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 ready to travel on my own.
I began with a two month stay in Italy as an AuPair, then I worked in a hostel in Barcelona the next summer before studying abroad in Madrid and taking several solo trips during that time. I think this is the easiest way to begin solo traveling—gradually dipping your toes in the water rather than jumping right into the deep end—especially if you are young.
I recommend traveling with others, or working as an AuPair or WorkAway volunteer, before your first solo trip. Of course, there are the eager few with a fresh passport and zero travel experience who 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 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.
Solo Travel Destinations
Some of the best solo travel destinations are Spain, France, Ireland, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Vietnam, Singapore, Croatia, Greece, Australia, U.K., Hawaii, Alaska, 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 step out of 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 navigating a foreign country 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. An average hostel costs $20 a night but it can really vary depending on where you are. I’ve paid $50 for a bunk bed in an 8 person room in Spain and $8 for a bed and breakfast hostel in Morocco. Either way, it is very cheap, especially coming from the United States where the cheapest accommodation 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 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 will get stolen if you aren’t careful. It is also better for your own piece of mind, whenever I travel with expensive items I worry about where to place them and what I would do if they were stolen. And speaking of hostels, 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, I have Chase Sapphire (which I love) but a cheaper option is Charles Schwab with zero foreign transaction fees, unlimited ATM cash withdrawal, and no annual fee. You will also want to get the local currency as soon as possible, most airports offer currency exchange booths that are fairly priced. Many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America rely heavily on cash so you want to make sure you are prepared, especially since you will likely need it for the taxi/public transportation from the airport.
As a traveler on a budget and aspiring minimalist (aspiring being the keyword), I travel with a 50 liter backpack and small bag. Most budget airlines will allow you to bring this on their flights without paying extra (which is great because sometimes the check-in baggage costs more than the flight itself).
I prefer a backpack because it makes the journey between the airport and hostel much easier. And it feels much less obnoxious than a roller bag, especially if you’re traveling through Europe with their endless cobblestone streets. I keep all of my valuables in my smaller bag, this way I can always keep it next to me whether on the plane or on long bus journeys. 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 use a grungy backpack instead of a suitcase, people will assume you don’t have anything worth stealing.
- credit card (without foreign transaction fees)
- small carry-on bag for valuables
- passport, drivers license, student id (great for discounts in Europe!)
- Phone charger and adapter (depending on your destination)
- Flip flops (for hostel bathrooms)
- Eye mask and earplugs
- Travel pillow
- Portable charger
- Travel-sized toiletries (3.4 ounces or less for liquids for a carry-on)
- International phone plan (or purchase a local SIM card which is usually much cheaper)
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, how to set boundaries, your strengths, the list keeps going. It is also incredibly empowering to know that you have the option to travel alone, you don’t have to wait for someone else to explore the world. You limit your opportunities immensely if you always wait for others to join your adventures.
You will also meet infinitely more fellow travelers when traveling alone because you are forced to meet new people and put more effort into interactions. New situations will also arise: eating alone at a restaurant, touring monuments by yourself, asking strangers questions. These are the moments that build your independence 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 may: meet someone you want to travel with, not like the hostel, or 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, that I want to visit and mark them
- Book tours, usually through the hostel, once I arrive
- 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?
Check out my full article for solo female travelers but here are some quick tips. As a solo female traveler you should be even more careful when choosing your destination, a great place to start is Europe or Southeast Asia. When staying at hostels, opt for the female-only dorms. They are usually a bit more expensive but often worthwhile. I’ve had several 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 back pocket, always have your purse in front of you, and invest in a local SIM card. When traveling in places like Africa and Latin America it is best to wear conservative clothing for safety and to minimize street harassment.
Best destinations for solo travelers?
There are so many variables involved in this question but my all-time favorite solo travel destinations (so far) are Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Spain, and Portugal.
- Chiang Mai
- Koh Chang
- Ko Pha Ngan
- Nusa Penida
- Gili islands
- Oaxaca City
- Puerto Escondido
- San Jose del Pacifico
- San Cristobal de las Casas
- Costa Rica
- Manuel Antonio
- La Fortuna
- San Sebastian
Leave a Reply