Since I’ve been back from my first solo travelling adventure, I’ve had quite a few people ask me how I did it, or calling me brave. I was nervous before I set off; from the comfort of home I was naturally worried about what might go wrong. Would I get lost? Would I be lonely? Would I even last the full journey without turning back?
Here, in one place, I’ve collected my top solo travelling tips to help anyone planning their first trip. It is a daunting experience, but the rewards are worth overcoming your nerves and in many ways, it’s better than having a travel partner:
1. Plan to your strengths
Before you go, you’ll have an idea of what you’re good at and what you’ll like along the way, so use this to create a rough guide for your trip. To organise your plans, also use your strengths; I put everything into a spreadsheet as I’m used to big data, but if this is daunting, I’ve seen trips planned with pen and paper.
As you might remember, I changed my mind about taking a large backpack and decided to opt for a bag with wheels that might be more associated with weekend getaways. When you’re planning on what to pack and how to pack it, make sure you’ll be able to easily travel with your chosen airlines. In the midst of the rest of your research, just check out Case2Fit to check allowances and if you haven’t got a bag, click here to pick one based on your plans. In the end I chose a four wheeled bag which spins and let me navigate up and down hill. A backpack would not have done the same job but I do respect anyone that can carry longterm travel items like that; instead, it just made my muscles hurt.
As for your destinations, think about whether you need company and crowds, or peace and quiet. You might be an extrovert looking for vibrant cities or one hoping to get away from it all and rediscover nature. Either way, feel it in advance to design the solo trip you actually want.
2. Make choices for you
Every day you’ll have to make decisions that are either usually made for you, or don’t come up at all. When faced with choices such as which landmarks to see, how much to spend on a bed for the night, what time to leave and where to eat on your own, you have to learn that each of these ‘little’ decisions is yours and yours alone. What do you want to do right now?
I can vouch that this gets easier over time and before you know it, it’s the most natural thing in the world. As you have no one else to please or worry about, you’re in a better place to try new things and stretch yourself.
3. Get up early
Male or female, get up early to go and explore your new destination in the morning light, getting everything ticked off your hitlist before your legs get tired and it gets dark (which can make you feel unsafe at times in strange new places). Practically, it’s a good way to beat your other travellers to the showers so you’re not hanging around in a queue, and you’ll also escape the crowds if you’re visiting somewhere popular.
Just because you get up early, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the evening; I often watched the sunset or ate out late after a long day of discovery. I found that achieving a lot in the day gave me time to review photos in the evening, relax and get the quality sleep I needed for another day. It was also a benefit for when I would get night trains as it allowed me to actually sleep in the tight, often stuffy, compartments of eastern Europe.
4. Enjoy freedom
For perhaps the first time in your adult life, you’ll have a free schedule and plenty of time to enjoy it. As you get settled into the solo travelling lifestyle, be confident, be mindful and acknowledge you’re doing something great for you.
For a little while, I held back smiling and showing my happiness as I thought I’d look silly doing it by myself, walking around like some strange person. Yet, after a time, it becomes normal and a way to meet people and share your experiences; people smile back, ask where you’re from and provide random cherished conversations that stay with you. As I write this, three or four come to mind that I’ll undoubtedly remember for a long time to come.
5. Make new friends (or don’t)
When you travel alone, you’re immediately interesting to other travellers and locals, especially when it comes to finding out just how you ended up at this street vendor 3,000 miles from home on a Wednesday morning. Go in with a smile and you’ll never feel lonely, even when there’s a language barrier; so much can be communicated through body language, facial expressions and gestures. By now, I famously got insulted by an Italian woman in Croatia, but I loved the experience of understanding and connecting with someone on a more intuitive level. In short, be approachable, be curious and ask questions.
Personally, I loved this part of my travels and made friends on trains, walking tours and in hostels. If however, you want to cherish your alone time, skip the bars and hostel communal areas, but I’d still recommended enjoying the odd bit of small talk to learn something about the culture you’re in, or just to keep the vocal chords practised. If I spent a day walking alone, it did sound like my voice was breaking the next time I spoke to someone!
6. Don’t take a book
For some reason, pretty much every post I read prior to my own experiences recommended taking a book or e-reader. Well, I say don’t take a book! Live in the moment and embrace sitting alone in a cafe or restaurant without the need to hide behind fiction. Some of my best memories are just sitting – by the water in Split for example – and almost meditating in the experience of silence and my surroundings. It’s the best way to know you’re actually doing what you set out to do.
I can promise that if you take a book, you’ll start reading it the second you feel exposed or vulnerable at looking alone, and miss out on the moments that let your mind be open and free. For me, it was a new type of calm, free from responsibility and distraction.
7. Change your mind
Being out there on your own is very different from the planning stages, so change your mind if you want to. As you’re going solo, you can choose to take a day off, go somewhere early or spend hours hiking up a hill just for a great photo, whether or not you had that in mind when you woke up.
Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty. I found that all experiences were worthwhile as there’s quite a big learning curve, but that initially it’s hard to feel like you’ve missed something vital. It took me a long time to realise that I made the rules and didn’t have to justify myself if I needed a break, didn’t want to do something or just wasn’t interested. Once it clicks that it’s all about you, a change of heart is easier to digest.
8. Keep to a budget
Whether a once in a lifetime trip or that yearly break, it’s best to have a budget that makes sense for your finances but doesn’t ultimately restrict your experiences. Set the amount before you go away after you’ve booked your transport and accommodation, then you can see the total spending money available.
Keep to it but don’t check it obsessively or be too concerned as it’ll take you out of the moment. Just have it at the back of your mind as a guide so you don’t blow it all in that expensive city – Monte Carlo perhaps? – and have enough to keep you going for the length of your trip. Personally, I had a separate travel account so it was easy to see what I’d planned for, and also had a buffer just incase.
9. Be confident
Amazingly, as you travel solo no one knows who you are so you can just be yourself without any expectations. Don’t want to straighten your hair? Not a problem! Same clothes as yesterday? No one will know! This sense of anonymity quickly grows into confidence and a far more relaxed attitude. I remember having some pretty bad bug bites on my legs that normally I’d have covered up, but this was impossible in the heat and I just had to go with it; if I did feel self-conscious, it didn’t last long as any impression on others was fleeting. A woman actually lent me some homemade treatment that saw the swelling go down, which wouldn’t have happened if I’d kept them hidden.
10. Observe, learn & grow
When you’re away, time can go by a bit differently to home, feeling slower as you’re on your own and living in the moment. Take the chance to look around, really see things and learn something about yourself. Away from the routines and distractions of everyday life, you start to pick up on what you’d normally miss and regain some childhood enthusiasm for the unknown.
I learnt that most people are nice and kind, I’m more resourceful than I imagined and that whilst everywhere is unique, it’s people that give the world some coherence; you’ll always find familiar types you know from home.
Hope this helps! Ask me any travel questions or for more solo travelling tips with a comment below, or check out one of the guides I read before making my own way, just click here. In fact, that would be by final tip before heading off; find out as much about other people’s experiences online as you can, and then forget them all and create your own.
Other people’s experiences are great as a safety blanket and can really back you up when you’re in a corner, but what you’ll learn and share will be equally as invaluable to someone else.