1. Always have a phone with a local SIM card for making emergency calls and using the internet, and remember to keep it topped up. This has saved my bacon on many an occasion.
2. Take screenshots of map locations and hotel reservations in case the Internet won’t load or you can’t access email confirmations on your phone.
3. Always have the address of your destination in the native language so that you can show taxi drivers etc. Google usually shows both English and the native language.
4. Always keep a photocopy of your passport and visa in a separate place to the original, and a few spare passport photos. Also a great idea to keep photos of your important documents online in Dropbox in case your whole bag goes missing.
5. Read traveller forums. They really do contain useful on-the-ground information, but don’t forget to check the dates of postings. And don’t get freaked out by alarmist warnings. Forums contain a lot of posts by fearful or overly cautious people. Keep a level head.
6. Trust your intuition / gut instincts. They are there for a very good reason. Sometimes people will try to persuade you out of them. Don’t be afraid to come across as ‘difficult’ because your instincts are flagging something up. Recently, a man I met tried to persuade me to walk across a rocky beach outcrop in the dark, in order to reach a bar on the other side. I was firm and said there was absolutely no way I would risk twisting an ankle on wet, dark rocks, just to have a beer at the other end. The man was absolutely incredulous that I wouldn’t go with him, even trying to shame me for being unadventurous. I could not care less. My own self-care is a priority. Never feel guilty about saying ‘No’ to anything.
7. Always have a good torch, and a whistle. Don’t rely on the torch app on your phone in case you lose battery life.
8. And speaking of battery, always have a charger cell with you for emergency electricity-free charging.
9. Smiling goes a long way in being treated fairly. Especially (but not always) when booking bus, train or boat tickets.
10. When exiting a bus, train or boat, I always put my headphones in my ears and keep walking straight past the aggressive touts that are waiting. You never get the best price from them. Find the nearest tour shops, or preferably the TAT government approved tour desk, there are usually several close by. Ask in each what the travel and price options are.
I was offered a minibus ticket on the ferry from Ko Jum to Krabi for 400 baht, but only had to pay 300 in the tour office. More importantly, asking around saved me 90 minutes of waiting time for the minibus.
11. And on the subject of the cheapest travel options, as a backpacker in my twenties I always took the cheapest option, taking public buses and trains to save funds. I didn’t really have much choice. Now in my 40’s, I weigh up the benefits of cost over hassle/stress. I’d rather pay a bit more for a minibus that collects me where I am and takes me straight to the centre of my destination, than mess about with my backpack in the heat, looking for a songtaew to drive me to the public bus station, just to save 100 baht. Sure, you may not get the authentic experience of travelling with locals, but having spent several years travelling this way, I don’t feel the need to keep doing it.
12. Take a photo of the license plate of any taxi you ride in alone.
13. When in transit from one long distance location to another, and particularly if the journey includes several boat/bus/train connections, I usually book myself a cheap guesthouse in the city centre or close to the point of departure. Rather than pile stress on myself to ensure I catch all the connections in time for the final leg of the journey, I book myself a cheap room near the departure point so that I can relax. Some rooms on bookings.com have a free cancellation policy so you can always cancel if you make all your connections. However, if there are any unforeseeable delays, you know you have a bed for the night.
Plus you can make the best of the overnight stop to pick up any essentials that will cost twice as much on the island. Although the overnight ferry is a well used travel option, from a safety perspective as a lone woman, I prefer to always travel in the daytime when there is no risk of having my bag stolen or wandering hands on my body because I’ve fallen asleep. Both things have happened more than once on my travels, so I prefer to exercise more extreme caution these days.
14. Always give someone at home your itinerary. Better safe than sorry.
15. NEVER travel without travel insurance. Trust me on this one. Baggage and valuable cover is almost never worth having because the insurance companies do their best to get out of paying with endless small print clauses, but medical insurance is absolutely, always worth having.
To summarise, keep your wits about you, be mindful about how much alcohol you drink, particularly around strangers, and trust your gut. But most of all, ENJOY! Traveling alone is a deeply enriching experience that builds great resilience and independence. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and trust that the vast majority of people are good. (Because they really are).