If you have a passion for discovering new countries and cultures, you might have already thought about taking a solo trip. The idea of travelling by yourself can seem daunting – but stepping out of your comfort zone in this way can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.
Solo travel can create surprising new chapters in your life and lead to exciting adventures, while taking you on a journey of self-exploration. So if you’re intrigued by the idea of travelling by yourself but feel a little apprehensive, here’s everything you need to know before booking that ticket.
What are the benefits of solo travel?
If you’re never travelled by yourself, the idea of travelling solo may seem more intimidating than inspiring. For example, you might feel worried about dealing with language barriers by yourself, or feel disappointed that you won’t be able to share special travel experiences with a loved one. But there are many powerful benefits to travelling alone. For example:
You’re forced out of your comfort zone
Solo travel is one of the best ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone and see what you’re really made of. Often, we don’t realise what we’re truly capable of because we’re never put to the test – yet as best-selling author Robin S. Sharma notes, “As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.” While it’s understandable to begin your solo travels feeling a bit apprehensive, you’ll soon become aware that you’re far more capable than you ever thought.
You’ll experience the best of humanity
While most people have heard a few horror stories about solo travel, in reality travelling by yourself allows you to see just how helpful and kind most people really are. When you have a travel partner, it’s normal to rely on them for comfort or support – but travelling solo means you’re more receptive to the people around you – and as a solo traveller, you’re far more approachable, too.
From asking for recommendations for places to stay to requesting help to get somewhere, you’ll be surprised at how far people will go to try to help a solo traveller. While of course you should exercise caution and common sense while travelling (just as you would at home), TV crime dramas and action thrillers are not usually factual representations of other countries or their citizens. The world is full of new friends just waiting to be met – and travelling solo makes it more likely that you’ll make the effort to forge these new connections.
You get to travel in the way you want
When you’re travelling solo, you get to do exactly what you want, when you want. If you have limited time in an exciting new place, few things are more annoying than being dragged to the beach when you’d rather be at a museum – or vice versa. Travelling by yourself allows you to make plans that suit you – not only your interests but your routines too. For example, if you’re an early riser, you can plan action-packed mornings without someone else grumbling that they just want to go back to sleep. Or, if you’re a night owl, you can look forward to spending nights listening to live music in bars without your travel companion complaining that they’re tired.
You’ll experience the ultimate adventure
If you’re looking for adventure – or you feel a burning desire to break free and experience new things – then solo travel might be just the ticket. It may sound cliche, but travel can absolutely change your life – and travelling by yourself, and being open and friendly, gives you the chance to discover who you really are. As travel writer and explorer Freya Stark wrote, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world,” – and finding this out for yourself can be one of the most exciting and rewarding things you ever do.
Where should you go for your first solo trip?
Once you’ve made the decision that you want to travel by yourself, the next step is to think about what you want out of your trip: do you want a sun-soaked beach break, or a cultural city holiday? Would you prefer to take a solo road trip and enjoy some quiet reflection, or would you rather be surrounded by lots of people and make new friends? Are there any countries that you’ve always longed to visit? Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of trekking the Inca trail in Peru, or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Might now be the time to start making these dreams a reality?
In general, popular backpacking destinations like Central and South America and South East Asia are good for solo travellers, but – within reason – you can travel safely by yourself in most countries in the world. If you’re unsure where you’d like to go, you might want to try heading over to travel sites like Lonely Planet, Rough Guide or National Geographic, to check out their top travel destinations. Then you can start thinking about the logistics of your trip, like costs and the weather conditions when you’ll be there.
For many first-time solo travellers, not being able to speak the local language is one of the most common concerns. If this is something you feel worried about, you might want to think about travelling to an English-speaking country for your first trip – somewhere like Canada, New Zealand, the US, Australia – or perhaps even stay closer to home and take a trip to a different UK country, or Ireland, for your first solo adventure.
However, while you might find it easier to navigate your travels in an English-speaking country, it’s also important to stress that language barriers are not a reason to feel fearful. English is widely spoken in many countries – particularly in tourist hotspots – and even if you can’t find someone who speaks your language, you will find a way to communicate – whether that’s by using hand signals or Google translate.
