and settled there to figure out my next steps.

DO: Look confident and like you know where you’re going, even if you have no idea.

Not like this

DO: Get talking to other travellers on the bus, going the same way as you. It’s better to team up and share taxis afterwards thus saving you money!

DO: Look at the country’s regulations for taxi services like Uber or Grab (in Asia). A lot of countries ban these and local taxi drivers will get angry if they see you take one. Therefore be discreet, and don’t be surprised if the Uber driver asks you to sit in the front.

DON’T: Get overwhelmed by the amount of taxis and Tuk Tuks waiting for you when your bus arrives. Know what you’re doing (whether you take their service or not) and be confident in your decision. Don’t be afraid to say no. If you are arriving at an airport, take your own bags because most people offering to carry them for you want a tip.

Lastly? Don’t be stupid. Trust your gut. Don’t take risks and learn from mine (and other’s mistakes). Expect the unexpected, and it usually always works out okay 🙂

Happy travelling!

4 Replies to “What Instagram doesn’t show you about travelling solo”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have seen a lot of articles and posts about travelling solo on IG and elsewhere, where people make it look absolutely perfect. The worrier in me always wondered what if you get sick, lost etc. Your tips and experiences are very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so happy to read this 🙂 I love travelling solo and it’s nice to see pretty photos but it’s not entirely realistic and social media rarely seems shows you the absolute truth. I prefer reading real things. I’m glad this post could help xxx

      Liked by 1 person

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