Tips for travelling solo
Tips for travelling solo from people who have been there
Words— Kaitlyn McInnis
Travelling solo? It’s easier than you think. From working through loneliness to preparing for the unexpected — writer Kaitlyn McInnis has practical advice for the unexperienced solo traveller. Here are a few tips that’ll leave you feeling safe, confident and ready to book your next solo flight.
Embarking on your first solo trip - can be daunting at best — navigating on your own, filling downtime without someone to share experiences with, getting a good photo... but it can also be a wildly liberating experience. Think about it: you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself. Do you feel like sleeping until noon and spending the whole day at the pool? Go for it. Prefer to get up before the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise? You do you.
That said, travelling by yourself can be a challenging experience — especially if you’re more of an introverted person. It can be hard to leave your friends and family behind and head out on an adventure on your own. Loneliness can creep in at unexpected times, plans can fall through, and things can go completely different than you expected — which is harder to deal with by yourself.
Whether you’re curious about travelling solo, or you’re counting down the days to your first solo trip already, we’ve tapped into our network to get advice from some particularly seasoned solo travellers. Here, how to prepare for, enjoy, and get the most out of embarking on your own.
“Frankly, eating alone is great to do at home, too. This is a phenomenal way to get entrenched in the local culture and even test out the local language if it's new to you,” says Ali Wunderman, freelance travel writer and founder of The Naturalist, “This is a remarkably immersive experience for being an everyday activity. The point here is to not be scared to do things alone, and dining by yourself can be the perfect foray into discovering that there's a lot of power that comes with travelling solo.”
Work through the loneliness
"You might hit a wall. You might think you've had enough and that making friends only to say goodbye forever after 3 days might be overrated. Admittedly, it takes a lot of energy to always be meeting new people, remaining vigilant, and dealing with issues as they come up," says Wunderman, "But this is the real jewel of solo travel, which is finding out who you are when no one else is going to come to fix everything for you. Persevere through those down moments, and you'll find yourself stronger once on the other side."
It’s crucial to be in regular contact with someone you trust. "If you don't regularly update what you do on social media, try to regularly send information about your plans to a trusted person," says Rod, a freelance journalist, “In case of problems, it will be easier for them to contact you. Before leaving, leave a card in your hotel room with information about where you go, what your plans are - in case of problems, it will be easier for the police forces to find you."
Don’t forget your phone
"Verify that your cell phone is unlocked prior to travelling,” says Gisele Seto, Thai yoga massage educator and founder of SETO Synergies Inc. "This way you can benefit from local packages and high-speed connectivity wherever you are. Google Maps is your best friend!"
Rod suggests going as far as having a backup phone—not a smartphone. "First of all, an old phone will never be the object of thieves' desire, so you drastically reduce the risk of theft. Secondly, the battery in such a phone lasts much longer than in a smartphone," he says, "When a smartphone battery lasts 3 days, that's a great result. At Nokia 3310 battery life is 25-30 days and in Nokia8810 20-25 on standby. Energy blackout is no more a problem!"
Distance yourself from home
"It might feel instinctive to share every moment of your adventure with your parents or your pals back home, but constantly updating them on every tidbit can keep you from fully immersing yourself in your journey. Live in the moment!” says Kate Dingwall, a freelance travel writer. “Allocate half an hour a day to social media posts — no one will notice if you don't share your brunch in real time. Leave your phone at the hotel and let yourself fully experience wherever you are. If you really need to share, try journaling or chatting up the local barkeep."
Listen to your intuition
“Our lives are so scheduled and controlled, solo travel provides an opportunity to rely on yourself,” says Ali, “It's unlikely the trip will go according to plan (and what's the fun in that anyway) so it's a great chance to get a feel for your intuition and practice listening to it.”
Skip hotels, and usually skip Airbnb
"If you stay in a hotel, you won't meet anybody. With Airbnb, you might have a chance at meeting someone if you're just taking a room in a house/apartment, but really, most people are there to help get some extra cash or pay rent,” says Tim Forster, editor at Eater Montreal.“There are exceptions (check Airbnb reviews and you might be able to parse them), but don't count on an Airbnb host being willing/able to hang out."
Instead, Tim suggests going for hostels or even Couchsurfing. "Almost every hostel has private rooms, and some can even get fancy, so there's no need to be stuck in a dorm if you're not feeling the travel-on-the-cheap approach. Then it's super easy to socialize in communal areas and have time to yourself if you need,” he says, “Couchsurfing is obviously not for everyone (and I'm aware that men probably have a certain degree of privilege when it comes to safety), but there are verification system and other good safety protocol, and it's a super-wide range of people who use it. What you save in money you may lose in time making requests for people to host you, but do it right and it's a guaranteed in with locals and can lead to the most unique travel experiences."
Use dating apps
"Bumble, Tinder, Grindr, etc, can all work wonders — be clear in your profile (that you're visiting; a line like ‘looking for a tour guide’ can maybe draw the right kind of people), and send a lot of messages: if you're only in town for a few days, people won't necessarily be available to hang out, so cast a wide net, and if someone cool/interesting is responsive, go for it," Tim says, "Having seen straight Tinder, I'm inclined to say that this works better for queer people where there's more of a ‘we could go on a date or be friends’ dynamic, but I think it can work for anyone if you play it right, and are clear with people about if you're down to hang out or do something more."
Appreciate being alone
"You don't have to work around what other people want to do! You don't have to talk to anyone! Or you can talk to everyone! No one will judge you if you eat nothing but croissants and Champagne for breakfast!" says Kate, "I recently biked around the Penedes region of Spain for a week by myself and it was lovely. I could bike at my own pace (meaning, no one could judge me if I walked my bike up the hill or if I made copious Cava stops) and there was a huge feeling of personal achievement once I hit my destination. Though I still haven't perfected the self high-five.”
"This can be more than just being the mysterious stranger sitting at the bar; it can involve going to clubs and such —in some places (Berlin, for example), it's pretty common to head out alone and just meet people at a club (and to a lesser extent, a bar) — and it can be far less intimidating than in say, Canada, where the culture is a lot more restrained and people tend to be a little closed-off," Tim adds.
"This is your permission slip," Ali says, "People will be just fine in your absence, and you're doing the world a service by investing in your dreams. Imagine being 80 years old and looking back to find that you never went out and saw the world when you could. No one wants that kind of regret, so just go do it!"