Solo Travel – a Complete Guide
The gentle sound of the waves caresses the white sands as you watch the sun lazily slide below the horizon on a balmy evening; the sand is warm and feels luxurious between your bare toes. The time to contemplate your life without the pressures and limitations of everyday life is liberating. The confidence that you feel from the independence of striking out alone is empowering and thrilling. You can go where you want at your own pace without having to worry about anyone else’s needs. More than anything, you’re excited that you have finally overcome any worries that you had about travelling alone and now there is nothing stopping you – the world is your oyster.
Solo travel is on the rise. ABTA, Hitwise and online booking sites all report an increase in solo travellers, with reports ranging from 143% to 170% increases in bookings. In the last five years, Google trends has seen a steep climb in searches online for ‘solo travel’.
According to Booking.com, one-in-two travellers (54%) want to get outside their comfort zone with an experience to push their travel limits. It’s not all Millennials who are going alone as Booking.com say that Baby Boomers are leading the trend, with 40% of 55- to 64-year-olds having taken a solo trip in the last year (2017-18) and Unique Home Stays say that the average age of a solo traveller is 47, with 84% being female and only 16% being male.
If you have wanderlust but all your friends are busy with their families, or you have separated from your partner and want to rebuild confidence and develop your independence once again, then solo travel is the new way to travel. ‘I want to travel but have no one to go with’ is so 2010.
Buckle up your airline seat belt and get ready to go where you have always dreamed of with our guide to solo travel.
- Making the decision to go
- Booking your trip
- Before you go
- Packing Hacks - A visual guide
- When you get there
- Meeting people & staying safe
- How solo travel changes you
Making the decision to go
When is the best time to travel solo?
Firstly, you don’t need to hedge everything on the trip of a lifetime by giving up a career, selling your house and taking everything you own in a backpack to exotic and far-flung locations.
If this is your first time and you feel unsure if solo travel is for you, then book a trip to Europe for either a weekend or a week to gain experience on how it feels to be alone in a foreign country, without any major commitment.
Secondly, anytime is potentially a good time to travel alone – it all depends on you.
Do you want to enjoy short-haul holidays alone to recharge from work for a few weeks or do you want to experience some adventure and take six months to ‘find yourself’, without any firm plans of when you will return to the UK?
If you’re considering a complete career change and need the space to think more about where you want to take your life then take to the road and see the world..
No one ever looks back and says I wish I’d stayed home more.
Solo travel no matter your age
For most, travelling in your late teens and twenties means you are more fearless and carefree and have a considerably higher tolerance for substandard accommodation and bad transport.
When you become older and wiser, it doesn’t mean that you’re not ready to embrace the discomfort of travel but instead, you’re more likely to have an income that can cover accommodation that is better than sleeping on a floor mat.
Whatever your age, travelling is about fulfilling your adventurous side to find new parts of yourself by expanding your comfort zone, and your motivation could be about experiencing new things.
Backpacking versus organised travel tour
For a first-time solo traveller, a lot of stress can be taken away by booking an organised tour.
Some traditional backpacking locations (such as, Thailand, Bali or India) will be full of other travellers, making it easy to connect with others but other destinations can be more isolated. Unless you’re a very confident person, it can be daunting to meet new people but on an organised tour you will have a ready-made group of people to travel with – hopefully without any obnoxious bores
Having the luxury of your bags being shuttled around for you also has more value than you realise until you have experienced it. Carrying everything in your rucksack is not as appealing as the luxury of knowing you can have everything that you need and not be required to hoist it around on your shoulders.
The structure of an itinerary with events already mapped out for you can ease the stress of what to do and where to go if you’re alone. You can sample the delights of the local culture and can take remote trips, confident that you’re in a group and that you’re safe. Also, organised tours can often get access to things that are either restricted or off limits to independent travellers, for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
An organised tour will be more expensive than going solo and can stop you from getting outside your comfort zone – an integral part of the travel experience – so you should decide what is more important for you: safety, comaraderie and comfort or cost and freedom.
Booking your trip
Tips and hacks for booking flights and getting the best prices
There is so much conflicting advice about when to book or when to travel, to get the best prices. The good news is that there are now many sites online that can help you scan for the best deals, so that you should never have that sinking feeling of knowing that the person sitting next to you on the plane paid half the price that you did.
