30 Tips for First-Time Solo Travellers
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
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The solo travel community is HUGE (I love irony), and it’s becoming ever safer and easier to travel around the world on your own. If you’re reading this, I hope you’re either planning your first solo trip (yay!), or interested in maybe doing so one day (also yay!).
I took my first solo trip in January of 2018, without giving much thought to the fact that I was actually going to travel solo! After a difficult 2017, I needed an escape, and New Zealand was the best place for me to go.
Since then, I’ve been to Switzerland and Lisbon on my own, and my solo adventures rank among my favourite trips of all time. I have become an advocate for solo travel, and *almost* prefer it to travelling with other people!
Solo travel isn’t for everyone, of course, but if you are physically capable of travelling on your own, I encourage you to take the leap at some point in your life! Solo travel comes with its own challenges, but it is also liberating, empowering, and so straightforward!
I’ve put together a list of 30 tips for planning and embarking on your first solo trip - please feel free to send me a message if you have any other questions I haven’t answered here! I would love to help make your solo travel dreams a reality!
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#1 Use your common sense
This is the #1 tip I give to anyone who asks me about solo travel, and is also the #1 reason why I would discourage someone from travelling on their own. You don’t have to be a seasoned nomad or travel expert to experience somewhere new on your own, you just need to use your common sense. As long as you make sensible decisions and have the confidence to address any problems you may face, there is no reason why solo travel should be any less safe than travelling with other people.
#2 Follow your heart and trust your gut
The best part of solo travel is the freedom to do what you want, when you want, where you want. Go wherever your heart takes you, and enjoy it! That being said, trust your gut; if you find yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable, or aren’t sure about something, say no. Put yourself first when you travel solo - both to enjoy yourself and to keep yourself safe.
#3 Travel with an open mind
It’s easy to become set in our ways, and be reluctant to veer away from our normal routines and try something new. Travel is the perfect opportunity to try something for the first time, whether that’s sampling local cuisine, taking part in cultural traditions, or something that can only be done in that country! I hate the cliche phrase “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”, but there’s a lot of truth to it!
#4 Travel as light as possible
You’ve probably already worked out that whatever you take with you, you have to carry, so pack as light as possible! This is something I have always struggled with! Depending on where you decide to stay, find out if they have hair dryers / clothes lines / detergent etc that you can use instead of having to bring your own.
#5 Try to arrive during the day
When landing in a foreign country/city on your own, try and schedule your arrival to be within daylight hours. While there might be longer queues at immigration and the taxi rank, this is safer than arriving to a deserted airport or train station. Ladies, I wish it wasn’t the case, but I’m directing this point at you in particular!
Safety concerns aside, it’s also far easier to find your bearings in a new place in the daytime. The start of a solo trip can sometimes feel overwhelming, so make it as easy for yourself as you can!
#6 Use solo-traveller-friendly accommodation
When looking for accommodation for my solo trips, hostels and cheap hotels are the first places I consider.
Hostels are designed for solo travellers! You are almost guaranteed to meet like minded individuals in the dorms, kitchen and social areas of hostels, and they are perfect if you’re travelling on a budget.
Hotels are great if you want a bit of privacy and your own bathroom, but expect to pay a bit more. That being said, many hostels have their own private and/or ensuite rooms if you want your own space, so look at all your options beforehand!
Airbnbs are also a cheap option in a lot of places, and I have used Airbnb while travelling solo before. Of course, most hosts are wonderful and their properties very safe, but this is a slightly riskier option if you are staying on your own. Again, ladies, this goes for you especially!
#7 Solo travel ≠ being alone
One of the biggest misconceptions about solo travel is that you are alone for the entirety of your trip …. this is not true!
If you want to completely isolate yourself, speak to no one, and travel entirely on your own, you can absolutely do that. You will struggle to avoid all forms of human contact, however. (I’m definitely further towards the “kept to myself” end of the solo traveller spectrum, so I can say this from experience!)
By travelling, especially on your own, you will naturally end up in conversation with other people. Buying tickets, checking into a hotel, catching a bus, ordering at a restaurant - you are never really alone.
#8 Consider day tours and group travel
Following on from never being alone while travelling solo, joining a tour on your trip is one of my favourite ways of meeting people while on the road. I’m not hugely sociable, but by meeting people on a tour, you already know you have something in common.
Tours come in all shapes and sizes, from morning walking tours, to a day trip to another town, all the way up to a month-long expedition across an entire continent! There’s something for everyone in the tour group market!
I’ve done a few tours while travelling solo, including a morning at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves (New Zealand), a day trip around Coromandel (New Zealand), a day trip from Lisbon to the island of Berlenga Grande (Portugal), and my epic 16-day Topdeck tour around New Zealand, which I wrote about last week!
