When I tell people that I travel by myself, they are usually shocked. A girl in her 20’s wandering around by herself, she must be crazy. But I’ve never given it a second thought, my parents used to bring me on trips each summer and so by the time I entered college, I was completely ready to travel on my own. I began with a two month stay in Italy as an AuPair, then studying abroad in Madrid for several months, and a few solo weekend trips in Europe. I think this is the easiest way to begin solo traveling, to gradually dip your toes in the water rather than jumping right into the deep end. Maybe start with traveling with friends or family members, then as an AuPair or WorkAway volunteer, and then to traveling completely alone. Of course, there are people out there who don’t have any travel experience but want to jump straight in. And that is amazing. If you feel ready to embark on your journey, just keep reading as I answer some of the most common questions on solo travel.
What should I know before traveling alone?
Solo traveling can feel scary and lonely if you don’t plan accordingly, so your two biggest priorities when planning your trip should be concern with safety and mental health. For your first solo trips, pick safe destinations. If you choose a place where you are constantly worried about scams, being robbed, or general violence, you won’t be able to enjoy your trip at all. Some of the best solo travel destinations are Spain, France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Bali, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Vietnam, Singapore, Croatia, Greece, Australia, and New Zealand (to name a few). With the majority of these destinations you also have the comfort of clean drinking water, modern grocery stores, reliable public transport, and other amenities that make your first trip more comfortable. Again, if you are not used to traveling it is better to pick a place where you don’t have to worry about basic needs. Once you’ve traveled more, you can expand your comfort zone and explore other places with less modern conveniences.
Another consideration when picking your destination should be the local language, I would recommend choosing a place where you speak the local language or at least understand it. Yet again, this is just another element that gives comfort when you are first starting your travels, because it can be truly overwhelming being by yourself in a place where nobody can understand you.
Besides safety, mental health is also a concern when traveling solo (especially for long periods of time). You might feel lonely if you only stay in hotel rooms or AirBnbs and don’t make an effort to interact with people. But there are plenty of ways to make sure you don’t feel lonely while traveling! The best way to meet people and make new friends is at hostels, not only are hostels a great way to save money but you will surely meet a lot of other solo travelers. If you are unfamiliar with hostels, they are like low-budget hotels with large rooms filled with bunk beds where young travelers tend to stay. I would say an average hostel costs $20 a night, but it can really vary depending on where you are. Either way, it is very cheap, especially coming from the United States where the cheapest accomodation is a seedy motel room for $70 a night. Most hostels also offer a walking tour, which is another great way to meet people and also get to know the new city you are in. There are also apps like MeetUp that allow for you to connect with other in your area. MeetUp isn’t just for travelers but locals as well, on this app people post certain events like beach yoga, language exchange, art classes, and other activities. It is a great way to meet people, try something new, and integrate into the new culture.
What are a few things you should pack when traveling alone for the first time?
My first piece of advice would be to avoid taking your valuables, only take what is necessary and when possible, opt for your cheaper items. Hostels are generally safe, but things do tend to get stolen if you aren’t careful. It is also just for your own piece of mind, whenever I travel with expensive items I always worry about where to place them and what I would do if they were stolen. And speaking of hostels, always, always bring a lock. Most hostels offer lockers but without locks, some will sell you a lock, but it is much better to just bring your own.
Definitely bring a credit card and if possible, a credit card without foreign transaction fees. You will also want a travel purse that you can wear at all times, if necessary, that has your credit card, local currency, passport, and other valuables; some good options are on Amazon.
As a traveler on a budget and aspiring minimalist (aspiring being the keyword), I only travel with a small backpacking backpack and tote bag. Most budget airlines will let you on their flights with these items and you won’t have to pay extra. I prefer a backpack because it makes moving from the airport to hostel and other places, much easier. And it feels much less obnoxious than a roller bag. The tote is for my valuables, when you are traveling you will probably find yourself on a bus at some point and at this point they will ask you to put your bigger bag in the luggage storage. I’ve seen one too many people get off the bus only to find their luggage missing (because buses usually make several stops and anyone can grab your bag in between). This is yet another reason to also use a grungy backpack, people will assume you don’t have anything worth stealing.
- credit card (without foreign transaction fees)
- small carry-on
- passport, drivers license, etc.
