Solo travel 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. People 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 there are always going to be things you struggle with. There will always be moments when you have to step out of your comfort zone. But I’ve been told, that is where your life begins.
When I first started a life of solo travel over three years ago, everything was a shock to the system. It all seemed huge and a bit terrifying, everything was a challenge and dragged me out of my comfort zone. I soon realised that 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.
Answering your questions on solo travel
Some of the questions I get asked the most revolve around solo travel and coping with situations that have now become second nature to me. It’s amazing really how quickly we adapt to this style of living, but what we learn along the way is invaluable. That’s why I wanted to put together this ultimate guide to coping with solo situations that can be quite intimidating for first-time or those new to solo travel. Instead of being put off the biggest adventure of your life, let me give you the tools to tackle anything that comes your way.
It doesn’t matter whether you are going to France or Florida, the trickiest solo situations can strike anywhere. This post will focus on helping you avoid the awkward moments and your greatest fears. Skip the most frustrating parts of being a solo traveller so you are free to sit back and enjoy every second. All the things I learned the hard way, served up in a blog post covering everything from staying safe to hidden costs.
Eating out alone can be fun!
This is one of the biggest fears for new solo travellers and I can understand, it’s super daunting at first. Surely no-one wants to sit in a restaurant alone? Won’t people stare at me and think I’ve been stood up? It’s normal to have all these thoughts and more. But let’s be serious, a girl’s gotta eat and there’s a good chance they may not have Deliveroo where you’ll be travelling. I felt so weird eating out solo when I first tried it, but now I love it. It gives me an opportunity to really be present in the moment, to take in the surroundings and focus on my meal.
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. 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.
But what if people stare?
Remember one thing – people actually don’t care as much as you think they do. People rarely ever stare and usually if they do, it’s because they’re marvelling at this mysterious stranger who dares to eat alone. Just relax, smile and you’ll usually find they either smile and look away or they’ll start chatting with you. I’ve found lots of times that other diners love to strike up conversation when you’re alone, it’s a good way to meet people.
- Change your mealtimes and eat out at lunchtime instead of dinner when it’s less noticeable
- Stay in a hostel – great for communal dining and finding friends to eat out with
- Join travel Facebook groups and meet with people for dinner
- Stay at a homestay and dine with the family hosting you
Read: How travelling solo gives you the confidence you never knew you had
Staying safe when you solo travel
Super important, especially for any women who is travelling alone. My best advice for anyone who chooses solo travel – learn to trust your gut. If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe, get yourself out of that situation as quickly and safely as possible.
- Don’t take the shortcut at night, stick to streets with light and people
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel threatened or lost
- Know the country you are in and do your research to avoid situations
- Avoid motorbike taxis where possible, there is a slightly increased risk of sexual assault/robbery
- Try to stick to registered taxis and public transport where possible
- Make friends at your accommodation and go out as a group so you feel safer
Protect yourself as a female traveller
I hate that I keel I need to give extra advice to women to protect themselves, but sadly this is the world we live in. Don’t ever feel that the world is just looking to harm you – that’s not the case. But please, be smart, put your safety first and always do your research. There are some extra measures you can take which could help give you peace of mind and also to feel more in control of the attention you receive.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol, take drugs or do anything that could impair your ability to look after yourself
- Dress appropriately for the country, particularly in modest Asian or strict Muslim countries, this can attract the wrong attention and could put you in danger
- 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.
Read: The dangers of travelling solo as a woman
Surviving loneliness as a solo traveller
Loneliness hits all solo travellers 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’ve had times when I’ve felt lonely, but instead of allowing myself to wallow I pick up the phone and call home. You’ve got Facetime and Whatsapp at your disposal 24/7 and even living in a different timezone doesn’t have to be a struggle. Don’t lay in bed feeling sad. Get up, get dressed and get outside. Catch up with friends, go meet new people in the hostel, book on to a group day trip or walking tour. 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.
