You know the feeling. You’re itching for an adventure, a change of scenery, a new experience, to see the world — but doing it alone? That can be daunting. Whether your friends can’t get the time off work, your partner doesn’t have the money, or you would just rather explore by yourself, traveling solo can be a literal journey of independence and discovery. We’ve narrowed down a list of helpful tips to make sure you stay safe, smart, and happy during your travels.
Research Your Destination
It may sound obvious, but reading about your destination before you arrive can save you a lot of hassle — it’s an easy way to know what to expect and plan accordingly. There’s a huge variety of online forums, travel blogs, and location-specific tourist information that give great travel advice.
Research customs and how to dress in the place to which you’re traveling. This will help you blend in and not appear as a target for crime. Female travelers in particular should be aware of attitudes towards women in the countries they travel to, so to avoid unwanted attention. Also, seek out recommendations in the area you’re going to for solo travelers, notably accommodations with good reviews and easily accessible by transport. Once at your accommodation, ask the staff/host about suitable places for dining, clubbing, and other activities as a solo traveler. The best recommendations always come directly from locals.
Solo travelers should remember to email copies of their passport and travel documents to themselves, in case anything gets stolen or lost. If you know your itinerary before you leave, share it with relatives so they know where you’re expected to be, even if they can’t contact you. However, if you’re planning on staying in an area for a long time, buy a travel SIM card for your phone, so you can call or message people. It’s also worth remembering to purchase travel insurance that includes repatriation — meaning the insurance company will cover the cost of medical transportation back to your home country if anything should happen.
Traveling alone doesn’t have to be lonely. In fact, solo travel is a fantastic opportunity to meet people, collect stories, and develop friendships that span the world. The beauty of solo travel is that you can decide when you want to be sociable and when you’re content with your own company. A side tip — learning to say “no” is pretty valuable as a solo traveler. You’re bound to get offers to join various outings. Just remember it’s your vacation, and there’s no pressure to spend time with other people.
With that being said, there are tons of ways to surround yourself with people on your trip. Hostels are generally very sociable, with large communal spaces to strike up a conversation with fellow guests. They also typically host events like language exchanges, bar crawls, and movie nights. Alternatively, book accommodations on AllTheRooms to compare properties on sites like Couchsurfing and Airbnb, where it’s likely you’ll get to know your host, or at least you’ll be in a position to get some lesser-known suggestions on what to see and do.
If you like something separate from where you’re staying, a lot of cities have group walking tours, which are a great way to start chatting to people as you explore together. There are tour companies specifically for solo travelers too, if you prefer to steer clear of large groups and couples.
Learn the Language
Language barriers can be tricky when you’re on the road by yourself. You don’t have other people’s bilingual skills to rely on, and suddenly building up the courage to ask what time the next bus is becomes a huge struggle. Memorize basic greetings and key questions for the countries you visit — it’ll make getting around so much smoother and will make you feel more confident as a foreigner. Local people will appreciate your efforts to communicate and will be more likely to offer extra help to you as a lone traveler.
Most useful phrases to know when traveling are:
- “Hello/good morning”
- “Goodbye/good evening”
- “Please” / “Thank you”
- “Do you speak…?”
- “Where is?”
- “When is the last…?”
- “How long is…?”
- “I need help”
- “I am from”
- “One beer please” (Or whatever you’re drinking!)
Keep a Record of Your Travel
One of the downsides to traveling alone is not being able to reminisce with travel companions afterward. It can be difficult to remember all the funny events, the people, the obscure foods and the long bus journeys. And as if to rub salt into the wound, traveling alone automatically appoints you designated photo-taker for everyone else. Smiling through gritted teeth as you tell a group to smile and press the camera shutter is nobody’s idea of liberating travel, so be sure to keep your time away fresh in your mind. Take photos, and don’t be afraid to ask people to take photos of you — strike a pose and embrace where you are!
Collect memorabilia — whether it’s ticket stubs, maps, shells, postcards, or food wrappers, the smallest tokens can be the most significant. You may just find yourself in decades staring at one and instantly heading down memory lane. Better yet, keep a journal or blog about your trip — it’s a great way to look back on your adventure in the order things happened, as well as being a reminder for future trip planning about what you enjoyed and what you didn’t.
Cherish Your Time
Solo travel means you have total freedom, a luxury that can easily turn into spending time relaxing in the same space. Make sure you keep yourself motivated and planning ahead for the important things you want to tick off. If you end up having a spontaneous, wild night out, adjust your schedule accordingly and ensure you don’t miss anything.
Likewise, traveling alone means you don’t have to cater to anyone else’s schedules. No waiting around for the hungover friend that stayed in the bar after everyone else went home, no appeasing the sibling that wakes up at 5 am every day. Pick your hours, be realistic with what you can do and what you enjoy.
There’s a fine balance between spending your vacation looking through a camera lens and really seeing where you are. When you’re wandering around — whether down a busy street in the city center, or through a remote mountainous trail — stop and take a few seconds to look up.
Always Know Where the Closest Bathroom Is
Lastly and most crucially, a change in diet and environment is always a risky combination, and when you’re going it solo, there isn’t a companion on hand to support when nature calls in the most urgent manner.
Keep stomach relief medication with you throughout your travels, and where possible, know your exit route to the nearest bathroom. Especially during the beginning days of your travel. If you’re off the beaten path or getting long distance public transport — trust us, you’ll be very glad you went prepared.