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Travel Solo Tips

Solo Travel Tips for the Adventurous Photographer

Why Travel Solo?

Let's explore the essence of solo travel, my tips for solo travel, and how they parallel my journey as a photographer. Imagine wandering through the bustling streets of a city or the tranquil paths of the countryside all by yourself. It's just you, your camera, and a world with untold stories waiting to be captured through your lens.

This solitude isn't just a state of being; it's a gateway to immersive exploration and creativity. Let's face it—photography is a solo sport. When I'm alone, navigating through unfamiliar terrains, that's when I truly connect with my creative inner self. It's a state of mind challenging to replicate when friends or my wife accompany me. There's a sense of freedom in solo travel that allows me to focus, undistracted, on the beauty and nuances of my surroundings. 

ic:Couple standing at St Marks Square Venice

Solo travel is not just a journey through the world; it's a journey into oneself. It's about making choices, following your rhythm, and, most importantly, embracing the spontaneous moments that lead to the most breathtaking photographs. 

Below is some wisdom from my travels to over 45 countries over the past 30 years that will enhance and safeguard your solo travels. They are woven from my own experiences and discoveries across the globe.

Your Silent Travel Companion

First off, never broadcast that you're a lone wanderer. It might sound overcautious, but it's crucial advice and a valuable solo travel tip. When hopping into a cab or conversing with a local, the illusion of company can be your best defense. While many are genuinely kind and helpful, it's best to err on caution. My rule? My solitude is a secret shared only with trusted acquaintances, never with strangers or online.

ic:Driving back classic cab Havana

Following these words of caution, I also consciously avoid broadcasting my current or future locations on social media or blog posts. This principle holds regardless of whether I'm exploring foreign landscapes or navigating the familiar streets of cities in Canada or the USA. Being seen as a lone explorer, especially one potentially carrying valuable photography equipment, can make one a target. This risk is magnified during moments of vulnerability, such as those serene, solitary hours dedicated to capturing the sunrise. 

Announcing your whereabouts or plans in advance is akin to lighting a beacon for potential threats. In essence, the art of discreet travel and sharing is not just about preserving the mystique of your journey but ensuring your safety and the security of your gear. The digital footprint we leave behind should always maintain our real-world footing.

Trust but Verify

Navigating the nuances of trust during my travels has always been a fascinating aspect of solo exploration. A vivid memory from Havana, Cuba, post-COVID, illustrates this perfectly. The city, still reeling from the travel hiatus, was teeming with desperation and hope. Amid this, I encountered an employee on the streets from the resort who seemed trustworthy and offered to guide me to some authentic Cuban cigars—a rare find given the circumstances.

ic:Cuba graffiti on an old house wall

Our adventure proved fruitful, uncovering hidden gems I wouldn't have discovered alone. In a gesture of gratitude, I offered to buy him lunch, which led us to a place run by one of his "friends." It was an eye-opening experience, not for the ambiance or the cuisine, but for the steep price tag and a rather forceful attempt to sell me Cuban currency by another "friend." Later, discussing potential spots for night photography, one location was mentioned, which, coincidentally, the aggressive currency seller knew of. Spotting him there later that evening was no coincidence; it was a calculated move. Sensing the potential danger, I opted for the quickest exit—a swift cab ride away, always erring on the side of caution.

This encounter in Havana was an anomaly in my travels, a stark reminder, and an essential solo travel tip. It is crucial to stay vigilant while the world is predominantly filled with good intentions. The experience didn't dampen my spirits or trust in strangers' kindness but reinforced the importance of cautious optimism. 

My interactions with locals have been incredibly positive, enriching my travels with genuine connections and experiences. So, while keeping your wits about you is essential, don't let fear hinder the beautiful spontaneity of solo travel. Be intelligent, aware, and open to the world's endless wonders.

The Art of Preparation

How you prepare for a trip might be my most crucial solo travel tip. When I gear up for a journey, diving deep into preparation is part of my approach, but never to the point of rigidity. This might be my most crucial solo travel tip. I sift through information, pinning down locations on Google Maps and absorbing as much about the culture as possible. This groundwork sets the stage for what's to come, yet I consciously avoid over-planning every minute. My research serves as a launchpad, offering a glimpse into the must-visit spots and cultural nuances, yet the canvas for spontaneity indeed colors my experiences.

"Embrase Spontinality"

This balance between preparation and flexibility has consistently paved the way for my unforgettable captures and moments. Finding popular spots is straightforward—everyone talks about them, and yes, I've stood among crowds of photographers vying for that iconic Instagram shot, like a time in Lofoten. I was among thirty others waiting in line to get "my" iconic shot. Of course, I captured the scene, and while it's a shot I'm proud of, it's not the one that resonates most with my audience or me.

ic:Croatian port city Rijeka

Instead, my experience has proven over and over again that the unexpected finds leave a mark—like the photograph of an old, weathered Norwegian boathouse, far removed from the well-trodden path. This image, born out of spontaneity and a willingness to explore beyond the known, encapsulates what I seek on my travels.

