The thought of travelling solo is pretty daunting for a lot of people and, unfortunately, this fear often stops them from giving it a go altogether – which shouldn’t be the case. Travelling on your own, especially for the first time, is a nerve-racking yet exciting and hugely rewarding experience everyone should experience at least once in their life. And it’s not as difficult as it seems, I promise – the hardest part is actually making the decision to go.
If you’ve been thinking about venturing off alone and need some tips on how to prepare for – and get the most out of – your first trip, here are my top 9 tips!
1) Do your research
One of the best things about travelling on your own is not having to adjust to anyone else – you have the freedom to do and see whatever you want, whenever you want. You’re in charge of your own itinerary, which means you can change your plans any time you want. There’s no waiting around for your friends or family, or having to drag yourself through another museum because your travel companions want to be there, when you’d much rather be at the beach or climbing another mountain – and vice versa. Being able to do what you want and when you want, is exhilarating.
But it also means there’s no one else for you to fall back on. You have to find your way around airports, bus terminals and train stations, find your accommodation, and navigate the city… on your own. The idea of not having anyone there to help you (especially if the locals don’t really speak your language) can be intimidating at first, but a bit of pre-travel planning will give you a peace of mind.
Before you go, I’d suggest:
- booking your accommodation
- doing a bit of research about your destination: how are you going to get from the airport to your hotel? What public transport options are available? Check what route you’ll need to take and how long it takes to get there.
- downloading a tube / bus map to help you navigate the city
- creating a tentative itinerary / a list of all the things you’d like to see
- checking relevant TripAdvisor forum threads for any last minute advice on unsafe areas, local customs, or any tourist scams you should be aware of.
2) Start small
My first ever solo trip was a long weekend in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital – and although it was only 2 nights, it turned out to be the perfect length for a first trip on my own. 2 days might seem very short, but it was enough for me to explore the city, and yet not long enough to get hopelessly lost, desperate, or for homesickness to kick in.
If you’ve decided to pluck up the courage to embark on your first trip, I’d say start small. Go somewhere for a long weekend or a couple of days, and choose a destination where you know you’ll feel comfortable and there’s no – or little – language barrier (if you need some tips on where to go, Kiersten from The Blonde Abroad has some great tips here).
I didn’t think about this too much before I went, but the fact that Lisbon has a great public transport system and most people speak English pretty well was a massive help. I’ve been to some other places since then where barely anyone spoke English, and it made everything so much trickier.
3) Use your common sense
Despite what you might think, travelling alone is not dangerous – not any more than travelling with others, anyway. Of course, accidents can and do happen sometimes but if you use your common sense, trust your gut, and pay attention, you’ll be fine. Honestly.
As a minimum, always pay attention to your belongings – remember, there’s no one else to remind you not to leave your stuff on the train. It should also go without saying, but avoid walking alone late at night, especially in dodgy or abandoned areas (again, a bit of research can come in handy here, and at least you’ll have an idea of what areas to avoid).
And, most importantly, always, always trust your instincts. If something or someone doesn’t feel right and you have a bad feeling about the situation for whatever reason, listen to your gut and leave. If you get a bad vibe from someone, just ignore them. You’re not obliged to talk to them or hang out, so don’t feel bad for walking away. Trust your instincts, just like you would at home, and you’re going to be alright.
4) Use Couchsurfing to meet up with locals
Travelling alone doesn’t mean you’ll have to be alone – and if you fancy having a travel companion for part of your journey, Couchsurfing is your friend. Although I haven’t used the site to stay at someone else’s place yet, I regularly use it to meet up with locals when I’m travelling on my own. Meetup is another great alternative, although might be a bit more limited depending on your destination.
Not only does it mean you’ll have some company (even just for a couple of hours), but it’s a great way to see lesser-known spots in the city too. They’re locals, after all, so they can show you places not even the best guidebooks would.
5) Let your friends and family know where you are
It may sound simple and obvious, but let your family and friends know where you’re heading to (and when), how long and where you’ll be staying, and what your itinerary looks like. While they don’t have to know about your every step, it won’t hurt to check in once in a while and let them know how your day went. Not only will this give your loved ones some peace of mind, it also means that you’ll have a backup if something goes wrong.
6) Take your time
One of the most crucial things I’ve learned since I started travelling solo is the importance of doing everything in my own time. Although I find it useful to have a solid plan and a list of all the things I’d like to see and do while I’m there (after all, there are dozens of places I would’ve never come across, had it not been for some guidebooks and pre-travel reading), I’ve learned to accept the fact that these things are not set in stone, and my plans might, and probably will, change.
Don’t feel bad if you only manage to tick off 6 out of 10 things on your list – it’s not a race. Go at your own pace, and do whatever you feel like doing at the time – even if it’s completely different from what you’ve initially planned.
7) Have a backup plan
As I said, accidents can happen to the best of us – and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Just to be on the safe side, make copies of your passport, airline ticket, and any other important documents you might need during your trip before you leave. If you lose them, it’ll be much easier to get a replacement passport or new ticket since you already have necessary proof of ID on hand.
8) Bring a book
One of my biggest nightmares as a newbie solo traveller was eating alone – and as ridiculous as it may sound, I know I’m not the only one. Not only is it boring to sit there on your own for what seems like an eternity, but I always thought it’d be awkward, seeing as everyone else is usually in a group or with someone.
But after my second trip, I started to realise that people genuinely don’t care and it’s definitely not as awkward as I thought it would be. It can still get boring, though.
So if you’re like me, take a book or a magazine with you – or even just a pen and a travel journal to write in. All of these can come in handy while you’re waiting for your food, and will help keep you occupied if you’re starting to feel a bit bored, lonely, or awkward.
9) Stop caring about what people think
Speaking of nightmares and awkwardness, another one of my worries as a newbie was taking photos of myself during my travels. Looking back at the pictures from my first trip, I realised that I wasn’t in any of them – partly because I’ve always loved photography and preferred to be behind the camera… and partly because I felt too awkward stopping for a selfie.
During my first trip, I quickly ruled out selfies because I always felt insanely awkward, and like everyone was staring at me, but was too self-conscious to ask someone else to take a picture of me and stand there until they get it right.
But I soon realised that leaving a beautiful place with no photos of myself in it is worse than the temporary shame I might feel from the stares of a few random strangers. So if you’re anything like me, my advice would be to stop caring about what people think.
Stop caring if people look at you or judge you because you’re posing with a selfie stick or running to get in place for a timer selfie. The less you care, the better your photos will turn out – plus, look at it this way: you’re probably never going to see any of those people again, so who cares?
Are there any other tips you would add to this list? Let me know! 🙂