I’ve always had the mixed fortune to travel as part of my work. Fortunate because I get to experience new cultures and places, unfortunate because that trip can sometimes be to a dead-end UK town to try and sell X, Y or Z or – even worse – when I’ve flown longhaul to somewhere supremely exciting like China, solo and haven’t had any daylight hours, or the confidence to venture out alone.
I look back on younger me who, aged 21 travelled solo to China, Kazahstan and Bangladesh and squeezed in a little adventure (I’m including getting completely lost in Almaty, Kazakstan when I decided to walk to the conference centre with a map in one language and signs in another AND arriving way too early at Chittagong airport, Bangladesh and being instructed to sit behind the fully armed guards as it hadn’t opened for the day yet, as adventures, by the way!) and wish I’d been a little more adventurous.
If you have this mixed fortune, hopefully the below tips will help. If you have any more hit us up on instagram!
Maximise your down time
If you are travelling for work, you are likely on a tight schedule – try to carve out sometime to explore, preferably in the daytime (if you are in meetings 9am – 6pm, this is tough!). Ask to fly out a day early / later on your client’s bill (an extra hotel night isn’t too much of an ask) or just bolt on a few days on your dime – my first trip to NYC was for work and I moved from my client-paid fancy room to a low cost, basic one for 3 nights of heavenly *I’m in a movie, look at the steam coming from that grate* exploring! My client also gave me some great local intel as they were happy I was exploring their hometown.
Research is King
I’m an over researcher; multiple windows open, cross referencing second hand guide books kind of traveller. Especially if you are going to a non-obvious tourist destination, you’re going to have to get stuck in. For less obvious destinations, find the local tourist board site and send them an email for ideas, ask your hotel for recommendations and check whether local airlines have a blog. Even if this info isn’t in a language you speak, online translation tools will work well. Instagram (or the local equivalent social media) is often a great source of info, look up the location as a hashtag or stories in the place you are visiting. You might be able to find a local ‘influencer’ who can give you some ideas.
Understand traditions and culture
This one is especially important for the female traveller, I’m afraid, especially when it comes to clothing and where is appropriate for you to go solo. In many countries it is advisable / required to dress modestly. Pick up a Time Out Guide / Lonely Planet for their helpful ‘culture’ sections. Search online for expat chatboards as these will be questions that comes up alot. If you have a female contact in the country you are visiting, reach out to them for advice on what to wear and tell them where you are planning to visit, to see if they have any advice. At the very least, take trousers and some long sleeve, t-shirt neck items and a light scarf.
Pack essentials in your hand luggage
This tip comes from our girl, Rachel who says “My main tip for traveling with work is to make sure you have spare clothes in your hand luggage because the one time you pack everything in hold, is the one time your luggage won’t reach your destination! Always carry an extra day outfit and an evening outfit in your hand luggage, and make sure all your technology is on your person or in hand luggage (mobile, laptop, tablet, cables, chargers, camera). This way you’re ready for every eventuality.”
Don’t courier items ahead, take them with you
Similar to Rachel’s point above, I don’t trust sending things in advance for events and meetings. You’re asking for them to get stuck in customs and also international couriering can be extortionate. Use this as an opportunity to ask your clients for an upgrade for your flight, as you often get extra baggage allowance – sneaky, eh?
Be adventurous, with a safety net
If you are travelling solo, in the vast majority of places you will be safe when you go out to explore. If you have researched your destination in advance, sense check your plans with someone on the ground before heading out. Pay for data on the days you go exploring so, if you get yourself into an area where you don’t feel safe, you can get a cab. Explore what apps people use – eg. uber, deliveroo equivalent so you are covered and also, acting like a local and also a local language app, if you don’t speak it.
Not to sound too much like your mum, head out in the morning with water and appropriate clothing and aim to complete your adventure in daylight. Take a battery pack, fully charged and your maps / books but try not to have them out at all times – you don’t want to look like a lost solo traveller but the confident, prepared explorer that you are.