Updated: Sep 30, 2020
I feel like there’s this magnet inside me, that’s pulling me out into the world and making me want to discover new places. It’s not something I have control over – it’s an itch that has to be scratched, a deep, deep longing that never goes away. I guess some people call it wanderlust. And sometimes, for one reason or another, I follow that wanderlust to places alone.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself by travelling solo over the years. It’s made me braver and showed me that there’s nothing I can’t do, if I really want it.
So, with that in mind, I wanted to share some tips that I’ve learnt with anyone who is thinking about giving it a go. For those who might need a little nudge – I hope this helps.
Accept that’s it’s natural to feel nervous
I can still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I boarded the flight for my very first solo trip back in 2016. I felt physically ill from the nerves. What was ahead of me? Was I going to feel safe? How was I going to have fun by myself? I didn’t know what lay ahead and it scared the living day lights out of me.
Did I want to leg it to the nearest exit when I saw my boarding gate? Yes.
Am I happy as hell that I didn’t chicken out? Absolutely.
It’s normal to feel scared when you are doing something new and it is a big deal to travel alone. Even now, almost three years later, if I leave it too long between solo trips I feel really nervous again. The trick is to just accept how you feel and never allow it to stop you.
They say that bravery means being afraid and doing it anyway. So, although you may feel nervous, scared, apprehensive, anxious and all those other lovely feelings that stop us from doing things in life, be brave and go for it. I promise that the fear quickly turns into excitement.
Research your location
Where to stay is important regardless of whether you are travelling alone or with other people, however I always put that little bit of extra effort into choosing my location when I am flying solo.
It’s important to stay somewhere that is close to the areas you want to spend most your time, so that you don’t have to walk too far if you are alone at night. There are a few ways to figure this out in advance.
On google maps, the central areas always show up in pale orange. Take the Dublin map below for example:
The orange areas show the parts of the city that are busy. These are the areas that are full of shops, pubs and restaurants. While the grey areas are less so, you are more likely to find office blocks and apartments dotting those streets. You can use this as a guide when booking accommodation in cities you aren’t familiar with, stay within/close to an orange area and you won’t go too far wrong.
You will see from my map of Dublin that there are lots of yellow stars (mostly foodie places TBH! Lol). By saving some key places you want to visit in advance you’ll start to build a clear picture of the city and the parts you would most like to spend time in.
Hostels are a haven for solo travellers and a rite of passage for most. Not only are they great place to meet like minded people, but if you stay in a good one you will have absolutely everything you need for your travels. Some hostels supply you with a free WIFI hotspots to take out and about with you, and lots of them have things like free bike rentals, free meals, games and movie rooms. If you are hostelling around Europe, check out www.europesfamoushostels.com – it’s a site that lists the best hostels around Europe and they only award one per city so you know you are going to get the very best if you stay in one they have recommended.
I’ve never had a bad experience thank god and have always felt very safe over the years. I’ve stayed in tiny four-person dorms and huge dorms with 20 something people in them. I’ve stayed in mixed rooms (men and women) and female only rooms, it all depends on how comfortable you are. Over time I realised I felt safer in female only rooms so stuck to those.
There’s no need to worry about how safe your belongings will be as each bed is supplied with a safe space to store your bags etc (always bring a pad lock as most of them need to be locked this way).
Most people are very considerate when sharing a space like that. Simple things like having your night time bits somewhere easy to find is key to being a good neighbour. No one likes it when someone comes in in the middle of the night and wakes everyone up routing around for their toothpaste. Leave that kind of thing either on your bed or to the front of your locker. And whatever you do – DO NOT TURN ON THE MAIN LIGHT if you are coming in late at night, that’s a serious no no when sharing a dorm room.
If you really don’t like the idea of sharing a room with strangers, that’s ok. To be honest I am becoming more and more fond of my own space as I get older and have been opting towards private rooms in hostels, Airbnb’s and hotels lately. So, don’t feel that just because you don’t enjoy the backpacker lifestyle that you’re not doing it right. There is no wrong way to travel, there are just ways to make things more enjoyable and every person is different.
Do group activities
While hostels are an amazing way to meet new people, there are lots of other things you can do to make new connections when you travel alone.
A walking tours usually takes several hours (some can even last a whole day depending on the size of the city and type of tour) so you really get a chance to spend time with the group you are walking with. The fact you have all signed up to do the tour in the first place, means you immediately have something in common, so don’t be shy! Say hello and make an effort to get to know each other.
If you like to go out, lots of cities have organised pub crawls which can be so much fun. When I was travelling alone in Amsterdam I tagged along on one and had one of the best nights of my year. I was completely alone going to it, but within minutes a group of friends who were travelling together invited me to join them and we had a great night.
Things have changed a lot since then! My group activities look a little different these days. I’ve signed up for a couple of walking tours in New York this week, including a walking yoga tour of Central Park. There are lots of alternative things like this that you can do while travelling, you just have to be open to new ideas and say yes!!
Download the local transport apps, that track you while you use them
When I travel alone I tend to stick to trains, buses, subways and taxi apps. Be a step ahead and download the local transport apps before you go. Don’t be afraid to use the metros or buses, they are always a great way to get around and always the cheapest.
If you are using taxis, I would use a taxi app or Uber. That way you know your journey is being tracked (more for peace of mind than anything) and you also know you aren’t going to get over charged for being a tourist.
Follow your instincts & don’t be afraid to cause offense by walking away from people or situations that make you uncomfortable
Your gut instinct is usually right, so if you find yourself in the company of people who don’t exactly make you feel the best then don’t fool obliged to stay put. This is your trip, you are a grown adult and you can do as you please. So, don’t be afraid to politely make your excuses and leave whenever you want to.
This also goes for walking down streets, into pubs or any other situations while travelling. Always listen to that voice in your head, if you think there’s a chance you might be putting yourself in danger, then avoid. Don’t take silly risks, even if it means its going to take you longer to get where you’re going or cost you more – your safety and peace of mind comes first.
Your family will most likely worry about you travelling, that’s what they do! Especially if you a doing it alone. So be considerate and check in several times a day. This is more for them than you -a quick text or photo can mean the difference between a good or bad night sleep for Mum and Dad, so keep that in mind.
I always bring a portable battery pack with me out and about during the day. Most of us want to take lots of photographs and video while travelling and there is nothing worse than when your phone or camera dies during the day! So be prepared and invest in a good portable charger.
Talk to locals
Some of the best travel advice I’ve ever gotten has been from the locals of places I have visited. Get into a conversation with someone who lives where you are visiting, and you never know what they might share with you. There are always some amazing hidden gems to be found that no amount of social media trolling, trip advisor combing or even blog reading can find for you.
Ask people like the hotel receptionist or waiting staff or bar men – where they recommend you should eat, or what you should do first. Ask them if there are any hidden gems, or where they like to go for a night out. By all means use all the other tools available to find amazing things to do, just never underestimate the power of asking a good question. It might just change your entire journey.
Enjoy the me time
And finally, if you decided to take the plunge and travel alone try to soak up everything that is around you and just enjoy it.
Enjoy the fact that you can do whatever YOU want to do for your whole trip. You can eat where and what you like, you can do all the nerdy tours you want and you can shop for as long as you want.
You don’t have to compromise even a little bit and it’s very rare in life that any of us get to do that, so if you take some time to be by yourself – enjoy it!
If you have any question about solo travelling or travel in general, please feel free to reach out. You can find me on Instagram @lovelytomeetme or leave a comment below.
Written with love,