You’ve probably landed on this page because you’re interested in traveling solo for the first time, but perhaps you are somewhat scared to give it a try. I’m here to tell you this: what you’re feeling is totally natural. Your first solo trip can seem pretty daunting, especially if you’re not used to being on your own for extended amounts of time. Traveling alone for the first time might seem terrifying at first, but hear me out! It’s actually an incredible way to see the world.
On the eve of my first solo trip, I was scared out of my wits. I was 18 years old and decided to try out London as a first solo travel destination. All kinds of thoughts flooded my mind as I boarded my flight. Would I be lonely the entire time? How would I manage to get around without any help? Would I chicken out?
Once I landed, however, I instantly felt a lot better. Instead of being weighed down by what other people wanted to do, I had the freedom to choose my itinerary and prioritize what I wanted to do. I made tons of friends of all ages, and truly felt like I got to see a side of the city that I may not have seen if I were in a group. In short, I had a blast!
From then on, I decided to travel solo for the majority of my trips, and I have never regretted it. Over the years, the rewards of solo travel have changed my life, and I’d recommend it to anyone to try at least once.
I understand the fact that solo travel can feel intimidating, so I’ve broken down all of my experiences and advice into a comprehensive post to help you get started. We’re hoping this guide on traveling solo for the first time will assist you in deciding if solo travel is right for you.
Table of Contents
Top Tips on Traveling Solo for the First Time
1. Start Small
When you’re trying a new dish for the first time, you’ll most likely take a small bite to determine if you like it. Solo travel is the same way. For your first solo trip abroad, try planning something that is a bit shorter in length. Therefore, you can get a taste for how to navigate your trip on your own, without having to commit to a long-term itinerary.
2. Choose Social Accommodations
One of the most common fears of traveling solo is being lonely. The best way to avoid being lonely is to…well…make friends. Making friends is much, much easier if you’re staying in a place that is conducive to social interactions. Hostels are typically the best choice for this. If you’re freaked out by the thought of staying in a dorm, don’t worry! Most hostels also have private rooms, many of which are up to the standards of a local guesthouse or budget hotel. Hostel lobbies are a wonderful place to meet other solo travelers and small groups, find people to eat meals with, and just relax in the company of other like-minded people.
3. Minimize Culture Shock
The easiest way to dip your toes into the world of solo travel is to take it easy on yourself. If you’re anxious about your ability to adapt, when planning your trip, choose a destination that won’t give you a ton of culture shock. Places where locals speak your native language and have somewhat similar customs are often a good place to start. I’m not saying that you should stick around in your comfort zone all the time, but choosing your destination wisely can help alleviate some of the anxiety and stress of traveling solo for the first time.
4. Pack Light
What’s worse than trying to navigate around a foreign city without another person to help you? Navigating a foreign city without help, while carrying 3 suitcases and a backpack. The bottom line? Don’t give yourself a needless struggle by overpacking, especially if you’re traveling solo for the first time. A general rule of thumb for solo travel is to only bring what you’re comfortable carrying for at least 30 minutes straight. This way, you can walk from place to place without struggling to lug around your belongings.
5. Ask Your Friends and Family
The best way to make solo travel easier on yourself is to get a little help from the people who know you best – your friends and family! Ask them if they have tips on the place you’re going, or if they know anyone who would be willing to show you around. Whenever I travel solo to a new city, I always simply post a Facebook status asking if anyone has tips or contacts for that place. I almost always get a response, and many of the contacts I’ve ended up meeting with have become fantastic resources and friends. Some of them even offered up a free place to stay!
6. Document Your Travels
Get your camera ready! Sometimes documenting your travels can give you a strong sense of purpose, and can distract you from any negative feelings you might be harboring. Whether you’re documenting things on Snapchat or with a DSLR, figure out how you want to tell your story. Some people prefer to document their trip on social media so others can see and interact, while others prefer to document with a good old fashioned journal and pen. Documenting your experiences can help you remember your trip in the future, and gives you an outlet for expressing how you’re feeling.
7. Don’t Overplan
On your first solo trip, you might be tempted to plan out every little second of every day so you don’t get lonely. However, this method leaves you with little flexibility to pave your own path or be spontaneous. While traveling alone for the first time, try leaving a few spaces in your schedule to simply wander around where the wind takes you. Maybe you’ll meet a friend in the hostel who will explore a new neighborhood with you. Perhaps you’ll run into a neat street festival and want to stop by. Don’t pack your schedule so full that you can’t enjoy these things – they’re often the best part of traveling alone.
8. Take Some Down Time
Stressed, tired, and lonely…that doesn’t sound like a good combination, does it? When you’re traveling alone for the first time, it’s important to take a bit of time here and there for self-care. If you’re tired of walking, take a seat on a park bench for a bit. When you’re feeling the need for a nap, go take one. Don’t deprive yourself of down time, even if it can be tempting to do so.
9. Let Your Intuition Guide You
Do you ever have a bad feeling about something, but can’t pinpoint what it is? That’s your intuition speaking, and it’s usually pretty smart. When traveling alone for the first time, it can be natural to forget your natural gut checks. However, it’s extremely important to protect yourself by avoiding situations that give you any kind of “bad feeling.” If you’re in a situation that makes you feel unsafe in any way, turn around and do something else.
