by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 20th March, 2019
Solo travel is an amazing way to push yourself out of your comfort zone, build confidence and discover places you may have otherwise missed out on. As exhilarating and fun as it is however, solo travel for the first timer can be very daunting, which is why i've put together a guide to first time solo travel, whether you're a complete travel newbie or have been travelling for years but never alone.
Chances are you're a bit apprehensive about travelling solo, especially if you've never done it before, so let me clue you in on the No. 1 solo travel tip you'll need: self-belief. If you believe that you can do it and enjoy yourself - chances are you'll have a fantastic time.
Generally, the reason solo travellers don't end up having a good time isn't because there isn't a good time to be had, but because they're too scared to go out and chase it.
You haven't got a friend or partner to rely on for entertainment, so you have to put yourself out there and do a bit of socialising - which can be scary - but it's worth it in the end when you've made new friends from across the world and had the time of your life.
If you're on the fence about solo travel, let me convince you once and for all why you should do it. Realistically, there are so many benefits to solo travel that i can't put them all in one paragraph, but the highlight for many people is simply... the freedom.
You can go wherever you like, do whatever you want, be whoever you want to be, without being held back by anything. It's the ultimate escape from reality - you could change your name, dress completely different and try things you never usually would, and no one will pick you up on it.
You can travel somewhere totally new, or visit an old childhood holiday with a fresh perspective.
Although travelling with friends and loved ones can be lot's of fun too, it can also be a logistical nightmare when you're trying to coordinate time off work, spending money, what activities you want to do and so on. None of that stress applies when you're travelling solo!
Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia is the backpackers dream holiday - incredibly scenery, cheap accommodation, awesome inexpensive food and a rich culture with plenty of places to discover away from the tourist hubub.
It truly has something for everyone, from meditation retreats, party sailing trips, island hopping, jungle treks and more.
Although it may be pricier than other solo destinations, there's no denying that Europe has a lot to offer. From the cobbled streets of Paris sipping champagne while you people-watch, to the pristine beaches of Portugal and busy markets of Italy- there's plenty to see and do (and plenty of places to relax and unwind too).
Australia is a backpackers haven, with many young backpackers qualifying for a working holiday visa that allows you to top up your savings while travelling and stay for up to two years, you can explore the incredible wildlife, insane beaches and lively cities all over this beautiful country.
Don't forget to embark on an aussie road trip either, which is practically a rite of passage for backpackers going down under.
Chances are you won't be able to explore everything South and Central America has to offer, but even just a small peek at what these incredible countries have to offer will leave you craving for more.
They are particularly good for the more adventurous backpackers, with plenty of mountains to climb, reefs to dive and jungles to explore. Brush up on your spanish and get to know the locals in Guatemala, or relax by the beach at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica.
Chances are, if this is your first time travelling solo, you'll be pretty nervous about going too far from the safety of home. It makes sense: if everything goes pear-shaped and you end up hurt or otherwise in trouble, being able to catch a quick flight home is a comforting thought, which is why there's no shame in staying close to home for your first solo travel trip.
Wherever you are in the world, there is probably an amazing destination you have yet to discover, potentially on your doorstep. It's okay to dip your toe in the water before you dive in!
If the idea of navigating a foreign country with a different language is daunting, you can always stick to countries that speak english as a second language (many countries in Europe are bilingual) or who are english-speaking.
The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and safe, so make sure to read other travellers reviews about an area. If the vast majority of people say they felt safe and found it easy to navigate, then you probably will too.
Travelling, especially solo travel, can get a bit of a bad rep especially in the media, and this can put people off. In reality however, plenty of places are very safe for solo travellers and it's unlikely that you'll run into any trouble.
One of the biggest worries for most first time solo travellers is "Will I make any friends?" and the answer is - it depends.
If you stay locked up in your hostel room with a book, you probably won't, but if you put yourself out there and try to meet some people, you may well find that the friends come flocking in.
Hostels are a great way to meet people and make friends while travelling - not only are you sharing a room with several other people (which means you have to at least say hello) but most hostels will have some sort of social area and activities you can join.
In popular tourist places, most hostels will have walking tours, quiz nights or activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking and more. If you're on your own and not sure what to do - take advantage of these! It might feel a little awkward at first, but it's an excellent way to meet people whilst having fun, and you'll likely bond as a group - before you know it you'll be chatting like old friends.
