This piece is for anyone contemplating travelling alone for the first time. It can be a daunting prospect, venturing into the world, alone and unguided. It’s a big deal and a certain amount of trepidation and uncertainty at what to expect is only natural. To help, I wanted to put together some tips and inspiration that I hope will reassure any aspiring solo travellers out there.
Travel is no mean feat.
It may look and sound like fun and games, and, to be honest, it usually is, but in many ways it’s also a real challenge.
Indeed, a part of us knows this before we even go.
As aspiring travellers we look at the world. Then we look back at the comfort and security of home. Then back at the world. Then back to home. And once more back to the World.
And we think, “Hmmm. That looks scary- exciting, sure, but also scary”.
As excited as you may be at the prospect of living the dream and breaking the chains of a home life that’s come to feel unremittingly banal and claustrophobic, the thought of travel can still be a difficult one.
Especially if you’re going to travel solo.
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Indeed, travelling solo for the first time is a particularly difficult prospect. Looking ahead, you know that all the uncertainty and challenge to come will be confronted and navigated alone.
There is no one else to rely on. No shoulder to lean on, no hand to hold, no reassuring voice to tell you what to do or how to do it.
It’s just you.
And of course, this is one of the reasons solo travel is so powerful and life-altering: the increase in self-knowledge, esteem and confidence that comes from navigating and overcoming adversity, alone, while travelling, is incredible.
You come away a significantly different person to the one who first gets on the plane.
But you don’t know that before you go. No, prior to departure everything feels a little up in the air.
So I was reflecting on this and remembering the mixture of feelings I experienced before travelling. The memory prompted me to put together a post with all the inspiration, advice and reassurance that I would have found helpful to read/hear at the time.
If you’re contemplating travelling alone for the first time, I hope it’ll be useful in overcoming any concerns, settling any nerves, setting expectations and generally inspiring you to go do it!
Inspiration for Travelling Solo
Let’s begin by going through some of the reasons solo travel is so awesome.
Advantages of Travelling Alone
There are many great things about being on the road by yourself. Here are a few:
Total freedom and control
When you’re travelling by yourself you can literally do anything you want.
There is no-one else to take into consideration, and it’s amazing. Go where you want, stay where you want, eat when you want, move whenever you want...just generally experience a country on your terms.
Just don’t let this be to the detriment of your trip.
For instance, the people you’ve just met in your hostel invite you out with them to a nearby bar. You’re feeling sad and lonely and just want to stay indoors and think about home. That’s totally fine- this is, of course, your trip!
However, forcing yourself to do the thing you don’t want to do might actually be the best thing to do...if that makes sense. Accept the invite, make friends, create a memory and cheer yourself up in the process.
Sometimes having someone to make a decision for you is very helpful. Other times, having someone else around when a decision needs making just complicates things- especially if you disagree.
Being alone when you travel means this isn’t an issue.
As I said above, you get to do when you want, when you want, with no-one else getting in the way. This speeds up the decision making process and liberates you from spending your time away doing things you wouldn’t otherwise be doing.
Travel is an amazing tool for self-development.
And, like I mentioned in the intro, doing it solo only serves to magnify the effect.
Travelling alone confronts you with all the personal neuroses and issues that you can tend to overlook at home. With no one to help you out in a tricky spot, you’re reliant on your own decision making and problem solving ability.
Navigating and overcoming issues by yourself on the road increases your self-confidence and self-esteem like nothing else: you develop a self belief that carries through into all areas of life.
This can be a bit of a mixed blessing, as too much of your own space can quickly lead to feeling lonely and isolated. However, having the space and time to be alone while travelling can also be amazingly helpful.
Depending on where you are, it’s actually rare to have no-body at all around when you’re travelling- even if you set off solo.
In hostels, hikes, city tours and the like, there are almost always new people to meet and spend time with. But, with no obligations to anyone other than yourself, if things are getting a bit much (which they easily can) you have every option to step away and be alone.
It’s far harder to make your excuses when you’re travelling with other people.
Quotes to inspire Solo Travel
I love a good travel quote! Here are a few of my favourites that help inspire me to travel:
Tips for Travelling for the First Time
Moving on from inspiration to advice then. What tips would I give myself if I were to have a conversation with my younger self?
