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Solo travel has become something of a bucket list item over the years but there’s no denying that taking a solo trip can be daunting. Solo travellers make it look so easy, but if you’ve never travelled by yourself before, you’re probably wondering where to start and how to travel alone for the first time? Should I travel alone? Is it safe? Where should I go first?
I started travelling alone when I was 16, some people think that’s young, others started travelling alone even younger. The important thing is that there’s no right or wrong time to start. Travelling by yourself is an adventure and a thrill, but it can also be a challenge, especially the first time you do it.
The key to travelling alone for the first time is to build up your confidence outside of your comfort zone. The more you do it, the further you can push yourself the next time and the more confident you’ll be travelling alone. And this post gives you tips and tricks for how to prepare for your first trip.
Get used to doing things alone at home
This might sound silly at first, but if you’re not used to doing things alone at home, chances are you’ll find doing things abroad on your own even harder.
So at home in your own country, push yourself outside your comfort zone a little by going to a cafe, bar or restaurant on your own. Or take yourself to the movies. It doesn’t have to be something huge, even just try turning up to a bar or restaurant half an hour before you’re due to meet your friends, buy a drink or snack and sit by yourself.
It sounds terrifying at first but it’s something you’ll have to do when you travel alone, so getting used to it in your home zone is helpful. You’ll find people don’t even pay much attention to you anyway so there’s no need to feel embarrassed. Just enjoy your drink and the people watching!
Consider taking a solo trip in your own country first
One of the most daunting parts of travelling alone is knowing you might have to negotiate with a new language, a new currency, new transport system, a completely different culture and a lack of wifi or mobile data to help you.
Make yourself feel a bit more comfortable and cut out these variables by taking a trip in your own country. There’s probably a number of places you’ve put on your list to visit one day in your home country, and this is a great reason to visit them. I’ve always loved taking small solo weekend trips at home in the UK, it gave me the excuse to explore places like the Peak District, Cornwall, York and Wales by myself.
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere like the US or Canada, you have a vast country to explore and different climates, cultures, activities and landscapes to see without ever having to show your passport.
Travelling solo in your own country is also a great opportunity to get used to taking buses, trains or planes solo. Feeling confident when negotiating transport alone is so helpful for when you travel by yourself.
Build up to a full trip alone
If taking a plane, negotiating a new city, finding accommodation and eating at a restaurant all by yourself is still too daunting, break it down into smaller steps.
When I was 16 I took my first flight alone. I flew to Spain but met my family there for a week’s holiday.
When I was 18 I organised trips abroad with friends.
When I was 19 I flew to Canada alone, travelled alone for a week then met up with a friend for a second week travelling.
Sometimes it’s more comfortable to do these things in stages until you’re comfortable travelling fully on your own. Each one of them is an achievement in itself.
Choose somewhere you feel comfortable travelling alone to
This might sound obvious but it’s important to pick somewhere you feel comfortable with and somewhere you’re looking forward to visiting - let the excitement outweighs the nervousness.
Perhaps you pick a country where you already know a bit of the language, even simple ‘where is…’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ will help you feel more confident if you’re visiting somewhere with a different language.
Or maybe you have friends or family in another country and it feels more reassuring to visit there and know you have a friendly face nearby if you need them.
Countries like China or Japan, while amazing, might be difficult for first time solo travellers, with the lack of internet access in China or lack of English speakers. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go there! Just make sure you’re comfortable with where you’re going.
Do you research and make a plan before your trip
Planning ahead will make you feel a lot more confident and prepared for your trip. Knowing your route, accommodation and what you want to see each day will help you keep busy too and keep your mind off any worries you have, especially if you’re worried about feeling lonely or homesick.
Although it’s not necessarily true to say you’ll plan less as you travel solo more often, the more you get used to travelling solo, you’re more likely to be comfortable without a strict plan or less worried if you wing it for your accommodation each night. While I do wing it a lot more often now, I always meticulously planned my solo trips for the first few years I was travelling alone and I still try to now.
It’s also often reassuring to have a back up plan or alternative options, just in case!
Share your plan with people you trust
Some people may think this is more suited to solo female travellers but I think this is good practice for anyone - always make sure someone knows where you are - even just sending them a general itinerary!
