It doesn’t matter that you don’t look like the locals or even speak like them. For all anyone knows you can be a student, relief worker or an expat. You could have lived there for a number of years, completely different from the obvious camera toting, map reading, fanny-pack wearing tourist who’s just visiting. You know the lay of the land and have friends in the area… Take on this persona as a lone traveller and the least of your concerns will be that you’ll be spotted. Walk around as assuredly as you would if you were at home, and be just as mindful of your surroundings. The key is to not look disoriented or confused… When in doubt just whip out your phone.
One of your best friends while travelling will be your phone. When outfitted correctly, it’s the perfect guide and prop. There are many apps out there that can assist you in making your travel as seamless as ever. My go to is Ulmon, it lists maps of all the countries and has GPS that doesn’t require wi-fi. You can punch in an address or tourist destination and it will guide you there. The app even comes with a wiki guide. I found it to be very invaluable. The thing though to always remember with technology is that there are uncontrollable variables involved that make it work… or not. I found that it did not work at all in rainy weather. So I went to plan B.
The travellers’ second best friend, if not the first, is always a plan B, in this case, the ability to adjust. When your electronics fail, go back to the conventional method. Pull out that big, hunky paper map. But please, don’t use it in the conventional way. Walking around with a map is the biggest advertisement to all around that you are a tourist. Here’s how you work it. Check the forecast, if there’s even a hint of a chance of rain start planning. Plot your movements for the day. Figure out what trains and routes you need to take, then take pics of those areas on the map. This way if your app quits on you, who cares?! You have your own customized map right in the palm of your hand. Best of all you’re not being so obvious.
Your phone can at times serve an even bigger purpose than just helping you get from point A to point B. Most people who travel depend on wi-fi to make calls and send messages. Depending on where you’re travelling to, you’re never too far from a hot spot. With this thinking most people don’t bother to look into unlocking their phones and grabbing a free SIM card with a cheap calling/messaging plan. This is something I highly advise. it’s very easy and cheap. Most airports either have vending machines or kiosks with people ready to walk you through the best plan and get you set up. It only takes minutes. Not many people take advantage of this. So most tourists do not tend to chat on their phones while walking down the street. The locals know this.
Time to whip out that phone again. Whenever you feel uncomfortable, lost or out of sorts, pull out that phone and start yapping away. You don’t have to talk loud, it can be a whisper – the act itself of talking puts doubt into peoples’ minds that you are a tourist. Another good trick is to set up random alarms on your phone throughout the day. Your phone can “ring” at the most opportune time. The only one who’ll know it’s an alarm is you. To everyone else you’re receiving a call. Perhaps from someone you’re minutes away from meeting. Also, walk around with headphones in, your choice to actually be playing music or just faking it. Most tourists are enthralled with their surroundings and shy away from putting in the headphones. Think of how you normally behave when you are at home. Do those same things that come natural to you.
Picture time can be a bit tricky if you don’t do it right. For the quick pictures pull out the phone and snap away, it’s ok to use the big camera but don’t walk around with it hanging from your neck. If you’re a lone traveller try and only use the camera in heavily trafficked, tourist areas. Don’t be walking down a dark street, completely lost and see the must have shot and reach for the camera. In this instance you would have to use the phone. The good thing is that when you’re alone most people don’t expect you to be a tourist so that’s half the battle right there.
Also, try getting a bite to eat on the go, or pack some snacks and munch away as you walk down the street. After you’ve had your full meal at a yummy café I know the last thing on your mind is snacking, but you should leave a little room for it. Most tourists sit and eat all their meals. This is something you can do too, however enjoying an ice cream or bag of chips while walking down the street enhances your disguise. It’ll make you look comfortable and familiar with the area that you are in. One thing you’ll soon realize is that the only person who knows you’re a tourist is you. The next time you’re home, go outside and look around. You’ll see lots of people walking around. Some alone, some with others, can you really tell who’s who?
So stop being paranoid. Don’t wait for one of your friends to agree to go with you on your travels. Just pick up and go. This whole post will be of no use to you because I guarantee you’ll meet people along the way. You won’t be a lone traveller for long. You’ll only start out that way. There are many great ways to meet people along the way. On my many trips around the world I may have travelled alone but I’ve always met people to hang out with. In the meantime though, while you’re alone any or all of the tricks above can be of great help to you on your journey. Happy travels