Solo travel is growing in popularity these days, and for quite a few years now it has been my favourite way of travel. In this post, I’ll share why and how you can travel on your own.
Solo travel has many benefits. I value freedom and independence (that’s probably why I travel so much) and solo travel gives me just that.
Being free to choose the dates of my trips, the destinations I go to and what I do throughout the day is priceless.
But being a solo traveller doesn’t mean I’m actually on my own during my trips. In fact it is rare that I spend a single day on my own. Solo travel doesn’t mean lonely travel.
There are many ways to meet people when you travel, while staying independent. Keeping this balance makes for a happy traveller 🙂
When you go on a trip on your own, you’re often much more open to meeting new people and making new friends. This happens naturally, sometimes you won’t even notice it until later.
You find yourself sharing meals and drinks with strangers, chatting to random people who happen to be in the same guided tour or in the same gallery you’re visiting, or going out at night to party with locals you’ve just met.
I realise that for many travellers, especially female travellers, the idea of solo travel sounds daunting.
Honestly, there’s no reason at all to give up on your plans and dreams. Planning a solo trip abroad is perfectly feasible, with some obvious precautions.
If you’re wondering how to travel alone for the first time or how to improve your experience as a solo traveller, here are my tips.
Join a group tour
This is probably the simplest way to ease into solo travel, if the style is new to you.
It’s not at all uncommon to go on a group tour for people who want to travel and can’t find partners, as their friends are too busy, can’t afford to travel or simply don’t want to.
Interpid travel say on their website that over 50% of travellers on their trips are travelling solo.
The idea behind joining a group where over 50% of the other travellers are also travelling solo, is that you can make friends along the way.
It’s ever so easy in a small group. It’s easy because you’re hanging out with people you already have something in common with, and you’re sharing experiences every day.
If you’re new to solo travel and have safety concerns, a group tour will definitely feel safer.
Look for accommodation where you can meet people
If you don’t join a group tour and want to go solo, remember that meeting people is easiest when you live with them or next door to them.
When you travel solo, you can stay independent and find people to hang out with.
This mean you get to choose when to spend time on your own and when to socialise.
Known as a popular way to meet people, hostels normally have a lounge, bar, TV room or other common spaces where you can easily meet other travellers.
Some hostels offer single rooms, so you can keep your privacy while enjoying the benefits of the common spaces, or you can go for a shared room if you prefer.
This is one of the easiest ways to meet locals.
People who are willing to host guests at their home through CouchSurfing (and similar hospitality exchange communities) are often keen on getting to know their guests.
In my experience, they will not just host you, but will often show you around, take you out in the evening, introduce you to their friends and generally make you feel at home in a foreign city.
I have spent many of my solo travel years surfing couches, and though I’ve been travelling alone, I’ve never been lonely.
This can be a good way to meet locals, depending on the host.
When you search for accommodation on Airbnb, you can select “Private room” and see results only for rooms in people’s houses.
This will not always mean that your hosts will necessarily be willing to hang out with you. In my experience, some do and some don’t. So you may need to check their profile and references to see how prone to socialising they are.
Go to local events
Living with people isn’t for everyone. Sometimes when you travel solo you really need your own private space, be it a hotel room or a studio flat on Airbnb etc.
However, you can keep your social life fresh and active by going out to local events to mix with locals and other travellers.
Go on a guided tour
This is one of the easiest ways to meet people. Most cities offer guided walking tours that you can join.
I like to go on a walking tour on my first or second day in a new city.
It gives you a nice overview of the main attractions, and then you can pick and choose what you want to explore further on the coming days.
Beyond that, it is very easy to talk to anyone on guided tours.
In big cities you may find yourself walking around the city for a couple of hours in a groups of about 20 people (sometimes even more if it’s high season).
There are a lot of gaps between one stop and the next, when you basically just follow the guide. These are great opportunities to chat to anyone in the group.
In most of these tours there’ll be an introductory round at the beginning when everyone says their name and where they’re from and perhaps some other bits of info. This makes it even easier to start a conversation later on.