First, check out this hilarious video from Hey Nadine with her advice about solo travel.
Say ‘yes’ a lot
By this I mean seizing opportunity when it arises.
Remember, you’re going to be out of your comfort zone a lot when travelling, and when an opportunity seems particularly beyond what you’re happy with (eg sky diving, eating insects, skinny dipping...) it is all too easy to turn things down.
Force yourself into the habit of saying ‘yes’ as a routine response.
This way, you’ll find yourself in memorable, amazing situations that you’ll look back on thinking, ‘wow, I can’t believe I did that’.
Travelling and solo travelling require bravery anyway, so you’ve already ticked this box by deciding to do it.
But keep it up when you’re on the road. Push yourself whenever you can- when meeting people, when exploring a new place, when deciding an activity; be courageous and tenacious.
Be sensible and safe
A lot gets said about safety while travelling. It’s important, of course, but don’t let it get you paranoid about the dangers involved in travel.
Take the same precautions you would in any new place, look after your valuables, get travel insurance, don’t be overly conspicuous and you should be totally fine.
Be comfortable being alone
This one takes some getting used to and I’m still pretty rubbish at it. But travelling solo understandably requires a level of comfort being alone in your own space.
It’ll feel funny to begin, going out for meals by yourself, taking selfies and cooking for one. However, it gets easier. Know that far fewer people are probably looking at you than you might think.
See it as a learning opportunity: how does it feel to be alone at the bar/restaurant/cafe/museum etc? What’s going on inside? How is the emotion manifesting itself physically?
By acknowledging these things you’ll come to understand more about who you are.
This one’s a pretty basic part of travel but super important! By yourself there’s no sharing of kit between backpacks, so it’s literally all on your shoulders.
Take the absolute bare minimum of stuff. You’ll be thankful for it later and anything you happen to miss can almost always be acquired on the road.
Here are some more tips on how and what to pack.
Be the first to say hello
It can get lonely travelling solo on the road.
So, if you’re looking for company, be the first to say hello to people you meet. At hostels, out and about, on a night out- wherever you are, get comfortable being the first to introduce yourself to those around you.
You’ll have the same conversation a million times, but that’s fine- it’s a necessary part of meeting someone on the road and you might find a bunch of new friends to share the adventure with.
The beauty of being alone is that if you don’t get on, then you can simply carry on your way.
In a desperate attempt to see everything and miss out on nothing, it’s easy to rush around when you’re travelling.
This approach is tiring and prevents you really experiencing the place you’re in. Instead, slow down, take your time, move slowly and immerse yourself in whatever you’re doing.
Take time out
Travel can be intense. Constantly on the move, one place to another, meeting new person after new person; it’s important to take some time every now and again just to chill.
Take a mini holiday from travelling.
Set up shop in a hostel somewhere, wash your clothes, eat good food, read, relax, rejuvenate. Don’t feel any pressure to keep on moving. If you’re tired, take a break.
Take the path less trodden
There’s value in getting off the main tourist track while travelling. It’s totally up to how you want to spend your time, but heading to lesser known places in lesser known towns down lesser known paths can be remarkably rewarding.
Nothing is insurmountable
There will be difficult times when you travel. It’s almost inevitable. Accept this from the outset.
But know that whatever it is, you can and will get through it. It might not be pretty, but you will come through the other side and it will have been a valuable part of the trip.
Through adversity comes growth.
Check out my ABROAD principles for travel, a little acronym that describes my method for travelling well.
Solo Travel Resources from the Web
Here are a few blog posts that do a great job of detailing the ins and outs of solo travel. For a full list, check out my resources page.
- This article from Smartertravel.com provides a list of 15 mistakes to avoid that will help you stay safe and make the most of your trip.
- This is a lovely and eclectic mix of suggested destinations from Roughguides.com that will take you all around the world.
- If you’re concerned about going it alone for whatever reason, read this piece from the Planet D and you’ll go a long way to moving closer to your trip.
- Here’s a great little list from medium.com detailing the good and the bad parts of solo travel.
- 16 top benefits of solo travel from Insightguides.com.
So there you have it, a brief guide with inspiration and advice for a first time solo traveller. Did it help? Let me know if there were particular points that stood out, or even if there are particular concerns you have that I didn’t address!
I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below.