10. Have Faith in Humanity
At the end of the day, humanity is good, and most people are more than willing to help if you need it. Just ask! If you’re on your first solo trip and need some assistance, ask your fellow travelers or hostel/hotel reception. Even if you simply need a recommendation for a place to eat, or need help finding an ATM, people are usually very willing to help you in any way they can. Of course, follow your gut, but let people help you if they are offering.
11. Remember That You’re Awesome
I’m not going to sugar coat it – sometimes, when you travel alone for the first time, it can feel scary or lonely. That’s totally normal! Just remember that you’re doing something really awesome, and you’ll learn a lot from the experience. There have been many times on my travels where I’ve felt like traveling solo was a huge challenge, but I’ve never regretted it. You’re amazing for giving it a try, and you’ll definitely look back on the experience and be glad you did.
Safety While Traveling Solo
When traveling alone for the first time, safety should be your number one priority. Stay out of harm’s way by doing plenty of research on your destination and the specific area where you’ll be staying, and by hiding your valuables. Always bring locks for your bags and keep your passport and cash on your person. When you’re on your first solo trip, you are always better off safe than sorry.
Also, if you’re planning on going anywhere outside of your home country, I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance. Why? Because travel insurance will protect you in nearly every bad situation that could befall you. From life-threatening medical emergencies to petty theft, travel insurance should be a part of any trip you take, especially if you’re traveling solo. (Check out the additional resources section for more information on my personal experience with emergencies abroad, and for a link to our preferred insurance provider.)
- World Nomads – Our Recommended Travel Insurance Provider
- Why You Should Always Buy Travel Insurance While Traveling Alone
- Myths About Traveling Solo (And Why They’re Wrong)
Getting Around While Traveling Solo
Public transit is hands-down my favorite way to get around a new place – it’s a cheap way to get a taste for local life. Metros, buses, and trains can all be forms of public transportation in a city, and they usually cost less than $3-4 USD per ride.
Ride sharing, which has taken over cities in the United States, is becoming increasingly popular in foreign countries too. Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Via are expanding operations all over the world. These ride sharing services are often much cheaper than taking a taxi, and offer an array of options depending on your desired comfort level and urgency.
What more can I say? Walking around a new city can help you open your eyes to its different neighborhoods and personalities, and enables you to find hidden gems you may not have discovered from inside a metro or taxi.
- How to Use Public Transportation in a Foreign Country
- How to Navigate a New City Without Getting Overwhelmed
- How to Learn a New Language Super Quickly
Saving Money While Traveling Solo
One of the trickiest things about traveling solo is cutting costs and saving money. Because you often cannot share rides and meals with someone else, those costs can add up very quickly. However, there are a few ways I like to cut costs and save money while traveling alone.
Stay in Hostel Dorm Rooms
Hostels get a bad reputation where I’m from, but they’re really not bad at all. In fact, some hostels can be quite comfortable and luxurious. If you’re hoping to cut costs on accommodation, staying in a hostel dorm can be one of the best ways to do so. As an added bonus, it’s a great way to make friends! If you’re hoping to book a hostel and are looking for some reviews and information, Booking.com is a wonderful resource.
Take Public Transportation or Walk
Taxis can be quite a humongous money suck, so avoid them whenever you can. Instead, opt for public transportation. Many cities have fantastic public transportation options that cost a fraction of the price of a taxi ride. If you’re visiting somewhere that is very compact and urban, walking is also an extremely cost-effective option. For more information on transportation options, jump to “Getting Around While Traveling Solo.”
Inquire about Half-Sizes at Restaurants
When treating yourself to a sit-down meal, it can be stressful to look at full meal prices on a menu. I always wonder how I’ll be able to pay full price and eat everything alone! Here’s a little-known secret: many restaurants will do half portions of many entrees if you simply ask. This doesn’t work everywhere, but it’s worth a shot, right?
- How to Stay in A Hostel If You Want to Maximize Comfort
- On Dining at a Michelin-Starred Restaurant While Staying in a Hostel
Making Friends While Traveling Solo
Don’t fall for the misconception that solo travel means you have to be alone. Traveling solo for the first time will teach you that you can make friends practically anywhere.
Connect With Fellow Solo Travelers
You won’t meet other solo travelers if you don’t hang out where they are. Usually, you can find fellow solo travelers in hostel lobbies or hanging out at cafes near major tourist attractions. I’ve also met travel friends on buses, trains, planes, and boats too. Stay on the lookout for other people who look like they may be solo – chances are they’re hoping to find a friend or two as well.
No one wants to be friends with someone who looks and acts like a grump. Put on a smile, leave your comfort zone, and make an effort to meet people. If you’re having trouble thinking of how to start a conversation, check out our post on solo traveler pickup lines for some ideas.
If you don’t make friends right away when traveling solo for the first time, don’t sweat it. Keep an open mind and a confident demeanor and you will definitely meet people along the way!
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Have you traveled solo? What tips do you have for someone who wants to travel alone for the first time?
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