|Traditional dress on Lake Titicaca|
As you may or may not know, I've not mentioned it on here, but I spent two months in Peru this past summer and went alone. I volunteered at an orphanage in Arequipa and had an amazing time!
Speak the language
It's not always possible and quite a lot to ask in most situations but it really helps, especially in more rural areas. You don't have to be fluent, even the basics are a huge help. I find that people really appreciate it when you try to speak their native language. I even managed to get a few discounts because I spoke Spanish! I actually ended up speaking Spanish 50% of the time as the ladies who worked at the orphanage I volunteered at didn't speak a word of English!
Use your common sense
This goes without saying, don't do anything stupid or dangerous. Sure it might make for a good story but it also might mean you get hurt or in trouble. If you wouldn't walk down a dark alley in your hometown don't do it in a foreign place. When you're alone, especially if you're a woman, you make an easier target. If you put yourself into uncomfortable situations or dangerous places it's important to know how to deal with it. I'd recommend having travel insurance and knowing the numbers for the local hospital, police etc. Also, if you're going somewhere by yourself tell someone (a fellow guest, the receptionist) where you are going and what time you'll expect to be back, that way if something does happen someone will know where you are.
Have an open mind
It's fun to plan an action packed holiday with a mile long list of things you intend to do but sometimes things don't work out. Throw yourself into your new surroundings and you'll have an amazing time. Sometimes the simple things like wandering around a new city end up being the most memorable. I went on an unplanned weekend trip to Lake Titicaca and ended up staying with a local family on an island!
Touristy places are good
Being alone in a strange and new country can be intimidating. Whilst cheap hostels and tourist bars aren't the nicest or most genuine places they are a fantastic way to meet people who are in the same boat as you. The majority of the time they'll speak English which is good if you're struggling with a new language. It also means you can ask about the best places to see, eat at, drink at and get a feel of the place in general. I was lucky enough to be staying with other volunteers who had already been there for a month or so who took me under their wings.
Do your research
It's a good idea to get a feel of a place before you go there, and even more so if you're going to be alone. Some countries have massively differently social codes and cultures which are important to understand prior to travelling. Guidebooks and the internet are always a good place to start, I recommend the tripadvisor and lonely planet websites and the rough guides. My guidebook was a godsend, however it's impossible for the information to be right up to date so make sure you double check online. Also, if you can, speak to people who've been there and ask them about it. Speaking to people who have actually been there and done that is a great way to discover where to go and what places to avoid like the plague!
I volunteered with the charity Traveller Not Tourist which is based in Arequipa, Peru. You can find their website at www.travellernottourist.org and their facebook page. I could not recommend them enough and if you have any questions feel free to ask me! You can see more of my photos of my time there on my flickr.