Since most people on these tours are travelling as well, it’s a good idea to make plans for later with the ones you chat with, say to go out for dinner or visit a museum or anything else you’d like to do. Sometimes I just find myself walking around the city with someone I met on a tour.
Language exchange meetings
These meetings are ideal for meeting people from all over the world. Even if you’re not learning a language right now, there will probably be people at the meeting who want to practice their English.
I say it’s an ideal way to meet people because the whole purpose of the language exchange is to talk to people.
It isn’t awkward to join a group of people who are already in the middle of a conversation at meetings like this – this is actually what you’re expected to do!
You can move between different groups throughout the evening, or stay with those you enjoy talking to most. It’s all very easy going and very friendly.
Meetups around your interests or profession
It’s easier to talk to people when you already know that you have something in common. It’s not just easier, actually, it can also be much more interesting.
Look for events around your interests on sites like Meetup or on local Facebook groups. You might even come across a solo traveller meetup!
I wrote a more detailed guide on how to find events when you travel here.
Keep in touch with people back home
It is so ridiculously easy these days to keep in touch. I still remember the days when I travelled without a smartphone and had to buy phone cards and use public phones…
Use Whatsapp, Skype, Facebook Messenger etc to make free calls and video chats with family and friends. It’s free, so you can do it on a daily basis!
I normally get a local sim card with a nice data plan when I travel, so I can stay connected anywhere. If your home mobile provider offers good rates for roaming, then you may not have to buy a local sim. You can also find free wifi in many places and use to make calls or chat.
Another tip – Let people back home know the details of your trip, the addresses you will stay at and the dates of your flights etc. just to be on the safe side.
Use online travel groups
There’s a wealth of information in Facebook travel groups.
Any doubts or fears you may have about solo travel, you can easily resolve by asking anything you need to know on these groups.
These are usually warm and welcoming groups that keep a positive vibe.
Research safety issues
Not all destinations are ideal for solo travel, of course, but finding out which places are not safe is very easy these days.
It’s quite common to see questions like “Is destination x safe for female solo travellers?” on Facebook travel groups, Quora or TripAdvisor forums.
You can search to see if your question has already been answered, or ask away and you will get answers from locals and travellers.
From my experience as a female solo travellers, travelling alone in Europe is generally quite easy. Still, for each and every place you plan to go to, you want to ask some essential questions.
Questions to consider:
* What is the crime rate like? You can easily find the stats just by Googling the question.
* Are there any warnings about the region that you should take into account? There may be political unrest, or perhaps a general election coming up that might cause some turmoil. It’s worth knowing about these in advance.
* What are the no-go areas in the city? Some cities have districts that are best avoided after dark. Ask on travel groups and mark those on your map.
* Are there religious practices to consider? I put this tip under the title of Safety Issues, because it may affect your safety. If you’re a female solo traveller, check whether you’ll be expected to cover yourself up. Modesty is taken seriously in some places, and whether you agree with that or not, it’s best for your own safety to comply.
Books on Solo Travel
These two books on solo travel will give you more information and advice, including the best solo travel destinations:
|The Solo Traveler’s Handbook 2nd Edition|
Listen to Yourself
This last tip is a bit different.
There may be many reason for you to choose to travel solo – maybe your friends back home have demanding jobs and can’t take time off, or you don’t want to risk your friendships, or your friends can’t afford to go away when you want to go.
But beyond all that, there may be a more profound reason.
You may need to feel the freedom, the autonomy and the independence of solo travel.
Solo travel is also an incredible opportunity for self development.
Facing challenges by yourself teaches you what you’re capable of, and that is such a valuable lesson.
Being away from everyone you know and thus away from many social expectations that rule your day to day life back home, gives you a chance for some introspection.
Away from your ordinary life and the environment you’re used to, you will get the rare opportunity to gain clarity.
You may find yourself thinking about your life, what you want it to look like, how you feel about the way things are.
Your observations might surprise you.
I always write down any insights I get in this process. They sometimes appear just a few days into my solo trip, and sometime after a couple of months of travelling. Then I read them again when I get home.
Be prepared to learn new things about yourself.