Often, people tell me they want to travel more, but don’t because they don’t have anyone to travel with.
We all know the story- maybe friends don’t have as many days off as you, or you can’t agree on a destination, or you want to take a trip that’s out of your travel companion’s budget. I get it- a few years ago, I was in the group of people who simply didn’t take a trip if I couldn’t find someone to go with.
But, then a break-up changed my perspective. We’d been planning a trip together and were at the point where we needed to start reserving flights and lodging. When the relationship ended, I couldn’t get over the thought of not taking the trip I’d been so excited about.
So, I went anyway.
Coming back from that trip, I realized I’d been waiting for life to hold my hand.
From then out, if I ever started questioning a decision to take a trip, or felt unsure about doing something, I asked myself, If not now, when?
If you wait for someone to come along who’ll be your perfect travel buddy, you may be waiting a long time. In the end, you regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you actually do.
After years of solo travel, I’m not only stronger than I ever would have been, but the places I’ve visited have changed me forever.
Now, I prefer traveling on my own. An ideal trip is one where I have the freedom to do as I wish, and perhaps meet up with friends for part of the trip, but my traveling and decisions aren’t reliant on others.
Before I started traveling solo, I was worried about so many ridiculous things- doing things alone, my safety in foreign countries, not having as much fun, the list goes on and on.
I’ve come to understand none of the things I may worry about, or be afraid of, compare to missing out on an experience.
Still have concerns? That’s understandable and okay- but, part of living is facing fears. Even after years of solo travel, I recently had jitters about going to Asia for the first time, but I went anyway and had an incredible time.
The reality of solo travel is very different from what a lot of people imagine it to be. And although at some point, you just have to decide to go, I do have a few tips for anyone considering their first solo adventure.
5 Tips For Your First Solo Trip
Book day trips or tours
Although I’m selective about the tours I take- when I’m traveling solo to a new destination, there’s a good chance I’ll book myself on a day tour. Sure, day tours can be too touristy, but they can also be a great way to see a lot in a short amount of time, or make it to that place you didn’t think you’d have time for if you had to rely on less-than-ideal public transit (enter my day trip to Neuschwanstein).
Another bonus of tours? Meeting people who are also visiting your destination. Sometimes, I’ll chat up other visitors to find either they’re also traveling solo, or they’ve been to the destination before and have cool facts/stories to share.
Understand things are going to happen, and you’ll get through them
When you travel solo and are 100% responsible for yourself, you truly come to understand what being ‘self-sufficient’ means.
That time I had a serious allergic reaction in Paris and had to get myself to a French hospital? Scary, but I dealt with it. Or that time in Mexico, my debit card was declined because my bank flagged the transaction as fraud and I didn’t have any pesos on me? Unfortunate, but I figured things out and got on with my trip.
My point is- your bags may get lost, you may miss a flight, or your Airbnb may look nothing like the pictures. But, if you expect there to be bumps in the road and have confidence in your ability to overcome them, you’ll not only learn from your mistakes, but come out stronger.
Take only what you need & be mindful of your possessions
It’s rare I’ll check luggage for any trip, but unheard of if I’m traveling solo for less than three weeks.
The main reason I don’t travel with a ton of possessions? I don’t want to have to worry about lost luggage or extra baggage fees. You also save time if you’re not waiting for luggage to arrive, and generally have an easier time getting around a city if you’re just carrying a backpack or small rolling suitcase.
And although I pack light, that doesn’t mean I don’t take a smart phone and laptop on most trips. However, I am mindful of when I pull out my laptop or other key possessions (wallet, passport, etc.). I ensure valuables are never together in one bag (e.g., I keep my debit and credit cards separate, and also keep cash in different places).
Research your destination so you can get out there and explore
For any trip, I’ll usually start with a bit of research / asking friends for recommendations for things to do and see, and create a custom Google map laying out where key things are. Having things sketched out to keep yourself entertained helps ensure you make the most of your trip and aren’t ever bored.
Remember: You’re traveling to check out local markets, try new cuisine, wander the streets, and visit museums, and it’s okay to get a bit lost while exploring.
Before traveling, I also make sure I know a few basic greetings/phrases in the language of the place I’m going, and that I know where the nearest hospital, embassy and police stations are in relation to where I’m staying.
In addition to planning research, I’ll scan the news headlines to ensure I’m aware of recent issues or hot topics. As you travel more of the world, you’ll find important happenings aren’t always picked up by the mainstream media.
Finally, I always tell family and close friends where I’m going and what I’m doing. Pending where I’m traveling to, I may also register my trip with the State Department as an added precaution.
You’re never truly alone
Regardless of where you travel to, it’s likely you’ll meet other people traveling solo, or people traveling together who are friendly.
I’m an introvert through and through, so solo travel actually energizes me. It ensures I’m moving at my own pace, and not only seeing a new destination, but refreshing myself.
If it’s your first solo trip, don’t be scared to strike up a conversation in a hostel common room or with your Airbnb owner, at the bar of a restaurant, or on a guided tour. Over time, you’ll find people have more in common the differences that divide.
Whenever I’m feeling doubtful, I come back to these words from @jedidiahjenkins–
“… It is easy to believe that we are without hope as a species. That this world is a nasty broken failure. But let me tell you this: I have been living in the constant presence of strangers in foreign countries for 11 months. I have probably met 2,000 people that didn’t know me or have any reason to be nice to me. But they were. They helped me, they fixed my bike, they let me sleep in their barn or their house. They fed me for free. They had nothing to gain from me but the chance to do good and share a laugh and some broken English or simple Spanish. Goodness is the norm on this planet. Kindness is king. The darkness is the exception and will ultimately lose every time. The world is, in spite of the shadows, a brilliantly bright shining place.“
Above all else, don’t forget: No one starts out as a confident solo traveler. Being at ease with traveling solo happens over time as you become comfortable with making your own choices.