7 years ago, today, I went on my first solo trip.
Agreed, it was a partial one where I was solo in just two cities out of ten, but it was a HUGE step for me, nevertheless. One I will never forget, especially because of the lessons I learned. The biggest lesson was that when you are doing something for the first time, you need to give yourself space and allow yourself to make mistakes. You need to learn to forgive yourself, because how could you have known? This is what I’ve told myself over the past 7 years and though I know I probably will make more mistakes, I also know this: I won’t make those same mistakes again.
Oof, that was a tad bit heavy! But here’s the deal: in today’s blog post, I’m going to list out everything I did wrong on that trip. Trust me, experience talks. It shouts. It begs for mistakes not to be repeated. So here I am, making a list of mistakes to avoid on your first solo trip, and hoping that it will help you.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of what not to do on a solo trip. Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to make a full list of dos and don’ts. 🙂
Mistake #1 – Overstuffing Your Bags.
Do NOT and I mean absolutely DO NOT carry the full baggage limit.
Traveling to the United States of America meant that the airlines gave me 46 kgs of check-in luggage and 7 kgs of cabin baggage. And I used every single kilo of it. Looking back, I want to go back and put those two suitcases on my head and force myself to change that decision because holy mother of God, it was a pain in the backside, lugging those two monsters around! The worst part was that I ended up using only half the stuff I had packed and had to resort to such intense wrestling and gymnastics to accommodate the stuff I bought there.
So, what should you do to make your travel easier?
Simple: Make your baggage lighter!
Mix and match your clothes. Take only the things you know you will use. Or better, if you have a fixed itinerary of your trip, decide what you will wear on what day. That will help you filter out everything that you don’t need that you so enthusiastically dumped in your suitcase *to be sorted later*.
But we all know that as bookworms, choosing just a couple of books for the journey is going to be difficult. I have a solution for that, too! Carry your Kindle instead. Or read on your phone. Or try audiobooks. Ah, the possibilities!
Mistake #2 – Overstuffing Your Days.
Please, please, please for the love of God, do NOT do this! Especially if you do not know what your capacity is, then do not assume that you can do everything in the time you have. If you do know from experience that you prefer the hustle and bustle of running around tourist stops, then work it into your schedule. But if you don’t know this or if you know that your body needs rest, then keep your itinerary easy and flexible, and know that you can’t do everything in one go.
I’m one of the latter, even before I was diagnosed with arthritis.
Personally, I take time to take in everything around me, to savor my surroundings, to learn about them. I can’t, for the life of me, absorb things like a sponge, and running from pillar to post, from sunrise to sunset just to tick things off a to-do list isn’t my thing. But the excitement of going on a solo trip got to my head and I did the exact same thing that my body couldn’t handle. Of course, not everything went according to that overstuffed plan – a lot went off the rails, really. But I learned my lesson. And that was to listen to my body.
So, folks, moral of the story is: Don’t overstuff your day. Listen to your body when it says it needs rest!
Mistake #3 – Not Carrying a Jacket.
Oh good Lord, when I look back on how foolishly confident I was as I got on that plane without my jacket, I want to smack myself in the face.
My reasoning was: It’s summer in the USA and I won’t need one because it’s going to be HOT.
Well, my first stop was Chicago and it shut my mouth up in the first few hours of my being there. It lived up to its name of being Windy City and swished and swooshed around me, forcing me to make my first purchase at a Macy’s: a sweater. Which was nowhere near enough and I had to buy another fleece jacket in San Francisco, but the point was made. It sits firmly in my head now and irrespective of where I go and if I use it or not, I WILL carry that jacket with me, especially because I am someone who feels the cold way easier than anyone I know. That’s just the way I am, and the sheer arrogance to think that I could handle it makes me laugh now. 😛
Basically, what I’m saying is: Carry a jacket. It doesn’t matter if you feel the cold or not. Nature isn’t about to listen to our plans and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry to be getting in your way. I’m going back.” Nuh-uh. It will, instead, go about its business and it’s our own business whether we have protection against the chill it’s about to send our way. I learned the hard way that this is one of the biggest mistakes to avoid on your first solo trip. Or any solo trip for that matter.
Mistake #4 – Not Looking at Tours.
