Taking your first solo trip can be scary and overwhelming. Having someone to travel with you feels like a safety net, so when you decide to go on your own, that safety net disappears. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can find other ways to feel comfortable and enjoy traveling solo. Here’s everything you need to know about your first solo trip.
Benefits of solo travel
First I’d like to remind you about some of the benefits of traveling solo. Yes, traveling by yourself can be frightening, but it can also be empowering. Traveling by yourself teaches you how to rely on yourself, which builds confidence and shows you that you’re stronger than you thought you were.
It’s also wonderful to travel alone because you decide how to spend each day. You choose where to eat and what activities to do. You don’t have to compromise like you would with a travel partner. The flexibility of solo travel is a great benefit.
You’re actually more likely to meet other travelers when you’re traveling by yourself. It makes you more approachable, and you’re more likely to approach others. When you have a travel partner, you probably won’t feel like reaching out to talk to someone new, but when you’re on your own, it’s much more appealing.
Where to go on your first solo trip
When you start planning your first solo trip, one of the first steps is deciding where to go. Is there someplace you’ve always dreamed of, that pulls you in more than any other destination? This might be a good start. Planning a trip to your dream destination is great motivation to follow through with your plan and actually take that trip.
Having a goal or purpose to your trip might help motivate you, too. Take a look through these 23 ways to travel with a purpose.
Also think about what locations are easier than others. A country where they speak the same language as you, or one that has a lot of tourist infrastructure is a good choice. You might even start closer to home with a destination within your home country that you’ve never been to before.
How to prepare for your first solo trip
For your first solo trip, I recommend planning things out ahead of time. Planning things out will help you feel more in control. Research your destinations so you know what part of town to stay in, and book your accommodations. If you’re going to more than one place, find out how to get from one place to the next, and book tickets if possible. Search for public transportation websites. Read up on the attractions you’re interested in so you’ll know when they’re open and how much they cost.
Consider booking yourself a day tour or two. They’re a great way to explore a new city because you’ll have a knowledgeable guide to tell you about the history and culture, plus you’ll have a few other people to hang out with for a few hours.
You don’t have to map out every single detail of your trip though. Leave some room for flexibility and spontaneity so you don’t feel so constrained when you arrive. It’s good to know what you want to see while you’re there, but you don’t have to schedule it all out. You can decide while you’re there which sights you want to see each day, or if you just want to hang out at a cafe one day.
Don’t pack too much. You won’t have anyone to help you carry your things. Having too much to lug around with you can also add to feeling overwhelmed. Remember, you don’t need as much stuff as you think you do.
How to stay safe on your first solo trip
Despite your fears, traveling solo isn’t really any more dangerous than traveling with someone else. Almost all travel safety advice applies whether you’re traveling by yourself or with someone else. It’s true you won’t have someone there to look out for you, but realizing you can look out for yourself is powerful.
Always keep a business card from your hotel with you. If they don’t have business cards, have the name, address and phone number written down on a piece of paper. If you ever get truly lost, you can find a taxi to take you back.
Don’t drink too much alcohol, and know your limits. If you drink too much when you’re with a friend, you know they’ll take care of you, but you don’t have that on a solo trip. It’s a good idea not to get too drunk in any new place, solo or not, but it’s especially important when you’re on your own.
Always be aware of your surroundings. If you feel uncomfortable, turn around. If you feel like someone is following you, go into a shop or restaurant where there will be other people around. But please remember, things like this rarely happen, so try not to be paranoid.
Check in with someone at home every once in a while so they know you’re safe and having a good time. A quick email does wonders to ease the fears of family and friends at home.
Overall, use your common sense. What would you do at home to keep yourself safe?
How to not feel lonely on your first solo trip
Make an effort to talk to other travelers, whether they’re solo travelers or not, though other solo travelers might work out better for you. Even if you’re nervous about approaching people, remind yourself that you never have to see these people again, so who cares what they think? And they might turn out to be really fun, interesting people. New friends, even just a friend for the day, can make the best travel memories.
If you want to meet other people while you’re traveling, consider staying at a hostel. Usually hostels have a social atmosphere, making them a great place to connect with other travelers.
If hostels don’t appeal to you, check out MeetUp.com or Couchsurfing.org. MeetUp has tons of groups based on interests, and one of them might be perfect for you in the city you’re going to. Couchsurfing also hosts gatherings in different cities, and you don’t have to crash on someone’s couch to participate. Even aside from their events, some people on Couchsurfing say in their profiles that they’re happy to meet up with travelers and show them around. Both sites are worth a look.
Booking a day tour is also a good way to minimize loneliness. Spending a few hours with other travelers who want to learn about the city or try a new activity or cook a tasty local meal gives you an instant connection since you’re experiencing the same things together. If you really get along with someone in the group, see if they want to meet up for dinner later that day.
Pay attention to when you feel most lonely. Some people feel less lonely when they keep themselves busy, while others actually feel the opposite. Listen to your gut and plan accordingly.
What to expect on your first solo trip
If you’re not used to so much alone time, expect to feel a little awkward at first. You might feel like you stand out for traveling on your own, but I promise you’re not the only solo traveler out there.
Eating in restaurants by yourself might feel a little weird if you’ve never done it before. In some restaurants, the employees might say, “Just one?” Respond with confidence, “Yes, just one.” Even if it’s fake confidence. In other restaurants, they might not bat an eye. I find that the more casual restaurants are easier to deal with as a solo traveler, but don’t let that stop you from going to a fancy restaurant if you want to.
If you’re worried about sitting there for the length of a meal with nothing to do besides eat your food, bring a book. Or sit at the bar, if there is one. That way you can chat with the bartender or other people sitting near you. You have to eat, and after a few meals, you won’t feel quite so awkward sitting by yourself. You’ll even realize that no one is looking at you or even cares that you’re eating by alone. They’re too busy enjoying their own meal.
You might have days where you don’t want to leave your hotel room because it feels too overwhelming. Push yourself out the door and give yourself permission to sit in a square or at a cafe or at a park. Read a book, enjoy a coffee or a soda, and just relax and watch the city go by.
Hopefully after a few days, you’ll start realizing it’s not so hard. That it can feel really liberating to be on your own. That it doesn’t matter what other people think. That traveling by yourself actually shows strength and confidence, not weakness.
Small things that seem easy at home will feel bigger and harder while you’re traveling by yourself. Acknowledge those accomplishments. Towards the end of your trip, treat yourself to an ice cream or a nice meal or a special souvenir to celebrate this awesome thing you’re doing by traveling alone.
It will slowly start to sink in that it’s not so scary to travel by yourself after all. A whole world of possibilities will open up to you because suddenly you’ll realize you CAN do this. You no longer have to wait around for a friend or a boyfriend or girlfriend to join you on a trip. You can travel solo.
Taking your first solo trip might even be the catalyst to a new travel addiction.
You might also enjoy:
- Rules for Successful Solo Travel
- How to Travel Alone
- A Story of Overcoming Solo Travel Fear
- Interview with Ginger Kern on How to Build the Confidence to Travel