When I told my friends and family I’d be travelling solo, everyone shared tips and tricks from their own experiences or, more commonly, irrational fears they had for a single gal. Travelling solo may be scary at first, but it is an extremely rewarding experience with many lessons to be learned.
TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVEL
Odds are, you have heard this simple advice before, but the two most important points to remember when travelling solo are to (1) be safe, and (2) have the time of your life. Here are some lessons I learned from travelling alone.
1. People are kind
Just because you’re travelling alone, doesn’t mean you will be lonely. Keep an eye out for familiar people, especially from the airport to the plane to your bus or subway transfer: you may be headed to the same place. Travelling is an opportunity to leave your comfort zone and interact with strangers from another culture, so make new friends. You may encounter a few jerks, or people unwilling to give you the time of day (like anywhere), but most people will be kind and willing to show you around their city.
Locals are your best resource, from the locals who love their cities to staff in the tourism industry. They know the ins and outs of the city and can recommend cool places to check out that the guide books might not mention and advise of areas to avoid. Your hotel concierge is also a local and is experienced with communicating with tourists. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And remember, a simple “thank you” goes a long way. If you are friendly and outgoing, you will make more friends travelling alone than with a partner. People tend to me more inclusive of solo travellers.
2. Choose your accommodations wisely
Location is one of the most important factors when choosing your accommodations (in addition to your budget). Choose an area you feel safe in and one in a central location close to sightseeing and top attractions. The style of accommodation you choose is important too. If you stay in hostels, you are sure to meet new people. You will quickly bond with other travellers, if only for a couple of days, and can seek out partners to go out and explore with if you choose. If you stay with a local, they can show you around and share their secrets for the best places to visit, where to eat, and what to do. If you’re not on a budget or simply want a traditional hotel – go for the king sized bed! Always book at least your first night’s accommodation in every new city. There’s nothing worse than arriving somewhere new and jet-lagged, trying to find somewhere to stay.
3. Research public transportation in advance
Public transportation systems are more advanced in certain places than others. Unless you’re in a walkable core (and even then), there will be times when you’ll need to get around using public transportation. Metro systems are very useful – especially if you’re travelling within Europe. Know how the subway works, the hours of operation, and what lines you will be using the most. Research which taxis are official and approximately how much cab rides should cost to different places so you are prepared. Organize your transportation from the airport to your hotel in advance to make your first moments in the new destination stress-free. You can also download some apps that help you navigate public transportation routes.
4. Maps will make you look like a tourist. This can be a good or a bad thing
In tourist heavy areas, you will spot people looking at their maps very often, and sometimes they are even displayed on the streets for public use. In other areas, you may not want to attract attention and mark yourself as a tourist. Stopping in a busy city centre looking at a map is a great chance for pickpocketers to grab something valuable, so make sure your bags are tightly secured and facing the front of your body. On the other hand, looking at a map may give people a chance to approach you and offer help. And if maps are not your friend, try downloading some useful travel apps that give you directions, travel times, and public transportation options – some are even able to work offline.
5. You don’t have a travel partner to borrow things from
So pack carefully. There are, of course, stores in other countries and travel companions you’ll meet along the way. But you won’t have an easy back-up for items like shampoo, a phone charger, or an extra sweater that a friend could provide. Be prepared with the right clothes for the weather and activities, electrical converters, and anything else you need to make your stay comfortable and save you from purchasing them in destination – or struggling to find a place that sells them.
6. Dining alone is an experience
Appreciate the time you have to yourself and don’t skimp out on enjoying a nice meal just because you will be eating alone. When it’s just you and the food, ditch the electronics and take in your surroundings. There is no one else you have to consider when choosing a restaurant or a time. If you don’t want to eat dinner at dinnertime, you don’t have to. When you’re hungry, choose your restaurant, order your favourites, and take your time. If you’re worried about standing out, grab a seat at the bar. But in big cities, you will be surprised how normal it is to spot someone at a table alone. Dining alone is also a great chance to chat with the server or fellow diners for insider tips. Try to pronounce words in their language or simply attempt hello and thank you – it goes a long way.
7. Look after your belongings
Because you’re travelling solo, you need to be extra careful of your personal safety and aware of those around you. Your passport is your most important belonging: photocopy it and keep one copy in your luggage, one in your hotel safe, and one back home with a family member or friend (and keep an electronic version – better safe than sorry.) Be alert. Others will try to steal and sometimes restaurants and public areas even have warning signs. This doesn’t mean you should be scared, just smart. Keep your belongings safe, on your body, and in view at all times.
Try to look as much like a local as you can. Do the locals carry purses? Carry a purse (with only what you’ll need for the day, or course, with some extra funds in your sock). Walk with purpose, even when you’re lost. If you need to re-orient yourself, duck inside a cafe or restaurant and pull out your map there instead of on the street corner. And remember, Internet is not always a guarantee. Keep a little booklet where you can write important addresses down.
8. Be selfish
Travelling on your own means there is no schedule. No compromise. No one telling you what to do or where to go. You set the itinerary. It’s all up to you to make the most out of your trip. You will learn to enjoy your own company and step outside of your comfort zone. No one knows you so you can take on any role you like. Grow your confidence, be open minded, face your fears. Try everything once, whether it is taking a wine tour or bungee jumping. The focus is on you. Use your time as you please and make the most of your solo travel.
What are your tips for solo travel? Share what you learned from travelling alone in the comments below!