News flash: Travelling solo doesn’t always mean going it alone.
It's a sense of freedom, a time for you to discover yourself and it’s simpler than you think! Going it alone is a rite of passage for many youngsters, and it’s steadily on the rise with one in six (15%) choosing to opt for more ‘me time’ last year.
“You’ve seen that lone soldier, sitting alone in the coffee shop without a care in the world. They're somewhat mysterious, confident, and they don’t check their watch every five minutes to see if they're late for something. That is the mindset of a person who has travelled solo.”
Ask anyone who's travelled solo, and they’ll tell you what a one-of-a-kind-experience it was. Sure it comes with its downfalls - you can feel like you’re on top of the world one minute, and the next can remind you that you’re a tiny speck swallowed up in it all. But, this is the way we put together our very best hacks for all you solo travellers out there!
BEFORE YOU GO
Research everything, plan nothing
Make a big list of things you can tick off, but don’t plan your visits. You might organise a whole week in a city that you wind up hating, or only plan a day in a quaint little town you love and find yourself wanting to linger for longer. The best part of a solo trek is that you can change what you want to do at any time!
Use Social Media for Inspiration
Primarily, Pinterest & Instagram. These are great tools for planning your trip, as well as finding off the beaten track adventures when you've arrived. You'll get heaps of ideas to jot down and save for later. If you find yourself with some extra time up your sleeve, search up the destination’s hashtags & location tags on the ‘gram.
Pack light, and then take out more
Navigating a foreign place is hard enough, now imagine doing it with 3 suitcases and a backpack. If you’re not 100% sure you’ll need it, ditch it. A general rule of thumb is to only bring what you're comfortable carrying for at least half an hour. Remember, no one is keeping track of your outfit repeating…
We recommend bringing these solo essentials though:
- Money belt: Not the most fashion forward choice, but what a way to keep your peace of mind! You wear it perfectly hidden under your clothes, so you can carry your bank cards, emergency cash and passport.
- Tripod or selfie stick: Grab a tripod that’s small, sturdy and can fit on unsteady surfaces. As for selfie sticks, they may look a little silly, but they're incredibly useful when you’re on your own! Grab one from your local discount store, just in case.
- E-reader: Sure, we harp on about no gadgets, but an e-reader is a practical travel purchase. You’re bound to have some free time when you’re on the road. It saves on space, it’s lightweight and can store 1,000s of books on a device smaller than a novel.
WHEN YOU GET THERE
Minimize Culture Shock
Don’t stick to your comfort zone, but take it easy at the same time. If you’re worried about adapting to some environments, choose a destination where your native language is spoken. Determining the right location for you will alleviate the stress of travelling solo.
Download all the local apps
They contain a wealth of knowledge without adding to your baggage allowance. Many cities have apps available for local transport and events. Download them and play around with them to get a sense for where you are.
Related: Travel Apps We Can’t Live Without
Join Free City Tours
Many cities offer local walking tours that operate on a pay-as-much-as-you-feel-like basis. The guide’s earnings are based on their performance, so the tours are usually well prepared, funny and super informative. What a way to get an introduction to your new city and meet other travellers. Which brings us to our most important step…
Give yourself a travel-related project
Start a blog about your experience on free websites like WordPress or Wix, get a camera and document your story on Instagram, even get a journal and jot down your daily thoughts. Find a simple way to divert the nervousness into something productive.
Take yourself out for dinner
Eating dinner by yourself is the first real test you should take. It will test your confidence and probably intimidate you, but it’s the ultimate way to let people know you don’t care. Get a table with a view so you can people watch while you eat, or study up on the next day’s itinerary. Why not grab dessert while you're at it?! Going solo means you never have to share!
MAKE YOURSELF SOME FRIENDS
Meet the locals
You were probably told throughout your whole childhood “don’t talk to strangers”, and now we’re telling you to throw that advice out the door. Confusing. But being alone gives you the opportunity to strike up conversations with random strangers, and you never know who you will get to meet.
Choose Social Accommodation
Making pals is a lot easier if you’re staying in a place with social activities. Whether or not you like staying in hostels - don’t worry if you despise dorms (guilty), you can snag a private room, or even just tap into the local ones for activities and a built-in community.
Related: How to Make New Friends Abroad
Take up a new hobby
Life is short, and now is the time to do all those things you’ve always dreamed of doing but didn’t have the time... or guts. The options to push your boundaries with a new experience are practically endless! Whether it’s photography, a cooking course or even a book club.
Getting involved in local hobbies is something that everyone should do when solo travelling. It gives you the opportunity to learn a new skill, make some new friends and understand the local culture a little deeper.
Social Networking Apps You Need
There’s probably millions of apps for those who want to meet other travellers. Couchsurfing is not only handy for finding places to crash, but it’s also a smart and safe way for finding friends in a new city. There’s also Meetup (it’s like Tinder... but for friends with similar hobbies).
Then, there’s always Facebook. There’s thousands of groups solely dedicated to travel and connecting expats with one another. Often if you search up a destination, there’s a group for it.
Look into volunteering
Volunteering is humbling, eye-opening and inspiring. The best part is that you don’t need a buddy to do it. There are many types of volunteering programs you can go on, ranging from category to destination. Do you want to work with wildlife in Africa? How about communities in Nepal?
Attempt to learn the lingo
Learning a new language can be frustrating, stressful and challenging, we get it. But, not having anyone around that speaks your language will force you to dive in, even if it’s just a few phrases to start with. Getting to know the locals can be one of the best parts of your trip.
“Accept that you are going to say a lot of stupid things. Language can be tricky and words can look or sound alike. However, these weird situations are the best learning moments.”
Top tip: Download Duolingo. Even if you’re not super serious about being fluent, it offers free classes in most languages imaginable. It makes the learning process a little fun and interactive.
SOLO TRAVELLER SAFETY
Avoid getting lost
Getting a little lost in a city is okay, getting a lot lost is not a good idea. The best thing to do is have a backup plan ready for action. Over-preparing with a map, some phrase cards you’ve prepared earlier and a few extra dollars to tip whoever is helping should do the trick.
Top tip: While you’re checking in to your accommodation, pick up a card or pamphlet with the name and address (and hopefully even a map) on it. If you get lost, you can flash it at the driver or when you’re asking for directions.
Top tip #2: If someone asks you if you’re travelling by yourself, always tell them a friend, a parent or a partner is waiting for you back at the hotel. Most people don’t have bad intentions but to be safe, don’t tell strangers you’re flying solo.
Research the common tourist scams
Research the typical tourist trips before you go, different countries tend to have different patterns. Read up on the standard scams that tourists fall prey to, and you’ll be alert and know exactly what shady behaviour to keep an eye out for.
Get these safety apps
Download Panic Button (Android) or Send Help (iOS) and program it to instantly send your location via email or text to your emergency contacts. TripWhistle Global SOS (iOS) will solve the challenge of finding the triple-0 equivalent for 196 countries around the world. It will call the local emergency number for you and share your location if need be. Although, 000 or 911 will usually still work in most countries anyway.
RedZone Map (iOS) will find you the safest route from A to B, based on crime and social data. It can even track incidents happening around you in real time and route you around them.
Now that you know all the ways to make the most of solo travel and how to stay safe doing it, the only question left to answer is… Where to next? Let us help you decide via the button that leads to amazing places below.
You may be by yourself when you set off solo, but you’re never really alone when you travel with Global!