I didn’t join these tours for the sole purpose of meeting people, but it was something that happened inevitably. Not only does a guided tour give you with a meaningful insight into the place you’re visiting, but you’ll meet people from all over the world with whom you can share this experience. If you’re travelling solo for the first time, find yourself a tour!
(For shorter trips, Viator is a great site for seeing what's available near your travel destination. For longer tours, I would highly recommend Topdeck based on personal experience, but Contiki, Gadventures, Intrepid, and Travel Talk Tours also have an amazing range of trips.)
#9 It’s normal to feel homesick!
Homesickness is perfectly normal, wherever you’re travelling, and whoever you’re with! Keep yourself as busy as possible if you’re missing home - I find it so much easier to avoid homesickness if I’m out and exploring! Be kind to yourself and don’t overdo it, but make the most of this adventure before it’s over!
#10 Scope out locations on Google Street View before you go
I do this almost every time I’m going somewhere new, even in the UK, and it really helps with any anxiety I feel over being by myself in an unfamiliar location. I find it particularly helpful to look around the area near my accommodation; when I stayed in an Airbnb in Lisbon, I used it to familiarise myself with the streets nearby, and to figure out a walking route from the nearest bus stop.
Google also shows you all the nearby amenities, so you can get a feel for what you have on your doorstep. I always like to locate my nearest supermarket before I travel!
#11 Familiarise yourself with city layouts before you go
In a similar vein to #10, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the general layout of the local area before you go. If you know where your accommodation is in relation to the nearest airport, train station, or tourist attraction, if you ever get lost or lose your bearings, you will be able to make a far better educated guess about how to get back!
#12 Walk with a purpose, and be confident!
It’s important to slow down and appreciate what is around you when you’re travelling, but when out and about, walk with a purpose! (Yet another point I’m directing towards the ladies in particular!) If you appear lost or unsure of where you’re going, you are at greater risk of being targeted by thieves / con artists etc. Be confident in where you’re going, and be confident in asking for help when you need it!
#13 Google Maps/directions will be your best friend
In the same way you can use Google Maps as a GPS in your car, use it to work out the best walking route to wherever you plan to visit, stick in some earphones, and let Google give you on-the-go directions. Sorted!
#14 Use Google Maps to highlight places of interest
When planning a trip, I use Google Maps to create my own personalised maps for my destination. Click on “Your Places” and then “Lists”, and you can start putting together a list of the places you want to visit! I make sure to include the location of my accommodation, the things I want to see most, and restaurants/cafes I have been recommended (or, in my case, definitely serve vegan food!).
This is the map I created before I visited Dublin in August. You instantly get a feel for the layout of the city and where all the important things are, and can work out whether you’ll be able to see everything on foot, or whether you might need to use a subway system or local buses. Laying everything out spatially will also help you decide how to fit everything in to the duration of your trip.
#15 Rome2rio should be your other best friend
While Rome2rio works slightly differently to Google Maps, it will suggest a number of ways you can travel between any two points on earth. Make sure you download this app before you travel - I can guarantee you will find it so useful! (Get it for iOS here and from the Google Play store here!)
#16 Have a plan - but don’t overschedule!
Putting together a vague schedule will help ensure you get round to seeing everything on your list while you’re travelling. This is where the map you created with Google will be helpful too!
While I’m a big believer in forward planning, try not to overschedule (I know some of you will!). There will always be surprises and things you didn’t know existed, some things will take much longer than expected to see, and there will be queues. It’s something I’m still teaching myself, but make sure you can still be flexible with your time
#17 Don’t flash your valuables
Like #12, this also comes under the theme of “trying not to look like a tourist”. 99% of the time it won’t matter if you walk around with earbuds in or with your phone in your hand, but you never know. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
#18 Invest in a small tripod and remote
You’re going to want to remember this experience, so take lots of photos! If you aren’t a huge fan of the standard outstretched-arm selfie, I would highly recommend buying a small tripod or monopod and a bluetooth remote. For the last two years I have been using the CamKix 3-in-1 tripod kit and the CamKix bluetooth remote, both of which I would highly recommend. Without having to carry any heavy equipment (or hire a personal photographer), this is all you need to set up your own photoshoots on the go!
#19 Carry a decent powerbank
Since 2013 I have sworn by these things and am amazed that no one else seems to own as many as I do! Phone and camera batteries never last as long as we need them to, but you can avoid running out of juice by carrying a powerbank. As long as you remember to charge it, some powerbanks will provide you with 5+ full charges of your phone, and can even be used to charge camera batteries if they come with a USB cord.
