Solo travelling is an exciting experience that gives you the luxury to do what you really want to do, without depending on others. It's thrilling, scary, and challenging at the same time. You learn many things about the place as well as learning things about yourself. But no matter how adventurous or entertaining solo travel may sound, the truth is that many of us still find it as a daunting task. Many questions come to you including about safety, practicalities, how interesting it will be and more. Use these practical tips and ideas to get started:
Research is terribly important before the first time you travel alone, if only to boost your confidence. Plan ahead so that you arrive at your destination well before sundown, and book a place to stay at least for the first night, so you're not left wandering around unfamiliar streets with your luggage. Based on your budget, browse through options for your destination and book in advance. Sacrifice a little extra for transport and accommodation that clearly sound more comfortable and safe.
Make a plan before you go. Mapping out your itinerary can be time-consuming, but as a solo traveller, it’s also thrilling. After all, when you’re traveling alone you can pick and choose which sights and experiences to explore. Start by identifying the key highlights of your chosen destination. Determine when the best time to arrive is and how long the experience will take. You’ll want to spend as little time commuting as possible, so avoid itineraries that see you doubling back unnecessarily. Know when the last train or bus is, or arrange a cab ahead of time.
If planning isn’t your thing, try booking a tour. These can be as simple as a morning visiting literary landmarks in downtown Edinburgh, or as complex as a multi-week expedition through Nepal. Find one suited to your interests and budget, and your tour guide will do the rest! When you’re traveling it’s easy to feel that you should be doing, seeing and experiencing more, but don’t feel like you have to pack in as much as possible, or that you have to stick with your itinerary. You’re not beholden to anyone, and no one’s going to judge if you to skip that long line to the Eiffel Tower in favour of strolling along the Seine instead.
Eating alone doesn't have to be a lonely affair. You were brave enough to head to Moscow mid-winter or hot air balloon over Cappadocia in Turkey, but the thought of taking meals solo terrifies you. You’re not alone, even if you’ll be dining that way. Ease into things with a sandwich by the Yarra River in Melbourne, tacos from a food truck in Austin or coffee at an espresso bar in Venice. In many countries, breakfast and lunch tend to be more casual events, so dip your toe into the water with a simple, rustic meal.
When dining in the evening, avoid peak times and consider taking a seat at the bar – or the sushi bar, if you’re in Japan. Some restaurants have communal tables as well. If you can, peruse the menu ahead of time so that you’re confident about prices, ingredients and specialties. Bring a book or a journal to keep yourself occupied while you wait.
If dining alone just isn’t your thing, look into local meetup groups: many cities have groups who enjoy foodie outings. Alternatively, if your accommodations have a kitchenette, shop for some local ingredients and cook up a storm in private.
Travel is all about the people you meet on the road. While the freedom of solo traveling is great, it’s possible to go days without speaking to someone. The peace and quiet may be ideal to begin with, but it can take a toll after a while. The easiest way to meet people while traveling is by staying at a hostel or visiting a bar or restaurant near or attached to a hotel. The people who stay at hostels tend to be social types, so it’s hard not to make friends in that environment.
Shared experiences are another great opportunity to strike up a conversation. Next time you’re on a long-distance bus or are in line for a concert, ask a simple question about the expected arrival time or set time to break the ice. The same goes for tours, classes and events. If you’re doing the same activity you probably have some common interests, so just get the conversation started. Finally, keep an ear out for others who share your language or accent. Having a country of origin in common is an instant ice-breaker, so share a G’day, Bonjour or Hallo with your compatriots.
Your smartphone is a great tool for safe travels. As a solo traveller you have to stay vigilant. Be mindful of local crime hot spots and research petty crime or common scams in the area you’ll be visiting. Keep valuables hidden and don’t walk around wearing headphones or staring at your phone. Carry your hotel name and address with you so that you can get back home safely, and familiarise yourself with local emergency numbers as well.
It’s also a good idea to acquaint yourself with local customs and laws. This way you won’t unwittingly cause offence or find yourself in trouble for something you didn’t even know was wrong – like chewing gum in Singapore. Some countries have zero-tolerance policies around certain behaviours, so exercise caution accordingly.
Before flying out, be sure to share your itinerary and contact details with a friend or family member. You can also share your travel plans with your country’s consulate online, and be mindful of any travel safety advisories issued by your home government. Travel insurance is also a must.
You're going to be lugging your own luggage the entire trip, so take only a single backpack, and pack it as light as you can. Carry layers, so you can mix and match your clothes without having to carry too many. Pack miniature versions of toiletries and accessories. Avoid carrying valuables as much as possible, so you waste little time fretting about your bag's safety.
Pack a pepper spray for emergencies, keep a journal to record your travels, and most importantly, keep a good book that can draw your attention away from the awkwardness of eating alone.
Staying in touch with your family and friends during your trip is a great way to deal with loneliness while traveling alone. Enable data on your phone or look for accommodations with free Wifi, so you can share your experiences on Twitter and Facebook on the go, which are also good sources for credible recommendations on where to eat and what to do. Make sure at least one person back home is always clued in to your plans; Skype offers cheap calling rates and calling cards are easily available if you're traveling outside your own country.
While the entire aim of traveling solo is to step out of your comfort zone and discover the world at your own terms, it is important that you remember to trust your gut at all times. Whether an unlikely friendship, an eatery with a questionable sense of hygiene or an accommodation with a creepy owner -- it is better to be safe than sorry. Get out of the situation as quickly as possible, even at the cost of a potential adventure or a hair raising story; you'll come across plenty as you become a seasoned solo traveler!
Finally, remember to take in every new experience and place that you come across and simply enjoy the thrill of traveling. Solo travel can be extremely fulfilling in its own way so don’t get stuck on the banalities of the experience and learn to enjoy the moment.
Solo traveling is a unique way to learn more about the world – and yourself along the way. From food to activities to sight-seeing, there’s nothing like a vacation tailored specifically to you.