If you are planning a solo trip for the first time, this post will help you make it enjoyable, worry-free, and absolutely unforgettable.
Barring a few exceptions, I have been traveling solo for as long as I can remember. But don’t think I have always been so self-confident and bold as I might appear now—quite the opposite!
I was timid and scared of everything. I was always afraid of being judged or not doing or saying the right thing, fearful of getting lost or getting assaulted. Not that it’s gone now, but I can manage it.
When I was 18, I decided to work as an au pair in England to improve my English and face my fears, and things started to change.
It didn’t solve my confidence issues immediately, but it helped make me understand that if I dare get out of my comfort zone, it was one step forward to my happiness and freedom every time more.
I continue to be shy and sometimes insecure, but I take it as a sign of respect towards others instead of a weakness of mine, and that’s what I believed was also perceived by the people I was connecting with.
In my twenties, when I was in Italy, I discovered my passion for snowboarding. I didn’t have any friends who shared the same interest, but I didn’t intend to give it up, and I went snowboarding on my own almost every weekend.
I felt insecure initially, and I was scared that there was nobody there to rescue me if something happened, but I didn’t care, especially when I was flying on those white slopes. It felt like freedom and tasted like confidence.
Many other events like this one in my life developed in me this determination and conviction that if I wanted something in my life, I just had to go and get it without waiting for somebody to take me there or joining me in my journey.
I started to enjoy traveling solo. And barring a few exceptions, I have been traveling on my own as much as I can and have been having the time of my life. I have met amazing people and had incredible experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I traveled in a group.
In this post, I will share with you how to plan a solo trip, how I stay safe, and what I do if I want to meet other people during my travels.
The main reason why I love to travel alone is that I can do whatever I want, I can make plans and then change them, which is almost all the time.
I can decide to work for one day (I’m a digital nomad, so I normally work while I travel) and explore the next day, without having to debate my plans with somebody else. When I travel alone I choose when and where to eat or where to stay. I just enjoy the freedom of choice.
I know myself very well and I know that if I travel with somebody else I just do whatever the other wants, and I ignore my needs, most of the time, so I’d just rather be alone. Plus I also enjoy my own company. I love to read when I am in restaurants and coffee shops (Oh! Those are my favorites), or browse through social media and just do whatever I like.
Also, I need to make a point here. Since I am a digital nomad and I am working while on the road, I just need to have the freedom to stay in and work when I decide so. And if I am traveling with other people, I would often feel like I need to explore every day, unless the travel companion is in the same situation as me.
Regardless, I am so used to traveling alone now that I don’t even like the idea of having somebody tagging along for more than just a short time and only if he/she is a very close friend that I know I can get along with.
But of course, there are some cons to traveling alone.
Let me think. Oh yes, when you are working from a coffee shop, you need to use the bathroom, but you don’t want to leave your stuff unattended, and you don’t want to lose your spot. In these cases, either I hold it or ask some trustworthy face around me or the waiter to keep an eye on my stuff. Problem solved.
In case you are concerned about feeling lonely or wanting to hang out with people at night, I have never felt that, except once, when I missed having some good friends to hang out with and chat to over a glass of wine. But that was after two years on the road. In general, it’s actually quite easy to meet people when traveling solo.
I´ve met amazing people to hang out with and it felt like we had been friends forever. That’s because we shared the same interests and needs, and all we talked about was either travel experiences or working remotely, and then we went our separate ways. I will tell you later on how to make new friends when traveling alone.
Deciding where to go is the first thing you need to do when planning a solo trip.
I am sure you have a bucket list either on paper or in your mind. Just pick a place according to how you feel about it first, but then do your research and check if any riots are going on, political instability, the level of crime, or other situations that could put your life in danger.
There are so many unique places to visit, why choose to go somewhere where it’s not safe? So make sure you take these different factors into consideration and decide with common sense.
Also Read: How to Stay Safe While Traveling
Good places to find current information about a destination are Twitter, local news, and Facebook groups.
