Planning your first solo travel adventure? Below are some practical solo travel tips from a (self-proclaimed) seasoned solo adventurer!
If you’ve never traveled by yourself before, you’re in for a treat.
Traveling alone can be a truly liberating experience. From start to finish, you’re in full control of what you see and do. Don’t feel like sticking around somewhere? Move on. Come across a potentially interesting detour? Explore at your leisure. You’re free to go about it any way you like (and be whoever you want to be).
Some are turned off by the concept – the idea of being alone in a foreign place evokes images of loneliness and boredom. As any seasoned solo traveler will tell you, these fears are overblown.
Traveling alone does not mean you have to be alone the entire time – far from it. It’s actually much easier to meet people when you show up alone. Sometimes, all you have to do is smile at people, and they will want to hear your story.
It’s also one of the best ways to get some thinking done. Solo travel clears the mind – the experience of spending parts of the day in solitude is akin to meditation. There is no more pretending or putting on a show for others – only the reality, and your reactions to it.
In short, solo travel is great way to get to know yourself.
Excited yet? It gets even better.
Thanks to our wired and interconnected world, travel couldn’t be easier. There are plenty of tools and resources online to help you every step of the way (see our “Travel Resources” page for a curated list).
With that said, below is some of my personal advice for aspiring solo globetrotters:
- If you’re worried about being alone, don’t be.Before you even set off on your trip, try taking a day off to explore your own town or city. Walk around by yourself and take in all the sights, as if you were a tourist. You may be bored or restless at first, without the company of anyone else. This is entirely normal, and just takes some time to get used to.When you are comfortable spending a full day just by yourself, go on a weekend trip to a neighbouring city or state. Take this chance to explore someplace new – on your own terms.After a few such weekend trips, you may become addicted to the freedom that comes with solo travel. You can go anywhere, see places in any order and be free of others’ schedules.Once the journey begins, you will see firsthand just how enjoyable solo travel is.
- Set aside enough time and money for travel.
One common piece of feedback from recently returned travelers is: “I wish I had brought half as much stuff, and taken twice as much money.” While I can help you with the former (see the “Packing Advice” page), you’re on your when it comes to financing your travels. Some money tips for the road:
- Don’t plan to see everything at once – slow down. Give yourself enough time to fully explore a city before you move on. This will not only make your trip more enjoyable, but will save you money. A good chunk is typically spent on transportation (e.g. airplane tickets), and taking it slow is a great way to save.
- Try to stick to a daily budget. Some days you’ll go over, and some under. But do try to stick to one if you’re trying to stretch money out. For an idea of how much things cost abroad, Numbeo is an invaluable resource.
- Before you set off, figure out how you will be paying for things. Avoid using currency exchange services – they often have horrible exchange rates (especially the ones in airports). While your credit card will probably have the best exchange rate, keep in mind that many businesses are still cash-only (especially in third world countries). For this reason, it may make sense to go with a bank that offers refunds on foreign ATM fees (for Americans, Charles Schwab is the best choice). If you really need cash, simply using an ATM with your debit card is the likely the best way to get a good exchange rate.
- If you don’t have much cash saved up, consider traveling to a more affordable part of the world. South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and much of Latin America can be done on $40 to 50 USD/day, while costs go up dramatically once you set foot into North America, Western/Northern Europe, or major East Asian cities (e.g. Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore). Note: these are merely ballpark figures, and the real cost will depend on your preferences (e.g. if you’re willing to stay at a hostel). For some ideas based on your budget, check out the latest Backpacker Price Index.
- Remember that there are many viable alternatives to traditional hotels. Consider booking a bedroom (or an apartment) on Airbnb.
- There are ways to earn money while on you’re road (e.g. bartending, teaching English, manual labor). If you’ve got some skills and/or willing to work, you can probably make ends meet. Some travel this way for long periods of time (it pays to be resourceful). Note: if you go this route, check to make sure what you’re doing is legal. Also, double check the tax laws of your country of citizenship to make sure you’re following the rules.
- Take advantage of the fact that you’re traveling alone.
If you’re willing to be flexible with your schedule, there are all sorts of deals to be had on tickets and accommodations (e.g. airfare is often cheaper when departing mid-week). Many places have a peak (tourist) season, usually when the weather is optimal – if you want to beat the crowds, try going there near the start or end of the season (each city guide on the site has “Best time to visit” info).Note: many travel booking sites have a “price alert” feature that will send information about price drops to your inbox – this is a great way to snag deals/discounts as they come up. Simply put, do your research ahead of time.
- Sort out your medical needs before you leave.
While there are many countries with great healthcare systems, the last thing you need is to worry about getting a prescription refill on the road. Get this sorted out before you take off. In addition, make sure you get all the relevant travel immunizations (check the CDC site for destination-specific recommendations).
- Keep a diary of your travels.
Whether it’s something as simple as an Instagram feed or a full-blown WordPress blog, try to keep a record of where you’ve been – it will be useful later, for reminiscing and sharing with others.
- Let your family and friends know where you’re going.
They miss you, and worry too much!
- Let your bank know you’re going, too.
Call ahead and give them a heads up – there’s nothing worse than finding out that all your bank/credit cards have been frozen due to “illegitimate” activity (foreign transactions are flagged immediately).
- Use common sense on the road.You have to rely on yourself. Without friends to get you out of trouble, you must learn to stay alert and observant.A good practice is to try and blend in with the locals. Follow the local customs, and don’t try to show off. It’s also a good idea to avoid certain conversation topics – the most sensitive ones are religion, politics, and sex. One sure way to stir up an argument is by trying to “re-educate” the local population.Some cities are considerably more dangerous at night. In any case, try to stay in well-lit areas and always in sight of other people. Keep calm, cautious and use common sense. Avoid picking fights, or starting a scene for no reason. Don’t rely on locals to help you out if you’re causing trouble. Respect local laws, and be polite.
TL;DR: don’t worry – it’s going to be just fine. Travel, no matter the form it takes, will open your mind to new possibilities, cultures, and ways of living.
The best part of your trip very well might be the moment you return. Travel has a way of reminding us to treasure what we already have.