After six solo adventures, I’ve learned the ins-and-outs about what it’s like to go off on your own. Here are a few bits of wisdom I picked up along the way.
1. Forget everything you’ve heard or read.
There’s no right or wrong way to solo travel. Do whatever you want, without worry about what other people expect you to be doing. If you want to sleep, sleep. If you don’t want to see that cultural monument, don’t. No one, even someone with solo travel experience, can tell you how this trip is going to go. Each person’s solo adventures are experienced uniquely to that person. So before you go, try really hard to clear out all the stories you’ve read and heard.
2. Be truthful about your needs.
It’s okay to not know what you’re getting yourself into. There are so many things that are and aren’t going to happen on this trip that you could never expect. But you should also be truthful about the things you do want and need. If you want to meet new people, then you can plan your trip in a way that caters to that. If you want to sleep a little more comfortably, spend the extra money and make it happen.
3. Know that you can reach out to loved ones if you need.
This doesn’t make you weak and doesn’t have to take away from your trip. If you are in a moment of fear or loneliness, send that text or make that call. As long as you’re being honest with yourself about the journey of the trip, there’s nothing you can do that will make it less yours.
4. Don’t have everything planned.
Leave some room for spontaneity and unforeseeable adventures.
5. Be prepared to be vulnerable...
...and hyper self-aware of your awkwardness and insecurities. This is not meant to scare you, but being alone in a new place and meeting new people can be terrifying. But remember, there’s a reason you want to do this, and there’s also an internal knowing that you can do this if you’re going through with it.
6. Always keep more cash on you than you think you’ll need.
And never keep it in the same place. You won’t have someone with you to spot you, or someone to rely on bailing you out. You never know when you’ll need to convert more money, when cash is the only payment type accepted or if you’ll lose your credit cards.
7. Email a copy of your passport, flight itineraries and lodging confirmation to yourself and a loved one.
You never know when you might need it.
8. Carry around important phone numbers and addresses.
These include the hotel or hostel you’re staying at, your credit card’s international number and the local U.S. embassy.
9. Get in touch with your hotel or hostel before you leave.
They may have free shuttles and great tips for transportation to and from the airport.
10. Don’t pack more than you can carry yourself.
You are responsible for your belongings from the minute you land to the minute you’re back on the return flight. You’re going to want to be able to comfortably carry your luggage, whether it’s walking up three flights of stairs in a hostel or taking public transportation to and from the airport. Plus, you never know if you’re going to spontaneously want to hop on a train to a neighboring city for a night.
11. Go for practical over cute.
You’re not going to need several pairs of shoes; always pack comfortable walking/adventure shoes. Pack light, because you’ll likely repeat outfits (and depending on the length of your trip, you can do laundry while traveling). Choose a practical day-pack with zippers and pockets so you can store everything safely over a nice purse or bag. And pack travel-sized, must-need toiletries so you can throw them out or leave them there.
12. Ziploc bags are your friends.
For your toiletries; for saving stubs and tickets; for securing your phone when you randomly go hiking in the rain.
13. Pack a lock.
Just do it.
14. Bring a deck of cards and a good book.
Cards are a great way to break the ice with other travelers. A good book is great company at cafes, solo meals and on a bench with a spectacular view.
Making The Most Of Your Trip
15. Keep a journal.
Journaling is a great way to jot down adventures, but it’s also a good for exploring feelings and thoughts of loneliness, awkwardness and fear. At the very least, always journal on the flight to your trip, and on the flight back home. It’s incredible to see the difference in your mindset.
16. Look into local walking tours and hostel events.
Walking tours are a free and fun way to see the city and meet people. Most hostels host events like community dinners and pub crawls so travelers can meet each other, and a lot of them also have community boards with other travelers looking for company on random day trips.
17. Wander aimlessly.
Wandering without any time restraints is a wonderful way to see things you didn’t find on forums or in guidebooks.
18. And if you get lost, keep roaming.
As long as you’re safe, if you feel a pang of being lost, keep roaming. There have been many times where I could have stopped, paralyzed with fear that I wouldn’t find my way, but as I kept roaming things started to look familiar or I’d meet someone willing to help me.
19. Remember: People are inherently kind.
Talking to strangers can be a scary feat, but take that deck of cards and talk to that group of travelers. Hang out in common spaces in the hostel. Make eye contact, smile and be aware of how you’re presenting your friendliness. Initiate conversations when you have the slightest desire to do so. Go to that social event by yourself. In all my experiences of solo traveling, and in general of talking to strangers (something I’ve gotten good at), people are likely to be kind back to you, nine-out-of-10 times.
20. Talk to locals.
I can’t stress this enough. Even if it’s the guy who works at the grocery store as you’re buying a bottle of water, ask locals for must-see spots and eats. They’ll give you tips you wouldn’t have been able to know of on your own. And ask locals about their stories ― how long have they been living here? How has the city changed after X event happened? You’ll directly learn so much about the history and culture of a place by talking to the people who live there.
21. Embrace the awkwardness and loneliness.
Don’t fight them off and don’t be upset when they (and they will) overwhelm you. They are critical and uncomfortable aspects of traveling alone, but they will teach you so much about yourself.
22. Trust yourself.
You are equipped with everything you need ― strength, intuition, a sense of adventure ― to make this trip everything it should be for you.