- Phone charger and adapter (depending on your destination)
- Flip flops (for hostel bathrooms)
- Eye mask and earplugs (hostels can get loud)
- Travel pillow (for long flights)
- portable charger
- Travel-sized toiletries (3.4 ounces or less for liquids, when doing a carry-on)
- International phone plan (or purchase a SIM card at your destination which is usually much cheaper. In Europe a *basically* unlimited plan is only 10 euros a month.)
What are the benefits of traveling alone?
Okay, so I just wrote all about how you have to be careful and will probably feel scared, alone, and exhausted when solo traveling. What’s the upside of traveling alone? Only self-growth, meeting amazing new people, enhancing your common sense, becoming more independent, stepping out of your comfort zone, and experiencing moments you couldn’t have had if you weren’t alone. Each time you travel alone, you learn something new about yourself, another culture, and our world as a whole. You learn how to carry yourself, what your values are, what your limits are, your strength, the list keeps going. I also just think it is incredibly empowering to know you can travel by yourself, it is something so many people fear but it doesn’t have to be all that scary.
You will also meet infinitely more fellow travelers, than if you were with a travel companion. When traveling alone you are forced to meet new people and put more effort into interactions. Even if you are staying at hostels with your friends, you will probably end up just interacting with your friends rather than others, because it is more comfortable.
You also find yourself in new situations, like eating dinner alone at a restaurant, touring monuments by yourself, asking strangers questions, etc. These are the moments that make you more independent and help you grow as an individual.
How to make travel plans by myself?
I absolutely love planning my trips. I love to plan every detail, even though I know my plans will definitely change. Here is my process:
- Use Google Flights to find the best travel deals.
- Book my hostel for just a few nights.
- You never know if you are going to meet someone you want to travel with or if you don’t like the hostel or if you find a better place to stay. I like to book just a few nights to keep my options open.
- Use Google Maps to find the monuments, museums, restaurants, etc. that I want to visit and mark them as ‘want to go’. You can also use guidebooks, but I can’t say I’ve ever used one.
- Once I arrive, make more definitive plans and book the tours.
- Yet again, I like to be flexible so I never book tours or tickets in advance unless there is an amazing deal.
This way of traveling might stress people out and it is totally fine to plan out your entire trip months in advance. However, you might be missing out on unexpected opportunities in the future.
Female solo travel tips?
I’m going to write a full article on top tips for solo female travelers, but here is the brief version. Be even more careful when choosing your destination, a great place to start is Europe. When staying at hostels, opt for the female only dorms. They are usually a bit more expensive, but often worthwhile. I’ve had several very uncomfortable situations (with men) when staying in mixed dorms, so I tend to stick to female dorms.
Use common sense when walking around alone: ignore random men who try to talk to you, don’t keep your phone in your backpocket, always have your purse in front of you, and invest in a local SIM card so you don’t have to rely on wi-fi. And a basic safety tip: never lose sight of your things. I’ve seen and heard of so many people get their belongings stolen at the beach or park because they set their bag behind them or thrown off to the side. If I am tanning at the beach by myself, my backpack is going underneath my head and I’m holding onto my phone. Call it excessive but hey, I‘ve never had my belongings stolen before.
Another tip (which I really don’t follow myself) is to dress like a local to avoid stares or being targeted as a dumb tourist. This means avoiding overly dressing up, hiking outfits from Patagonia or Columbia, fanny packs, holding a map, and Polaroid cameras. Once again, I don’t follow this suggestion but if you want to blend in and avoid unwanted attention, this is the best bet. Oh, and wearing sunscreen. In many countries they have names for white tourists who burn themselves and the locals will definitely make fun of you (even if it is behind your back).
Best destinations for solo travelers?
There are so many variables involved in this question, but as a woman traveler from the U.S. my favorite solo travel destinations (so far) are Spain, France, Hungary, United Kingdom, Portugal, and Croatia. I have to highly recommend Croatia, it should be on everyone’s bucket list and it is a great road trip destination. Perhaps it isn’t the absolute best for meeting fellow travelers, but it is an incredible place to explore nature, eat delicious food, and visit gorgeous cities, all while saving money.
- Best destinations in Spain
- San Sebastian
- Santiago de Compostela
- Best destinations in France
- Best destinations in Hungary
- Best destinations in United Kingdom
- St Ives
- Best destinations in Portugal
- Best destinations in Croatia (definitely recommend a road trip)
- Plitvice Lakes National Park