So, you have decided to take your first solo trip and you are beginning to get a little “solo travel anxiety”. I have traveled solo a lot. For me, traveling alone is not a problem but I know that the first time you decide to go somewhere by yourself can be intimidating to some. I have friends and relatives that have told me they would love to travel but they are nervous about travelling alone for the first time.
A quick internet search of solo travelers will show that the trend is rising. From young people to seniors, solo female travelers, people are taking advantage of travel destinations such as southeast Asia, South America, Europe, taking solo road trips and having new experiences and enjoying visiting a new destination. There are some things you can do to take the stress and worry out of your first solo travel trip so you can have an enjoyable trip.
Before you travel take some time to do a little research. You might have safety concerns taking your first trip alone. Research the location you are traveling solo to. Don’t walk around at night in remote areas and make sure the hotel is in a decent area. If it is a place where you will be doing a lot of walking, such as the downtown area, you don’t want to leave the hotel and walk through a bad area to get to your destination.
Be aware of your surroundings and don’t stand out. In other words, you don’t need to wear a bunch of jewelry or dress like a tourist with a tourist t-shirt or hat, such as I heart New York. If traveling internationally check out the State Department or your country travel warnings and important information. For the United States you can research travel advisories before you decide to visit a country.
You can also register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) that will give you alerts and updates about the country you are visiting. It is also smart to invest in travel insurance for unforeseen circumstances.
2. Pack Light
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when traveling is packing too much, especially if you are travelling alone. There are a lot of tips as to how to pack, such as using packing cubes or wearing bulky clothes and boots on the plane to free up space in your luggage. All of that is good, however the goal is to bring less so when you have to haul everything around it is as light as possible. it is also good to invest in a quality carry on bag.
The chances are you don’t need a lot of the stuff you pack. Start with a packing list, include all the items you need to bring and leave out the extras. Use travel size toiletries instead of packing up all of your soaps, shampoos etc. Another option is to leave most of it behind since most hotels have complimentary soaps, shampoos, razors combs and more. You can also buy a lot of that stuff when you arrive at a local shop. Choose clothes that you can mix and match and that can be used for multiple purposes.
Bring only what you need, and you will be much happier when it comes time to having to haul everything around. It also frees you up to do a lot more since you might find a 2 day tour you would love to take but don’t want the hassle of taking two suitcases, a backpack and a laptop bag with you on a bus. Don’t forget to pack copies of important documents. I have found the easiest way is to just take photos of my passport, driver’s license and anything else important and keep them in a folder on my mobile phone or laptop.
3. Keep in Touch
Traveling alone for the first time can be a little daunting for some people. If you have never went somewhere for a week or two by yourself, you might be a little overwhelmed. One way to relieve the stress of being alone when you travel is to stay in touch with friends and family. This actually has two purposes. The first purpose is to let people know where you are and what is going on. Before you leave for your trip give a family member or trusted friend your itinerary.
Put down your schedule, airline flights and the hotel where you will be staying, then plan to check in every few days by text, phone or email. This will give you some peace of mind that you are okay, people know where you are and can get in touch with you and you’re not totally cut off from your home. The second reason to stay in touch with home is so when you are maybe feeling a little lonely or stressed, you can always call someone and chat for a while instead of sitting in your room at night wishing you had someone to talk to.
4. Use Travel Apps and Websites
Travel apps and websites can help you find some really cool places to visit that a lot of travel guides don’t reveal. For instance, I love eating at locally owned places when I visit a new location. I love a good hamburger, not the chain burgers like McDonald’s or Burger King. I can get those anytime, but the ones not on the tourist radar the ones where everyone in town goes to get good food.
Places like when I ate at locally owned restaurants in Lafayette Louisiana. Apps like Yelp can find the highest rated places, rated by locals. TripAdvisor is a good place to find the best things to do in a destination, and the local tourism website usually lists a lot of things to see and do along with restaurants in the area. Facebook groups can give you a lot of information, just don’t reveal too much about your plans.
Roadtrippers is a good place for finding things to do and places to see on a road trip. They have a website and an app for download. Free Tour lists budget tours and tours you can take for free in over 120 countries.
5. Talk to Locals
Another good way to discover places to visit and things to do is to talk to the locals. When I travel to a new place, especially in a foreign country, I will ask people about interesting places, things to see or do and where the good restaurants are. They will point you to places where tourists don’t normally go, just because they don’t know about them.
I also meet a lot of interesting people when I travel. I had a great conversation with a Yeoman Warder, also known as Beefeaters, at the Tower of London about our past military experiences. I learned all about modern day witches from the owner of a bar in Prague, who was a witch, spent the day talking with inmates of a prison in the Philippines and met a man in a small Texas town that told me the history of the town and its people. I have spent the night with a local family in Nepal, smoked cigars with a local cigar club at their weekly meeting the US Virgin Islands, spent an hour or so talking with a Greek woman and her son about the local area and interesting sites nearby and much more.
