Travelling solo is becoming more and more popular and many would-be travellers wonder whether venturing alone into unknown territory would suit them.
Solo travelling is not the easiest way to travel and certainly not the most effortless. It is however also an incredibly fruitful and exhilarating experience if you get it right.
As with many endeavours, practice makes perfect and by the time you get to your 5th, 6th or 10th solo adventure, you will realize how many mistakes you made when you started exploring faraway lands on your own. To avoid the most common and irritating mistakes, here are 14 of the most critical tips and tricks for first-time solo travellers, you’re welcome.
- Be prepared and informed
Preparation is always essential but even more so when you are on your own. Some simple steps to be appropriately prepared involve researching in advance, having a look at a map beforehand in order to quickly get your bearings and making sure to be informed about the current political, economic and social climate in the country.
To keep it simple, make sure to know something about the place you are visiting. Which areas are the best, which mode of transport is the most efficient and what’s the best way to get from the airport to your accommodation. Remember that you will not be able to rely on anyone else, especially when arriving at your destination. No one will do the research for you and it is therefore indispensable to start at least a few weeks in advance.
Pro Tip: Make a rudimentary daily schedule containing the locations you want to explore and check where they are situated in relation to your accommodation before setting off.
Planning is an art which only very few travellers master. It takes a lot of practice and experience to plan a trip right without overdoing it, but the first step always involves drawing a basic timetable and checking how far the locations are apart from one another. After that, most things fall into place and a lot of organizational skills will automatize themselves after a few trips.
- Choose a destination which suits you
Arguably one of the most crucial aspects of travelling is choosing the right destination for yourself. While you might look at pictures or highly edited and embellished Facebook videos of certain locations and think: oh wow I want to go there, the plain fact is that not every destination suits every kind of traveller.
The first question you should ask yourself is what do you want? What are your goals in relation to travelling? Do you want to go into a country with a completely different culture, where you don’t speak the language and don’t understand the social norms? Do you want to visit a country where being robbed is 15 times more likely than at home? Do you want to visit a country where the tropical heat and humidity will burn your skin and wet your armpits 24/7? After you have got somewhat of an answer to all of these questions, you can start looking at the catalogue.
Another relevant factor is the difficulty level of the destination. As a general rule, the inexperienced traveller should start with a destination which could be considered fairly similar to his home country in terms of safety and comfort levels.
If you have never travelled alone, you should start in easy countries with satisfying tourist infrastructure and high safety levels. Some examples include the USA, Canada, the European Union, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Iceland, just to mention a few. There are obviously many more but generally speaking, the best countries to start travelling alone are the touristy ones. After acquiring some experience in easy countries, you can start exploring more demanding territory.
- Set a higher budget
As a rule of thumbs, roaming solo is more expensive than travelling in a group of friends or in a couple. Your expenses are obviously highly dependent on your lifestyle and travel choices but generally speaking, you should multiply the budget by at least 1.5 if you travel on your own.
Keep in mind that you will have to handle the total cost of many activities, goods and services which you would normally share. As an example, many hotels, apartment complexes and hostels do not have single rooms which means that you will have to pay double for your accommodation on many occasions.
Another important factor is that you need more emergency cash. If you are travelling alone without local acquaintances, you will need an emergency cushion which could otherwise be dispersed across the group.
- Choose accommodation according to your travel plans and personal character
Many first-time travellers immediately opt for hostels without a second thought. The prospect of cheap accommodation with lots of other wandering souls seems an advantage too favourable to neglect.
Guess what, hostels are not for everyone. There is a reason why they are cheap, they have lower standards and are often less well-maintained than conventional hotels. Hostels are usually also a lot louder and buzzing than hotels and if you choose a dorm, you will have no personal space and you will have to guard your belongings.
It is virtually impossible to define travellers in relation to their favourite type of accommodation. Many people like hostels and many don’t, others prefer hotels while some have acquired a perpetual love for anything listed on AirBnB. As with many aspects of travelling, only experience will tell which type of accommodation suits you best.
