If you haven’t been living under a rock and have paid even the slightest bit of attention to my blog you will have realised that I am in fact a girl, who is backpacking, on her own. When I told people about this trip, I got a huuuuge range of reactions which while mostly positive, went all the way from ‘You go girl!’ to ‘Have you completely lost your mind?’ I’m of the opinion that I am of mostly sound mind and a solo trip to Central America is not the craziest thing in the world, especially in the 21st century where we have Wi-fi, mobile phones and Instagram. Travelling on your own is a little bit more challenging than travelling with a friend I’ll admit, but it does force you to put yourself out there in a way that nothing else can. I’ve come up with a few pointers for anyone thinking of doing something similar, or maybe you’ve booked it and are having a huge last minute wobble (like I nearly did).
1. Talk to people
Yes, I know this sounds glaringly obvious. But you can’t just sit there and expect people to approach you, and then suddenly you’re all relaxing in hammocks on a beach around a bonfire with a couple of beers. You have to put in the legwork to make that happen. Other people can be shy too, and sometimes you have to put in that bit of effort to start a conversation. Even if that means just asking someone in a something you already know the answer to- ‘Hey do you know where the kitchen is?’ People will generally be open to you starting a conversation with them from there. I have huge faith in the kindness of strangers and am continuously surprised by people’s generosity. While I was doing yoga in Montreal Airport, a French boy approached me with a Tim Horton’s hot chocolate and a brand new Ralph Lauren pillow. We chatted for an hour before he caught his flight, and the pillow saved me from having a totally numb arse on my flight the next morning.
2. Yes, that means everyone
Literally anyone you can think of. The hostel receptionists. That guy in the park playing a guitar. The girl next to you in the launderette. You’re on holiday, what could go wrong? Any one of these people could be your next best friend, and the only way to find out is to talk to them.
3. Say yes to everything
My number 1 rule when travelling is- any social invitation I get, I accept. Even if I’m shattered. Even if I have a headache. Even if I have a cumulative hangover from the last 3 nights of drinking. Yes, this does mean that I drink probably more than I should. The easiest and most common ice breaker is being invited for a beer later (this usually fixes the headache). But, just one ‘yes’ can lead to a whole world of friends you’d never have met and local events you’d never have heard about otherwise. Before you can have a second thought, just go and worry about the details later. These things will all work out. And it’s not like you can’t have a lie in the next day!
4. Be sensible and trust your gut
That being said- I am also a huge believer in trusting your instincts, and while I risk sounding like my mum here, your intuition is nearly always right. If something feels off, if someone just gives you the creeps for no apparent reason- find an excuse to leave. If people ask where you’re staying, always tell them you’re staying with friends. In Spanish speaking countries, the phrase ‘Tengo uno novio’ (I have a boyfriend) may come in handy- if that doesn’t work then ‘Estoy embarazada’ (I’m pregnant) definitely will. The tried and tested fake phone call may not be super believable these days, but it works to get you away from weirdos.
5. Sit on the beach at sunset
Finally- at least in Costa Rica, each sunset is a daily event which has all the locals congregating on the beach with a beer or an ice cold coconut to watch it. Seriously, it’s busier for that hour than it is at midday when the sun is scorching the sand. If you’re struggling to meet people, head down and watch. You don’t have to do anything, just sit. I promise- you will leave with new friends.