A Few Thoughts on Backpacking Solo

 Hey World,

Tomorrow morning I will wake up before the sun with my backpack and a light sidebag and head to Malawi for 9 days of sun, fun, and adventure...alone.

Despite frequently flying to destinations around the globe alone [and to be honest, I actually prefer doing airports+airplanes alone], I’ve never actually traveled around a place by myself. 

Which is a bit strange, because I don’t think I ever realized this was the case until this past month when it hit me that while I've traveled alone a lot, I haven't traveled alone. 

Needless to say: Panic and self-doubt ensued. 

And then I said "Self, ain't nobody got time for that [panic and self-doubt]. You're going to Malawi by yourself, for a week and a half, and you're going to freaking love every minute of it." I rationed with myself that it's a fantastic skill to have, that I love having alone time, and that 2014 is the Year of Pushing Limits. 2014 is the year I put fear back in it's rightful place and tell myself that "can't" isn't a word in my vocabulary. 

I'll admit it: I like being alone....but only when I have the option of not being alone. My biggest fear about traveling solo is that whole not having an opt-out to my aloneness, and being stuck with me, myself, and I the whole time! 

In order to avoid this trip being an epic fail, I came up with a three-pronged approach for my vacation planning to alleviate the fears about my aloneness so I can have the best jump into solo backpacking possible. 

Guideline #1: Plan a trip that keeps you moving. 

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a place (unless you’re the kind of person who likes being stuck in a place...in which case, ignore this point), particularly when you’re all by your lonesome. It’s no fun sitting in one place or exhausting everything there is to do at a single location and then wishing and hoping something new and interesting to do comes along.

That’s why I’ll be spending time at not one, not two, not three, but four different towns (and five accommodations) across ten days.

I don’t want to be somewhere waiting for time to pass with a frown on my face….which brings me to #2.

[Also, this is the time that you don't have to concede to anyone else's desires, whims, wishes, or hunger pangs. GO FORWARD WITH GUSTO AND SEE/DO/EAT EVERYTHING ON YOUR WISHLIST!]

Guideline #2: Plan a trip that keeps you occupied. 

After deciding I was going to Malawi, the second most important question was: alright, what am I going to do there? 

I thought about what I might enjoy. Then I thought about what I would enjoy/prefer to do alone. And I came up with these: 

 1) I love hiking. I could walk/hike until my body started to decompose, and I would still have some miles left in me. And I don't mind hiking alone. Therefore, I resolved to dedicate some of my time to a place where I could walk/hike freely.

2) It would be a sin to visit Malawi and not spend time on Lake Malawi, but I'm not a beach lover, nor do I enjoy swimming around aimlessly. I do, however, love to snorkel, and have always dabbled with taking the next step and crossing into learning how to scuba dive [as a child I was told people with asthma can’t scuba dive, but it turns out that was a 90s myth!]. 

Well, it turns out that Malawi is one of the cheapest places in the world (yes, in the WORLD) to get your PADI certification – which is recognized widely internationally and allows you to scuba dive almost everywhere – so I reached out and signed up for a 3-4 day course that also includes the opportunity to go night diving…all with the promise of no sharks! DONE!

There's also cliff jumping (this might be pushing my limits too much...but it's an option), snorkeling, kayaking, boat taxis, and numerous restaurants/bars/hotel chalets that overlook the lake...so I think spending time at Lake Malawi deserves a significant portion of my trip. 

3) I also love wandering around a small town, and really getting to know a place. There's a historical town a few KM from where I'll spend my hiking time, but I'm also taking three days / two nights to make pitstops on the way back North to the Tanzanian border to check out two sleepy small towns. Nothing exciting going on in either of these places, but enough to peruse to take a half day and explore a little. This also builds in some flex time on my return in case I learn of something else I want to do instead!

Guideline #3: Go to places that reflect who you are [or want to be]. 

Another major concern about taking my travel solo is that I am really bad at talking to strangers, including other travelers, no matter how awesome, approachable or interesting they might look. 

However, that sentiment is not going to fly on a week+ long trip - I'm going to go bonkers if I don't have anyone to converse with! 

That’s why I spent the most amount of time researching my accommodations – I wanted to find places that were cheap but had character, had good reviews, and were frequented by other low-budget travelers. I wanted to find places that talk more about the activities they offer than the amenities in their bathrooms. 

I figured that the best way to find people who I would be most comfortable talking to or hanging out with would be those who would be at places that reflect my own interests - and the best place I'll be spending the most down-time is where I'm staying each night. 

I likened it to fishing in a stocked pond vs. the ocean: chances if you you're not a rod&reel expert...you're better off in the pond. 

And now a bigger picture note:
<< Do this, but aim the dart >>
I thought it would be best to plan my first solo trip to a place I could see myself being for awhile. 

For example: everyone wants to go to NYC, but it’s also one of the loneliest places I know. NYC could be home to anyone. NYC has something for everyone. 

You can’t quite say the same about Northern Malawi. I chose to avoid major metropolises, instead easing myself a bit more slowly into solitude. You can't really feel lonely if you're at a five or ten room lodge, but you sure can get lost in your loneliness in the lobby of a mega-chain hotel. 


So we'll see how this goes. Fingers crossed it's a raging success!

 If I can conquer solo travel, I will be indefatigable: I'll be able to visit more countries on my wish list,  try new experiences without being shy, and gaining a confidence I haven't found yet! 


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