Book at the right time. The optimum window for international travel is around 60 days before you travel according to the travel editor at CBS news, and just after midnight on a Tuesday when unsold deals are up for grabs.
Check the cheapest day to fly. Use the month-view calendar on flight comparison sites (such as Skyscanner) to view the cheapest days to fly before you book and plan your travel.
Snap up error fares. If you’re flexible with your dates, you can snap up a super deal by booking a flight that has been listed at the wrong price known as an ‘error fare’. Use Airfare Watchdog and Secret Flying to be alerted and book quickly, because they don’t last for long. Note: not all airlines will honour a fare displayed at the wrong price, so check before you buy.
Sign up to all airline newsletters. Take advantage of any offers they are running for their subscribers.
Stitch tickets. If you want to travel long-haul, consider breaking the journey with a layover but purchase your tickets separately. For example, book a ticket from Manchester to Munich and then a ticket from Munich to Havana – often cheaper than a direct flight. Note: if one part of the journey is delayed for any reason, the airline is not obliged to make up for the loss of another ticket on a different flight or a different airline. Ensure you have travel insurance to cover this loss.
Online insider hacks:
Clear your cookies: not officially proven but always keep your search history clear when checking prices of flights, as a website might raise the price when you revisit previously viewed fares. Use incognito or private browser windows when searching and clear your cookies and cache in-between searches.
Change your country of purchase: Flight prices can be cheaper depending on the location of where you book from. Booking a domestic flight is usually cheaper when made within the country. Cheapest flights are often found on the airline’s home country website. This hack is explained in full here…
However, do remember that when you book a budget airline, they have strict rules on luggage weight and dimensions and that you may have to print your own boarding pass. They will also be restricted in what they offer for cancellation, travel changes or if things go wrong. Make sure you read all the small print before you book.
Before you go
Managing your money when travelling
When travelling you will need access to money and carrying large amounts of cash is not a recommended option.
Different bank accounts offer different rates for overseas withdrawals and you want to find the ones that offer the lowest fees for withdrawing cash from international ATMs. Your aim is to make small withdrawals on a frequent basis so that you never carry more cash than you can afford to lose – should the worst happen.
Credit cards can be the most convenient option to pay for expenses as you travel but be aware of all the charges for international transactions. You do have to keep them as secure as cash and they are susceptible to fraud – whenever you pay for an item don’t let the card out of your sight.
A pre-paid money card is another option that enables you to pay for goods and has the benefit of ring fencing any loss if it should be stolen. You can also pre-load specific currencies to get the best conversion rates but be aware that there are likely to be costs associated with loading and withdrawing money from an ATM.
In advance of your trip do your research on banks and credit card options to find the best deals. Money Saving Expert is one of the best resources for this with the most up-to-date information.
When travelling, always carry a back-up debit card and credit card. If your main one is lost, stolen or swallowed by an ATM you will not be stuck without cash until you can get a replacement.
Accessing internet banking abroad is not recommended unless you can guarantee you are on a secure network and device.
Keeping the majority of the money you do have in savings (especially if you have saved for a year-long trip) and setting up a standing order to drip feed funds into your current account could help with earning higher levels of interest on the money you have put aside for the trip. Make the payment just enough to cover your expenses so you are not encouraged to spend more than you have. This is also the ideal way to budget and manage your money for extended travel trips.
Don’t forget, before you go, organise your bank and credit cards:
- Find out if you need to tell your bank and credit card companies to let them know that you’re travelling and avoid any cancellation or account blocks.
- Set-up a direct debit to automatically pay your credit card bill in full every month.
- Make sure all your other bills are paid and scheduled to be paid when you are away.
- Have a currency convertor app stored on your phone and learn the conversion rate of your destination so that you have an understanding of what things will cost when you arrive, such as your taxi from the airport.
- Have copies of all your credit and debit card numbers and copies of the emergency phone numbers if your card is lost or stolen.
The right luggage to choose and how to pack it
If you’re travelling alone, you won’t have anyone to help you with your luggage, so it’s vital that you can manage all the bags by yourself, to avoid either drawing attention to yourself or risking having your bags stolen.
What you need depends on where you’re going and the level of travel you will be doing – a backpacking trip needs a good quality rucksack. A duffel bag is useful for a guided tour and a suitcase with wheels works if you’re staying in one destination and are being escorted to and from the airport.
Remember, designer luggage will draw attention and will be a magnet for bag thieves. Leave your Louis Vuitton at home!
