While the idea of travelling by yourself might be a little nerve-wracking at first, solo travel can be a wonderful way to see the world. Imagine being the master of your own destiny, seeing only the sights you want to see and getting up at midday every day if that’s what makes you happy.
But with the total freedom of travelling alone comes a responsibility to stay safe and be sensible about some important things. In our solo travel guide we’ve got tips for single travellers, so you’ll remember your experience for all the right reasons.
1. Ease yourself in gently
If you’re feeling nervous about heading off into the great unknown, start with a few “popular” easy places to get your confidence up. Ask for recommendations from family and friends or research backpacker forums on the internet to find cities and hostels where everyone is friendly, and travelling is part of the way of life. You’ll soon find your feet and feel ready to venture further afield. Get some ideas from our previous post: Solo Travel for Women, looking at top European destinations to visit alone.
2. Book your first few nights before you leave
There’s nothing worse than arriving in a foreign country late at night, tired from the journey and with no-where to stay. Book yourself some accommodation for at least the first few nights so you can get used to the lay of the land and make a plan. After that? The world’s your oyster!
3. Make sure someone always knows where you are
No guide to travelling alone would be complete without a note about safety. While you may be feeling a little apprehensive about leaving your home comforts, keep in mind that your family will be just as nervous, though they may be trying hard not to show it. It’s important for their wellbeing as well as your own that you make the effort to keep in contact regularly. Whether that’s by email, messaging, or even social media updates, everyone at home will be much happier knowing you’re having a great time. You could even consider sharing your GPS location with family via your smart phone – that way if you’re having too much fun to check in, your family will still know you’re safe.
4. Carry your e-reader with you
Waiting at the bus station, sheltering from the pouring rain, or simply feeling a little out of place? Getting your head down in a good book and taking a bit of time to relax will pass the time nicely. But you don’t want the added weight of a selection of novels, an e-reader is the perfect solution. When you’re travelling by yourself, you’ll often be grateful for the opportunity to lose yourself for a bit.
5. Dorm rooms are a great way to meet people…
…but don’t forget your ear plugs. One of the best ways to meet other like-minded solo travellers is to stay in a shared room in a hostel. In fact, many travellers say it’s an essential part of backpacking life. Not to mention budget-friendly. But etiquette can sometimes be lacking, so ear plugs and eye masks are a great idea if you want to get a decent night’s sleep and be able to enjoy your adventures the following day.
6. Consider backpacker insurance
When you’re exploring multiple countries over a long period of time, normal travel insurance won’t usually apply. Instead, when you’re travelling the world alone, you should consider taking out insurance to cover your belongings, gadgets and depending on what you’ll be getting up to, to protect you against medical expenses due to injury.
Find an insurer that offers a 24-hour claims line, and if you have any problems you won’t need to worry about time zones before getting in touch to get it sorted. When you’re travelling alone, it can really give you peace of mind to know that if anything happens, you’ll have help on hand.
7. Learn a bit about local language and customs
When you’re travelling the world alone, particularly if you stray off the backpacker trail, it can be easy for hours to go by without you actually seeing anyone from your native country. Embrace this opportunity to mix with the locals and try to learn a few key phrases in their language. With your smart phone to hand, it will be easy to find phrases such as “yes please” and “no thank you”. Not only will this help you feel more empowered in a difficult situation, the locals will usually appreciate your efforts and respond in a friendly way.
8. Don’t be afraid to head out to bars and restaurants alone…
One of the downsides of solo travel can be venturing out alone in the evening. But you’ve got to eat, right? So, pluck up the courage to ask for a table for one and take in the sights alone. Perhaps take your e-reader or diary along for company if you think you might feel a little awkward. But take time to smile and say ‘hi’ to people and you never know what might happen.
…but avoid getting drunk…
While it might be nice to have a drink or two to unwind and quell your nerves at heading out alone, make sure you keep it in moderation. Drinking to excess could put you at risk if you lose your inhibitions. While the backpacker community is generally friendly there will always be strangers around who can’t be trusted. Make sure you’re compos mentis enough to know what’s going on and make the right decisions.
10. Make the most of tours or organised excursions
There are many benefits to investing in a few tours along the way. Not only will you have the benefit of your tour guide’s wisdom, perhaps learning more about sights than you otherwise would, but it makes getting around a lot easier, and you’re sure to meet loads of new friends.
11. Don’t forget to document everything
When you’re hanging your hat in a different town every night, it can be easy to lose track of where you’ve been and the sights you’ve seen. Smart phones make it easy to take plenty of photos but consider taking time each evening to jot down the places you’ve been to in a travel journal.
Setting up an Instagram account for your travels works brilliantly as it’ll allow you to collate photos and notes together about the places you’ve been. And you can always keep it private if you don’t want everyone to know what you’ve been up to.
12. If you can’t carry it, don’t take it…
It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget that you need to be able to carry the huge backpack that you’re shoving everything you own into. You won’t have an airport trolley with you the whole time. So, what do you really need? Depending on the climate you’ll want a few pairs of lightweight shorts and trousers, breathable, easy-to-wash tops and a fleece or two for cooler days, walking at altitude and evenings. And don’t forget to take some sturdy footwear.
Check out our travel accessories too for smaller day packs, hats, lightweight travel towels and aluminium water bottles to make sure you always have fresh, clean water on hand (without resorting to single use plastics).
Remember: It’s your trip, only you get to decide how it goes. But it’s important to stay safe when you’re travelling alone. By reading our solo travellers guide and following our tips for travelling alone, you and your family and friends back home can be confident that you’re doing all the right things to stay safe as you embark on a life-changing solo travel adventure.