Traveling is an experience that's often fun to share with a partner, a group of friends, or your entire family.
But, for Americans especially, planning a vacation for a large group of people isn't always easy. Friends have jobs and not a lot of vacation time; kids play sports; family members can't always coordinate their schedules.
When faced with the challenges of actually planning a trip, many people just give up and opt not to travel at all. But if you have your heart set on that tour of Tuscany or hiking in Utah or sailing around the Greek Islands, you don't necessarily have to give it up.
If you don't have anyone to travel with, why not just travel solo?
Now, I know what you might be thinking: I can't possibly travel alone!, you say. But it's actually never been easier to travel solo than it is right now. As technology expands to all corners of the globe, everything from booking hotel rooms to staying in touch with family is incredibly easy – and totally doable on your own.
From someone who has traveled solo to countries on six different continents, I'm here to let you know that solo travel doesn't have to be scary or daunting. In fact, traveling on your own can be incredibly fun and liberating!
If you're considering trying solo travel for yourself, I decided to put together some tips for what to do before you leave home, as well as what to expect once you're on the road.
This post is brought to you by AIG Travel.
Things to do before your first solo trip
Taking the plunge and planning your first solo trip? Here are 8 things to put on your to-do list as you're planning:
1. Choose your destination smartly
I get asked all the time about the “best” places to travel solo. And while the answer ultimately depends on you and what you're interested in, I do have a handful of destinations that I recommend for first-timers.
Essentially, you'll want to find a place where you won't run into a huge language barrier; a place where the locals are friendly and helpful; and a place where you'll feel safe on your own.
Some of my top picks for Americans or Britons going on their first solo trips include:
- New Zealand
All of these places are safe for female travelers, have good tourism infrastructure, and are generally easy to navigate.
2. Pack appropriately
You'll of course want to take the weather forecast into account when you're putting together your packing list, but you also should do a little homework into whether or not there are any cultural standards that you should know about before you go. Dress codes (especially for women) can vary from country to country, especially in more conservative parts of the world.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a traveler is wearing clothing that can either a.) make you stand out as an easy-target tourist or b.) be offensive to the local people.
As a solo female traveler, I've found that I feel far more comfortable wandering around on my own when I “blend in” and dress more or less like the locals do.
You'll also want to choose the right luggage. Since you'll be the one dragging your bag around, you want it to be right for you and your trip.
3. Book some accommodation in advance
My travel style has changed over the last couple years; these days, most of my trips are only a week or two in length. And for shorter trips like this, it's just easier to book all the important things (i.e. transport and accommodation) in advance. Having bookings all set to go before you board that first flight usually means less stress once your trip actually begins.
When I was taking much longer trips, though, it didn't always make sense to book every single night of accommodation in advance. In fact, I can remember a few times when I waited to book a hostel or hotel room until the day before I was going to be in a new city.
If you're a “wing it” sort of traveler, you may be comfortable just showing up somewhere and finding accommodation. But for your first solo trip, I highly recommend at least pre-booking your first couple of nights. This will allow you to get into the groove of traveling alone without the added stress of finding a place to stay right away.
It also allows you to do some research about where you're staying beforehand. I always like to choose well-reviewed properties in safe parts of a city, especially if I'm going somewhere I've never been before.
4. Make a communication plan
Don't be surprised if family and friends express some worry about your solo travel plans. Traveling solo is still somewhat outside the norm in many communities, and it's often viewed as being a dangerous pursuit – doubly so if you're female.
The good news is that it's never been easier to stay in touch when you're traveling. Wifi can be found even in remote areas, and it's much easier than it used to be to pick up a local SIM card for your phone.
Before you leave home, come up with a communication plan that will work for both you and any concerned family members.
When I first started traveling solo, I would email my mom at least every 2 days to check in and let her know I was okay. Now, she follows my Facebook page and blog in order to keep up with me. I'll email her when I think I might be without Internet connection for a while (just so she doesn't freak out), and I can text her since I have an international data plan.
