Travelling solo isn’t always easy. It can be the most incredible and uplifting experience that changes your life, but at times it can also be lonely, and hard. I know so many people, like myself, who have loved every second, who have thrived off being alone and who have grown confident and stronger by the day. But not a single one of us would say it was all sunshine and roses. Because like with anything, there are always going to be things you struggle with, moments when you step out of your comfort zone, but I’ve been told that is where your life begins. When I first started travelling solo over three years ago, everything was a shock to the system, everything seemed huge and a bit terrifying, everything was a challenge and everything tried to drag me out of my comfort zone. At first I resisted, but soon I realised that if you really want to have fun as a solo traveller, you’ve got to learn to let go of all your fears and worries, you’ve got to wholeheartedly embrace solo travel and to make it work for you – that’s the best way to fall in love with the life you create.
I’m always being asked how I deal with certain situations as a traveler, things that have become totally normal to me now can seem huge to someone just starting out on their solo journey. So I thought, why not put together a guide for how I deal with some of the trickiest solo travel situations? It doesn’t matter whether you’re going to France or Florida, this post will focus on all the awkward moments, your greatest fears, the frustrating parts of being a solo traveler, and how I deal with all of them in my everyday life. Even if you aren’t a solo traveler, these tips could help you to overcome fears of being alone in your daily life – covering everything from eating alone to staying safe and avoiding hidden costs.
Eat out alone
One of the biggest worries for new travellers and it is pretty daunting to think of sitting in a restaurant alone – will people stare at me, will they think I’ve been stood up? But let’s be serious, a girl’s gotta eat, and quite frankly, I don’t see why we should have to live off room service and junk food to avoid the eyes of others. I felt so weird eating alone at first but now I absolutely love it, especially in a new city. I love sitting outside at a cafe or restaurant and watching the world go by, reading a good book and enjoying a glass of wine. So how do you learn to love it? Change the way you think about it, instead of the dread you feel when mealtimes approach, think of this as a time to recharge your batteries and rest your legs after a day of exploring. Take the time to read a book, listen to a podcast or even plan your next day’s activities. You could even take a laptop with you and respond to emails or write a blog.
Feeling uncomfortable? If people look at you, just smile back at them, don’t feel awkward, they are just marveling at the mysterious stranger who is so comfortable in her own company. My rule is, even if you don’t feel confident, fake it until you make it! Really hate eating alone? Why not change your day around – instead of eating alone in the evenings when more groups and couples dine out, why not eat out at lunch time when it is less noticeable that you are alone. More business people tend to eat out alone at lunch so you will feel less obvious and it will also give you a break in the middle of a busy day. Then you can relax with snacks in your hotel in the evening. Prefer dining with people? Just because you’re a solo traveler doesn’t mean you have to eat alone, why not stay in a hostel and make friends there – eat in the communal kitchen which is great for meeting people. Or join Facebook travel groups and meet up with friends in other countries for an evening.
Another big one for solo travellers, especially female ones, and one that should always be a priority. My best advice, trust your gut at all times. If ever you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, get out of the situation, go to where there is a crowd, go to where there is light and help. Don’t be afraid to seek help, don’t feel stupid, your safety comes first. Know the country you are in and be prepared for the dangers each country may send your way. Don’t take motorbike taxis, they give a false sense of closeness and could put you in danger, I know people who have been sexually assaulted or robbed by these. Stick to taxis, tuk tuks and stick with a group, its easy to make friends at a hostel and to go out together.
If you’re a woman alone, don’t be afraid to go out by yourself, embrace it. But be smart. Don’t drink too much alcohol, take drugs or do anything that could impair your ability to look after yourself. I hate to say it because I shouldn’t have to, but don’t dress inappropriately for the country, particularly in modest Asian or strict Muslim countries, this can attract the wrong attention and could put you in danger of being approached by men. Some women recommend wearing a fake wedding ring in certain countries to prevent unnecessary attention as a solo female, I personally have never bothered with this, but it is an option. It’s easy to say all of this, but only you will know what to do in each situation. My best advice? Be smart and learn to read the people around you, trust your gut and act quick if anything doesn’t feel right.
Loneliness hits all solo travelers at one time or another, it’s inevitable. But how you deal with it can lead to very different outcomes. I knew a girl in Sydney who was homesick and missed her mother, she would spend every night on the phone to her mum crying and upset, then she would spend all day in bed recovering from the phone call. She barely spoke to anyone else except to tell them how miserable she was and wouldn’t listen to anyone who tried to persuade her to hang out and leave the hostel to do something fun. In the end, her parents flew her home. I have had times when I’ve felt really lonely and homesick, but instead of wallowing, I’ve taken advantage of FaceTime and WhatsApp to call my family and my friends, and very quickly I’ve felt a million times better for talking to them. I refuse to let myself wallow and feel sad, instead I force myself to get dressed, get out of the hostel and gets some fresh air. I head out to the beach or for a walk around town, I call up friends and hang out with them or go to the hostel bar and make new ones. Throwing yourself in the deep end is the best way to beat loneliness, its okay to wallow sometimes, but don’t let it take over and stop you having fun.
