Even though you say you are traveling solo, you never really are. You are surrounded by people mostly strangers. You are always looking out for that one friendly face amongst a group of absolute strangers. Trying to find your way around,dealing with language barriers, watching your back to make sure you are not being cheated, hunting for the cheapest and safest places to stay at, scavenging for experiences so you don’t miss out on anything, but at the same time scooping out the best in each experience that comes by however horrible it might be, is not easy. People you meet along the way make it easier.
1. Fellow travellers
Travellers look out for each other and the relationships formed while travelling are the purest. With no technological distractions around your guard is down, you are naked, exposed to the person you are travelling with. Like I was with this rad woman- Dom (in the picture on the right.) We got along excellently and soon we were lying on strange roads singing loudly to the stars. We shared silly sometimes harsh secrets cause we felt we could! So, open up and share along, who is to judge?
2. Taxi/ Tuk Tuk/ Motorcycle drivers
These guys might try to fleece you first. Be adamant, stick to the price you know is right. Remember these are the guys that know the place the best. If you gain their confidence they can be the perfect guides like this guy in the picture who called himself ‘Mr. An who Can’. A Vietnam War veteran this guy was damn chill. He took me through secret war trails, war bunks and even to a Vietnamese wedding where I was seated next to old Viet Uncles. I didn’t understand them, they didn’t understand me but we got smashed at 11 in the morning!
3. Hostel/Hotel staff
These guys can be extra helpful especially if you don’t know the local language- right from booking tickets to arranging transportation and suggesting things to do. This guy helped me book cheap tours around Hanoi and even kept a bed free for me once I got back from my adventures.
Waiters can help you with the best stuff to eat at their restaurant and also the most ‘local’ stuff to eat. They can also tell you about strange dishes particular to that area. Like this old kaka I met at a small dhaba in Andaman Islands, who insisted he talk in English even though we all knew Hindi. He fed us the best prawn maggi ever!
We met Mr. Waris at a small cafe in Galle, Sri Lanka. He took an off the next day from work and showed us around all over Galle. He even invited us to tea with his sweet family.
The locals of any area that you randomly meet can be of great help in travelling to lesser known areas. Like these cheeky kids who led me to a tiny hot water spring in Arunachal Pradesh and showed me where the warmest water flowed.
The cheapest way to meet locals is through CouchSurfing. Be careful. Always check for references. Best form of cultural exchange. You get a taste of the local way of living like I did with 77-year old Mai The – a lovely host who cooked a simple farmer’s meal for me. Waking up to him playing Beatles on his classical guitar was the best start to my day!
Aaand doggays of course!!
These guys can make your moody blues go right out of the window (trust me you have quite a few of those traveling solo). They’ll follow you around, protect you, smother you with licks. Just give them a little love!
So, make friends, be good and open up!