Nevertheless, we would like to state certain observations from our travels around the world:
Firstly, hostels are great if you want to meet other travellers but not if you want to meet the locals and be flexible and comfortable.
Secondly, apartments are a great all-round solution as they provide the most flexibility and if you are alone you will be more encouraged to meet the locals than if you were staying in a hostel. Getting out there and engaging with the locals is usually a much more enticing experience than meeting 10 other foreigners who will ask you the same questions over and over again.
Finally, hotels have the edge in terms of comfort but do not offer the same flexibility as apartments which means that they are not as suited to solo travellers.
On a personal note I tend to switch between the three, but I find that for solo trips, small apartments are the best solution as it is usually possible to get one for reasonable prices in a good location and I prefer having a kitchen and a bit of personal space.
- Learn the basics of the local language
It is always useful to know the basics of the local language, but it becomes paramount when you’re travelling alone. Keep in mind that you will have to tackle lots of tricky situations and you will have to navigate cities and transport hubs on your own. Don’t make the classic rookie mistake of assuming the whole world speaks English.
Depending on where you are, next to no one will speak English and you will have to get your thoughts across in the local language (or with hand gestures if everything else fails). Learning the basics of the local tongue is also crucial for meeting the locals. When travelling alone, the best way to absorb the local culture is to interact with the ordinary natives who usually don’t speak a second language. In today’s world, it has become easier than ever to learn a new language through online courses, language apps, skype teaching and also good old-fashioned paper books. On that basis, learning at least the minimum isn’t too challenging any more, but the positive effects will be profound.
- Don’t rely on fellow travellers and hostel guests
Another common mistake lots of first-time travellers make is to excessively rely on other travellers. There are many variables when it comes to solo travelling and the quality and amount of advice you are going to get from fellow roamers is one of them. Always prepare for the eventuality that no other tourist will help you, do your own preparation.
It is truly staggering how many first-time travellers arrive in hostels without having a clue and usually come up with the excuse: I came to this hostel to get advice and recommendations from you guys. Guess what, this hardly ever works. In addition to the very high probability of failure of such a mentality, you will also feel like a small child who has to be shown around and accompanied 24/7. Do your research properly and you won’t be that person who annoys all the others with their amateurism.
- Get up early
One of the greatest things about solo travelling is the amount of control you have over your own journey. You decide what to do and when to do it and this offers you a wide-ranging latitude in terms of choosing when to visit a specific point of interest.
In this context, you will quickly realise the benefits of getting up earlier than the rest of the city. Because you are alone, you won’t waste an hour on breakfast in the hotel and you will be able to start your day much earlier, which will give you the opportunity to be one step ahead of the masses of tourists and dive into the local hustle and bustle. It isn’t always enjoyable to experience a city during rush hour, but it certainly gives you a genuine impression on the inner workings of the city and its society.
Author story: On my third visit to Prague, I was keen to see the Charles Bridge without the 10 million tourists who are on it at any given moment during the day. Having failed to cross the bridge early enough on two previous attempts, the third time would be different. I got up at 6AM and reached the bridge at 6.45AM. Apart from a few residents having to get to work early, It was totally deserted and I was finally able to relish the architectural masterclass of this fabled medieval structure in peaceful serenity.
- Don’t be afraid to meet the locals
Solo trips are the most effective way to interact with people from different backgrounds and to get some perspective. This may sound cliché but there is absolutely no better way to learn about a different culture than by getting out there are having a genuine relation to the locals of a completely different location. There are thousands of ways to get to know the locals when venturing alone into unknown places and you will quickly realise that it is so much more enriching to experience a country while forming a bond to its society than by just interacting with other travellers. More about this in point 13.
- Embrace solitude
Being alone can be frustrating but it can also be highly rewarding. Being on your own will give you the opportunity to reflect on life and past events and you will be able contemplate the world or just a specific situation in peaceful serenity. They say that being alone is the purest way to learn about yourself and it is undoubtedly true that embracing solitude will foster your personal development. Solitude is the most immaculate method of getting to know yourself and you should therefore capitalize on your loneliness instead of dreading it.