It’s exhausting being the only organiser, even if you usually enjoy it. Everything from flights and hotels/hostels to activities, visas and food shopping, it soon becomes a huge job and with only you to tackle it, things can seem pretty daunting. Deal with it by turning your attitude upside down, focus on how exciting it is t have full control of your life, to be able to plan exactly what YOU want to do, without worrying about anyone else. Enjoy the process and looking forward to the next adventure. Break things down, make lists of everything you have to do and then work your way down the list. It helps make the task less scary when it’s just a few simple steps, don’t take on the whole thing at once, just each individual thing until everything is done. I’m the queen of lists and keep a diary where I write lists every day for work/blogging/life of all the things I need to do. It makes life so much more manageable and ensures I don’t forget the important things when there is no-one else to remind me.
Make new friends
My favourite one – it seems so scary at first but remember that life starts at the end of your comfort zone. Every single solo traveller is in the same boat as you, they are a bit scared, lonely and just hoping to find someone who wants to sit with them in the hostel and drink a beer. You will save yourself a world of stress if you can force yourself to be brave enough to go up to complete strangers and introduce yourself. It’s terrifying at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes! Not ready for that? Start small, make yourself hang out in the public areas of the hostels/hotels and chat to other people sitting nearby. See a group having a drink? Grab a beer and head over, ask if you can join them. Take note of things like your body language – don’t sit hunched and with your arms crossed it’s totally unapproachable. Instead sit back, relax and chill out, and don’t forget to smile at every. Positivity attracts positivity, so always say hello and ask how people are, it makes them more likely to remember you and to want to hang out with you. Try Facebook groups for travellers – there is one for every place and there are always people looking for friends to hang out with!
Keep my stuff safe
This varies depending on the country, but the general message is the same – keep an eye on your valuables and never let go of your passport. Make sure your bags are secure and keep your valuables on you at all times, use hotel safes and keep your passport/bank cards safe from pickpockets. Don’t leave your valuables in your big bag if it is to be taken off you during travel on buses or trains. Whether you’re in Asia, Europe or South America, always keep your wits about you and watch out for pickpockets when you’re visiting crowded sights. For ladies, I recommend a long strap zip-close bag that isn’t easy to open or grab without you realising. Don’t waste your time on padlocks for your rucksack or suitcase, if you ask me it makes it all the more appealing to thieves. Make sure your money is spread across more than one account, then if you lose, or have your card stolen, you won’t lose all your money – I know far too many people who have made this mistake.
Avoid getting ripped off
First-time travelers worry a lot about getting ripped off and quite right, when you first start travelling it’s easy to stand out like a sore thumb. The trick is, you’ve got to do your research – speak to traveler friends, speak to anyone you meet, read online – especially blogs- for the most up-to-date information and advice about tours and trips. Know in advance how much you should be paying and be prepared to bargain and barter with sellers to get the price down. It feels strange when you first go to Asia to barter but it is the generally accepted way of life there and you will get ripped off if you don’t do it – so don’t be too British like some, get into it and get a great deal. Don’t be afraid to shop around, even if they put the pressure on and say the deal is only available right now, it’s rubbish they’re just trying to pressure you. Don’t just go for the biggest tour companies, there are lots available and sometimes you can get a much better deal like when I got two weeks worth of travel, activities, food and accommodation for £200 in Thailand by booking through the Thai Tourism Agency.
Get those travel snaps
What’s a trip without those epic travel snaps to remember it by? Everyone wants those perfect photos for their Instagram (follow me here) but as a solo traveler it can be tricky to try and get the perfect shot. It’s definitely not impossible – trust me, some of the best travel bloggers in the world always go solo and have the most incredible pics! If you’re just just looking for some casual pics of yourself but don’t want to be stuck with selfies – you may have to just overcome your embarrassment and ask strangers to take your pic. It’s really not as big a deal as you think, and often these days it turns into a full-on photo shoot “doing it for the ‘gram”. Hate doing it? Why not meet other solo travelers who have the same problem and offer to take great pics for them in exchange for some of your own? I do this with all my solo travel friends and have some of my best pics from doing this. You could use a selfie-stick which has been the preferred choice for a few years now, and works great – this is what I’ve been doing for a while. Final option – buy a tripod! I’ve managed my whole time travelling without one and have some pretty epic pics, but I think I may soon invest in one. It’s a great way to really set up the pic you want and then to bounce into it at the last moment using the self-timer on your phone or camera.
Cope when things go wrong
Missed a flight? Got Bali belly? Had your phone nicked? It’s crap when things go wrong, but you can’t avoid it. It definitely makes life a lot easier when you have someone to give you a hug and laugh about it with, but when you’re by yourself it can quickly make you wish you were back at home. I’ve had a lot of tough times since travelling solo, from bus crashes to illness and even having a taxi driver try to rob me – it’s horrible when it happens and can leave you feeling very vulnerable. My response? Give yourself time to recover. If something bad or scary happens, go to a place you feel safe, check into a hotel and let the staff look after you, call home for support and give yourself a break from the road. Been ill? There’s always someone around in a hostel, or staff in your hotel, who can pop to the shops for water, loo roll or medicine, don’t be ashamed to ask for help and don’t force yourself to keep travelling when you need to rest. Missed a flight? Call the airline, explain what happened and see if they can book you on another flight, they are there to help! Had your phone nicked? Call the insurance and get a replacement, make sure you let your family know they might not hear from you as often.
There you have it, over 2,500 words later and those are the biggest solo travel issues I have faced, the ones you guys have asked the most about. For anyone who has stuck it out to the end of this post – bloody well done and you deserve a G&T. And for anyone who still has questions, leave a comment at the end of this post and I’ll get back to you 🙂 Happy travels!