Are you looking for tips and tricks to travel solo? Look no further than our ambassador Petrena Schell. Petrena is a travel media content creator with millions of viewers on her YouTube channel. Her content is authentic and genuine, and it's clear that she cares deeply for the communities and destinations she visits. In fact, she believes that travelling between communities is just as important as travelling between destinations.
Petrena is a huge fan of low-season travelling, and she has travelled and volunteered all over the world, including an epic trip across Africa where she paid her way by giving massages.
1. How many countries have you explored, and which one stole your heart?
“Well, I've explored about 40 countries! It is very hard for me to narrow down one country that stole my heart because so many countries have stolen my heart.
I feel like that's a tough question to answer because as soon as I start saying one place, then I'm going to continue with every other place and be like, "But I love this place, and I love that place."
There's not really one place that I have favoured out of all of them. There's a handful that I favoured.
But I will say one very special place is Botswana because you feel like you're walking on a safari every day when you're there. It's amazing!”
2. What is the best thing about being a solo traveller?
“The best thing about solo travel to me is the freedom it provides and the opportunities to connect with more locals everywhere you are. When you travel alone, you're much more open to these experiences and people approaching you and meeting new people.
I found that when I travel in groups, you're much more with your group, right? You don't really venture out from your friend group, and you don't meet as many people as you would if you were alone.
I have met the most incredible people when I've travelled alone and had experiences that I would never have had if I wasn't on my own. It comes with a whole different level of freedom and a whole different level of unique experience.”
3. What destinations would you recommend to first-time solo travellers?
“Well, that really depends on if you're looking for a more challenging experience or if you'd rather ease your way into it and go to a destination that will be much easier to navigate and get around.
If you want to start gently and go to an easier destination, I would pick somewhere in Europe. Particularly, I love Spain. Spain is great, easy to travel around, and a great first-time solo travel experience. Also, Central America, Costa Rica. You'll meet plenty of other solo travellers, and it's super easy to get around, with lots of great accommodations.
And if you're looking to go a little more challenging, then I would say Brazil. Brazil's a lot more challenging than Central America. Or South Africa.
Africa can definitely be more challenging, but South Africa is relatively easy. It has a pretty good network and a good system to travel, and you will meet lots of other solo travellers there, but it's a little more challenging than Spain and Costa Rica, for sure. But those would probably be my top suggestions for a first-time solo traveller.”
4. What are your top 3 travel experiences in Africa?
“So many. However, okay, number one, and this is a very big experience, so it's not something that I think anyone else will be doing anytime soon.
But I did cross Africa from South Africa to Egypt, took local buses and hitchhiked by myself, and carried a portable massage table. That, by far, was my biggest and most incredible travel experience in Africa. It was super challenging and just unforgettable on so many levels.
My second most incredible travel experience in Africa would be summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. That was life-changing. It was, on so many levels, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically challenging. Transformational. I feel like I was a different person once I completed that trek and got to the summit.
And my third most incredible travel experience in Africa would be visiting Livingstone in Zambia. That place is incredible! There you have Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
I got to walk with lions at a lion rehabilitation centre, and they were actually wild lions that would be released back into the wild. But they were being rehabilitated because they were injured. I will never, ever forget that experience; I was vibrating. And also questioned: should I be walking up to these wild lions? But here I am to tell the tale, and it's such an amazing place. I love Zambia and Livingstone in particular.”
5. What are the best ways to make friends while travelling solo?
“If you want immediate friends, check into a hostel. When you check into a hostel, you're going to have immediate friends, and some of them are locals, and some of them are foreigners, so you kind of get the best of both worlds, but you will not be alone for long.
Probably within 15 minutes of checking into your backpacker's, you'll already have some new friends, and it's just going to pave the way so you don't feel so alone from the get-go.”
6. Any tips for travelling on a budget?
“Well, no matter where you go, eat local! Find the places where the locals eat. Even street food, you're going to save so much money. Just be mindful of the vendors you eat from when you're eating street food to ensure their food is fresh. But that's going to give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Also, if you love a place, a hostel will always work out a very good discount for you if you stay long term. So if you want to stay one or two months because you fall in love with the place, tell the hostel, “I'm going to stay one or two months,” and they'll give you a really good monthly rate. And you can pay up upfront, monthly, and that will save you so much money.
If you really want to save a big chunk of money while you're away, sign up for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, it's a website. There are organic farms all around the world that you can work on, really cool places that you wouldn't even believe, and you usually work Monday to Friday, you work four to six hours a day.
You're always doing cool tasks because it is an organic farm. You eat really well and save money because you're working for food and accommodation. You typically have weekends off. It's a great way to save some money, get hands-on with things, and get to know the locals.
They'll also help you explore the place because the people on the farms obviously live where you are, so they can be good at directing you.
Another tip I have would be to remember that in many places, particularly Africa, Central, South America, everything's negotiable! So especially in Africa, everything's negotiable! So you can always negotiate different prices for things.
Bartering has always been a great way for me to travel. So one of my skills is massage. So I would trade massage for accommodation for different souvenirs, things like this. So if you have something to trade, even if you make your own jewellery, you can barter for things.”
7. What advice do you have for people who want to start a solo journey of their own?
“Well, first and foremost, just do it. Don't let fear stop you. I know the world can seem so big and a little scary, and intimidating to go out on your own, but it's actually quite small, and it's really not that scary. Solo travel is the best.
When you're first planning your trip, I would definitely pick a destination, and if it's a country where you don't speak the language, take the time to learn just the basics. Like, hello, thank you, goodbye, please. People will treat you so much differently with just those simple words. They will want to help you because they see that you're showing respect for their language and culture and automatically treat you differently. It's amazing how the simple gesture of saying hello in their language changes everything. So definitely learn a few words.
Don't travel with valuables because, you know, I've been robbed before. There are definitely those possibilities, so never travel with anything that's worth too much money. Keep your valuables close to you, especially that passport, because you don't want to lose that. But really, generally, it's safe. As long as you're being mindful and you're not being flashy, you're going to be totally fine.
Booking into hostels guarantees you're going to make friends instantly. I always had to find time to be alone because when you're at a hostel with other travellers, you're making new friends day in and day out, and you're always with people. So I really did have to find time to be alone because I actually travel alone because I like being alone sometimes. So yeah, I mean, those would probably be my biggest tips.
Solo travel is actually super easy once you get out and start doing it. And yeah, just take that first step.”
At soNomad, we are happy to support Petrena in her adventures!
Petrena's advice and experiences serve as inspiration for all types of travellers. Whether you're a solo adventurer or travelling with friends, her tips and tricks can help make your next trip unforgettable. So, don't be afraid to take the leap and explore the world on your own terms, just like Petrena Schell.
Discover how, with soNomad travel insurance, you can travel with peace of mind, just like Petrena!