Cathy Winston is editor of 101 Singles Holidays, based in London but constantly plotting how to add to her tally of 55 countries. Her first solo trip was to Egypt 17 years ago when all her friends were too skint to come along. It turned out to be addictive…
Looking at people’s Instagram and Twitter feeds, you’d think no-one felt even slightly nervous about taking their first solo travel trip or remotely out of their depth as they globetrotted. Secretly, they’ve all been terrified, lonely, homesick and knackered at least once.
So if you can’t imagine ever setting off to see the world alone or are having second (and third) thoughts after booking, here are the 10 things a first time solo traveller needs to know.
1. Plan (but not too much)
Everything in moderation… Making sure you’ve got your first night’s accommodation sorted, knowing how to get from the train station or airport, and having a vague idea of where you want to visit is great. Scheduling every last minute before you leave totally defeats the point of being your own boss and heading wherever you fancy, whenever you fancy.
2. What’s your travel style?
Extrovert, introvert, depends on the day? The perfect trip is all about how you travel as well as where. If you know you love being surrounded by people, factor in ways to meet them – if you’d rather enjoy your own company, don’t feel you have come back with a thousand new friends. Then when you arrive, push yourself just a bit outside your comfort zone too.
3. It’s all about you…
No trudging around yet another temple if you don’t want to. Spending the whole day in a museum or on a beach if you do. Solo travel is the ultimate indulgence. The flipside to being in charge is remembering you’ve always got to be in charge. If you don’t book the hotel room, check the opening hours, stock up on water, no-one else will.
4. Have a back-up plan
Store photos or copies of your most important paperwork somewhere, whether that’s emailed to yourself or in the cloud. Keep some spare money tucked away just in case too.
5. Trust your instincts
The what-ifs can overwhelm you when you’re travelling solo. But instead of getting paralysed by fear, take a few sensible precautions (like letting someone know where you’ve gone) and start listening to your gut – if it’s telling you this isn’t a good situation, get right out.
6. Meeting people isn’t hard
Solo travel needn’t mean being alone 24/7. Guided group tours or day trips and activities, plus couchsurfing or peer-to-peer sites like Trip4Real mean you can meet fellow travellers and locals more easily than ever. Failing that, put on your friendliest face and smile.
7. The internet is your friend
From keeping in touch with friends and family back home to meeting new people while you’re travelling, getting tips for what to do and actually booking it all, the internet is one of the best things to happen to solo travellers. If you feel like you don’t quite know what you’re doing, don’t worry: this is what google is for.
8. Eating alone is not to be feared
Let’s face it, you’ve got to eat – so before too many days have passed, you’ll have to bite the bullet and do it solo. And discover it’s really not so bad. If you’re nervous, try somewhere where you can sit at the bar, eat out at lunch rather than dinner or check out accommodation with communal tables. If you don’t feel comfortable people-watching over a meal, write up your travel journal or play with your phone. Word of warning about taking a book: e-readers are your friend unless you fancy spending half your time trying to wedge a paperback open with the salt and pepper…
9. Learn the language
Not all of it and not fluently (unless you want to), but being able to say hello, please, thank you and ‘do you speak English’ will get you a long way. And know how to say a firm no – even if you never have to.
10. Pack light
Wherever you go, you’re going to be carrying your own bags. So all the things you’re taking just in case? You probably won’t need them. There’s a reason travellers advise taking half the possessions and twice the money – in my case, the experience of lugging such a heavy backpack around it once tipped me over like a beetle on its back.