Considering a solo trip? Here are the 20 things you need to know before you go
Traveling solo can be one of the most exciting, liberating and eye-opening experiences, no matter your age. It offers ample opportunity for self-reflection and growth with the joy of boundless freedom. It can also be daunting, especially if you’ve never traveled solo before.
As COVID-19 travel restrictions continue to ease, we're all ready to get out and explore the world. For those traveling solo, we want to make sure you're prepared and inspired to make the most of your trip. So we reached out to our online community on Twitter and Facebook to compile a list of top solo travel tips from seasoned wanderers and wayfarers who have navigated their own paths across the world. Here are the top 20 tips they had to share.
1. Safety first
One of the top concerns for people planning a solo trip is safety. While it definitely pays to be cautious, it shouldn’t stop you from heading off on your next adventure. Picking the right destination can make all the difference, with some places more suited to solo travel than others. Always make sure to check ahead of time with the CDC and the country's embassy online to ensure you're up to date with their COVID-19 testing and vaccination protocols. Travel insurance is always a good idea, especially with the uncertainty of COVID-19, as is keeping family and friends notified of your whereabouts. Apps like Find My Friends have proven popular for this, providing peace of mind for people back home.
"I always prepare in advance of a solo trip, just in case of emergency. If I am going somewhere further afield, I inform the embassy. I check for advisories issued by the consulate and I write down an emergency number to contact and a list of medical allergies," says travel blogger Chandresh Jain.
2. Learn the local language
It may sound obvious, but making the effort to learn a handful of phrases in the native tongue can make a huge difference in how you experience a country, especially when you don’t have anyone with you to lean on for translations.
"Whenever I travel, I always make sure to at least learn how to say ‘Hello, thank you, excuse me, sorry and please’. It has opened up so many doors for me, and it shows locals that I am genuinely interested in learning about their culture," says Alberto Ruiz Gómez, who has traveled to 15 countries in Asia and the Middle East solo.
3. Talk to the locals
Very often, the key to having a unique and unforgettable experience when taking any type of trip is the willingness to stray from the usual path and side-step the tourist spots.
"My favorite thing is to sit at a bar in a restaurant where there are lots of locals and strike up a conversation with the bartender or staff. I ask for advice on what to see, and I usually get great inside tips. Passers-by chime in, and I’ve ended up traveling with locals in this way," food lover and cook Anna Rider says.
4. Look for shared housing options
Be open to shared accommodation options, as a single-occupancy hotel room can be both expensive and let’s face it, lonely at times. Staying in hostels and Airbnbs are a particularly good way to meet people.
"I stay in small hotels, B&Bs, campsites or hostels with only a handful of rooms and guests. That way you are part of a family, and making contact with your hosts or fellow travelers is so much easier. After a long day of hiking and exploring, it feels a bit like coming home," explains Katrien Beullens.
5. Go your own way
Everyone is different, so picking a trip tailored to your unique personality and interests will be the key to having a good time when traveling solo. To jump-start your solo adventure, the view above features the best cities for solo travel.
"If you’re a sociable person, a bustling city like Hanoi, with its fantastic coffee-chilling culture is perfect to people watch, while undertakings like the Camino de Santiago offers the best of both worlds in terms of your own space and the chance to connect with others. Many people do it solo with headphones on and engage in camaraderie only when they have to or want to," travel blogger Úna-Minh Kavanagh says.
6. Challenge yourself
Boredom and loneliness can happen at times when solo traveling, but finding ways to keep yourself entertained and curious can also lead to you seeing a city in a new way.
"I travel often on business and embrace it as an opportunity to experience the sort of thing that my family wouldn’t necessarily be keen on us doing together. To keep things interesting, I often establish some sort of theme. For instance, in Berlin last year I challenged my 50-something-year-old self to spend two days experiencing the city on the same sort of budget that I would have had 30 years previously as a cash-strapped interrailer. This meant exploring the Cold War history of the city, yet not paying a single entrance fee. I’m delighted to report that it’s possible – and enormous fun!" explains Catherine Reichardt.
7. Experience it all
When Airbnb introduced experiences, diverse local-led activities in cities all around the world, it completely reshaped the industry. Now, solo travelers around the world can take part in countless unique experiences, while meeting new people.
"No matter where I go, I always search for an Airbnb experience unique to that destination. In Cuba, I learned the history of Che Guevara and the battle of Santa Clara, while in Spain I went on a tapas crawl. I come away feeling as if I’ve had a genuine taste of local culture," Sam Moore explains.
8. Believe in yourself
Solo travel can be challenging, but the rewards make it all worth it. Many travelers report heightened feelings of confidence and happiness after undertaking a trip by themselves, as well as some newfound outlooks on life.
"Cycling through remote places all by myself was the most fulfilling experience I ever had. I learned so much about myself, my abilities and most importantly what it means to be happy," says Nina Schwarzenberg.
9. Try Couchsurfing
Another popular choice with seasoned solo travelers is Couchsurfing, a networking site that connects locals and visitors in cities around the world. Hosts can offer a couch or a spare room, and members can meet up for events. It’s good to exercise caution whenever you're interacting with unfamiliar people, but the site allows user reviews and comments, meaning travelers can get a sense of who they will be staying with ahead of time.
"Couchsurfing and Meetup are my favorite ways of connecting with new people when I am solo traveling. It’s a great way to meet locals and learn more about each place," suggests Benjamin Houy.