Me being the introvert that I am, walked around Miami and didn’t find the courage to go on a tour bus, even though it was the City Sightseeing Tours, I’d been on them before in San Francisco, and I’d enjoyed them. Of course, I didn’t walk the whole city, no thanks to the fact that I fell ill the moment I set foot there and I had to take a day off, sleeping in my hotel room and trying to recover. But argh, I just wish I had taken that tour, because that way, I would have seen a lot more of the city than I actually got to see.
I must say, however, that I did get a fabulous view of South Beach, especially since my hotel was just a stone’s throw away from said beach. Still, it doesn’t excuse the fact that despite my watching the buses go by, I didn’t hop on one. I know what to do and what NOT to do the next time I’m in Miami. 😛
Lesson from this experience: Check out bus tours where they are available. If it’s a completely new city for you, do get on one, at least for a day. That way, you will look at all the places you want to explore better and perhaps, you can shift your plan around accordingly. Look at it as window shopping (in the reverse literal sense), only this time, for travel experiences.
Mistake #5 – Running Out of Money.
I am lucky enough that I have a horde of friends in the USA who at the time, readily helped me out when I needed it, and I paid them back when I returned to India. But if you’re traveling to a country where you don’t have contacts, make sure that you calculate your budget correctly or as approximately as possible, and then add some to allow for extra expenditure. Because extra expenses are a part of every trip, no matter how well-planned. So, make sure to keep that leeway in mind when you plan your solo trip.
Moral of the story: Make sure you have a relatively comfortable budget for the trip you are planning.
Mistake #6 – Voice Your Doubts.
Okay, this is a funny story I have about my experience. At least it’s funny in hindsight, but at the time, I was mortified to be in that situation. Never again, I swore.
I had had a great time wandering Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, and their surrounding areas in San Francisco. It was now evening and time to go back to my friend’s place in San Jose. I spotted the bus and ran towards the stop, but I missed it by a whisker. I saw that the next bus would arrive in about 15 minutes and since buses work like clockwork in that country, I settled down to wait. I knew that I had just enough money to pay for the bus but didn’t know exactly how much. So, I counted. It came up to $2.23, and the fare was $2.25.
Now, before I tell you what I did next, you should know that I’m from a country where if we don’t have enough money to pay for the bus ticket, a bus conductor will ask us to get off the bus. There’s absolutely no question about it.
Keeping this in mind, I pulled out a $5 note, not wanting to look like an idiot, and ended up looking and feeling just that. Because the moment I placed the note over the box, the driver looked askance at me, frowning, and said, “You’re going to put $5 in there?” I shrugged miserably and said, “Yeah, I don’t have enough change.” To which he said, “Well, how much do you have?” And I went, pretty sheepishly by this point, “$2.23.” He looks at me, as if he didn’t know whether to pity me or laugh at me, and said, “Put that in there! Take that note back!” and then proceeded to shake his head and mutter under his breath. I, very gratefully, said “Thank you” and hurried to settle down in the back.
What did you learn from this? Ask/speak if you have any doubts. Don’t assume.
As an introvert, I feel bad putting this out there like this because I know how it feels to be told this to. Plus, I know not everybody can speak up. But if you’re assuming things, then half the time, it’s going to be something that’s the complete opposite. Try to voice your doubts, no matter in what manner (whatever manner, politely, obviously) and it will make your trip easier, even if it is in the smallest way possible, like it happened to me.
Mistake #7 – Not Putting on Enough Sunscreen.
This was a dumb, dumb mistake that I made. In Miami, no less. I mean, I had lathered on some, but it clearly wasn’t enough, because by the end of that trip, I looked like I had emerged from a toaster after 8 hours. And it’s not just the tan I got at the end. My skin became dry and more acne-prone and I’m regretting it even now.
So, this tip is pretty simple: If it is sunny, put on sunscreen every few hours. If it is not, put on sunscreen at least once. And by put on, I mean LATHER!
That was the list of mistakes I made while on my first solo trip ever to the United States of America. I hope this was helpful and that you were entertained. I am the Melodramatic Bookworm, after all. 😛
Let me know what you think of these mistakes to avoid on your first solo trip. Will you avoid them? Do you want me to make a list of do’s and don’ts for solo trips? I don’t claim to be an expert but I can help by sharing my experiences and then perhaps you can see which fits your requirements? 🙂
I’ll see you in the next blog post.
Until next time, keep reading, keep traveling, and add melodrama to your life. 🙂