Last updated on November 3rd, 2018.
If someone told me 10 years back that I will be casually traveling alone in general compartments of Indian trains around the country, I would think that person got seriously high. That time solo travel was a totally different reality for me due to both lack of personal confidence and society norms. I’m a shy introvert by nature. Plus, in my community, it is not common for a girl to travel alone.
Even when my parents accepted (more or less) the concept of traveling alone, we still had to make stories about each solo trip for my grandmom who was confident thinking I travel with my “friends”.
Sometimes during the “trip report”, I also had to choose the neighboring countries (I’ve visited before) which sounded more acceptable for my grandmom. It means I had to be creative about how I spent my time in a country I haven’t visited for a few years…
You understand the background I’m coming from… Nowadays, if I have a budget and time, I travel anywhere I wish from trendy European cities to offbeat towns and villages in Asia. This switch didn’t happen in one day, but in this post, I’d like to share some practical tips which helped me start traveling solo.
Start with a conference or an exchange program
If you have never traveled alone before, planning a trip by yourself might feel overwhelming. There is a good chance you are worried about accommodation, cultural norms, food, flight and many other organizational moments.
In my opinion, a conference or an exchange program is a good starting point for solo travel with a certain insurance that someone gets your back.
In this case, you somehow know that someone will take care of accommodation or help you with basic directions, but at the same time, you will have to take flight alone and get around also by yourself afterward. This experience will help you gain confidence for future independent travels.
The internships and conferences abroad were an ice-breaker for my introvert nature. They helped me get used to the place during the first days. Afterward, I was more confident in exploring the same destination alone for the rest of the stay. Nevertheless, if you have some traveling experience, you might not need this step.
Choose solo-friendly travel destinations
Destination is a deal-breaker for solo travelers. In my opinion, there are four main factors here: safety, culture, visa and good reviews of other solo travelers. I recommend starting with your country or with a destination that is culturally close for you to avoid strong culture shocks.
Preferably, choose a country where you don’t need a visa so you are not drowned by the stressful bureaucratic procedures from the beginning. Also, join some solo travel communities online to get some reviews of real travelers about cultural norms and safety in the destination you intend to go.
One of my first solo travel destinations in Europe was Baltic region. In my opinion, it is a better start with smaller destinations than big popular cities like Paris, London, Barcelona, etc. The city rhythm is generally overwhelming.
Read also: How to plan a trip to Estonia?
Prepare for a trip in advance
Don’t leave everything for the last moment. At least one day before the trip you should have everything packed to gain confidence that you are set and ready to go.
Start reading about your destination well in advance to know about spoken language, cultural norms, weather, how to dress and other information that will set your expectations right and help you get the most of this experience! Maybe even learn a few basic phrases if you travel to a country with a foreign language.
Make a list of what you need and rethink it several times. Take only required stuff which you feel comfortable to carry by yourself (e.g. 1 casual travel week equals to max 7 outfits).
Try to pack your stuff in one bag. You don’t want to stress out checking if you have your backpack, laptop bag, purse, yoga mat, day bag, document belt and other things hanging on you on arrival.
Something I’ve learned in Asia: keep a ring with you. Your family status doesn’t matter much, but in some destinations, it does save from tons of unwanted attention.
Keep aside all documents: passport, insurance, the address of your accommodation, contacts of place where you need to reach. Make a photocopy of these just in case. Oh, and also take a small lock – it comes handy if you leave your stuff in luggage rooms or stay in a hostel.
Talk to your relatives
It was a long way for me to reach the stage, when my parents accept the idea of me going to India alone. They didn’t like it, but they had a confidence that I will manage fine. It was years of other destinations and talks, my constant exchange projects and conferences abroad.
There is always a generation gap with parents and different views with spouses and siblings, but the fact is, even when your relatives take strict decisions or try to talk you out of doing something, they care about you, but in their own way. There are a few things you can do to bridge this gap.
During my first solo trips, I made accommodation bookings in advance and left the guesthouse contacts to my family. Also, I sent the copy of my tickets, so they can look for the flights online in case there are delays or cancellations.
When you are going abroad alone, it’s really important to keep someone up with your plans. For instance, once I land in a new country, I connect to public wifi within an hour and give an update to my family that everything is right.
Occasionally I send them pics in the evenings to share experience and sides of the country which might be skipped by the provocative media.
These are very small details which don’t really take much effort. At the same time, they make such a huge difference in treating you as a responsible adult. It might be easier for you if you come from an open-minded culture or harder if you live in a more conservative society. In any case, I recommend investing effort and time to explain your views to people you care about.
Take care of your health during the trip
Try not to go by the YOLO tag too much during your first trip. Your main goal of the first trip is to get comfortable in handling this whole experience by yourself.
While it’s tempting to try all new food, attend those awesome night parties and climb a cool viewpoint, try to find a balance. Good amount of sleep is important to keep you fresh and excited, good diet (no McDonald’s isn’t a good diet even if it’s present almost everywhere) and weather precautions can make a huge difference in your experience.
Plan experiences around people
While blogs covering a city in one day sound exciting, try not to get too overwhelmed with ticking the places off your list.
Despite being an introvert, I have to admit that a right group of people can make your experience more memorable (and vice-versa). Try meeting both foreigner and local people. One of the main advantages of traveling alone is getting a deeper understanding of the destination.
If you are into cultural travel, I strongly recommend choosing a homestay or a small guesthouse managed by the family. Usually, such people are interested in meeting travelers and also open to sharing their culture with you.
Alternatively, if you would like to meet like-minded travelers, consider staying in a hostel. Many hostels have both dorms and private rooms.
Nevertheless, don’t be overly friendly. If your hostel roommates are nice to you, probably they are just trying to make a contact with you as you people will live together for a few days. If a random dude asks you out in the cafe, that’s not done with a sole purpose to make a contact.
Most of the people in the world are genuinely nice or they are neutral and mind their business. But, there are exceptions everywhere.
Controversial thought: all the problems I’ve ever faced with flirting guys or bad mannered men were only in overly touristy destinations. That’s just one of the side outcomes of the over tourism. I never felt more welcomed and safe than in some forgotten villages and offbeat places of South Asia.
Enjoy your experience
Solo travel is a skill – you need to put an effort to develop it. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most rewarding experience that can help you understand yourself better and give you the inner confidence.
At the same time, YOU are the master of your experience and you can build your trip as you want in any schedule and budget. Enjoy this freedom to be YOU!
Repeat the same in more exotic destinations
After the first trip, you will feel more confident in planning a trip again. Why not to try another continent next time? The world is big and only sky is the limit!
Now there is a good chance you met some people abroad who crushed a chunk of stereotypes created by the media. After each trip, you will become open to more destinations which might have sounded scary and unreachable before.
Hope these tips will help you prepare for your first solo trip. If you are a fellow traveler, what else would you suggest?