Traveling Alone

Types of Travel

So you've decided to take a giant leap of faith and travel the world. This can be a daunting experience at first, but you will soon realize that the world is not out to get you and places you've been told are dangerous, are actually safer than you think.

In this guide, we aim to get you prepared to do it on your own. Going solo has its challenges, but with a little knowledge and the guts to step out of your comfort zone, anyone can do it!

1. Why travel alone?

Hear new stories and perspectives

There's a lot that can be learned by interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds. Keep an open mind and a willingness to truly understand the people you meet.

It's all about you

Want to sleep in, go out partying or visit certain sights, you are in total control of your itinerary. There is never going to be a time when you are forced to change your plans because of the people you are traveling with (unless you want to).

Solo traveler
Contemplation is a good thing

You'll figure out what's important in your life

Time alone is often spent reflecting on the things that matter to you. When you are traveling solo you will have plenty of time to consider your life choices and realize the aspects of life that are most important to you.

You will learn/discover who you are

It's amazing what we learn about ourselves when left alone for an extended period of time. This is especially true when we are forced out of our comfort zone and left to fend for ourselves.

You can reinvent yourself

Sometimes in life, we just need to press the reset button. If you are at all unhappy with the person you have become, you can do just that and reinvent yourself on your travels. Think about it, you are in a place where no one has any preconceived ideas about your personality.

Have you become selfish or too materialistic? Are you lacking in confidence? This is the perfect opportunity to flip the switch and be a new you.

You become more confident and independent

Since you won't be relying on other people on a day-to-day basis you will need to fend for yourself. Once you realize that you control your own destiny the confidence will blossom inside of you.

If you are shy, it may seem difficult to meet new people, but you will find that this will get a lot easier when you travel alone. Your comfort zone will be pushed each and every day.

You become observant and curious

Things you might have walked by previously now catch your attention. Through necessity, you will become much more aware of your surroundings - for safety at first and curiosity later.

You become fearless

The media plays a huge role in fostering our fear of travel, and life for that matter. When you travel alone, you will see that the majority of people around the world are genuinely good people, willing to help you rather than hurt you.

Dark alley in Vietnam
Dark alley in Vietnam

That being said, there will be times that you will be challenged, and we mean really challenged when you travel. Most likely you will get lost along the way but you will deal with these challenges and discover how powerful and strong you really are. Small issues won't seem so bad when you return.

You become interesting

Oh the stories you will have - "remember that time I was lost in Morocco and ended up being invited to dinner by a local family..." While it is really the fact that you are pushing your comfort zone that is making you interesting, the stories of exotic places and crazy situations don't hurt.

2. Staying safe

Know that being safe is relative

First and foremost, let's give ourselves a little reality check by remembering that things can happen to anyone at any time regardless of our location in the world. In case you don't believe me, just turn on your local evening news. There are probably several examples of unsafe things going on in your very own city right now. Not trying to be pessimistic Patty. Just sayin'. Whether you are traveling with a friend or alone, backpacking in Europe, or going out for a night on the town in your own neighborhood, you can only control yourself and not others.

rickshaw
Trust your gut on what feels right but don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone

Look at it like driving a car. You can control your performance on the road, but you can never predict the danger that another driver may cause. You just can't. So knowing this, why worry like crazy and limit yourself to just your home country anyway? Get out and go!

Make sure someone knows where you are at all times

Your mom. Your boyfriend. Your uncle. Someone close to you should always be aware of your whereabouts when you are traveling far away from home. Before I went to Spain, I compiled my entire itinerary into a single document for five of my closest family and friends to have at their fingertips. This document contained my flight schedules including the name of the airlines and flight numbers. I included other important information such as the hostels I stayed at and the address and contact number. When I rode the bus from Madrid to Barcelona, you can bet my mom was the first one to receive all of my reservation information. Doing this can be very tedious, but it makes your loved ones feel more at ease and it makes you feel better too.