If your hostel hasn't got anything on, or it's too pricey, don't be afraid to book group tours and activities with local tourism companies. There will likely be a lot on and probably some other solo travellers on board too that you can get to know. It might be scary at first, but it's much better than trudging around a city alone all day.
Retreats are perfect for the solo traveller because you're almost guaranteed to make some friends with similar interests as you and have things to do. Whether it's a yoga retreat, surfing retreat, hiking retreat or something different, you'll be in a group of people, having fun and hopefully relaxing.
It might be more expensive that a normal solo trip, but if you truly want to have everything handled for you and relax, this could be an option for you.
Last but not least, the most important aspect of making friends when you're solo travelling is putting yourself out there and talking to people. Even if you have to have a drink (or two) to work up the confidence, it's worth it. You might find that some people aren't interested in socialising, and that's okay - but eventually you will find someone who is.
Transportation is a vital part of your travel experience, and there's a lot more to it than just booking.
The times you pick to travel will make or break your trip, it's easy to go for the cheapest options available, but this may be at the expense of your comfort and could end up ruining your plans if you're not careful.
When booking any sort of transport, make sure you consider variables such as how long it will take you to get to the airport/bus station/train station, what time you will arrive at your destination and what time you'll be able to check in at your accommodation.
Some places such as hostels and AirBnB have strict check in times, and you don't want to be dragging heavy luggage around a strange city because you've arrived at nine but check in is at one.
When booking flights, it's important to consider not only time time and price of your flight, but also who you're flying with, what baggage you're allowed to take, how far the airport is from your house and destination accommodation and other details such as meals etc.
If you're on a long haul flight, legroom and decent meals can make a big difference in your comfort - so spending a little more on a better airline might be worth it.
Comparison websites such as Kayak, Skyscanner and even Google Flights can help you to find the best deals on flights for your dates - you might be surprised by the savings you can make, especially if you are flexible on your dates.
Trains and buses are another popular way of travelling, especially for cheap backpackers.
Depending on where you're going, you may find it easier to travel by public transport. Public transport in most European countries for example is pretty good, but in Australia you won't be able to get to many popular destinations or rural areas by public transport alone.
Public transport can be particularly nerve wracking if you're in a non-English speaking country, so if possible, book in advance and make sure you know the details of all your transport and have them on hand.
Don't forget to brush up on some key words and transport phrases in the local language, such as "no entry" "exit" "warning" "arrival" and "departure".
Roadtripping is an excellent way to travel many places, especially if you don't mind driving. In some destinations it's practically the only way to get around (check beforehand to make sure this isn't the situation if you don't have a driving license).
Depending on where you are, hire cars can be either very cheap or very expensive. In off peak times they can often be up to half price than in high season, so it may be worth considering the timing of your trip if you are thinking of hiring a vehicle.
Safety is a priority when you're travelling solo, since you don't have another person to look out for you. Even though most popular solo travel destinations are pretty safe, you can never be too careful.
Theft is one of the most common problems solo travellers come across. Pickpocketers will haunt busy tourist destinations just waiting for someone to get distracted by a monument or put down their camera for two seconds. There is plenty you can do however to avoid having your belongings stolen.
First of all - invest in a theft proof bag, which are designed to make it very difficult for a thief to acces your bag while it's on your back. You may also want to invest in some locks for your bag, allowing you to tie it to a bench or pole and lock it up without anyone being able to grab it and run off (this is especially useful in airports).
Never forget to utilise hostel lockers, and always bring locks with you since many hostels don't provide you with your own. Even if you like the people in your dorm, you can never be too careful, so make sure to lock your stuff up.
Another common problem is getting lost, especially at dark. Although this isn't necessarily going to put you in danger, it is scary and it's better to know where you are and how to get to your accomodation at all times.
There are several ways to prevent this from happening luckily. Your best option is to download a map of the area you are staying in from google maps - this little known function means that you can access a map of your area and directions to wherever you need to go without needed mobile data or WiFi.
Once you've downloaded your map, find a walking tour or improvise one yourself to get to know the area you're in. Find landmarks such as monuments or shops nearby and familiarise yourself with how to get around. You'll be surprised by how quickly you can pick it up.