This is not to make you afraid but just to put your own mind at ease as well as your family members or friends. Make sure you let someone know what your plan is and what route you’re taking. I will always send my itinerary to my mum so she knows roughly where I am when I travel alone. Also tell people if you expect to be going non-contact for a while due to your location.
Book your accommodation in advance
As I mentioned above, you might be more comfortable with ‘winging’ this as time goes on but if you’re travelling alone for the first time, it makes sense to do your research, stay somewhere you’re comfortable with and make sure you know how to get there when you arrive - even without the internet to help you.
Stay in a hostel
This might not be for everyone, but there’s nothing worse than feeling lonely in a hotel room on your first solo trip. Hostels are a great place to meet other solo travellers and you’ll find a lot of people in the same boat as you.
Just hang out in the communal space and get chatting, it’s a great way to get out of your comfort zone and you’ll feel awesome for meeting new people and having human interaction too. You might even learn some tips or food recommendations from people who have been there for a while already.
You don’t even need to stay in dorms if shared spaces aren’t your thing, most hostels also offer private rooms for a good rate.
Download offline maps, or use a paper map
Often you might find that getting wifi isn’t always as easy as it is at home and you can’t use your mobile data. Of course you could always buy a local sim card but if you’re only there for a short trip, it might not be worth it.
Instead download offline google maps or maps.me so you can find your way around without the internet. Your accommodation may also have local map leaflets which you might find helpful.
Take part in a tour
Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start in a new place. You might prefer to book an organised tour or an Airbnb experience to get the full experience or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the things to see and do.
I usually avoid expensive organised tours but I do like to do a free walking tour in a new city. It’s nice to be part of a group and be surrounded by the same people for a few hours while you’re learning something about the place you’re visiting. Plus you might meet some new friends on your tour too!
Split your money
This isn’t just a tip for first time solo travellers, this should be something everyone does and it has saved me on more than one occasion.
Whether you’re travelling with cash, credit cards or debit cards, keep your money sources in at least two separate places. I usually keep some money (a small amount) and a credit card on my person/easily accessible, and the rest in my main travelling bag where I will top up my small purse supply each day. Sometimes I split this amount so I have half in my main bag and half in my daytime backpack.
This is for a few reasons. If your bag is lost or stolen then you will still have another bank card or money source available to you. Also, if you are ever pickpocketed or robbed, they will not have taken your whole money supply. A small amount of money is a good decoy if you’re ever in a position where you’re being threatened for money. Give them your small purse where you might only have $20 dollars equivalent and they’ll quickly take it and leave. This has saved me on two occasions.
Learning how to travel by yourself is a skill and the fact you’re considering it is something to be proud of - not many people get the chance to in their life.
You will learn a lot about yourself, how to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, how to budget, how to meet new people and when to trust your gut instincts.
Be confident, enjoy your trip and smile - you’ll come across as confident to new people who probably feel just as nervous as you do, then you’ll be able to start a conversation, make new connections and a trip to remember!
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Flights: I use Expedia to find great flights and the best deals all over the world, they have regular sales and offers so I always check their website. I also check CheapOair to find cheap deals on round trip flights.
Car Rental: I love the customer service I've always gotten and the variety of options with Rental Cars. But for short notice rentals, I've been using Expedia for the last year, they always seem to have great one-day rates or last-minute rates from the main rental companies.
Accommodation: I prefer the flexibility of booking accommodation with Booking.com so I can cancel or change my reservation without a fee or only pay on arrival for most properties. For longer or more unique stays I prefer AirBnB because you can get the long stay discount, you can also find more unique properties and book experiences with talented locals and businesses. For my budget trips, I always stay in hostels and book through Hostelworld because they have great guarantees if anything does go wrong. If you arrive and your booking is not at the property, they refund the full deposit AND give you $50 extra credit.
Tours and organised trips Although I don’t use tours that often, I do like to book local experiences or day trips once I reach my destination. For that I use GetYourGuide because it has the biggest selection and variety of tour and experience options.
Travel Insurance: I currently use SafetyWing Nomad Insurance. Which allows me to pay a rolling monthly fee to cover my long term travels.
My camera gear and equipment: I use a Canon 77D with an 18-135mm lens or a 50mm lens. And a DJI Mavic Mini Drone. For all my gear including laptops, tripods and more camera accessories read my travel photography gear guide.