I have owned about six different powerbanks in the last few years, but this is my favourite at the moment. It has a capacity of 20,000mAh, which is the biggest I’ve used so far, and I honestly think it’s a steal at £19! If you fancy investigating the powerbank market further, you might find some amazing deals on Amazon, and they have the most competitive prices I’ve found.
#20 Be responsible for your medication
Drug laws vary around the world - some standard prescription medications in your home country may be restricted or even banned elsewhere, so it’s always a good idea to double check what the rules are before you travel. If you’re travelling for an extended period of time, you should carry a doctor’s note and/or a prescription as proof that you require your medications, and declare them when you arrive.
#21 Be prepared
When travelling solo, you need to be your own “mum friend”, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to travel with everything but the kitchen sink. Granted, I’m a worrier and a catastrophist, but if you need plasters, painkillers, snacks, or a phone charger, I’m your gal! “Emergency” provisions won’t take up a load of room in your bag, but might be exactly what you need in a sticky situation.
#22 Guard your passport with your life
Ultimately, the only thing you really need to travel is your passport, so guard this with your life! Losing your only means of getting in and out of the country is the last thing you want to do on a solo trip!
#23 Back up your photos
It might not be a life or death issue, but there are few things worse than losing a trip’s worth of photos because of a broken camera, a damaged memory card, or a lost phone. Back up your photos throughout your trip, especially if you’re travelling for multiple weeks or longer. I tend to spend my evenings on solo trips going through the day’s photos and backing them up. At the moment I use Amazon Photos, which provides unlimited photo storage if you have a Prime membership, and your photos can then be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.
#24 Drink responsibly
This falls under the “keeping yourself safe” umbrella, and I would strongly advise against letting yourself get drunk while travelling on your own. Even though you might feel like you’ve met your new best friends, you are still in an unfamiliar place with people you don’t really know. There is no harm in having a few drinks and experiencing the local nightlife, but don’t put yourself in a position where you could be taken advantage of.
#25 Screenshot important documents/bookings
Screenshot or take photos of your important documents and booking confirmations before you leave so you have them to hand. Most tickets can be scanned off a phone screen, and a lot of airlines issue boarding passes through their apps. I always keep a screenshot of my passport on my phone, and I can’t tell you how many times it’s come in handy!
#26 Share your travel plans with someone at home
Keep someone at home informed of your plans. Let them know where you’re staying, which flights you’re taking, and whether your plans change along the way. I text my dad at least daily when I’m away which gives him a quick peace of mind…and everyone else knows I’m okay as long as my insta story is updated every day!
#27 Find out the local emergency phone number
This is something I often forget to consider, but it’s a good idea to find out the country’s emergency services phone number. It is highly unlikely you’ll ever need to use it, but it’s vital information if you find yourself on the scene of an incident. (Here's a handy wikipedia article!)
#28 Don’t forget your travel insurance
Another important thing, regardless of whether you’re travelling solo or not, is travel insurance! Hopefully you will never need to use it, but this relatively inexpensive purchase may be your saving grace if something goes wrong on your trip. I always use Thomas Cook’s travel insurance service (UK only) whose prices are very reasonable.
#29 Allow yourself time to adjust
I love travelling solo, but I still have to “settle in” at the start of every trip before I’m ready to go out and explore. Arriving somewhere that isn’t familiar can be overwhelming, even for the most seasoned of travellers. You may be tired or jetlagged, be adjusting to a new climate, and might be the only one speaking your language.
Take your first day easy. If you immediately want to get out and explore, do it! If you want to take a shower and crawl into bed, do it! The best part of solo travel is being able to do exactly what you want to do, so take full advantage of that!
#30 Make the most of the experience, but enjoy travelling on your own watch
This is your first solo travel experience, so get out and make the most of it! Travel is a privilege, and you have the whole world at your feet, with endless opportunities before you!
While I encourage you to experience as much as you can (as with any trip), be content in the fact that YOU call all the shots. If you want to be up and out by 7am, that’s awesome! If you want to sleep in until 1pm and wing it every day, enjoy it!
Solo travel is not for everyone, but I would honestly recommend it to most. I’m sure every solo traveller can remember a time when they would never have considered embarking on a trip alone, but you never know what you’re capable of until you try.
Travelling on your own can be liberating, empowering, and absolutely life changing. As long as you make sensible decisions, there is no reason why solo travel is beyond your capabilities.
Use your brain, trust your gut, follow your heart, and ENJOY the experience!
Thank you for checking out my 30 tips for first-time solo travellers! Are you hoping to embark on your first solo trip soon? Please leave a comment and let me know where you're off to!
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