No matter how independent you are, it's important to let people you trust know where you're going and what time you expect to be back / when they should hear from you.
Make sure family or friends back home know where you're staying and the address of your hotel or hostel. If you're going out, make sure you check in with them so that they know that if don't here from you, something's gone wrong.
Although this can be cumbersome, it's important and good save your neck if you're in a tight spot. Plus it will likely help your family to feel a lot better about you leaving on your own.
It might just be common sense, but it goes without saying that you should exercise extra caution when travelling solo. It's fine to go out and have fun, but make sure you always know where you are, and don't rely on newfound hostel friends to keep you safe, no matter how nice they seem.
On the same vein, try not to get too drunk or party too hard, blacking out in a foreign city and spending the next day with a hangover not only endangers you, but just isn't fun for you or anyone else. Save it for when you're home.
Although I am a fan of the spontaneous discover-it-on-your-own kind of trip, if you're travelling solo for the first time it can be good to have at least a loose itinerary set out so that you won't find yourself bored with nothing to do.
The most important part of making an itinerary you actually want to do is research. If you're going to any popular tourist destination you'll likely find lots of pre-made itineraries created by other travellers, and these are a great start, but you don't necessarily want to rely on them.
Look around at solo travel blogs, youtube videos, tourist websites and any friends or family members that have been to the same area for inspiration and advice. Don't stick to what everyone else is doing either - if you're not that interested in a guided museum tour, don't feel pressured to do it just because it's a "must-do".
Think about what you'd actually enjoy and what you're really interested in. If the beach and a book is all your up for, then so be it.
Once you've got a list of the places you'd really like to go and see, now's the time to start planning out when and how you're going to see them.
Plan out roughly where you want to go on what days and in what order. If there are any specific activities that you're interested in, see if you can book in advance. If you're planning any day trips, look into how you're going to get around. Your plans don't have to be rigid, they can always change, but it's good to have them there.
A key component of any solo travel trip is the exploration. Even if you're going somewhere you've been to a million times before, there's always something new to find. You'll get a lot more out of your trip if you're actively trying to get to know the place.
In order to understand a place, you need to understand its culture. If this interests you, make sure to slot in some time to learn and discover the local way of life, the history and traditions of the place you're staying. Learn a bit of the language and interact with the locals.
Spontaneity when travelling is a lot of fun. When you're not following any particular path and simply trusting your instincts, you're much more likely to find those hidden gems that you wouldn't have otherwise discovered.
You don't have to go mountain biking to do this either, it could be as simple as stepping out your hostel and exploring a city without any intention other than to see what it offers you.
A big concern for many solo travellers, especially first-timers is money. Travel can be very expensive, depending on how you do it, and more than one traveller has found themselves with empty pockets far earlier than expected.
Oftentimes solo travel can be less expensive since you only have yourself to feed and entertain, you can always pick the free attractions and the cheaper hostels if you want to save a bit of cash. Generally speaking, the biggest money-drainer when travelling is food, drinks and transport and activities.
Finding a cheap hostel is easy, finding cheap food on the other hand - not always so. Depending on where you are in the world, finding cheap food could be a breeze, such as in south east asia, or it could be a bit more troublesome, such as in Europe.
You're not at home, so you probably don't know where's the cheapest place to get food, and you don't have access to all your usual cooking equipment, so making your own food can be a bit more difficult. However, it can be done.
The best way to save money on food while you're travelling is simply to make it yourself. Cafes and restaurants will always be more expensive than a home-cooked meal.
Luckily, many hostels do have cooking facilities available, you may just have to squeeze around the other backpackers. Head down to a local food store and find some cheap easy meals like ramen, pasta, mixed veggies or some simple sandwich ingredients. Extra points if you can get cheap fresh veggies from a local market.
If you're tight on cash and want to make sure that you're not going to end up penniless - a budget is the way to go. Work out how much money you want to spend in total, and then divide that into how much money you'll have to spend per day.
If you want to do a specific activity one day, you may need to allocate some more money to that area, and spend a little less on some other day.
Spending money and sticking to a budget while travelling can be stressful and put unnecessary strain on you, so I encourage you to let it all go and relax. At the end of the day, if you go a little over budget or go out for drinks with some new friends - don't stress. It's worth it for the fun and memories you'll have.