10. Take your time
Solo travel means ultimate freedom (more and more people are leaving their partners at home to travel). Embrace it and take things at your own speed. One day you may feel inspired to go sightseeing, while another may call for a slower pace. The joy is making the decisions yourself.
'The downside of visiting a museum with friends is trying to match their pace as you pass through the galleries. When I travel solo, I embrace the freedom of being alone and grab the museum audio guide. The headphones might look silly, but it allows me to learn more about the things I’m really interested in, and spend as much time as I want on exactly what I want," says Lonely Planet staffer Alex Butler.
11. Be your own photographer
Solo travel is a photography enthusiasts' dream. With no plan or schedule, a day can easily be spent capturing shots of bustling side streets and beautiful landscapes. And when it comes to capturing a moment with yourself, sometimes it’s good to look beyond the selfie.
"I have started taking a tripod with me for shots of myself in different places. I don’t care how I look, I have learned that capturing the memory is more important than feeling self-conscious. Most people don’t even notice me and sometimes they even offer to take my photo," explains vlogger Paul Justine.
12. Get lost
It’s easy to overthink and over plan many aspects of travel, especially when you’re by yourself. Sometimes, having the confidence to just wander around and see where the day or night takes you can lead to some of the best stories.
"When I traveled around Poland, my favorite thing to do was to allow myself to get lost in the cities I visited. Countless times I would stumble upon a beautiful park or square, and the surprise made it all the better," says Celia Montes, who has been to 27 countries.
13. Join a tour
An organized day tour or a longer package group holiday suits many solo travelers, allowing you to make friends while on the road.
"Going with an escorted tour is how I saw the world on my own. It’s a bit more expensive but safe, and I always had people to holiday with. It meant no solo meals, I hate them, and I shared the adventures with people I didn’t know previously. I even met my partner on a solo escorted tour in Thailand eight years ago," Tara Kelly explains.
14. Ask for advice
There are many ways to research an upcoming trip, and now, social media means it’s easier than ever to ask locals for advice on what’s best to see. We shared some of our travel mishaps, and if you don’t learn from our mistakes, maybe you’ll relate.
"I reach out to travel writers and YouTubers that live in the area I’m traveling to. They give great advice for both touristy and non-touristy things to see, do and eat, as well as areas to avoid. Some have even invited me to meet up with them and their friends. This happened in Rome and Barcelona!" says Austin Dillman.
15. Work for room and board
If saving money and meeting people is on the top of your list of priorities, working while traveling is always an option. Websites such as Workaway and Helpx help connect backpackers and travelers with farms, home-stays, ranches and families where they can lend a hand in exchange for room and board.
"I love working while solo-traveling. You can stay at a place and offer a few hours of your time and get accommodation and food free of charge. Fellow volunteers and hosts are usually amazing and you get to experience a country from a different perspective. I personally like staying in the countryside and then going off to explore cities for a couple of days. You form unique bonds with people, and sometimes you even find a person to continue your travels with," suggests Ruby Engel.
16. Join a cruise
Some solo travelers love complete freedom, while others enjoy having more structured options. Multi-destination cruises tread a comfortable middle ground for many people, allowing them to kick back and relax in a group at their leisure, or go off on a mini solo adventure once they disembark at a new destination.
"My best solo trips have been on cruises. You can easily go on excursions, and then enjoy downtime or chat with as many people as you want when back on the ship. Safe, easy, fun! I often add a few days before or after embarking or disembarking in various countries," says Mélanie Bouchard.
17. Expand your skills
Whether it’s a semester abroad or a short course in a new city, taking part in an educational program in a different country is a great way to get a different view of life.
"Take a class, learn a language, go on a walking tour, find a theme week. My solo travels were to Italy to attend language school. Classes were in the morning, with afternoons and evenings free, and lots of opportunities to mingle with others at the school. I've been on plenty of group trips since then, such as a week of yoga and painting," Deidre Heitman explains.
18. Make wise choices
Thrifty travel is great, but when you’re by yourself, waiting around for those cost-saving transfers can feel all the more monotonous. Balancing out whether bargains are worth the added time and budgeting in a clever way can make for a better all-around experience.
"When booking a trip and trying to get a bargain, imagine how you will feel on the day. For example, was it worth saving money if you have to wait longer at the airport, or if you have to catch a bus instead of a plane? It’s always great to save money, but I ultimately ask myself if it is worth it if it wastes a day in unnecessary waiting or travel. Time is also money!" suggests Edana Sinclair.
19. Trust your gut
Putting yourself out there, meeting new people and exploring a city safely while traveling solo requires balance. In most cases, common sense and a little bit of pre-planning should be just fine, as well as trusting yourself.
“I love solo travel and in all my years I have had very few negative experiences. I always research where I am going, know the good areas and the not-so-good ones, and read up on potential street scams. Beyond that, I try to trust my intuition and never place myself in a situation I am not comfortable with,” says Ellen Friel.
20. Embrace total freedom
Solo travel allows you to be whoever you want to be. Dive into the experience, trust yourself and take the chance to express all aspects of your personality.
"What I love about traveling solo as a female is the liberation. The chance to be free in a country where nobody knows you and you can be whatever you want. It leads to joy and happiness for me. I love the challenge of being by yourself and learning how to face obstacles if any. This is the chance for you to embrace different cultures, make friends with locals, try authentic food, learn a new language or just explore the beauty of the country," explains Fritz Tarrosa.
This article was originally published on May 25, 2019.