These uncharted moments, not the famed landmarks, genuinely enrich my portfolio and soul, proving time and again that the magic of travel and photography lies in the beauty of discovery. 

Pack Light, Travel Far

Traveling light isn't just a mantra for me; it's a meticulously tailored approach that varies with every journey I embark on and another valuable solo travel tip. While overlanding in the vast wilderness of Canada's north, my Jeep might be laden with two full bags of camera equipment, ensuring I'm prepared for every photographic opportunity. Yet, when my path leads me through the cultural tapestries of Europe, and my exploration is on foot, my gear shifts dramatically—to a light travel tripod, a couple of lenses, and an iPad. 

It's not about the simplistic notion of "travel light" that every travel tips guide advocates, but rather "travel right," adapting seamlessly to each adventure's specific needs and challenges.

My attire prioritizes functionality and comfort, whether I'm trekking solo or accompanied by my wife. The fashion police might not approve, but being dry, warm, and comfortable in my footwear is paramount. Wearing the same clothing for multiple days is hardly a concern; the focus is on the experience rather than the ensemble.

"Travel Right"

To streamline my creative process, I've revolutionized my photography workflow to be fully operational with an iPad. The days of lugging around a laptop are behind me. This powerful, lightweight device meets my editing needs and stands up to the rigors of travel. It's about making each trip manageable and truly enjoyable, ensuring I'm always ready to capture the essence of my surroundings without the burden of unnecessary weight.

The Emergency Stash

Maintaining a hidden cash reserve during my travels has always been a cornerstone of my preparedness. This isn't just any cash, though; it's about having the right kind of currency that's readily accepted wherever I find myself. While the ubiquity of USD might make it a tempting choice, it's crucial to understand that not every corner of the world welcomes it with open arms. Take Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, for example, where USD won't get you far, and credit cards might as well be pieces of fancy plastic.

My solo travel tip does not suggest carrying a hefty sum—just enough to cover the basics in a pinch: a ride back to safety, a meal, or a night's accommodation. It's a strategic buffer, ensuring that no matter the situation, I have the means to navigate my way out of it.

This approach underscores a broader lesson: the importance of research and local insights. While a vast resource, the internet only sometimes paints the whole picture, especially for places like Mongolia that need to be more extensively covered. In these instances, real-world interactions become invaluable. Conversations with locals, like the hotel staff, have often been my most reliable source of information. Through these dialogues, I've equipped myself with the practical knowledge to traverse diverse landscapes. After all, information is not just power—it's the key to unlocking a smooth and enriching travel experience.

A hidden wallet is not just an accessory; it's a necessity. Keeping my valuables close and out of sight has allowed me to roam more freely.

Keeping in Touch

Keeping in touch with those back home while wandering the globe solo isn't just comforting; it's my anchor to reality and another vital solo travel tip. Whether I'm sending a quick update, sharing my live location, or just checking in, these small gestures ensure peace of mind for me and those who matter most. It's a two-way street of reassurance that I'm safe and they're informed.

But here's where I take it a notch higher: for those times when I'm venturing into the less-trodden paths—rural landscapes, remote vistas, places where the beauty of nature outweighs the reach of cell towers—I carry a Garmin inReach Mini 2. This compact, lightweight satellite communicator becomes my voice when the world goes silent. It lets my wife and children follow my journey, no matter where I am.

Is this overkill? Perhaps for some, but not for me. The pursuit of the perfect shot often leads me into scenarios far beyond the ordinary—situations where being out of sight also means being out of cell service. In these moments, the satellite communicator isn't just a tool; it's my lifeline. It assures me I'm not entirely cut off from my loved ones, even in the most secluded locations.

Stay Connected, Stay Independent

Securing a local SIM card when I touch down in a new country has utterly transformed my travel experience, liberating me from the relentless hunt for Wi-Fi hotspots. Take my trip to Australia, for instance, where for roughly $30, I was endowed with an abundance of data, ensuring I remained effortlessly connected to the world and could share my adventures in real time. It was a revelation, emphasizing the value of staying connected on my terms.

ic:Sydney Opera House Blue Hour

However, this strategy and solo travel tip has a crucial caveat—ensuring your phone isn't locked to a specific carrier. In Canada, for example, it's possible to find your device tethered to one network, rendering it unable to accommodate a SIM card from another country. This critical detail, often overlooked, can significantly impact your ability to adapt and integrate into your new environment seamlessly. Hence, verifying your phone's compatibility with foreign SIM cards before departure isn't just advisable; it's imperative to maintain the fluidity and connectivity that define modern travel.

