Traveling alone for the first time? Daunting, huh? Four years ago, I packed my bags and hopped on a one-way plane to travel alone around the world with no plans to return any time soon.
As the countdown began, feelings of excitement filled my every nerve. That is before the doubts began creeping in as well. Was traveling alone a mistake? Was this solo trip the worst idea EVER?
You are about to embark on the best thing you will probably ever do. Congrats on that! I don’t think about it now because traveling alone became a sort of lifestyle for me. Looking back I sometimes feel the need to pat myself on the back because hopping on that one-way flight to Madrid was a pretty brave thing to do.
Before even reading this list, make sure you give yourself a big high-five for even having the courage to take the first step.
My tips for traveling alone (and loving it!)
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING ALONE
- Traveling alone is never as scary as you imagine it to be. The first few nights might be uncomfortable, but soon enough you’ll get used to it. You might feel lonely and homesick at times, but it would be worse if you didn’t because that would just mean you aren’t stepping out of your comfort zone anyway.
- You won’t be as alone as you might think. You’ll make tons of friends along the way to explore places with, and some who might even join the next leg of your trip! Going solo makes you more approachable than when you travel as a couple or with a group of friends. This is why, no matter your age, one of my biggest tips for traveling alone is always to stay in a hostel for a good chunk of your trip. If sleeping in a room with a bunch of strangers isn’t your thing, know that most hostels also have private rooms that you can book. Even if you stay alone in a room, most hostels’ common areas tend to be very sociable.
- Traveling alone = Absolute freedom. You are the boss of your schedule. Don’t really feel like going to a museum and would rather jump from local coffee shop to another the entire day? That’s up to you! Feel like spending hours in that art exhibition you read about? Your choice! Met a cute guy/girl somewhere who invited you out for lunch? Go! Loved a city and want to stay longer? Totally your choice.
Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. It’s inevitable. Someone will try to stop you from traveling alone because, in their eyes, it’s dangerous to be out there on your own.
The truth is, most of the people who will tell you that solo travel is dangerous probably have never done it themselves. I’ve heard some ridiculous and fake claims from people close to me about travel. My mother once told me that in the Middle East, if a man likes me, he could claim me as his wife and I’d never be allowed to come home. I also had people tell me that I was going to die.
I’ve been traveling on my own for three years, and I never felt in any real danger. I also didn’t die, not even ONCE!
- You’re not traveling alone, you’re traveling with yourself.
BEFORE THE TRIP
6. Pack light. Packing too much will only wear you down. If you are not sure you’ll need it, don’t bring it. Ditch the makeup, the high heels, and all the “you never know, I might need these”. You won’t need them.
7. Know that you can buy most things anywhere. Procter & Gamble are worldwide, you don’t need to pack a year’s worth of shampoo.
8. Make copies of your passport. Also, scan a copy and email it to yourself.
9. Don’t plan too much. Do plan out your first week for your own peace of mind, but leave room for unexpected adventures.
You’ll meet people who you might want to join, or who might tell you about this awesome place they visited that does not appear on a guidebook. You might book a full week in a hotel in a city that you might wind up hating, or plan just one day in a town you love and want to linger a bit longer in.
10. Arriving six hours early to the airport is totally okay. Better safe than sorry.
11. Book your first night in advance and make sure your hotel has a 24-hour front desk. You’d be surprised to know that small hostels and guesthouses have no 24-hour front desks. If you are arriving late at night (something I actually recommend against), make sure the description of your booking states there will be someone to receive you late at night.
DURING THE TRIP
12. Be alert, but not close-minded. Not everyone is out to hurt you. Don’t be afraid to talk to people or accept a meal from a local. However, always trust your gut feeling and don’t do things you wouldn’t do back home (walking drunk in a dodgy alley late at night or accepting a drink from someone who gives you a bad vibe).
13. Meet locals. Talk to the local people, ask them for recommendations on the best street food to try out or the best local cafe. Ask them questions and learn from them.
14. Make sure your trip is environmentally-friendly. Don’t engage in animal tourism before doing your research and making sure they are ethical. Get a GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier instead of buying purified plastic water bottles in developing countries (it will also save you tons of money in the long run). Try taking local transport instead of taking a private taxi everywhere, etc. Read this post I wrote about eco-friendly travel products
15. Local transport is king. I really can’t think of a better way to experience the local life in a place than riding a local public bus or taking a third-class train. My best travel stories happened during a journey on public transportation.
16. It’s okay to take a day off from traveling. There will be days when you’ll get fed up with the constant culture shocks and the moving around.
A night in a nice hotel room with wifi to video call your best friend and watch Netflix the entire day can cure just about anything. I always make sure I have enough money to splurge on a private room at a nice accommodation from time to time. If you are traveling long-term, the chances of you getting a bit sick of it are inevitable. I used to feel guilty about spending the entire day napping and binge-watching a TV-show, but now? I actually PLAN it. I’ll go out, buy my favorite snacks, take a long, hot shower, order room service, and embrace what I can my “me day”. I always feel refreshed and ready for whatever comes next after it.
17. Talking louder won’t make someone who doesn’t know your language suddenly understand you. Would someone speaking Swahili loudly and slowly make you understand it if you have no previous knowledge of it? Probably not.
18. Download a few pictures of items you might need along the way. A picture says a thousand words. I was once in a small village in Thailand when my period arrived unannounced and I was totally unprepared. I headed to a small local shop run by two women only to find there were no tampons on display. I took my phone out, Googled a picture of a tampon, and showed it to them. The younger girl just said “ooooh!”, ran to the back of the shop, and came back with them.
Download photos of basic items, as well as a few medicines. It also helps to make a list of things you might need in the local language, but actual pictures have never failed me.
19. If someone doesn’t speak your language, that’s your problem, not theirs.
20. It’s not all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. There will be tough days, too. There will be instances when you will want to say “screw this”, and book the next flight home. Culture shocks, lack of knowledge of the language, and the constant moving around can take a toll on you. It’s a completely normal part of traveling alone but you will get through it.
HUGE NEWS! I recently co-authored, Inspired, a book about nine female solo travelers. In it, I share my scary border crossing experience in Jordan, excerpts of my time living in a monastery school in Myanmar, and more! You can find it on Amazon!
21. Dress appropriately. Even if you are a free spirit, be aware of local customs. Don’t wear skimpy clothes in a Muslim country, do cover your body when you visit Buddhist temples in Thailand, don’t wear short skirts in African villages. The list goes on. Research the customs of the places you visit before your solo trip starts.
22. White lies are okay. I lie a lot to people when I travel alone and that’s okay. When I ask for directions and someone asks me if I am alone, I always say a friend or my husband is waiting for me at the hotel. I also tend to tell strangers that I live there, so they don’t realize that I might be alone and have no idea where things are or who to ask for help if things go awry. Truth is, most people don’t have bad intentions, but I find this technique to work wonders.
23. Get good and flexible travel insurance. I love World Nomads because it allows flexibility. You can book your insurance from anywhere in the world with wifi and extend it online if needed. It will also cover you on more activities than most other travel insurances, so it’s always my go-to choice!
These tips should get you all set up for your first trip, but before closing up this post, I just want to stay: Please don’t let fear or nay-sayer stop you from traveling alone.
Solo travel, especially for women, is not always easy but trust me, it’s incredibly empowering. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always Instagram-worthy moments and perfect sunsets, but there’s seriously nothing that raises you higher than doing the things you were told you couldn’t do.
Let’s all grab life by the balls and board that flight!