I always join a few expat groups on Facebook for the destination I’m thinking about traveling to. People are usually very friendly in these groups and share useful information on the destination. Before asking any question, use the search box option to research your topic and see if your question has already been answered. In these groups, you can also find great tips from locals on where to eat and things to do, and you might also want to use it if you’re looking for companions for tours or hikes.
And before deciding on the destination for your solo trip, I would also check out prices of flights, Airbnbs and hotels, to compare and decide if this fits your budget.
The budget I have greatly determines my destination choice. So unless you have unlimited resources, checking on prices before deciding where to go is a must.
Looking for places to stay when traveling solo is not all that different from looking for places to stay when traveling with others.
But, you might want to pay a little more attention to reviews about safety, as you may end up walking home alone at night. And, if you want to meet people in the place you are staying or in the area, then check reviews to find out if there are nice communal areas or organized activities.
I usually love to stay in apartments that I find on Airbnb or VRBO, my favorite websites. I feel I have my privacy and comfort if I book an apartment. Also, for an extended stay, you always get great deals.
If you are new to Airbnb, I wrote a great Airbnb guide to help you navigate through the site and use it in a smart way to find the best apartment and rooms.
For short stays, I also check on Booking.com for hotels and bed and breakfast.
I avoid hostels because they are normally too loud. But, if I find a particularly cute one I’ll book a private room with an ensuite bathroom. And hostels definitely are an easy place to meet other travelers and therefore very popular with solo travelers.
Once I know what my destination will be, I will go ahead and book the airline first, and then my stay.
If I am not sure how long I want to stay in a destination I usually book a place to stay only for the first two nights. This gives you enough time to get a feel of the place and decide what to do next.
Once I booked a place last minute for two nights, just because they had a cat (yes, I am a cat lady), and then I found out that they had a shared bathroom outside in the courtyard, and that the room was crappy. So I used those two days to go hotel hunting and found a great hotel in the city center at the same price and booked it directly for the rest of my stay.
Oh and one other tip for booking online: if you find a place that you like on any platform, make sure you check on different platforms to see if they have a better price.
Before you fly out, make sure you check at what time your flight arrives and book your transfer from the airport. Normally airport services are quite expensive so it’s better to book it in advance with a reliable company unless you know there is UBER available where you are going.
If your first destination is far from the airport and you arrive at night, arrange a hotel by the airport that’s safe and easy to get to. Travel to your destination the next day, during daylight. It’s a simple thing, but it helps you feel safe when traveling alone.
When I travel alone I generally tend to stay on my own and don’t need to find company, for the reasons I have explained above.
However, I do enjoy meeting people and being in a group at times. In those cases, I join small tours, especially for destinations that are difficult to reach on my own. If I spot somebody that I feel could have similar interests, I try and make friends.
The thing is, I am very spontaneous, and straightforward. If I like somebody (as a person I mean), it will automatically reflect in my attitude and energy and it will be easy to connect. If I don’t, nobody will get close because I send out rejection signals. It’s not something you will see, it’s just there. I think we all have this.
Another way to make friends is to join Facebook groups for the destination you are in. Just post a message asking if someone is interested to go for a hike, meet for drinks, etc. Or, if you are traveling as a digital nomad, ask in digital nomads groups if somebody is in that specific destination.
And then there are always Tinder or Bumble. But that depends on what kind of connection you are looking for 🙂
Couchsurfing.com and Meetup.com are also worth checking out. It really depends on where you are traveling to, but in some areas they have very active communities and are a great way to meet people.
I used to be very lazy in doing my research. So, most of the time I just got to the destination without knowing what to do and spent the first night on the internet to look for information.
Now I have learned to do my homework a few days before my arrival, and I arrive prepared. Reading blog posts from other travelers can give you a lot of information about what to see and do in your destination and how to get around.
However, I also love going to the local tourist information center and ask them, “what is there to see in your beautiful city and surrounding?” That has been working very well and I’ve met amazing people, enthusiastic about their city, who are happy to give me tips on what to do and how to get around on my own.