The day I met Ray, in the small town of Walburg Texas, made me change my plans just to spend more time there. Meeting people that can tell you about the new city you are visiting, or the customs and traditions can make your trip much more memorable.
6. Enjoy the Experience and Get Lost
Okay, I don’t mean literally lost, like you have no idea where you are, but don’t tie yourself down to a strict schedule where every hour of your day is planned. Part of taking the stress out of travel is the ability to adapt and just enjoy the day. If you have planned to see some of the sites in the morning, take the afternoon to walk around downtown and explore some shops, or enjoy a drink at a coffee shop, try some street food or take a few minutes to just relax and enjoy the surroundings.
A couple of friends and I once rented a car and drove from Macedonia, now known as North Macedonia, to Thessaloniki Greece for the weekend. One day we took the car, looked at a map and picked a place on the tip of a peninsula and decided to go there. We punched in the coordinates on the car GPS and headed out. Along the way we stopped and had lunch in the seaside town of Moudania before heading off to the tip of Kassandra peninsula where we discovered this very small church, The Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, also known as Church of Agios Nikolaous, sitting at the edge of the water overlooking the bay. Sometimes getting lost can reveal real treasures.
7. Join a Group or Take a Local Tour
A great way to explore solo travel and get out of your comfort zone is to take a group tour. One way is to take a cruise. You will be with others, be able to take shore excursions with groups of people, have a guide with you and still have the ability to be by yourself when you want. Another way is to take advantage of walking tours in cities around the world. I spent a couple of hours in London taking a walking tour of Jack the Ripper locations and the guide was a retired Scotland Yard detective who was extremely knowledgeable of the history.
Walking tours are very popular around the world including in the United States, where you have a guide and a group of people to go with. From ghost tours, art tours, pub crawl and history related tours, you can find something you are interested in. With Locals is a site that connects you with a local to provide a personalized private tour. Tours range from culinary tours to history, shopping, adventure and more.
A lot of hotels around the world can point you to a good day tour with a guide. Cancun hotels offer day tours of the Mayan ruins where they pick you up and drop off back at your hotel. A lot of cities in the United States have hop on, hop off bus or trolly tours of the sites in town.
8. Learn About the Culture or Language
Take some time before you leave to learn a little about the local language and culture of where you are traveling to. Traveling in your own country is one thing but traveling to another country where there is a language barrier can be intimidating. Do you tip? Some countries do not tip and consider it bad manners. Do you want to visit that beautiful church? You may need to dress appropriately or not be allowed to enter. Want to shop for a souvenir? In some cultures haggling over the price is considered part of the process while others, not so much.
Learning a few words of another language can come in handy. Years ago when I lived in Germany I learned quickly how to ask for directions to the train station, basic greetings and of course how to order food and especially beer, which I still remember after all these years. Learning how to say please and thank you, basic directions or how to ask for help can go a long way to easing your mind when traveling and not feel totally lost.
9. Start With a Short Trip
If you want to see if traveling alone is the right thing for you, then start with a short trip. Take a 4-5 day trip somewhere not too far away. Set some alerts for airline flights to places and when one comes up that is in your budget, pull the trigger. Head off for a few days all by yourself. Hopefully you have spent some time doing a little research ahead of time and when you get there you can enjoy visiting a new place.
If you like southern charm, take a trip to Savannah Ga. There is a lot of history in Savannah, beautiful historic district that is walking friendly, they have some great restaurants, a hop on hop off trolly and it is a great place to try out your solo travel debut. You could always book a short cruise and maybe make some new friends, or take a road trip stopping in two or three places spending time in each one. You won’t be in a foreign land and you can enjoy seeing new things.
10. Trust Your Instincts
If something doesn’t feel right, chances are it’s not. Scam artists and other criminals make a living out of striking up conversations with people and then taking advantage of them. This doesn’t mean you should not ever talk to anyone but trust your own judgement. Don’t give away too much personal information.
Don’t tell people the hotel where you are staying. If you flag down a taxi and get a strange vibe, find another one or order a share ride. If someone offers to take you somewhere or offers to help without you asking that could be a red flag. If a street looks shady don’t walk down the street, find another route. I have traveled all over the world, many times traveling alone and using common sense, being aware of my surroundings and trusting my instincts has kept me safe and gone a long way to making sure I had a stress free trip.
By using these tips, you can take a lot of the stress of traveling alone for the first time and you can enjoy your fist solo adventure.
Is there anything that stresses you out when traveling solo or do you have any tips? Drop them in the comments.