“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 by saying I was 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. So I published this article on my diving blog to encourage you and finally admit that 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 only what they used to be: all-inclusive resorts or expensive liveaboard cruises. Single travellers are a new trend in the travel industry. With simple research online it is easy to find scuba diving holiday packages for singles. But solo travelling doesn’t necessarily mean single. It seems about 20% of solo travellers are married or in a relationship. Now solo travelling is more and more a way to take a break. There is no need for a guided tour to try it, it’s quite the opposite.
Through each of my trips, I have learnt, step by step, how easy it could be to organise everything by myself thanks to the Internet and how much fun it was to make new friends on the road. So let me tell you you why my solo scuba diving adventures are easier than you think and how they rewarded me in the end.
Solo travel & safety: what if something happens to me?
It is a legitimate concern. Not fearing for my safety doesn’t mean I’m ignorant of 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. Every new minor news item in the press being considered as general statistics. But when you learn that a UN report reveals that the most dangerous place for a woman is her home, it put things into perspective.
I’m an optimistic person but also a very realistic one. 10 years living in Paris have unfortunately taught me to be cautious and aware of my surroundings. I’m not paranoid, but I learnt you need to rapidly learn the dos and the don’ts when arriving in a new place. Here are my top tips to deal with personal welfare when travelling:
- Know your itinerary: Or at least pretend you know where you are. Memorising 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.
- Have a budget for your safety: This tip mostly applies for taxi fares. For example, I love strolling around and getting lost in a new city, but sometimes I can end in a bad neighbourhood doing so. Arriving late at night in an airport or a station in a place I explore for the first time. Don’t take a chance, always have a bit of money to pay for a taxi to drive you safely to your accommodation. Travelling independently, even on a budget, doesn’t mean you should not include choices that make you feel safer. Be careful, calling a taxi in the streets especially at nights in some countries is not a good idea. Do your research and speak with people managing the place where you stay for advice.
- The fake wallet: This is such a simple and efficient trick. 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, shopping loyalty cards you don’t care about and about £15 / 2 0€ in local currency? It will look like your real one and the attacker will be satisfied with getting cash. I’m only applying this trick in countries with a high risk.
- Speaking a few words of a language spoken in the country: I think that being able to speak Spanish in Honduras, a country that doesn’t really have a good reputation, helped me in one or two situations that could have gone wrong (my strolls in La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula have pushed the limits of my confidence as a seasoned solo traveller). Spanish and French provide access to a large number of countries in which one can easily communicate. But think that learning a few Indonesian or Japanese words on the plane can pass the time. Aim in priority for what I call the language survival kit: Hello, Excuse me, Please, Thank you, How many, count 1 to 10, Goodbye, Help me.
Unfortunately, anything bad can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, even at your doorsteps. Are we all staying home for that reason? So it’s better to take a chance and see the World, isn’t it?
Even if the information is often exaggerated, please have a look at the website from the Foreign Affairs Ministry of your country before going. For the UK, it’s Foreign Travel Advice, for the US Travel.state.gov, for Canada Travel.gc.ca, and for Australia Smarttraveller.gov.au.
Solo travel & loneliness: 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 started to travel alone. It feels like being alone makes you more open and available to socialise. I used for a long time Couchsurfing and not only to get a free couch to crash. Opportunities to join gatherings for the discovery of a museum or for a drink are abundant on this website. My hosts often invited me to go to the food market or having tea with their friends and family.
Scuba diving added a new dimension to my solo trips. If you think it is impossible for a single scuba diver to travel on their own you are going to be surprised. No dive buddy? No need to pass the solo diving certification. They are plenty of scuba diving centres all over 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. Our common passion for scuba diving usually creates a strong link between people from the diving community. A piece of equipment you have never seen before? Asking other divers if this is their first time at this spot? Need help to zip your wetsuit? 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. The last piece of advice, try to meet-up with local scuba divers and to learn from their best tips and secrets.
