“And you go… alone?”
You have no idea how many time I have been asked this question. So often, that at some point I made up the answer everyone wanted to hear. “Yes, but I am joining friends over there.” What they didn’t know is that my friends were people I didn’t know yet. I’m not a very good liar and I am tired of telling this story just to make people feel comfortable. Now I published this blog post I can finally admit that yes, I’m going on my own… “If you want to know why, I wrote an entire blog post about it!”
Scuba diving holidays are not just what they used to be: all-inclusive resorts and liveaboard cruises booked through tour operators at a very expensive price. Single travellers are a new trend in the travel industry. With simple research online it is easy to find scuba diving holidays packages for singles. But sole travelling doesn’t necessary mean “not in a couple”. It seems about 20% of solo travellers are married or in a relationship. Now solo travelling is more and more a way to make a break and find yourself again. In my case, I found no need for a guided tour. Through my backpacking trips, I learnt how easy it could be to organise everything by myself and how much fun it could be to meet other scuba travellers or local scuba divers. So I’ll tell you why, in 5 key points, my solo scuba diving adventures are easier than you think, and how each time they rewarded me in the end.
1 – Safety first: what if something happens to me?
It is a legitimate concern. Not fearing about my safety doesn’t mean I’m ignorant to the consequences of going alone. In addition, by being a woman, the entire world loves to remind me how afraid I should be every time I step out my door. I would like to make this post as non-gender specific as possible. Why? Statistics in newspapers always talk more about women and the dangers we face, nevertheless, it doesn’t mean because you are a man nothing can happen to you.
I’m an optimistic person but also a very realistic one. 7 years living in Paris, unfortunately, taught me to be cautious and aware of my surroundings. Not paranoid, but careful. I learnt in many places you need to rapidly learn the do’s and the dont’s. Here are 3 of my top tips to deal with care about personal welfare when travelling:
- Know your itinerary: Or at least pretend you know where you are. Learning and memorizing maps has always been a game for me. It is actually a useful skill. The more confused you look, the higher a chance you will be chosen as a target. Don’t unfold this huge map or open this thick guidebook in the middle of the street; it’s better to find a quiet corner or to stop for a coffee to check or ask for directions. Even if I don’t know where I am, I have become quite good at looking confident. Everywhere I go people ask me for directions as if I’m local!
- Have a budget for your safety: This tip mostly applies for taxi fares. You love getting lost in a city, but sometimes you end in a bad neighbourhood? You’re arriving late at night in an airport in a place you don’t know at all? Don’t take a chance, always have a bit of money to pay for a taxi to drive you safely to your destination. Travelling independently on a budget doesn’t mean you should not include choices that make you feel safer. Talk to locals or do your research but try to have a taxi number to call.
- The fake wallet trick: This is such a simple one but so efficient. First of all, bear in mind that if you are attacked with the intention of robbing you, do not resist, and give the attacker what he wants. In the stress of the attack do you think he will clearly see the difference between your real wallet and your fake wallet where you smartly put old student IDs, shop loyalty cards you don’t care about and at least 20€/15£ in cash. It will look like your real one and the attacker will be satisfied with getting the cash.
Unfortunately, anything bad can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, even at your door steps. Are we all staying home for that reason? Hopefully not! So it’s better to take a chance and see the World, isn’t it?
2 – About loneliness & boredom: what if I don’t have a dive buddy?
This is a fact: I’ve never been as surrounded by people or making new friends than when I’ve hit the road alone. It feels like being alone makes you more open and available to socialise. I am a long time user of Couchsurfing. So opportunities to join gatherings for the discovery of a museum or for a drink are abundant. Cool activities involve unique and local experiences such as going to the food market or having tea with my hosts, their friends and family.
Scuba diving added an extra dimension to my solo trips. The time is over where it was impossible for a single scuba diver to travel and dive on their own. You don’t have a buddy? No need to look for solo diving certification: They are plenty of really cool scuba diving centres all around the world where you can find cool diving buddies travelling on their own as well. And if not, the divemasters are always happy to have me as a buddy. The passion for scuba diving usually creates a strong link between people so it is so easy to speak to anyone. A piece of equipment you’ve never seen before? What a perfect way of starting the conversation! Smile and be helpful, and it won’t be long before you start to make new friends. Finally, it is also an opportunity to meet local scuba divers and to learn from their best tips and secrets.
3 – About my budget: What if I have to pay a supplement for single travellers?
Supplement what? Sorry, I don’t know that thing! It is hard to believe you still find these on some travel agent websites today. By always waiting for someone else to join, you will either put off your adventure or even worse, travel through the most expensive period. If you can, arrange to visit a place off-season, as it is the best way to enjoy it with fewer people for less.
I first visited Bali in January. It is supposed to be the worst monsoon period. In reality, it was predominantly raining at night and maybe for an hour during the day! It was still warm and I could enjoy famous dive spots like the USS Liberty wreck in Tulamben almost alone. I could also enjoy a luxurious bungalow, bigger than my flat for 10$ a night. Many times I had the opportunity to share rides with other travellers and by staying with locals I rarely got ripped off. My main tip is: book your flight off-season and organise your accommodation by yourself once you’re there. There are a lot of possibilities to get much cheaper fares and extra discounts. In Indonesia, I made simple calculations that I stayed there for a month, while travelling around with my rental jeep, scuba diving when I wanted to, for the cost of my rent and food in Paris! It was the same cost than a 10-day liveaboard or dive safari booked online.
4 – About learnings…
By getting time with myself I had time to think about my life and what should be my next steps. By meeting different people and going out of my comfort zone, I learnt so much about different lifestyles, cultures and languages. In a month in Mexico I went from basic conversational Spanish to being almost bilingual. Total immersion puts you in survival mode. If you need to communicate with people around you, you learn faster. Most of what I know about history and culture of the countries I visited, the food I learnt to prepare and the languages I learnt to master derive from all my solo trips. Travelling is the school of life and I got so much more from it than in my 6 years of university.
5 – About freedom…
Freedom is a romantic concept. Yet to truly experience it, it comes with responsibilities. Hopefully, these responsibilities are absolutely empowering. Every day you need to decide for yourself what you will do and how to do it. Getting through little challenges like finding an address in a city you don’t know at all, or overcoming language barriers ordering your lunch are little wins, which repeated on a daily basis are life-changing. The freedom you enjoy during these moments actually builds your strength and confidence for anything else in your life.
From my first solo trip in Thailand which led me to pass my open water and my advanced open water scuba diving levels, it changed my way of handling things forever: Once you know you are able to do it, nothing is impossible to you anymore.
So now the biggest question is: where do you want to go?
Please leave comments, I would love to read stories of your first solo trip or what is still holding you back from trying!