Solo travel is hot these days. More than ever I get questions on how to become a solo traveler and whether or not it is dangerous or lonely to travel by yourself. A great time to tell you everything I know about solo travel, coming from my own experiences and sources I found useful whenever I was doing research.
I’ve never really taken the time to explain to you why I started traveling alone, let alone how to do it. I figured solo travel wasn’t that different from traveling itself, and I still stand behind that opinion. To me travel in general is the thing that scares me, not doing it alone. However, starting out, I didn’t feel this confident at all and I would gladly help anyone with concerns about this subject.
Everything you need to know about solo travel
Why do you travel solo?
I started traveling by myself out of necessity. Just the year before my first solo trip, me and my boyfriend went on our first big trip together, a crazy, cross country Balkan adventure. I felt like I could never not travel anymore, so the year after that – when my boyfriend bound to work – I took the big leap of taking a trip by myself.
That’s how I booked a ticket to Bucharest to work there for a month. Little did I know I started enjoying my solo travels and since then I have been on and off exploring Europe by myself.
Do I always travel solo? No, whenever I find someone fun to join me I gladly travel with them. My will to see everything on my travel list just has a mind of its own so if there’s no-one around to travel with me, it will not stop me.
What does it take to become a solo traveler?
Some research and I guess a backpack? I think anyone can travel solo as it isn’t something particularly brave or outstanding, but there are certain aspects of solo travel that can make it more appealing to you than others. When you are to be comfortable on your own and able to stay calm and patient in every situation, you could be a brilliant solo traveler.
Which destination would you recommend to a first-time solo traveler?
Anything that doesn’t involve a major culture shock should be fine for your first trip by yourself. I picked Romania, somewhat different from my own country, slightly off the beaten path but safe enough to start out in. However, it’s entirely up to you and your comfort zone which destination you pick.
Want something more adventurous? Pick something you really want to see and find out how to do it. The motivation to overcome your fear is bigger than fear itself, so the destination you pick should be one you’re already dreaming of.
Not sure? Check out these destinations for solo travelers.
How do you deal with frustration and disappointment?
Pouring rain when you’re supposed to go on that safari, delayed flights, obnoxious tour guides or just a terrible hotel can feel like an even bigger burden when you’re flying solo. Why? You simply can’t share your frustration with anyone else and you’re the only person around to actually solve these problems – or think of an alternative at the very least.
I’ve definitely had my fair share of frustration events happening on my journeys. From delayed buses to an entire change of plans and direction; I’ve been there. I remember one specific trip where my essential plan – not traveling solo – didn’t work out and I ended up alone. Although I had traveled solo before I hadn’t planned on being alone this time, and because I’m such a control freak I had a tiny moment of mental breakdown.
It took a nice dinner, admittedly a few glasses of wine – and my planner journal to calm me down and create a plan B. I ended up having a great trip where I made new friends, visited things I initially didn’t have on my list and where I got to relax when I wanted to.
All I want to say is that frustrating things will happen to you from time to time. Don’t take them personally and try to stay in the travel zone. If all else fails, yell into a pillow for a while, get back up and go out to do something fun. Distract yourself, you’ll be okay. Remember: when life gives you lemons, go get the salt and tequila!
Does it sometimes feel lonely?
The short answer is yes. I’ve felt lonely on every solo trip I’ve taken so far, for a short period of time during my travels. It can be quite hard not to have someone to share your experiences with and that combined with an exhausting travel schedule will make you a weeping mess from time to time.
Feeling lonely can occur when you feel frustrated, after experiencing something life changing – the good or the bad way – or just when you feel like you have no-one to talk to. As a result you’ll probably get into your own head too much and feel miserable from time to time. And that’s totally okay!
To me loneliness can be a good thing, you get inside your own brain and reflect on your recent actions. In the beginning it took some guts to battle negative emotions but I’ve gotten better at it. Also, you must remember that loneliness is only a very small part of your whole journey, which will be filled with awesome adventures and hopefully some new friends.
These are the things I do when I feel lonely during my travels:
- Skyping with friends
- Listen to my favorite music
- Go on adventure
- Take a long shower
- Sleep it off
- If all else fails, drink
How do you make friends?
Traveling alone doesn’t necessarily mean you will be by yourself the entire time. Having a friend or travel companion can be a great solution to a long train ride or a night of lonely clubbing. But where do you find those people and how do you make contact?
I make more contact with people when I travel solo and although I’m quite a social person (I think) I don’t necessarily feel comfortable approaching people to start a conversation. Still every solo trip I’ve taken has left me with new friends. How I do it? It’s quite simple:
- Talk to other travelers – at least you have something in common.
- Ask locals about the place you’re visiting – They usually love to show you around.