You can also find a dive buddy before departure or during your trip thanks to online scuba diver groups. Join us on the “Scuba diving & Adventure” Facebook group!
Solo travel & budget: What if I have to pay a supplement?
Supplement what? Sorry, I don’t know that thing! It is hard to believe you still find these on some travel agency websites today.
By always waiting for a friend to join you, you will either put off your adventure, travel through the most expensive period or even worse, never go. By organising your trip by yourself online and/or step by step once you reach the location while aiming for low-season, you can make significant savings.
On my first trip to Bali, I visited the island in January when the monsoon is supposed to be the worse. While it was raining most of the night, it was maybe raining only for an hour during the day! So It was a low touristic season, weather was warm and I could enjoy amazing dive sites such as the wreck of the Liberty in Tulamben only with my Divemaster. On the beach of Amed, I could negotiate a luxury bungalow, bigger than my apartment in Paris for 120 000 Rp (about £7 / 8 €) per night. I did a simple calculation. During this first trip to Indonesia with my rental jeep, diving as much as I wanted, alternately staying in guesthouses and Couchsurfing, the total budget included flights for one month was less than a 10-day organised diving safari.
In Argentina, which is an expensive country contrary to general belief, especially Patagonia, I managed to couch surf for a whole month, so my expenses for accommodation was null which made up for the high cost of the bus tickets and the dives. As a bonus, I made lots of friends and I improved my Spanish while learning to handle the Argentinean accent.
In Japan, a country deemed expensive, thanks to the boutique hostels and the 4 months spent in a share house in Tokyo during my Japanese classes, my average budget was £25 / 30 € per night. While travelling for an extended period (I spent 7 months in Japan), I also realized that I became an even more minimalist traveller than I was before. I took the time to cook (I love Japanese cuisine), I went for long walks or bike rides rather than paid activities all the time. My expenses inevitably went down without even making special efforts. In the end, I lived in Japan for less than in Paris.
Then there are countries where it immediately becomes complicated budget wise. Especially when you need to rent a car to travel around and that the cost per day is prohibitive. This has been the case especially for me in Iceland and Vanuatu. In these cases, I manage to find carpoolers. In Iceland, I was joined by two travellers met on Couchsurfing, and in Vanuatu, my Japanese dive buddy met at the dive centre wanted to make the same tour than me, problem fixed!
About the learnings you make on the road…
Most of what I know about history and geography, recipes I’ve learned to cook and languages I’ve learned to master come from my solo travels. When we are two or more, we tend to stay in our own cultural bubble.
In one month in Mexico, my Spanish went from basic conversation to almost bilingual. I had to start again this process when I arrived in Argentina because of the accent, but once more in a month, my Spanish was operational again. For Japanese, the challenge took a new dimension. But I was so happy after 4 months of studying in a language school in Tokyo to be able to travel the country and have a simple conversation with my neighbours at the izakayas (Japanese pubs) and thus better understand the culture of the country which appearances are often misleading. When alone abroad, total immersion puts you in survival mode. The need to communicate being strong, learning works a lot faster.
Beyond these cultural learnings, solo travel is often an inner journey. By taking time with yourself, you can reflect on what is important and what direction to take in the future. Coming out of your comfort zone without the permanent judgment of those around you, you discover yourself much on and on on the personal development aspect, but to put it into simple words, solo travelling is the school of life and I got a 1000 times more out from it than 6 years of university.
Solo slow travel is gradually becoming the only way for me to consider travels. To go further, I recommend my blog posts on the first weeks of my sabbatical in Japan and my 3-month experience in New Caledonia.
Freedom & responsibilities
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 to order your lunch are little wins, which repeated on a daily basis are life-changing. The freedom you enjoy during these moments actually builds up your strength and confidence for anything else in your life.
My first solo backpacking trip to Thailand, 10 years ago, which led me to pass my first scuba diving level, changed my way of handling things in my life forever. Once you know you are able to do it, nothing is impossible to you anymore.
If you want to get inspiration from other seasoned solo travellers, I recommend the following travel blogs:
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