Choosing accommodation for solo travel
So now you’ve picked your solo travel destination, the next step is to think about what type of accommodation you’d like to stay at. When you’re travelling with friends or family, it can be fun to just go with the flow and not make any firm plans – but if this is your first solo trip, having a clear idea about where you’re headed can alleviate a lot of worry. This doesn’t mean you have to book all your accommodation in advance, but having a good idea about the type of place you’d like to stay at can be really beneficial.
Generally speaking, hostels are the best places for solo travellers to stay, particularly if you’d like to meet people. While hostels are still associated with young travellers, they can actually be incredibly diverse places, and though there are many ‘party hostels’, there are also quiet hostels that attract older guests and families. Most hostels have private rooms, and because there’s so much competition these days, the standard of facilities on offer has soared – many hostels offer free WiFi, comfy private rooms, and a decent breakfast for a very reasonable price. Have a look at sites like Hostelworld.com and Booking.com to check out some hostels in your chosen destination.
If you don’t fancy staying in a hostel, you can of course opt to stay at a hotel, where – depending on the hotel – you’ll probably be able to enjoy a higher level of luxury. But it’s important to remember that when you’re staying at a hostel rather than a hotel, travel is the one factor that will connect you to all the other guests, no matter their age or nationality. At a hotel, you may find that the other guests are mostly there for business, or quick weekend breaks – and no matter how lovely a hotel is, it can be trickier to make connections if the other guests are there for very different reasons.
Having said that, hostels aren’t for everyone. If you don’t want to stay at a hostel but would still like the chance to meet new people and make friends, you might want to think about a Homestay. During a homestay, you’ll stay with someone local, and your host family does much more than just hand over keys and give you a room in the house. They’ll also help you settle in, teach you the local language, show you the best hotspots in town – and if you like – cook meals for you or head out to dinner with you.
Airbnb can also be a good choice, especially if you choose a host who’s willing to show you around, or who hosts their own local experiences. Just be sure to read the reviews, so that you can choose a host who’s known for their hospitality. To find out more about the best accommodation options for solo travellers, you might want to read this article by Solo Traveller World.
How to travel alone safely
One of the main concerns of solo travel is the idea of safety – particularly for women. But most places in the world really are safe, and if you’ve heard stories about bad things happening to solo travellers in certain countries, it’s almost always the case that they’re anomalies, not the norm. By taking a few precautions and using some common sense, you should be able to enjoy a solo trip where you feel safe and secure.
One of the most important things you can do to stay safe when travelling solo is to do plenty of research beforehand. Find out if there are any common scams in the area, or what some of the typical tourist pitfalls are in your chosen destination – and also take time to find out where the safest places are. The forums on TripAdvisor can be really helpful for finding out this type of information, as well as for getting useful tips from locals or other travellers. You should also try to dress appropriately for the local culture, and no matter where you are, try to avoid walking alone late at night. When you’re out in the evening, it’s best to only carry the basics – so that’s usually just your phone and the minimum amount of cash.
In terms of documentation, it’s a good idea to make multiple copies of your ID. Whether you’re renting a bike or a car or checking into a hotel, you’ll be required to produce a copy of your passport or driving licence, so having multiple copies of these at hand makes life much easier. Wherever you’re travelling, you should always make sure you have travel insurance, too – and if you’re visiting a non-English speaking country, taking some time to learn a few basic phrases in the local language can go a long way in helping you feel more confident and prepared.
It’s also important to know the basics of travel, like visa requirements and the currency exchange. Do bear in mind that some countries don’t allow visitors in if their passport expires within the next three months, so it’s best to find out in advance if this applies to your chosen destination.
It’s also helpful to make sure you’ve saved important numbers on your phone, like your hotel or the local emergency services – just in case. You may also want to research travel apps and download some to your phone: Maps.Me allows you to navigate maps even when you’re offline, something that can be invaluable when you’re wandering around in a new city with no WiFi.
When you first arrive at a new destination, it’s always a good idea to stop off at the information desk or welcome centre at the airport or train station. The staff there are usually very knowledgeable and are able to give you any important advice or answer any questions, as well as tell you the best way to get to the city centre. There are often other useful resources you can pick up at information desks too, like free maps, coupons to attractions, and suggested sites to visit.
To find out more about how to travel safely and securely by yourself, check out this in-depth guide by Solo Traveller World.
What sort of trips are best for solo travellers?