- Do a ride share – I made great friends using Blablacar.
- Stay in a hostel – there’s always a lonely traveler like you to talk to.
- Not a hostel person? Renting a room on Airbnb could be the solution.
- Take a tour – Enough people to bond with
What about safety?
Whether you’ll travel solo or not, safety is always an issue. With everything happening in the world right now you might feel like there are only few places a solo traveler should go to, the rest of the world being simply too dangerous. However, there are plenty of places left that can be visited alone and it’s up to you to decide how far you want to get out of your comfort zone.
People tend to confuse the actual feeling of being safe with safety, which is not that surprising but it can cause irrational fears to take over. I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust your gut – by all means do! – but educate yourself first and let your instincts go hand in hand with your brain.
Lately a young woman proved she was totally fine traveling Bangladesh on her own for a month. Would I necessarily want to do it? No – I haven’t educated myself enough -, but I think it’s awesome that there’s someone out there willing to discover – and show to the world – that there’s something other than just the negative things you see on the news.
Safety and feeling safe go together and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not ‘there’ yet. I too get scared from time to time, but usually that’s about traveling in general, not solo travel per se. I do have some rules – I’d like to call them guidelines – to help me decide whether I feel safe enough to go somewhere:
- Educate yourself – Read blogs, reviews and follow the news (but remember not to get too scared);
- Remember that people will rather help you than hurt you – See the very inspiring TedTalk below;
- Don’t look like a tourist – Try to blend in and make yourself less of a target to criminals;
- Leave expensive and important belongings at home – Don’t flash your phone around, too!
- Be extra careful in crowded highly touristic areas – Guard your pockets and purse;
- Always tell everybody – and I mean people you trust – where you’re going. – Going hiking? Let your hostel, parents and best friends know at what location you’ll exactly be and what time you should be getting home – with a little bit of time to spare for delays, of course;
- Keep several copies of your passport, visas and other important documents with you – And store some on your phone or laptop, too;
- Make sure you’re insured properly – Even affordable looking countries charge for hospital visits, so make sure you inform yourself on your travel and health insurance;
- Keep an extra phone with the most important phone numbers on it – Get a cheap, vintage one with a battery that lasts for days;
- Don’t mention on social media that you’re alone – Brag about it afterwards.
How did you prepare your friends and family?
Compared to actually traveling alone I found dealing with the outside world the biggest obstacle in my solo travels. Especially the first time I announced my plans to travel alone I got numerous questions and a lot of advice. Although my loved ones were very supportive of me and my plans to roam the world alone, some of them clearly weren’t used to the initial idea of traveling solo, let alone their daughter/ niece/ friend doing it.
What I especially found difficult is the fact I had to explain the matter over and over to different groups of people as I met them separately from each other. It almost got me thinking that for the next trip I had to organize some kind of plenary briefing.
That’s why I currently don’t talk about my solo travels that much anymore. Only my closest friends and family members know where I’m going and that’s fine. Also I think everybody is pretty much used to the idea I do ‘crazy things’ (read: do a solo city trip once in a while) and get back in one piece. I feel supported and that’s what counts.
But even when you can’t find the support you’re looking for, remember to trust on your instincts and own knowledge. Educate yourself, prepare and then let it go again. When the outside world has an opinion on how you live your life, the decisions you make and the adventure you’re about to embark on, so be it! Remember that all of them want to see you back in safely so remember to lovingly explain to them where you’re going and how you’ve thought it through.
But no matter how much people worry, you should keep making your own decisions. Should you listen to people’s concerns? When they’ve lived through a similar situation or when they’re somehow an expert on the matter, why not? Two are always smarter than one.
How do you eat by yourself?
A question I mostly get from women, as we apparently have more trouble eating solo than men. Most women feel awkward stepping into a restaurant to ask for a table for one, afraid of the pity looks from other people. Why does this poor, poor woman have to eat by herself? Doesn’t she have any friends?
Let me tell you that those thoughts are entirely made up by yourself as you convince yourself that what you are doing is strange. Sure, you might get an extra stare from time to time – it’s just not that common for people to eat out by themselves – but that’s usually it.
I was once afraid too but I learned – despite a very unfortunate and single event – that eating by yourself is nothing to worry about. It can even be fun! I’ve had great conversations with the restaurant staff – made friends here and there – while indulging in a gorgeous meal with a glass of great wine. I do always bring a book because, let’s be honest, reading and eating at the same time is just the best thing ever!
What seems like 300.000 words later I’ve come to be end of my tips and tricks involving solo travel. Did I miss your question? Be sure to ask me everything I didn’t cover in this post and I’ll do my best to answer. Also, tag me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to let me know how YOUR solo travels are going! Happy travels!