Never Run Out of Juice

Ensured you never run out of power; it's more than just a convenience; it's a critical part of staying operational and safe during your travels. Picture this: you've done all your homework and pinpointed every landmark, and suddenly, your phone or camera battery dies. It's not just frustrating; it can derail your entire day. This solo travel trip was born from a lesson that hit home for me during a memorable trip to Istanbul, a day packed with over 20km of walking, exploring every nook and cranny the city had to offer, culminating in some night photography sessions. But as fate would have it, my phone died after capturing the evening's last shot.

ic:Pinnacles Desert Panorama: Vast Australian Landscape

Under normal circumstances, this might have been a minor hiccup, but my accommodation for the night was a quaint, somewhat hidden hotel in the old part of Istanbul. All my booking details, the hotel's address, and even a carefully pinned location were locked away in a now unreachable digital vault within my dead phone. The situation seemed dire, with my fallback plan being to find any available hotel for the night and seek a charger come morning.

The scramble that ensued was nothing short of a mini-odyssey. Retracing steps taken over a sprawling 20km and recognizing landmarks in the dark tested my resolve. Fortune smiled upon me eventually, and I found my way back, but the experience was a stark wake-up call.

Since that night in Istanbul, a portable battery pack and the necessary cables have become indispensable tools in my travel arsenal. They're not just accessories; they're my lifeline, ensuring that all my electronic devices remain charged and ready, no matter how far I wander or how long the day stretches. This practice has transformed my travel strategy, providing a buffer of security and convenience that keeps the focus on exploration and photography, not on power levels. 

Culinary Adventures

Diving into the culinary depths of each destination isn't just about savoring new flavors; it's an immersive journey into the heart of its culture and a solo travel tip rarely talked about. 

My adventures have taken me from the bustling street corners of Mexico, where a roadside vendor's simple yet exquisite offerings can redefine your understanding of taste, to the vibrant food markets of Beijing. There, amidst the cacophony of sights and sounds, my wife and I indulged in a whole Peking duck, expertly dismantled and served in a plastic bag. Navigating through the city's alleys, duck in hand, was incredible.

ic:Chengdu Bridge Reflection on River

While my curiosity knows its bounds—like opting out of the Bug Market in China, recognizing my limits has never dulled the thrill of discovery. Instead, it's in the off-the-beaten-path eateries, those hidden gems tucked away from the tourist gaze, where I've found culinary bliss. 

Not only is the food often doubly delicious at half the price, but these detours also lead me to new vistas ripe for exploration and photography, far removed from the well-trodden paths.

"Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone"

Adventure, in its many forms, fuels my spirit. It's not about the extremity of the experience—like savoring duck straight from a bag on the other side of the world—but about stepping beyond what's comfortable. Whether it's a unique dining choice or a new destination, pushing past your usual boundaries can open a world you never knew existed. Your adventure might not mirror mine, but the essence lies in embracing the unknown. You might find that stepping out of your comfort zone not only enriches your travels but also brings a sense of vitality and connection that's genuinely surprising.

The Power of Friendliness

Being friendly and talking to locals are understated solo travel tips. Being approachable has opened doors to unique experiences and friendships across the globe. It's amazing how a smile can transcend language barriers.

ic:Charming older Cuban lady smiling Havana Cuba

Also, never hesitate to ask for help. My travels across 45 countries over 30 years have reinforced my belief in the overwhelming kindness and helpfulness of people worldwide.

Patience: The Traveler's Virtue

My final solo travel tip is to allow myself to sync with the pulse of a new location, which has invariably guided me beyond the superficial allure of tourist hotspots and into their genuine essence. This practice becomes even more pivotal when embarking on photo tours. I make it a point to arrive a few days early to scout the hidden corners waiting to be captured through my lens and adjust to the time zone. This adjustment is particularly crucial when my travels take me from Canada to locations in Asia or Africa with vastly different time zones, where the difference can span a staggering 12 hours.

ic:Hotel de Ville and Seine River Paris France

The last thing I want is jet lag to cloud my perception and diminish my energy, as exhaustion can severely impact the quality of my travel experiences and the photographs that come from them. Being well-rested and attuned to the local time ensures that I am at my best, ready to explore, engage, and capture the moments that truly embody the spirit of a place. It's about fully immersing myself in the environment, allowing the city's rhythm to dictate the pace at which I discover and document its story.

Let's take a moment to reflect on the beauty of traveling alone with some inspiring quotes. These quotes are not just phrases but beacons of light that guide those who journey solo. They capture the joys, challenges, and revelations of traveling alone, encouraging us to embrace the adventure with an open heart.

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