Mr Dwayne Fields is an explorer and TV presenter preparing for his Disney+ show The 7 Toughest Days On Earth. He echoes my thoughts on making connections on solo trips. “If you were to believe the newspapers, you’d think everyone in this world is out to get you,” he says. “Ninety-nine point nine – I can’t say enough nines – per cent of people are decent. They just want to get by, make a living, educate their kids. We all have so much in common. If you move in a suspicious way, you won’t be received well. If you’re warm and show some vulnerability, most people won’t take advantage of that. Most of the violent things that have happened to me have happened in London.”
This is not to say that bad things do not happen when people travel on their own. I had my phone and money liberated from me on my last day in Colombia – a minor incident, worthwhile lesson and something I could have prevented had I been more careful. I met plenty of happy solo female travellers on my trip, but I know that some may have their own personal safety concerns. Southan had some negative experiences when she went Interrailing as a 19-year-old.
“I was often getting followed, cat-called or groped,” she says. “In Paris, a group of kids tried to mug me. You have to learn ways to extricate yourself from situations like this pretty fast. Women have to be especially street smart when going solo. That said, it’s so much easier to stay in touch with friends and family now. At the time I had no mobile, no Google Maps, no way to pay for things when my cash and travellers cheques got stolen, so some things have made solo travel safer.”
She recommends companies such as Much Better Adventures for solo travellers who want to join trips with other people. For more peace of mind, Mr Pat Riddell, the editor of National Geographic Traveller, believes in doing your homework. “It’s much, much easier than when I first started travelling in the 1990s,” he says. “The resources available now are countless. If you pick your destination carefully, do your research and stay alert, the risks are much diminished.”
Hostels are a great way to get local, insider information on the move and make immediate connections. They cost a fraction of the price of a hotel and yet their private rooms often provide as much privacy and comfort as you need.
Because of the nature of their inhabitants, every hostel in the world exists in a parallel pocket of space and time that does not adhere to terrestrial laws of physics. Conversations move at an incredible pace and they all go exactly like this: “Hey, how’s it going? How long have you been travelling? Where are you from?” (Germany. It’s always Germany.) “Cool. I’m heading to the jungle tomorrow. It takes two days to get there and we’re doing an eight-hour night trek. Would you like to join us? Great! What’s your name by the way?”