6 Tips for Your First Solo Travel Adventure
Experience the world your way
When I talk to people about how much I travel alone, their reactions tend to fall into a couple of patterns. The main one is ‘you’re so brave, I could never do that’. Sometimes they go on to tell me how much they’d love to do it, they just couldn’t possibly. I maintain that pretty much everyone can do it — if the only thing holding you back is nerves, then you definitely can.
So, if you’d love to try out solo travel but are too nervous, too unsure, or not confident enough, here are the tips I always share.
Pick somewhere local(ish) for your first time
If you’ve never been away alone before and find the whole concept daunting, jetting off to a far-flung destination for a couple of weeks is a huge step. Maybe even flying to another country seems insurmountable.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get on a plane and go away by yourself anyway. I live in England, so I generally recommend something like flying up to Edinburgh for a few days. If you’re in America, fly to a different state. Take an internal flight within your country. Whatever works.
Even if you could technically drive the distance, the point is to get on a plane by yourself, fly somewhere, check into your accommodation, and start exploring. If it’s only a short trip, you get to experience solo travel without feeling like you’re taking on much risk. Even if you’re nervous, the flight’s only a couple of hours at most and if everything just feels too much, you can get a train or hire a car to get home, if you need to.
The idea is that you know you have an escape plan if you don’t feel ok. Not that you should need it, but knowing it’s there can give you the bravery you need to push the ‘book’ button if you’re hesitant.
This tip is about familiarity, so perhaps it’s not somewhere nearby you need, but somewhere that has a familiarity. A country that speaks the same language as yours — my first solo trip was to Australia — or somewhere that you’ve been before with other people, and know well enough to feel more confident.
Book the right accommodation
You know yourself better than I do, so this one is about choosing the right accommodation for you. For me, I change it up depending on where I’m going. AirBnB in Europe, hotels if I’m flying a long way and dealing with bigger timezone changes.
If I book AirBnB, I always go for the ‘whole property’ option — renting a room in a stranger’s house isn’t for me. I want somewhere I can close the door and be alone after a day of exploring, and it feels safer to me.
Other solo travellers I know like to make friends while they travel, so they book hostels where they can mix with other travellers. You can usually find ones with single-sex dorms or smaller rooms, if that’s important to you.
A hotel can have a sense of cleanliness and safety that also has a real appeal — as I said, I like to book hotels if I’m flying further than usual (Hong Kong) or to a place where I want the amenities provided by a hotel, like a pool or restaurant (Oman). There’s nothing wrong with booking a hotel — your solo adventure is not less authentic because you chose a hotel rather than a hostel. If that’s the difference between going and not going, choose whatever works for you.
The important thing is to read reviews for wherever you’re staying — I never book a new AirBnB that hasn’t had any reviews yet, and I read tripadvisor reviews for any hotel I choose. You need somewhere that makes you feel safe and comfortable, so that you can expend you energy on enjoying your solo travels rather than worrying or protecting yourself.
Talking of research — do a lot of it. If it’s the first time you’re travelling alone, do all the research. Read guidebooks, read maps, read blogs. Make a plan for what you want to see or do. Look up which types of transport are best/safest/cheapest. Figure out how much money you’re likely to need for food and activities. Learn a few words of the language if you’re travelling further afield.
The more familiar you are with where you’re going, the more confident you’re going to be. Ignore people who say ‘oh, I just show up and see what happens’. That may be the case, but if you’re nervous then it’s not going to make you feel anything other than more nervous. As it happens, I will sometimes show up to a new country and have no plan (I recently took out the wrong currency for my destination because I hadn’t checked before I left), but for my first trip I spent weeks researching.
If you know you want to do a certain activity, review providers before you leave home so you know how to get the best one — whether that’s based on price or safety. The more you know, the less vulnerable you are (or feel).
…But don’t forget to go with the flow
That plan you made? Feel free to throw it out of the window when you arrive. Or follow it to the letter. Whatever works for you. Don’t force yourself to follow the plan just because you made it. Its purpose was to give you a strong starting point and the confidence to get going. But when you arrive, if you feel like you want to do something entirely different, go with it.
Travelling solo allows you to do whatever the hell you want, whenever you want. If you want to sleep in, great. You’re not beholden to anyone’s schedule but your own — that’s one of the best parts. So go with the flow, take a walk without having a checklist. Miss some of the ‘must see’ things.
Wander and see something you hadn’t expected. Seize the opportunity to try something you hadn’t considered. Sit and soak up the atmosphere without thinking about where you’re supposed to be going next.
Enjoy the freedom.
Don’t do something you wouldn’t do at home
People worry about how safe it is to travel alone, and stories about kidnapped or mugged travellers only fuel this fire. But crime happens everywhere, and your own country has plenty of risk, too. The difference is that we know and understand the risks at home, and we take steps to mitigate against them.
Your research should include safety, but so should your behaviour. At home, I feel perfectly confident walking around the city during the day, but I wouldn’t walk through certain areas alone at night. So, when I’m away, I don’t go into ‘holiday mode’ and forget my usual behaviours.
Now, this isn’t meant to say that people who have experienced negative events while travelling (or at home) are at fault — the only people at fault are the criminals. But, if you’re concerned, make sure you take as many precautions as you would at home, perhaps more. You shouldn’t be scared, but you should be aware and observant.
If you’re worried about going away alone, set up a system where you check in with people back home to let them know you’re safe. Knowing you have people who know where you are and will jump into action if they don’t hear from you can be very reassuring.
Don’t burden yourself with constant checkins — daily is plenty, hourly is way too much. The more you fret over things, the more worried you’ll feel and the less you’ll get out of travelling. This isn’t something you should need to do every time, and if you chronicle your trips on social media it might not be necessary at all — I usually let my mum know when I’ve arrived and when I land back in the UK , and that’s it— but if you’re nervous, it can be a nice safety net.
Bonus Tip — Enjoy!
These tips might seem like overkill to seasoned solo travellers, but for anyone who wants to venture out alone for the first time yet still feels a little nervous, hopefully they’ll help.
The main thing is not to forget the entire point — to have fun, experience something new, or build yourself up. It shouldn’t be an ordeal that you’re enduring, it should be something you want to do. See something beautiful, experience something different. Let yourself feel small and insignificant in the face of the whole universe, then let yourself feel powerful and capable, too.
If you try it and don’t like it, that’s perfectly ok. There’s no one right way to do anything, let alone travel. Don’t force it if you don’t feel it. But if you do love it, oh the adventures you’ll have. The whole world, right there ready for you.
Authored by Natalie Howells