If you’re about to embark on your first solo adventure, it’s important to think carefully about the type of trip you want to take. While backpacking around South America by yourself may appeal to some people, for others it’s far too big a step to even think of taking on your own (at least initially!).
If you’re looking forward to travelling by yourself but would like to feel supported and connected while you’re away, you might want to think about volunteering abroad for a cause or charity you believe in. This is a great way to start off your solo adventures – as not only will you meet many like-minded people, who care about the same things you do, but you’ll also learn about different countries, customs, and cultures, as well as how to travel responsibly.
Volunteering abroad for a cause you’re passionate about will not only give your confidence a boost; it may also help you find new purpose and meaning in your life. To check out some of the many types of volunteering opportunities there are in different countries, head over to Go Abroad or Projects Abroad.
Alternatively, why not visit a friend or family member who lives abroad? Going to stay with a loved one is a great way to get comfortable with your new surroundings, and get the inside scoop on the best things to see and do. Plus, once you’re feeling confident, you can ask your friend or relative to help you plan your own solo adventure in their home country. This will allow you to start your solo travels feeling confident and secure.
If you’d prefer to just do your own thing, one of the best ways you can feel connected and meet other travellers is to book organised experiences and tours. These can be longer events, like multi-day treks, or more casual, small experiences, like walking tours, cooking classes, wine tasting excursions, and street food tours. Not only will taking part in these types of experiences allow you to explore parts of an area you might otherwise not discover, or to try a brand new activity or experience, but you may find that you meet some great people along the way too.
Solo travelling tips
So if you’ve made the decision that you’d like to embark on a solo adventure, then what are some of the most important tips and tricks you should know before you go?
Start small. If you’re interested in travelling solo but still feel like you’re lacking a bit of confidence, it can be a good idea to start off by taking smaller steps. If you’ve never travelled solo before, why not begin by taking a day trip to a nearby city? After that, you can head somewhere for a few days by yourself, and once you’ve got a few solo travel experiences under your belt, you’ll probably be ready to start planning a much bigger adventure.
Learn from others. If you’ve got a friend or relative who’s travelled by themselves, one of the best things you can do is pick their brain about it all: ask where they went, how they travelled, where they stayed, what problems they faced. Was there anything they regret, or wish they’d done differently? What was their favourite part of travelling by themselves – and why?
Learning from others can provide you with invaluable advice for your own solo travels – and it might also give you the final dose of confidence and courage to actually book that ticket, and start planning that trip.
Pack light. When you’re travelling solo, remember that there isn’t going to be anyone else around to carry your bag for you…. so it’s wise to pack lightly, and bring only the essentials! Remember that you’ll be able to find laundrettes at most destinations, so there’s no need to pack your whole wardrobe. Whether you choose to travel with a backpack or a suitcase you can pull, it’s always smart to pack a smaller daypack for your day-to-day trips.
Go slow. If you’ve just arrived in an exciting new location, it can be tempting to get stuck into exploring right away. But if you’re new to solo travel, it’s a good idea to take things a bit more slowly. Settling into a new city or country can be overwhelming, so take a day to relax and get oriented: you might want to wander around leisurely, or sit in a cafe watching how the city functions.
Visiting local markets can help you appreciate the cultural and culinary differences of your new destination, and joining a free walking tour is another great way to get your bearings and meet new people (just don’t forget to tip!).
Embrace every opportunity. Making the most of a solo trip means embracing new opportunities and experiences – even if they’re things you never thought you’d do. Whether it’s signing up to sea kayaking courses or joining a tour to climb a volcano at dawn, throwing yourself into opportunities is what travel is all about. You should always go with your gut, but remember that if we never push our boundaries, we’ll never have the room to grow. And after all, the one thing you don’t want to come home with after a solo adventure is regrets.
Solo travel is a wonderful way to see more of the world and discover new countries and cultures – but it can also be a deeply spiritual journey. When we travel with friends and relatives, we spend much of our trip talking, or planning what we’ll do next – yet when you go alone, you automatically learn to become more present and flexible.
Whether it’s sitting quietly on the beach watching the sunset, enjoying a beer or coffee with a stranger, or simply soaking up the local vibes and enjoying a spot of people watching, travelling by yourself gives you a rare chance to connect with yourself, as well as with the world around you.