9 Tips for Traveling Alone From a Seasoned Solo Traveler
Here's how to stay safe and get the most out of a solo adventure.
There’s a reason why Elizabeth Gilbert sold more than 12 million copies of her book, Eat Pray Love. The second it hit bookstores in 2006, women (and men) the world over devoured every page, fantasizing about their own solo journeys around the globe. And since then, many more people have turned that dream into a reality, with an estimated 75,000 travelers a year deciding to go it alone.
There's now an entire cottage industry devoted to solo travelers, including companies catering to solo women travelers looking to stay safe, solo millennials hoping to make friends, and even seniors wanting to get out and see the world on their own terms.
Truly, I can tell you from first-person experience that traveling alone can be a dream. After all, you can get up whenever you want, eat whatever you want, see whatever you want, spend time doing whatever you want, and go to bed whenever you damn please without answering to anyone along the way (other than the voice inside your head).
However, if you’re planning on taking your first solo vacation, here are nine travel tips to know before traveling alone.
Have a plan, but be OK deviating from it.
Some of the biggest travel frustrations come from not having a plan. Prior to booking a ticket, do your homework and decide if you want to go on a weekend trip, a week-long getaway, or go off for a few months or longer. Then, decide if you’d like to focus on one place, one region, or multiple countries. Create an itinerary from here, which can just be a loose agenda of where you’ll be each day or a minute-by-minute breakdown depending on your personal preferences. (Pro tip: Use Instagram and Pinterest to save posts from locations you like to a collection to use later.)
Before you leave, print out your trip itinerary, along with physical copies of all your hotel and rental confirmations, and keep them in a folder in your bag. You never know when your internet might not work.
Pick the right accommodations.
While creating your perfect itinerary, plot out where you want to stay too. While you can still try to find budget hotels, since you’ll be footing the entire bill yourself, just make sure the accommodation has the right security measures for a solo traveler. That should include a 24-hour front desk person to check guests in, as well as singular rooms for you to sleep in (in other words, no shared hostel rooms). Also, always make sure your room has a safe for storing any precious belongings or valuables.
Reminder: You will be alone. That means no one will be there to help carry extra bags or assist you in lifting your heavy luggage into the overhead compartment. It’s crucial to pack only what you need and to pack smartly. That means layering, packing all in one color palette so everything matches, and bringing only the comfortable shoes you’ll actually wear. If you want, you can think strategically about packing things you can leave in destinations along the way and picking up new. Or, just pack a bit of travel laundry detergent and easily do your laundry in a hotel sink.
Check phone and internet connections before departure.
Prior to departure, carve out a time to do a little admin work for yourself. That means creating and scheduling an out-of-office for your email, stopping any mail subscriptions, and appointing someone as the designator of your snail mail. And, perhaps most importantly, you need to call your phone provider to find out your roaming options. For companies like Verizon, that could just mean spending $10 a day on an international plan. If your phone company’s international plan seems particularly outrageous, you could always opt to purchase a burner phone and a sim card to use in your new destination.
Keep your safety in check.
Traveling alone is wonderful, however, you have to be a bit more cautious than you’d otherwise be with a travel partner. Some of the important safety tips for traveling alone:
1. Intentionally book a flight that arrives at your destination during the day, so you’re not attempting to navigate a new place in the dark.
2. Don’t let strangers know you’re traveling alone. If you need to ask for directions try something like, “Do you know how to get to the beach? I am meeting a friend.”
3. Indulge in alcoholic beverages responsibility at restaurants to always keep your wits about you.
4. Remember that itinerary you created before you set off on your travels? Share it with a few trusted friends so someone always knows your general location and plan.
5. Always trust your gut.
Go ahead and make new friends.
Yes, all of the above safety tips hold true, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid all human contact on your travels. In fact, some of the longest relationships of my life are friends I’ve met on the road with whom I now share a common bond and very fond memories. If you’re someone who wants to jet off alone but still have the comfort of a group, you have tons of options. Look into tour companies like Intrepid Travel, which offers solo travelers the chance to join group trips all over the world, or Contiki, which specifically caters to young professionals hoping to see the world and meet new friends.
Embrace the solitude.
Even on group trips, it’s important to remember who you’re really there for. You are the number one priority on this solo vacation. You are the person in charge and you are the person you’re getting to know on this journey. Make sure to keep your own needs at the forefront throughout the trip and carve out time each day to be alone. Go ahead, have coffee alone, lunch alone, or dinner at a fancy restaurant all by yourself. No phone, no nothing—just you.
Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help along the way.
Asking for help on a solo trip can take many forms. During the planning phase, ask family and friends for advice they have about the destination. Along the way, ask hotel staff for tips on favorite places to visit, and consult social media for the best places for photos. And, on the subject of photos, don’t be afraid to ask a stranger to snap your picture at different points of interest. Usually, people are more than happy to help and there’s no reason to be shy. After all, you’re likely never going to see that person again anyway, so who cares? Just ask.
Write everything down.
These are memories you’re going to want to remember. That’s why it’s key to bring along a personal travel diary and write down every detail of your getaway. From your favorite places to delicious restaurants, funny memories, new friends, and feelings you had at each destination, this is the place to spill your guts. And hey, you never know, maybe your personal travel diary could one day sell 12 million copies too.