Overcome last-minute nerves before you go
Being nervous and anxious before you travel alone is perfectly normal as you’re dealing with so many emotions and thoughts.
It would be unusual to not have some apprehension before embarking on a solo journey but remember that after a few days you will forget any worries and have the time of your life.
Before you go, in the last few days you should tie up loose ends at home:
- Make sure bills are paid and that your home is secure, with someone checking on it regularly
- If required, contact your bank to let them know that you’re travelling
- Review all your documents
- Make sure that you have any essential medication
- Visit the dentist for a check-up
To calm any anxiety and to make it easier to deal with arriving in an unknown destination alone, you can:
- Pre-book your first night (or nights) of accommodation
- Research the destination online and find somewhere to eat the first night
- Get a good night of sleep and get ready to go.
When you get there
What to do when you arrive
Finally, after months of planning, you step off the plane and you’ve arrived. The heat, the foreign smells, the energy – will all feel alien to you at first and may be a little overwhelming, but you will soon adjust to the new pace and it won’t take long to feel at home.
Firstly, if you have booked ahead as recommended, then you can travel directly to your accommodation for the first night. As you take your bags through the airport, don’t take your eye off them and don’t allow anyone to help you with them.
Look confident, walk with purpose and avoid fumbling in your pockets for directions in the arrivals hall. Have everything to hand such as travel money and maps, and reset your watch to local time before you step off the plane.
Buy a local SIM card at the airport if you’re using one for your phone and also withdraw any cash you need for the first day or two. Have a currency convertor app stored on your phone before you leave home and try to learn the conversion rate so that you have an understanding of what your taxi journey might cost.
Do not share a taxi or accept a lift from anyone other than a designated, prearranged driver. If you’re taking a bus or coach, then stand with your luggage until it’s loaded into the hold and you’re confident it’s secure.
Be prepared for the weather conditions when you arrive, by checking the expected local weather before you leave home and have suitable clothing to hand if you need to change as you step off the plane – don’t start opening or rummaging through luggage in the arrivals hall. If it’s going to be hotter, then wear layers that you can easily remove and store in your hand luggage. If it’s going to be colder, then have a jumper or jacket to hand in your backpack.
When you get to the hotel/hostel
If you haven’t already researched your first night for places to eat, then ask the hotel staff for recommendations. Also, ask them to show you and mark a map with safe and non-safe areas to avoid.
Pick up a business card for the hotel or ask the staff to write the name of the hotel in the local language in case you get lost. Keep this with you when you venture out.
If you’re staying in a hostel, ask for the room with the fewest beds which is furthest away from the dorm room and choose a bed away from the door.
Make sure you have earplugs and a sleep mask to avoid being disturbed, and if you get up in the night, use your head torch so that you don’t wake anyone else – it’s basic manners.
It might sound overly cautious but don’t trust anyone with your personal belongings and valuables. Use lockers with your own padlock (if they are available) and don’t leave jewellery, money, cards or phones on your bed if you go for a shower.
The first day alone in a foreign country
After you have survived your first night and wake up after a night’s sleep, you’re ready to start your travel adventure and meet people.
Hostel breakfasts usually have a limited amount of food and when it’s gone, it’s all gone for the day, so make sure you get to breakfast early to avoid missing out.
Despite our warnings of caution, a hostel is a great place to meet others travelling alone that you can make friends with. Just use common sense when judging characters and avoid getting into a situation of taking a remote tour alone with someone you have only just met.
Booking a local walking tour, which are often free, is a great way to get a feel for a new city and to see things you might otherwise miss.
Meeting people and staying safe
How to meet people and make friends along the way
If this is the first time that you have travelled alone, then it’s perfectly normal for anyone to feel apprehensive for the first few days, unless you’re the most confident and outgoing of people. Don’t be perturbed if you feel either homesick or lonely in the first few days. Once you have some experience of talking to strangers and become more adept to the nuances of travelling you will soon have no qualms about meeting interesting people everywhere you go – unless of course you want to simply enjoy your own company and people watch along the way.
Apart from meeting people in the hostel or on a walking tour, cafes and bars are also social hubs where conversations are easily made. Try sitting next to someone else who is alone or eat at the bar rather than at a table, as bar staff usually take the time to talk to anyone alone.
