Travelling solo for the first time can be exciting and terrifying. We’ve put together key points including safety advice and embracing your own company, so you can roam the planet alone and carefree…
“Good research and planning before you go is key,” says Mandy Huggins, a contributor to Bradt’s Roam Alone: Inspiring Tales by Reluctant Solo Travellers. “If you’re safe in the knowledge that the start of your trip is mapped out, then you’ll soon build up your confidence.”
Ensuring that your first night’s stay is arranged in advance is important, as arriving at an unfamiliar airport can be a much more comfortable experience if you know that your accommodation for that night is already in hand. Also, don’t be afraid to plan out your first couple of days, too; this will give you more time to bed yourself into the trip and find your feet. Your big adventure will still have plenty of spontaneity, but will allow you some breathing space to begin with.
Be confident… even when you’re not
Learning to act confidently while roaming your destination can go a long way to keeping you safe and, in turn, help you boost your confidence as well.
“Walk tall and purposefully,” says Dee Maldon, author of The Solo Travel Guide: Just Do It. “Try not to appear hunched over, like you shouldn’t be there.”
Pulling out a guidebook can make you stick out like a sore thumb. If you find yourself lost, keep walking, like you know where you’re going, at least until you find a safe space, such as a cafe, where you can dig out a map. However, Hilary Bradt, co-founder of Bradt Travel Guides, also recommends asking in shops or enquiring with locals for directions, even if you don’t need to, as you can gather both self-esteem and useful tips at the same time.
Making eye contact oozes self-confidence, but taking on the characteristics of a local can help you blend in even further. Carry a local newspaper with you or learn a few phrases (or more) of the language, which will also make getting around easier.
Be comfortable on your own
Loneliness is something many solo travellers experience, but it can be controlled or avoided.
Keeping yourself busy is one way, so that your mind is firmly fixed on the place you’re visiting, rather than the fact that you’re on your own. Try to pack your day with activities, to avoid walking around aimlessly – that’s when loneliness and boredom sets in.
“Loneliness tends to be more of an issue at night,” says Mandy. “It’s tempting to have an early dinner and retreat to your room. Instead, go to the theatre, a local dance display, or watch the world go by in a bar.”
If you’re not part of a group tour, join a day tour instead, so you have people around you to chat to. A sudden injection of human interaction can make a world of difference.
Meal times are frequently occasions when loneliness can take over. “Learn to enjoy watching local life,” adds Dee. “When you’re at a table, sit proudly and observe the atmosphere around you over a glass of wine. A book or magazine can be a companion of sorts, but being alone gives you the chance to savour the local meal you’re eating, too – something often forgotten when you have company or are deep in conversation.”
Don’t take risks
Though the risks are low, travelling solo is about being brave, but not reckless.
“Look to stay near public or brightly lit areas at night,” says Janice Waugh of solotravelerworld.com. “Also, try and ensure you arrive at your destination in the daylight, especially if you haven’t arranged transport.” Trusting your intuition is not to be undervalued; if you think somewhere or something doesn’t feel right, leave.
Leave any flashy jewellery at home, to avoid being a target for thieves, and look to dress as similarly to the locals as you can. Blending in can often help you prevent attracting the wrong kind of attention.
“Bring a wedge-shaped doorstop,” adds Hilary. “It’s reassuring to know no one can get into your room while you’re asleep.” Or if you’re staying on an overnight train, pay extra for a cabin you can lock. Keep a list of important phone numbers on paper – not your phone – including the nearest British embassy, local emergency services and your hotel. This becomes more imperative the further off the beaten track you go.
Travelling solo doesn’t mean you have to undertake your adventure alone. If you’re still feeling nervous during your planning, join a group tour that specialises in solo travel.
“You can make friends quickly with likeminded people on group tours,” says Janice.
“That can immediately put you at ease.”
Group tours are a useful cushion for a country you might consider challenging on your own, offering support in terms of safety, activities and local knowledge. Look to join an organised tour for a week or two, so you have the confidence to then stay on in that country alone.
“Be prepared to pay for your own room,” Hilary advises. “Sometimes sharing a room with a stranger can be risky or uncomfortable.”
Perhaps the best confidence booster of all, though, is looking back at the end of your trip and realising you did it. It seems daunting at first, but travelling solo only needs a day or two to get used to. It opens up chances to make new friends, discover your own strengths and perhaps, most importantly, visit exciting new places.