- Take advantage of time gains
Time gains are one of the most favourable consequences of being on your own. You don’t have to debate, wait for dawdlers or stop every two minutes because somebody wants to take picture number 6,555,444 of landmark X. You will swiftly notice that your days become longer which will enable you to conceive a much more ambitious schedule. This is why you should include more sights and activities on your itinerary than you would if you were in a group. Even if you don’t manage to cover them all, you will still have taken advantage of the time you saved by being alone
- Take safety precautions
Safety is obviously highly reliant on the destination and on your degree of awareness and caution, but it is generally recommendable to be a bit more alert when travelling alone. This mostly falls into the preparation category but there are some additional points which we should underline.
Depending on the destination, it is obviously more dangerous for women and women should take some extra-precautions. Some safety basics (for men and women) include not walking into unknown areas and always staying vigilant. If you are a first-time traveller, it is always best to tell the staff of your accommodation what you are doing during the day so that they will know what time to expect you back.
Pro Tip: always bring an extra phone, sim, cash and make copies of all your documents (passport, driving license, health insurance card and so on). This method will help you get back on track quickly after an unfortunate incident.
Insurance is another great method of being well-prepared but in this instance, everyone will have to decide for himself whether it’s worth the cost or not. In my personal experience, it is always a case of ‘you don’t need insurance until you need it’. This is why I contracted a year-long worldwide health plan and a baggage insurance.
- Practice packing
Much like organisation, packing is a skill which you will learn after a few trips. Everybody has his own way of packing efficiently and most seasoned travellers developed their favourite way of packing on the road.
The most crucial thing to do for first-time travellers is to make an anticipatory list of things you will need. This is essential because if you have never travelled solo before, you won’t automatically know what you will need and you will undoubtedly forget something.
Trust us, you will hate yourself if you omitted to make a list and afterwards have to buy something which you could easily have brought. If you need some inspiration on what to bring on your next grand adventure, check out our articles on travel essentials.
Pro Tip: Get packing cubes and sort your clothes and things accordingly. These cheap and uncomplicated tools have considerably improved my journeys and I couldn’t imagine travelling without them anymore.
- Use social media to connect with the locals
You might have read point 8 and wondered what is the best way to meet the locals in a totally new setting and culture. Well, the good news is that there are innumerable ways which can easily be put into practice on your first trip. Be aware that it might take a bit of courage and audacity, but this is part of the thrill.
Social media outlets are certainly the easiest way in our era and it has become very popular for travellers and locals to meet through social media. Without naming all the apps, just go on social media and look for groups who are organising an activity which you would like to participate in. You can find museum groups, theatre groups, sports groups, art groups, you name it, and this represents a highly effective way to meet locals when abroad.
Author story: in Santiago, Chile, I wanted to hike up to one of the more isolated viewpoints in the Andes (Cerro Manquehue, included in our city guide), which is located about 10km from the city centre. I had no idea on how to get there and some people had warned me that it wouldn’t be safe hiking up alone. I joined a FB group for trekking in Santiago and quickly found a group of locals who had planned to ascend to the exact spot and gladly invited me to come along for their hike. I should add that having conversational Spanish (see point 5) was necessary as no one in the group would have been able to communicate anything about the hike in English.
- Don’t freak out if something doesn’t go as planned
Solo trips are enthralling, addictive and unpredictable. You will inevitably make mistakes and not everything will go as envisioned. This is completely normal and shouldn’t discourage you from conquering the world. As previously mentioned, only practice makes perfect and every accomplished traveller will have a story where he or she made a silly mistake and paid for it. As long as you are well-prepared and apply common sense on the road, you will be able to handle eventualities and you really shouldn’t worry about everything that could alter the course of your journey.
The most important advice every experienced traveller will give you is the following: Enjoy your journey and explore the beauty of this world. There is no infallible recipe for success and everyone has to deal with unforeseen circumstances which is why you should never ever panic on the road.