The thought of traveling alone for the first time can be both exhilarating and daunting. You’ll have the freedom to do exactly what you want and grow in ways you never imagined, but you may also encounter loneliness or safety concerns. If you’re wondering how to travel alone without letting these uncertainties get you down, it all takes careful planning and conscious decision making.
1. Select Solo-friendly Accommodations
Where you stay can make a huge difference on your travel experience and coming home from an exciting day sightseeing to an empty hotel room can be deflating. That’s why hostels are a great option (even if you’re not on a budget), as they’ll connect you with like minded travelers.
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, you might be envisioning cramped, dirty dorms and staying awake all night to the sound of someone snoring. But the truth is, hostels are sometimes the coolest place to stay in town, with a fun-loving vibe, quirky decor and a whole host of perks.
Hostels often organize social events in the evenings, from cultural nights to pub crawls and live music events. There are communal kitchen areas where you can prepare meals with others and lounges to relax in, as well as (often complimentary) wifi facilities to stay in touch with friends and family back home.
If you’re worried about being lonely, look for volunteer abroad placements where you’ll work and live alongside others wanting to make a difference and still have time to venture off on your own before or after the project. You can also find accommodation in exchange for a few hours work each day through organizations like WorkAway and HelpX, connecting you with locals on projects that interest you.
2. Stay Safe While you Travel Alone
One of the biggest concerns for many people who decide to travel alone (and for their friends and family back home) is the issue of safety. With no one to watch your back, aren’t you just asking for trouble? The secret to safely traveling solo is having your wits about you at all times and not allowing yourself to be vulnerable to scams or potential criminals.
One of the best ways you can keep yourself safe when abroad is by doing some research before you go. Find out what the common scams are in your destination and check how much (and how long) a taxi ride from the airport should be. That way, when you arrive at the airport after a long-haul flight feeling disoriented, you’re not going to be ripped off or pressured into making a decision that could prove unsafe. If you’re arriving late at night, select an accommodation that has a 24-hour reception so even if your flight is delayed, you won’t be left sleeping out on the street.
Exuding confidence can also go a long way in detracting people who might try to take advantage of you. Walk with a purpose and don’t stop in the middle of the street if you’re lost to pore over a map. If people you don’t trust start enquiring about where you’re going or what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to stretch the truth and say “I’m meeting my boyfriend” or “my friend lives here”, asserting that you’re not alone and vulnerable.
Always let someone know where you’re going and notify family and friends if you’re going to be out in the wilds for a few days. That way, they won’t panic if they don’t hear from you and will be alerted to contact the relevant authorities if something isn’t quite right. U.S. citizens can sign up to the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which will make it easier for the State Department to assist you if things do go wrong.
3. Spoil Yourself Occasionally
It’s really easy when you’re traveling alone and for extended periods to feel like you have to constantly be wary of your budget. Perhaps you’re always booking the cheapest dorm at a hostel or opting for overnight bus and train trips to save on accommodation. This can get tiring after weeks on end and make you feel complacent about exploring new destinations or question why you are traveling to begin with.
It’s important to spoil yourself occasionally when you’re on the road, even if there’s no one to share the experience with. Perhaps it means indulging in a massage, heading to the local cinema or splurging on a fancy hotel for a night. These moments are a great way to boost your morale if you’re feeling a bit homesick or missing the luxuries of life back home and will give you the opportunity to refresh and refuel.
4. Follow Your Gut Instinct
One of the most important lessons on how to travel alone is trusting your gut instinct. There’s no one else to bounce ideas off or question your decisions, so you have to go with what feels right and is in your best interests in that moment. It might be determining who you should trust (and who you should stay away from) or which transport option is best for getting you to your next destination.
You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your ability to make decisions, as well as how to handle situations when your gut instinct proves wrong. Solo travel is a huge learning curve, so don’t beat yourself up if you make mistakes. It’s just life experience to add to your arsenal!
5. Enjoy the Freedom
The most enjoyable part of traveling alone is the freedom it brings and being able to wake up each morning and decide what you want to do and where you want to go. If you’re traveling with someone else, you may spend a lot of time negotiating and compromising. But when it’s just you, the world truly is your oyster.
So embrace it! Don’t make fixed plans or a rigid itinerary that can’t be altered by booking all of your accommodation in advance. Let the tide take you and follow the inspiration of those you meet along the way. Perhaps you meet someone you really click with who’s heading somewhere you didn’t plan to visit. Having freedom and flexibility will lead you down some exciting roads and that’s what travel is all about.