Read: The importance of of contact with home when you’re nearly 10,000 miles away
Get organised – it’s the key to your success
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 to have full control of your life. You’re finally able to plan exactly what YOU want to do, without worrying about anyone else. Enjoy the process and looking forward to the next adventure.
- Make a list of all the tasks you have to do – include everything!
- Now organise these – split them according to travel/practical/fun and list them in order of priority
- Don’t take on the whole thing at once, break it up over a few days and do the most boring tasks first
- Tick them off when complete! It’s so satisfying and will help you keep track
Read: 11 invaluable life skills solo travel teaches you
Making new friends when you solo travel
My favourite solo travel topic can be one of the scariest for first-time travellers. If you’re naturally an introvert, it will really push you out of your comfort zone, but that’s exactly where all the best moments happen!
Remember this: Every single solo traveller is in the same boat as you. They’re scared, lonely and just want someone to drink a beer with.
You will save yourself a world of stress if you push yourself to go up to complete strangers and introduce yourself. It’s terrifying at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Plus everyone else will be super grateful you made the first move.
- Not ready for that? Start small, 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.
- Work on your body language – sit back, relax and chill out, and don’t forget to smile at everyone.
- Positivity attracts positivity! 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!
Read: You’re never alone, but you’re always lonely
How do I keep my stuff safe?
- Keep an eye on your valuables and never let go of your passport
- Make sure your bags are secure and use hotel safes to keep your passport/bank cards safe from pickpockets
- Don’t leave your valuables in your big bag/suitcase while travelling on buses/trains
- Watch out for pickpockets when you’re visiting crowded sights/tourist attractions
- Ladies, get a long strap zip-close bag and wear it across your body so it’s not easy to grab
- Don’t waste your time on padlocks for your rucksack or suitcase, it just makes it more appealing to thieves
- Spread your money across bank accounts – this is good if a card is lost/stolen, but also in case your card doesn’t work at all ATMs
Read: Top tips for keeping your home safe when you travel
How to avoid getting ripped off
First-time travellers worry a lot about getting ripped off and quite right, when you first start travelling it’s easy to stick out like a sore thumb. Do your research – speak to travellers and read blogs for the latest information. This can help you find out average prices so you know when to say no, it can also help warn you of scams in the area. Be prepared to barter in Asian countries and don’t be afraid to be cheeky and firm about it. Walk away if you don’t like the price and see how much lower it suddenly goes!
Don’t be afraid to shop around, even if they put the pressure on and say the deal is only available right now. That’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. I got two weeks worth of travel, activities, food and accommodation for £200 by booking through the Thai Tourism Agency instead of travel companies.
Read: Cheap cheats for organising your Thai trip
Get those picture perfect solo travel snaps
What’s a trip without those epic travel snaps to remember it by? Everyone wants those perfect photos for their Instagram, but as a solo traveler it can be tricky to get the shot. First you need to ask yourself whether you’re happy with some cheeky holiday snaps or whether you want to take it a step further. If you’re just just looking for some casual pics of yourself, you may have to just overcome your embarrassment and ask strangers to take your pic. It’s not as cringe as you think and can even lead to a full-on photo shoot.
They never take the photo I want
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 or get a GoPro on a stick which is what I did when I was first travelling. Final option – buy a tripod! I’ve managed for years without one, but if you want to take your photos next level, you really need a tripod and a self-timer either on a phone or a decent camera. Check out my Instagram to see how my photography has changed over the years.
How to 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, it’s horrible when it happens and can leave you feeling vulnerable.
My top 5 tips for getting back on track:
- Give yourself time to recover. If something bad or scary happens, go to a place you feel safe, call home for support and give yourself a break
- Been ill? This is always the time to spring for a hotel. Give yourself a bit of privacy, luxury and have a good staff on hand to bring room service or bring 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! Always have insurance just in case.
- Had your phone nicked? Contact your insurance and see if you’re covered. Don’t have insurance? Check if you’re covered via your bank or home/contents insurance
Read: Getting sick when you’re travelling solo