Hostels usually have notice boards, so look out for local events that you can get involved in. Volunteering locally is a great way to meet people and hostel staff can point you in the direction if there is anything suitable in the area.
One of the best ways to meet people anywhere in the world is Meetup, so do your research before you go and compile a list of groups that you can go to when you arrive. Tripr and Backpackr are apps specifically for travellers to connect with others who are going to the same location.
How to stay safe and responsible
Staying safe means using both common sense and good judgement to not allow yourself to get into a situation where you may be vulnerable or remote. Always keep full control of your senses and don’t get drunk unless you’re with a group of trusted friends and in a safe environment.
When making friends, don’t be too quick to trust anyone and be reserved with your judgement of character – not everyone is who they say they are.
Be very cautious of anyone who is overly friendly to you and likewise, don’t be overly friendly and trusting towards anyone that you don’t know. Groups of people may be working a scam to take advantage of you.
Be polite, but remember you can always say no and walk away from a situation.
Also, remember that alcohol can bring out a dramatically different personality of someone that you have just met.
If you meet a stranger, don’t tell them where you’re staying and when going back to your hotel, be aware if you’re being followed.
If you feel threatened at all, then draw attention by shouting and try to involve passers-by by speaking to them. Remove yourself from the situation as quickly and as safely as possible.
It might be obvious but don’t carry large amounts of money and any money that you do carry should be kept hidden, without anyone seeing where you put it. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or carry expensive cameras that can draw attention to you – you want to blend in like a local as much as possible.
If you arrive at accommodation and have a bad feeling about it, then it’s perfectly acceptable to leave and find somewhere else. Go with your gut feeling.
Accept that different cultures have different expectations for clothing, so dress conservatively and adopt their rules by covering shoulders, legs or in some cases, wearing headscarves.
Stay in public and avoid quiet streets or remote spaces.
Wherever you go, walk with confidence and purpose like you know where you’re going and that you belong.
What to do if you get lonely
Good common sense and trusting your gut will ensure that you remain safe but just because you’re lonely, don’t let this affect your judgement or make you more eager to go along with strangers.
At times, it may seem that you won’t meet anyone and you could experience loneliness or miss your friends and loved ones from home. This is perfectly normal.
If you do miss family, then call them or use video chat – it’s amazing what seeing a person on a screen can do to make you feel connected.
If you do feel lonely, then make a plan of things you want to see and get out there. Don’t stay in your digs feeling sorry for yourself – we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
Look for any group tours that you can take, so that you have an environment where you can comfortably meet others.
Move to a new hostel so that you meet new people. Or, try any of the suggestions above for meeting new people.
Remember that loneliness will pass and spending time alone can be rewarding and empowering. It’s good to be comfortable with your own company. so don’t always be too quick to fill your time being with others. Spend a day alone enjoying the surroundings and the local culture and get to know yourself. Part of solo travel is connecting with who you’re and finding new parts of yourself.
What to do if something goes wrong
Before you travel it’s essential to have an emergency pack that contains:
- A copy of your passport (stored separately to your passport)
- The contact details of your travel insurance provider
- Your medical insurer’s emergency line
- Your bank contact details
- The local British Consulate’s contact details
Store these numbers in your phone but also have a written document in case you lose your phone.
If you’re attacked, threatened, feel in danger or have your passport stolen, then contact the local consulate office for advice instead of contacting the local police.
If you have an accident, then contact the emergency contact number for your insurer and they will advise you on where to get help and assistance, and will help you avoid getting treatment that you’re not covered for. Make sure your insurance covers up-front payments for any medical assistance.
If you lose any luggage, then contact your travel insurer.
If your purse or bank cards are stolen, then contact your bank to have them cancelled immediately.
How solo travel changes you
Once you’ve travelled, you will never be the same again. Travel opens you up to both new experiences and cultures. It expands your mind and it increases your confidence, and it makes you more tolerant and easygoing.
Your horizons will be broadened and it’s likely that once you return home, you will feel like a different person to the one you left behind. You may have difficulty fitting back into your old life and want to make changes or even take another trip as soon as possible.
Take the time to reconnect with friends and family and be prepared for an adjustment back into your home life.
The upside is that you will be a more interesting person with lots of stories and tales to tell. You will also now have a new network of friends to visit worldwide.
Travel will make the world a smaller place and it will give you greater respect for other cultures.
If only everyone took the time for travel, then the world could be a much more tolerant and better place to be.
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