The people from the tourist information centers don’t have any personal interest in telling you to book a tour. Therefore if you tell them you prefer to travel independently, and if there is a way to get to the location or attraction without booking an organized tour, they will be happy to explain in detail what to do.
I did exactly that when I was in Chachapoyas, Peru, and in Cajamarca, to visit more off the beaten path places and I had a blast going around on my own on local busses. Only once I joined a tour there for a destination that wasn’t easy to reach by public transport.
So, once I know what to see and what’s of interest to me (usually everything), I make a plan. If I have enough time, I try to alternate one day of work with one day of exploring. Otherwise, I just go touring around every day and then move onto the next destination.
If this is your first time traveling solo, make sure you don’t pack in too much. Taking it slow generally makes you enjoy the experience more and allows for enough flexibility to change plans if you run into something or someone interesting.
To move around, I generally use public transport.
Therefore it’s important to do some research into what public transport is used, how it works, and whether there are any safety precautions. For example, in Guatemala, I had a bad experience on a bus. From then on I used tourist shuttle busses which are a little more expensive, but safer.
And then there are some locations where public transport is just too limited or won’t get you to where you want to go. Then renting a car might be your best option or some places have good car-sharing options such as BlaBlaCar.
And I always use Google Maps to know where I am, to check their recommendations for public transport, and to just walk around.
Also, you can ask on Facebook groups or Google it. Many blogs will share great information on how to get around in a destination. Make sure the post is up to date though!
Staying safe is probably one of the main concerns for anyone planning a solo trip for the first time.
One thing you must know is that following safety tips are no guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong. Bad things can happen to the most careful and safety-conscious traveler. Sometimes it’s just about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But, there are definitely things you can do to help reduce the odds.
First of all, do not show off your expensive items such as your iPhone, laptop, or professional camera, when it’s unnecessary or when you don’t feel safe.
To give you an example, I was walking around Quito’s historical center. It was crowded and full of tourists. But for some reason, I didn’t feel comfortable taking out my professional camera. I barely even used my phone (which wasn’t an iPhone) to take pictures and look at Google maps. Only later I found out that petty crime and assault is common here, and that tourists are targeted in broad daylight.
And that brings me to my second tip: trust your gut feelings. If you don’t feel comfortable just leave or find a safe space (a cafe, a restaurant, an UBER).
One time, in Quito again, I was walking in a park but it was too isolated and I didn’t feel safe. Even though I was told going to that park wouldn’t be a problem, I just decided to go back and it turned out my gut feeling was right. Shortly after, an UBER driver told me that that side of the park was really not safe to walk around in alone.
I would also recommend any traveler, but especially solo travelers, to buy a local sim card as soon as you arrive and always keep it topped up so that you can use it to call someone in case of emergencies. Plus, it’s great to be able to use Google Maps on your phone to find your way around. It’s my travel bible!
I don’t go out late at night usually and never drink excessively but if you do like to go out and party, make sure you go with people you trust and watch your belongings.
It might also be a good idea to use a money belt to safely put away your money.
Always keep some cash in case you can’t find an ATM, but don’t carry around excessive amounts. And keep it in small quantities in different places. Oh and do try to remember where you put it… I think all of us frequent travelers have some stories about finding foreign currency in hidden pockets months after a trip!
When taking public transport, keep your valuables on your lap, never in the overhead compartment or in a checked bag.
If you rent a car, which is something I love to do, do not drink and drive and do not drive at night if you don’t know the area yet.
Be confident, and if you are not, fake it. But smile and be friendly, even in the most difficult situations.
If locals ask you how long you have been traveling and you are on a long term journey, don’t mention it. They just don’t know and might think you are rich, which can make you a target. The idea is to blend in and not get noticed.
That’s it, these are my top tips for traveling solo.
And I know, it might feel scary at first, or you might worry you’ll get lonely. But believe me, traveling alone is such a great experience!
If you have any questions about planning a solo trip or if you are an experienced solo traveler and feel there are important tips I missed, please let us know in the comments below.
Otherwise, I hope you start your own solo travel adventure and have a blast!
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