I've also utilized apps like Skype and WhatsApp while traveling, both of which can be used with either data or wifi.
5. Give someone at home your itinerary
Going along with my third tip, make sure someone at home knows roughly where you'll be going and when. This not only gives everyone some peace of mind, but can also be vital in case something were to go wrong.
6. Keep your stuff safe
When you're traveling alone, you and you alone are responsible for everything. Everything from making travel arrangements to finding your accommodation to keeping yourself and your stuff safe.
Safety is always a hot topic when it comes to solo travel, and there are plenty of things you can do to ensure the safety of both yourself and your belongings.
How you'll keep your stuff safe is something you can plan for in advance, too. Along with being aware of your surroundings and trusting your gut instincts (and not carrying all your money on you at one time!), there are some products you can buy to make it harder for pickpockets to get you.
I love Pacsafe's line of pickpocket-proof bags (the Camsafe V17 Backpack and the Metrosafe LS200 Shoulder Bag are two of my current favorites), and also recommend using a portable safe for when you have larger items that won't fit in a standard hotel safe (or for when you HAVE no hotel safe).
For more tips on how to keep your money and valuables safe on your travels, read this post.
7. Carry copies of important things
Passport, tickets, reservation confirmations… it's a good idea to have hard copies of things, and to also have photocopies of important documents like your passport – just in case!
Keep these copies somewhere safe, ideally separate from the originals. (This is the sort of stuff I would put in my portable safe along with my laptop!)
8. Get travel insurance
It's not nice to think about, but getting injured/sick is a possibility whenever you travel. Plenty of other not-so-nice things can happen to you while you're abroad, too, like having an airline lose your luggage, or getting pickpocketed on the street.
For this reason, having travel insurance is really important.
When it comes to getting sick on the road, your current health insurance provider might already cover you overseas – you'll just need to call and check. If not, you'll definitely want to invest in good travel insurance that will not only cover any health issues that arise, but that will also cover you in the event of a canceled trip or other non-health-related misfortune on the road.
Things to know before your first solo trip
Trip all planned? Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin your first solo trip:
1. Being nervous is normal
Even though I've been traveling solo on and off for years, I STILL get nervous before I leave on a trip. Like, almost-ready-to-cancel-and-just-stay-home nervous in some cases. This is completely normal for even seasoned travelers, though. After all, we're all afraid (to some degree) of the unknown – and traveling is chock full of unknowns!
So if you're feeling nervous on departure day, don't sweat it. I find I usually feel better once I'm on that first flight; the nerves almost always turn to excitement once my travels are actually underway.
2. You don't have to be completely alone
Traveling solo doesn't have to mean that you spend 100% of your time alone. In fact, I've met more people while traveling solo than I have when traveling with others!
There are plenty of ways to meet people safely, too, if you get tired of your own company. Staying in hostels and hanging out in the common areas used to be my go-to, but now that I don't stay in hostels much any more I go on free walking tours or book affordable day trips. Both are great ways to meet fellow travelers.
3. You don't HAVE to love it
Lastly, just because travel bloggers like me sing the praises of solo travel doesn't mean that you have to love it. There's no right or wrong way to travel, and there are some people for whom traveling alone just won't be a good fit.
I personally love solo travel for the complete freedom it allows me, but I know that it's not for everyone. And that's okay!
If you're not sure whether solo travel will be right for you or not, my advice is to start out with a shorter trip just to test it out. No need to plan a 3-month jaunt around the world if you're not sure you'll even enjoy it.
And if you find out that traveling completely alone isn't for you? Don't fret. Maybe a small group tour (where you have a guide to work out the logistics and other travelers to spend time with) would be a better fit.
As I get older, I've found that I like a mix of solo travel and guided trips – sometimes it's nice to just have someone else do all the planning!
(And Intrepid Travel is my go-to for guided small-group trips, in case you're curious. They're super dedicated to responsible, sustainable tourism and offer tours in all the cool places you could want to go.)