Stay in contact with family and friends

Providing them with all of your itineraries and reservations isn't enough. Always remember to use some form of communication to let them know you've reached your next stop and that you are safe. Whenever I travel, I always use the messaging app WhatsApp to constantly stay connected with everyone. As long as you have wifi wherever you are, you won't eat away at your data and your phone bill won't get outrageously high. Another option is obviously Skype. Whatever method you choose, stay connected

Make copies of important documents

I always make sure to travel with a copy of my passport and driver's license. When I stay in hostels, I tend to keep the originals locked up in my room and I'll carry the photocopies around with me while I explore. That way in the unfortunate event that anything does happen to my purse, I always have the originals right where I left them.

Don't draw unnecessary attention to yourself

Tourists can be spotted from a mile away. From the big fancy cameras that we lug around to the huge maps that we hold close under our eyes with puzzled expressions, we just aren't that hard to spot in the first place. The last thing you want to do is show up in a new country with your largest pieces of expensive jewelry. The easiest way to not attract unwanted attention is to leave those items back home. Also, even if you are a bit confused by which direction you are going, try not to lose sight of your surroundings. Look at the map, but remember to look up too so you seem purposeful and not vulnerable.

girl looking at map
Don't make yourself a target

Go with your gut

It never steers you wrong. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it. If you find yourself in a situation that's not what you expected and you're not having a good time, leave.

Be alert

I was informed before I traveled abroad that pickpocketing is huge in certain areas of the world, particularly in Spain. I always made sure I wore a crossbody bag that stayed positioned toward the front of my body so that I could always feel my belongings. For guys, I'd suggest not putting anything in your back pocket. They love when you do that. It makes their job easier.

Be aware of local scams

Every country has its own scams and shams used to prey on tourists. Scammers love solo travelers because they don't have a group of people to bounce ideas off of or use to gauge whether they are getting a good deal. While this is annoying, you can get around this by being prepared and alert while traveling. Do a bit of research before you go to a new country, just to get an idea of common prices and most frequent traps. Read our Most Common Scams and Shams post, which gives you an overview of some of the biggest scams out there.

Nightlife precautions

3. Fake it till you make it

Fear is natural, embrace it and move forward

All travelers, even the buffest, bravest among us have moments of uneasiness while moving around the world. There is a common expression "if your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough." This can be true for travel as well. More likely than not, if travel doesn't push you out of your comfort zone a bit, you aren't getting as much out of it as you can. Let it scare you a little, move away from what you are comfortable with and embrace the beauty of the unknown.

How to blend in

One of the best ways to not stand out too much while moving around and, actually, to get the most out of your travels, is to blend in with the local population, at least as much as possible. What does this mean? Try to dress modestly and in accordance with what is average where you are going. Take a look at photos from the country before you leave, so you are prepared when you arrive. For example, if locals dress modestly, don't go around in shorts and a tank top. Along the same lines, don't scream tourist. What this means is don't go around carrying bulky gear that draws attention to yourself.

Busy crossing in Japan
Busy crossing in Japan

Observe locals and see how they are acting in whatever scene you are in. If a local coffee shop is packed full of people who are all sitting silently and reading, don't open your laptop and have a loud video call with people from home.

Manage your money properly. Store it in a secure, non-discrete place, and be aware of the local currency before you attempt to pay. Don't spend significant time looking through bills or coins, take the time to know exactly what you are looking for and have your money organized in a way that makes paying easy.

Pretend as if you are at home. Without knowing it, you likely blend into your surroundings on a daily basis, even at home. Do the same when you are on the road and you won't draw unwanted attention to yourself and will more likely than not have an easier time getting people to open up to you, making for a more enjoyable travel experience.

How to look confident

4. Making friends

What to do if you're shy?

The good news for shy travelers or introverts is that it is easier than ever to get to know people on the road. Travel is becoming more and more communal and there are a growing number of ways to meet new travel companions or just have someone to talk to for a day. The tips below are our favorite for getting out of your shell a bit and not feeling so alone while moving around.

