I’ve been on so many solo adventures now that I am often quick to forget how daunting my first time traveling solo was.
On my first trip, I embarked on the 30+ hour journey to Europe and made my way to Paris, Prague, Budapest and London. Since then, I’ve never thought twice about packing my bags and heading off on a trip solo.
But there are so many things I know now that I wish I knew back then, like what to do when you catch the right train but in the wrong direction, or how to convince yourself you’re more adventurous than you really are. Below are my top tips to help you build the courage we both know you have to take your first solo adventure!
1. When packing: less is more
The best piece of advice I was given before I set off on my first adventure solo was to pack my bags, take it all and cut it in half, then put only half back. The old saying “you can only wear one pair of jeans at a time” is remarkably true, moreover, your favourite pair of jeans is always going to be your go to. Anything you need to top up you can purchase along the way, preventing the need for four tubes of toothpaste.
2. Get outdoors, even when you don’t feel like it
There are days when you won’t feel like going outside – be it the weather, the crowds, or that you just feel like resting up for a day and watching some Netflix (trust me, we’ve all been there!) Traveling is exhausting and even more so on your own – you’re always thinking for yourself, there’s no one there to bounce ideas off, and it can be a real drain on your emotions even at the best of times. But the one rule that has saved me all these years traveling solo is to get outdoors even on the days you don’t want to – because no great story begins inside your apartment!
3. Having fewer plans leads to more adventures
As a Virgo, I’ve got a knack for planning my weeks, days and life down to the minute. I’m a list-writer. I get excited about ticking things off. I like to have plans and I like to stick to them. It took me a really long time to get used to the freedom that comes with having less or no plans, and I only really understood the adrenaline rush as I was experiencing it in the back seat of a car driven by two new Bosnian friends who were driving me across the border to Croatia to “go for a swim in the ocean”. These kinds of adventures are the ones that stick out most in my memory and by having fewer plans (or being prepared to ditch them), I’ve had the time of my life.
4. Learning how to be alone is the best lesson you can learn in a lifetime
Solo travel is liberating. It makes you realise how much you don’t need to rely on others and only on yourself. You learn your emotions and why you’re feeling them (often you’re just hangry) and you learn pretty quick how to deal with them. Solo travel is the best way to get in tune with yourself which can be the best lesson you will ever receive in your lifetime.
5. You will make friends and meet people
I’m a really social person around people I know but stick me in a room of strangers and I’ll retreat into myself like a hermit crab seeking shelter. Solo travel has a way of bringing you out of your shell, even if it takes a little while to get used to at first. You soon become equipped in speaking with strangers and a master of small talk, qualities that have an unusual advantage back in “the real world”.
6. There is no right or wrong
When I first started traveling to big cities like London and Paris I wanted to see all of the sights and attractions these cities were known for. I wanted to climb the Eiffel tower, I wanted to hop on a red double-decker bus and I even wanted to ride in a black cab despite the expense of doing so. Other travellers began saying these experiences were “only for tourists” and if you did this or that, you weren’t a traveller. Can’t we be both? Just as much as I love seeing the icons of a city, I love to discover the best coffee shops, chat with locals, go to a flea market… you name it. Don’t get caught up in the jargon of being a traveller OR a tourist, just do the things that bring you joy.
7. Disconnecting will make you connect
Whether it’s leaving the interwebs behind for your journey or just switching your phone off during the daytime when you’re out exploring, disconnecting from the rest of the world has a way of connecting you with the place you are exploring. My own personal rule is to never use cellular data so that the only time I can use my phone is when in a wi-fi zone. Over the past few years, I have limited this more and more, so that now I only use wi-fi first thing in the morning over breakfast and last thing at night after dinner.
8. Take photos, they are your way of going back to a moment
My favourite way to collect moments is by taking photos and videos because after so many adventures it all starts to blur and your mind has a way of storing some memories more prominently over others! The best way to go back in time is through your photos, so go heavy on them!
9. Try new things
I still remember the day I walked into a day spa in southern Germany six years ago donning my turquoise bikini. After doing the rounds of saunas and steam rooms I made a dash outside into the snow for a swim in the pool, only to be yelled at (in German) by the attendant for wearing my bikini. Yep, I was being told NOT to wear clothes. This was a nude spa – oops! It was an oddly liberating experience and since then I’ve promised myself to try new things no matter how odd they might seem at first.
10. Plan your transportation in advance
The only times I have ever felt defeated whilst travelling solo are those when I am lost without any idea of how to pull myself out of the situation. The best way to avoid this feeling is to write down (detailed) plans before you arrive in a new city, down to the bus number you catch and how many stops before you need to get off. Preparation is key!
11. Do buy travel insurance
There are so many times over the past few years where travel insurance has saved me thousands of dollars and a whole lot of stress knowing that the financial burden would be taken care of if I have to go to the hospital (which I have, a few times!)
12. Smiles mean the same thing in every language
Sometimes the language barrier can creep up on you and before you know it you’re feeling more isolated than ever. Remember to smile – it means the same thing in every language!
13. Read a book
The loneliest I have ever felt travelling solo has always been during dinners by myself in a packed restaurant of mostly couples. Do yourself a favour and pack a book to read for those kinds of situations or even just of a night time before bed as a way of winding down.
14. The early bird gets the worm
Waking up early has always been my favourite way to explore a city. Before the rest of the city has woken up I will have already got my bearings, see the city without crowds, and found a good place for coffee before it gets busy.
15. Join a day tour every so often
Traveling solo doesn’t mean you always have to be by yourself and often the most interesting people I have met have been fellow travellers on day tours. Every so often it is nice to accompany yourself with others, hear about their own experiences and get some recommendations.
16. Explore on foot
Seeing a city on foot is undoubtedly the best way to really soak it up, so be sure to pack some comfy footwear! While I’m also a fan of public metro systems, they do have a way of letting the city experience pass you by as you zip around the city underground. Be sure to spend as much time as you can walking – its the best way to experience a city beyond your pitstops!
17. Get your bearings before you explore at night
For my first few trips travelling solo, I was really nervous to walk around a city at night by myself. I soon learned that it shouldn’t be scary or avoided, but you should always know the right neighbourhoods to wander around before you commit. Be sure to avoid pub and bar areas if you can and stick to well-lit streets. Some of the best adventures I have had have been late at night, seeing the city in darkness.
18. You’ll become addicted
It was six years ago when I took my first trip overseas solo and since then I have never looked back. Through boyfriends and best friends, I have still had my best adventures solo and even when I do have someone to travel with, I mostly choose to go alone. Solo travel is hands down the most liberating ways to discover yourself through discovering the world.