Solo travel. It sounds scary, doesn’t it? Booking your first solo trip abroad can feel daunting – I mean, I was pretty terrified before my first time.
The reality is that while travelling on your own can be challenging, it’s also massively rewarding and I can guarantee that you’ll have a completely different experience than you’d have if you go with friends. Going on a trip by yourself, whether it’s for one weekend or one year, is a sure-fire way to show you what you’re capable of. You learn more about yourself in one trip than those who never go it alone will know about themselves in a lifetime, and even if you hate every second, you can come back easy in the knowledge that you did it.
Travelling alone was something that always scared me, mainly because I’m a bit of a mess. I lack organisational skills, I’m generally terrible at adulting and I don’t really trust myself with big decisions. At least, I didn’t until I moved abroad alone – even though I was an anxious wreck before I left. When I took a one-way flight to Dubai last year, I was thrown into a new life where I had the chance to travel to every city on my travel bucket list. The problem, was I didn’t have any pals in Dubai at first. There was nobody to go with, so I went by myself.
I went to Vienna and Rome and Hong Kong all alone for long weekends. I flew to Cape Town and spent my first day there exploring solo. I later went on trips where I didn’t know anybody else in the group until I landed. And you know what? They were all bloody brilliant trips. I’ve put together my top tips for nervous first-time solo travellers based on my experiences. I hope they help!
Planning your first solo trip? Here are my tips for thriving
Where to go
For your debut in the big wide world, I suggest going somewhere that shares the same first language as you, or at least somewhere it’s widely spoken. I chose Vienna for my first solo weekend away because Europe feels a lot more familiar than Asia or Africa, and I knew that I wouldn’t have too many problems finding my way.
By all means, choose Tokyo or Kathmandu for your first trip abroad alone if you have more guts than me, but keep in mind that you might encounter communication issues and culture shock. I was particularly worried about not being able to decipher road signs and public transport timetables. When I did need to ask for directions or order lunch, I found that smiling apologetically and using hand gestures usually worked.
The most important piece of travel gear a novice solo traveller can pack is a portable power pack. It means you can charge your phone while you’re out and about so you’ll never have to feel lost as you explore your destination at your own pace. It’s also good to have data roaming on your phone. OK, ‘authentic’ travel is about unplugging, but if you’re anxious about your first solitary trip, don’t make things harder than they need to be – yet. It’s about safety, first and foremost.
If you need to appease your parents’ worries, download an app that tracks your phone and give them the log in. Hopefully, they’ll only use it when they need to!
When I went to Hong Kong by myself, I was absolutely thrilled to find that my hotel gave each room a smartphone that had unlimited data, which I could take out with me as I explored. It was a massive help because it meant I didn’t have to find a Starbucks and buy a coffee every time I needed to look something up online (you know, the important stuff like ‘best dumplings in Kowloon’ and the like). If you can find a hotel that offers this, I’d highly recommend booking it!
Do your research
Before your first solo trip, you’ll obviously want to research your destination and plan some things to see and do that appeal most to you. Remember, you don’t have to please anyone else when you go it alone, so make the most of that freedom! Create a trip itinerary that focuses on your passions. Don’t care about architecture? Skip the buildings and head for the beaches! Love learning about history and getting to know a city on foot? Sign up for that walking tour you’d never be able to do with your lazy, uncultured friends in tow!
Even on the most spontaneous of solo trips, there’s one piece of planning I always spend a few minutes on. I plan my route from the airport to my accommodation, by putting both addresses into Google Maps and sussing out the public transport options or checking how long the journey should take by car (so I know if a taxi driver is taking me for a ride). It means that the first hurdle of my journey that could otherwise cause me distress is sorted, and it stops me having a last-minute panic at Departures.
Get savvy about accommodation options for solo travellers
One of the things I always found daunting about solo travel was the sleeping arrangements. A lot of people rave about how hostels can help first-time solo travellers meet likeminded pals on the road, and I can vouch for that. However, something about spending your exciting first solo trip searching for people to hang around with doesn’t sit right with me, because I prefer to go out and see the destination on my own terms when I go alone. Yes, travel is about the friends you make along the way – but doing things alone is all part of the challenge.
When I go on trips alone now, I usually book a private room in a hostel. This means I have my own space and can keep my belongings safe, but I have the sociability factor just downstairs in the hostel’s bar or kitchen area. It’s also one of the cheaper options!
You can search for private rooms in hostels all over the world on booking.com
Do it your way
Some people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I’m off to another city all on my lonesome, and a lot of the time that’s because they just don’t get it. The thing is, I actually like spending time by myself, so I saviour that quality time on the road.
If you make yourself at ease with your own company, you won’t struggle to take a seat at a table for one at a restaurant in Rome or anywhere else. Take a book if you really must and remember, you can pretend to be consumed by your phone screen if you can’t handle the horror of accidentally catching someone’s eye while you enjoy your meal.
As for what to actually do on a solo trip, that’s up to you. I love just walking around a new place to get a feel for it and I busy myself taking pictures. It gives my wanders a bit of purpose and means I have something to do with my hands.
Trust me, nobody is staring at you because you’re travelling alone. And if they are, it’s with admiration.
If you’re the type of person who feels anxious about doing anything alone, even in your hometown, then maybe solo travel isn’t for you. My advice is to challenge yourself to do things by yourself in your own country before you book a ticket. Take yourself out for a coffee, or even lunch – and try not to fiddle with your phone the whole time!
There’s no rule that says you have to book a hardcore, three-month minimum solo backpacking adventure across the globe for your first foray into the world of solo travel. If that’s what excites you then by all means go for it, but remember that a night away in an unfamiliar city by yourself is a great way to dip your toes into the lone wolf thing. Why not buy a train ticket to your nearest city, one that you haven’t explored much, and spend a day or two there to get a feel for travelling alone?
Nobody’s saying you have to sleep in a tent or a hostel bunkbed. Solo travel is about doing you, so if you’re more of a glampacker than a backpacker, style your trip your way. There won’t be anyone to complain.
Go forth and wander. You don’t need someone to go with you and you’ll never regret it. I promise.
Let me know if you’re planning your first solo trip, or if you’re a seasoned solo traveller – where did you go first? I’m curious!