Use sites like Couchsurfing or Airbnb

The rise of a sharing economy has opened up some incredible opportunities for travelers, particularly solo travelers. Get to know local hosts who can show you the ropes of a new place and who can introduce you to their friends or other travelers in the area.

Stay in hostels

There is no better way to get to know someone than by spending a night sleeping above or under them in a bunk bed! Hostels are full of other solo travelers and the way they are set up almost forces you to meet new people!

Checking into a hostel
Checking into a hostel

Join group activities or tours

Hostels are also a great place to find group activities and tours, usually at a discounted price. You can also check out Facebook and other online groups from your destination that will also advertise group activities you can participate in. Finally, try the wealth of free or reasonably priced tours in cities around the world, which are also a great option for meeting new people.

Dining alone

Eating alone can be an intimidating activity for many people, but it doesn't have to be. Find places with communal tables or restaurants that let you sit at the bar, where there are usually other solo diners.

5. Useful tips

Contact friends of friends

Take a second to think about how many friends you have on social media. Now think about all the friends each one of those people may have and each one of those people and so on and so on. You actually have tons of indirect contacts in the world, even if you don't realize it right now. Particularly if you have friends who travel regularly or who have lived abroad, you may have contacts in all corners of the globe. Reach out to friends and ask them to put you in contact with other friends. This is a great way to meet new people while traveling and to get a local perspective on your current destination. You may even find a place to stay for free or on the cheap!

Realize the first person you meet doesn't know everything

Trust is usually a good thing, but when traveling it is a good idea to take all advice you receive with a grain of salt. When you first get to a new place, you will quickly realize that everyone has an opinion (and many have a deal to offer). Accept all the information you receive, but just like with the doctor, make sure to get a second (or third or fourth, or fifth) opinion. Does one person tell you that the beach down the street is the best they have ever seen? Ask around, maybe you will find an awesome hidden gem a short walk away. Did someone offer you what you think is the best price you will find for a tour? Check out the prices of other operators and maybe you will be surprised!

Keep your schedule flexible

Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice when traveling, especially when traveling alone, is to go with the flow! Have an idea of where you want to go, but don't be tied down by a super strict schedule. You never know when you are going to fall in love with a place or meet a chill group of people you want to hang out with for a bit longer. Or, if you don't love where you are, you can keep moving on quicker than expected.

If you have the time and the budget, slow down

Slow travel is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Granted not all budgets or work schedules will allow long, slow travel, but if you are fortunate enough to have this option, do it! Staying in one place for an extended period of time can give you the best glimpse into local life. See the world from a different perspective that you miss out on when you are just passing through a place quickly. Nothing beats it!

Keep your expectations low

The rise of social media has inundated us with tons of fantasy images of destinations around the world. This can raise your travel expectations to a level where you are almost guaranteed to be disappointed. Go into travel with few expectations and you will be surprised by how awesome things end up being. In other words, don't set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations.

Take time for yourself

While many think of solo travel as a bit lonely, you will be surprised by how easy it is to be constantly surrounded by people. Make sure to take time for yourself. After all, this is the best reason to travel alone! You will be amazed by how calming it can be to reflect on the here and now and to meditate on what is right before your eyes.

Plan to arrive during daylight hours

Arriving at night, when there are fewer options for transport, fewer people out and about, and fewer options overall can be intimidating and even dangerous. Plan to arrive at a new destination when the sun is out and there are plenty of people around, which in turn means there are plenty of options and you can more easily assess a situation.

girl at airport

Respect the local culture

This is perhaps the best travel advice you can ever get. Remember that one of the reasons you are traveling is to experience something new. Keep in mind that each place you go will have its own culture and norms. Even though you may be a temporary resident of a place, always remember that others call that place home. Regardless of whether or not you may agree with their beliefs and practices, respect them for whatever length of time you may be around.

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