So you want to travel alone? Yay, join the club! We need more empowered people embracing solitude and doing whatever they want on their own terms – including wandering halfway across the globe.
If you’ve never traveled solo, then it might seem like a daunting task – especially if you live in the United States where “gap year” isn’t common. But, and trust me on this one, booking that “ticket for one” will be the best decision you’ve ever made in your life.
As someone who travels alone 99.9% of the time, I’ve made mistakes and balked whenever the unexpected happened. Now I cringe when I think about my ridiculous rookie mistakes. So, to prepare you for your upcoming journey, I’ve compiled a list of ten important things to know before you travel solo.
Bon voyage, wayfarers!
1. Social accommodation is key.
I love swanky hotel rooms as much as the next person, but hotels aren’t conducive to meeting other travelers. I only book hotels if I’m either staying in a place for less than three nights, working for a tourism board or doing other promotional stuff, or going to a blogging conference where I’ll meet tons of other people anyway.
Otherwise I’m all about hostels. Good hostels (read reviews) provide common rooms and activities to help you meet other solo travelers. You’re all in the same situation so you bond and go on adventures together. If you book the right place, you’ll find a social and laid back atmosphere that includes people of all ages (not just college kids).
Even if you usually stay in single rooms like me, you’ll still meet a ton of people in the hostel’s communal kitchen, on walking tours, or nightly activities such as trivia or pub crawls.
2. Guided tours are not the devil.
Guided tours carry a stigma in the online travel sphere. Check out Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor’s forums, and you’ll immediately see what I mean. Anyone who dares to inquire about a guided tour is told to “try exploring independently” instead. Uh, thanks for the advice?
Now I prefer creating my own itinerary and all, but if it’s your first solo trip and you’re nervous, don’t hesitate to book a tour. Both day tours, such as free walking tours, and multi-day tours are good options for solo travelers. Heck, I would still book a tour if I wanted to visit a country I wasn’t 100% comfortable traveling in.
Plus guided tours give you opportunities to make friends. Sure, you may end up in a group with a bunch of standoffish and anti-social people, but usually you find at least one other person.
3. Loneliness (and sometimes jealousy) happens.
I love solo travel, but it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. You will have moments of loneliness. Moments where all you see are laughing families, couples, and friends, and you wonder “why the hell did I do this?” For example, when I was in Dresden, I had somehow convinced myself I would be alone in Central Europe for the entire seven and a half weeks. Not cool, brain.
Sometimes you need to suck it up and enjoy your own company. Personally, I like to explore art museums alone and seek them out if I’m having a “down” day. Solo travel is a chance for you to truly understand yourself. Use the quiet moments for self-reflection. Not many people take advantage.
Also keep in mind, though, that this empty feeling is temporary. You always end up striking a conversation with someone. Always.
Usually I need to create alone time because I meet so many danged people. I’m not kidding.
4. Essentials need to be tripled checked.
Unfortunately independence comes at a cost. No one else will look out for you or your stuff except yourself. So it’s your responsibility to make sure all your possessions are safe and sound. Pickpockets are sneaky.
Buy locks for your suitcase or backpack. Buy travel insurance. If you don’t have money for insurance, then you don’t have money to travel. Personally, I’ve used World Nomads for all my trips and never had an issue.
Only take what money you need for the day. Make a copy of your passport. And, for the love of god, don’t let strangers watch your bags. Even worse, don’t leave your stuff unattended, especially in airports where security is skyhigh. Drag your overstuffed backpack into the bathroom stalls.
This responsibility is frustrating, not gonna lie, but if you can fly to Europe or New Zealand alone, then you can take care of your stuff.
5. Selfies. Selfies everywhere.
Ughhh, I hate asking other people to take pictures of me unless we’re traveling in a group and already bonded for a few hours. So I have a lot of selfies. Too many selfies. A library collection of selfies.
I’m not quite sure how to embrace this aspect of solo travel yet, sorry. If you have any ideas, let me know! I’d love to hear them in the comments, haha.
6. Be ready to know your budget.
Depending on the situation, it’s more expensive to travel solo than with a partner or group. I could rant about the “single supplement” for days and actually refuse to travel with tour companies that charge one. I’d rather share a room than fork over an extra 500 dollars.
Think about your budget. If you’re low on cash, maybe avoid a trip to Iceland or Sweden, and try the Baltics instead. If your heart is set on France, perhaps spend less time in Paris and explore smaller cities or the countryside.
However, don’t sell your travel soul for the sake of saving a few bucks either. I mean, did you really come all the way to Paris to NOT eat any of the spectacular food or ride up the Eiffel Tower? Be frugal, not cheap. There’s a difference.
7. And know your comfort zone and limits.
Travel forces you to step outside your self-imposed limitations. It’s a beautiful thing. For example, I never thought I’d be able to paraglide since I’ve an insane fear of flying. Yet we all have non-negotiable limits and “no still means no” even on the road.
Meeting other backpackers and travelers is incredible, yes, but don’t agree to every single activity or idea if you feel uncomfortable. Let’s say you’re a functioning alcoholic who’s in recovery. Don’t feel bad about turning down a pub crawl even if the entire hostel is going.
Be bold. Be brave. But, at the same time, don’t compromise your health and safety for the sake of peer pressure. We’re not in high school anymore.
8. Research like you’re in graduate school.
You need to do your research when you travel, regardless, but it’s even more important if you choose to travel alone. Use blogs and guidebooks, and talk to other travelers on forums and wesbites like Reddit.
In my experience, solo female travelers are particularly concerned about safety, but either gender should know what neighborhoods to avoid, common scams, location of the nearest embassy, sanitation of the destination (ex. is the water safe to drink?), etc.
Travel is pretty safe if you’re smart. I haven’t had many problems. Knowledge is definitely power.
Check out of a few of my beginners guides for various cities in Europe!
9. You’ll experience naysayers.
Ugh, the naysayers. Even though you’re doing something amazing, at least one other person will try to rain on your wanderlust parade.
Not all naysayers are haters (here’s my guide on how to deal with those gems). Some are concerned friends and family who genuinely fear for your safety. Which is understandable. Recent news headlines paint the world as a terrifying place.
However, even if naysaying comes from a place of love, you need to stand your ground and counter their worries with statistics and solutions. If you stay home, giving into other people’s wishes, resentment will build and it will damage those relationships in the long run.
10. But you’ll also experience admiration.
I receive impressed gasps and “wows!” whenever people discover travel alone. People will tell you how brave you are and that you’re an inspiration. Let’s be honest: these responses result in a massive self-esteem boost. When you come home, prepare to be treated like a total boss.
What are some other things people ought to know before they travel alone? Add your suggestions in the comments.
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