So you’ve decided to see the world on your own – go you, you wild and curious soul! I’m telling you, this is a decision you won’t regret, and speaking from experience, it will be one of the greatest adventures of your life.
Nonetheless, travelling alone comes with some daunting challenges. So I’ve compiled this list of tips learned from my own solo expeditions that all you independent voyagers out there can use in your own planning.
1 - seek advice from a travel agent
I know, I know. It seems really old-hat and wimpy. But if you’re travelling alone for the first time, I highly recommend getting a travel agent to help you out with some of the logistics – especially if you’re travelling to multiple cities. I’m certain I would have been lost without my travel agent if I hadn’t commissioned her for my first big trip, and it was a comfort knowing I could contact her if something went wrong.
I went to a student and youth travel agency that guarantees the best fares for travellers under 26, and I had my agent book my flights and train fares from town to town.
Yes, these are all things I could have done on my own, but utilising a free service that guaranteed the lowest airfares, saved me time, and a lot of stress, seemed like a no-brainer.
The rest of the stuff – accommodation and activities, I took care of myself. Because there is still some fun to be had in planning a big adventure on your own! Plus, there are some things that a travel agent can’t book for you, like my next tip.
2 - when possible, book a room on Air BnB
A con to travelling alone, is not having a friend to split a room fee with – which means your potential cost of accommodation may have just doubled if you’re looking at mainstream hotels.
Enter, Air BnB. I’ll vouch for this service any day (FYI, not sponsored). Out of the six citiesI visited on my first solo trip, in five of those I stayed in Air BnBs.
I booked single rooms in either the owners’ homes, or a BnB-style share house. I had my own bathroom in all of these, but one, and I had a shared kitchen where I could prepare my own meals. This reduced my spending significantly.
Another bonus I found with choosing to stay in share houses, was being able to meet and talk with other travellers from all over the world. A hotel room on your own can get pretty lonely, and it’s nice to hear what other travellers are getting up to, and what they discovered that day, rather than getting advice from a hotel clerk.
3 - always have a plan b, c, and sometimes d
This includes having travel insurance, and your policy number on hand at all times. You never think it’ll happen to you, but sometimes it does. The comfort in knowing I had insurance was the only thing that kept me from going into a full-fledged meltdown when I hit another car in Portland, just ten minutes after pulling out of the rental store’s driveway.
I had more than one experience when things didn’t work out how I’d planned. Sometimes, I had a backup plan, sometimes I didn’t, and other times I was blessed enough to have someone around to save me, which brings us to my next tip…
4 - make friends with locals, and other travellers
I touched on this a little in my second tip. There is so much to be gained from making friends when travelling alone. From those who live in the city you’re visiting, you get local knowledge and personalised tours, and from fellow travellers, you get simple friendship and the shared bond of experiencing a new place together.
I had the pleasure of befriending those who fall in both of these categories. Some were friendships that occurred purely out of a time-and-place kind of fate, and others were cyber friends that I’d made through Instagram, and could finally meet in person.
Out of all the things you can take home from travelling alone, friendship is the most enriching.
5 - buy a sim card when you arrive
FORGET global roaming. Total rip off. If you’re going to be in one country for a considerable amount of time, as soon as you land, buy yourself a local sim card. I tried surviving on wifi alone, but I gave up once I found myself lost (oxymoron?) in San Francisco and wanted to order an Uber / Lyft to get me back on track.
I was overseas for 40 days, so getting a $50 sim card for the entire trip was worth it for me. Other, shorter trips, I’ve managed to get through on wifi – but heck, it’s difficult.
6 - download local public transport apps
If you’re not driving (which is most likely if you’re under 25… hello, exorbitantly priced car rental), public transport is going to be your best friend – that is, unless you get on a bus that’s going in the wrong direction (and that happened a lot too.)
Which is why you should find and download the local public transport app as soon as you arrive. Most major cities have one, and they usually include a location service. So if you have no idea where you are, you can just select where you want to be from “your location” and find out where the nearest bus stop is.
7 - cook your own meal at least once per day
This is another thing I touched on in tip two. Think about it, if you spend just $20, three times a day, on food, that’s $60 a day. Times $60 by seven, and you’re spending $420 per week. Sheesh. And I’ll bet you spend more than $20 on each meal!
My solution is to make one-two of my own meals per day, then enjoy one really nice meal out – usually lunch or dinner.
I’ll go to the local grocery store and pick a few fruits and vegetables, some milk, bread and cereal, for my homemade meals. I find stores that have a bulk item section are ideal, because I can buy only the amount of food that I actually need – such as small portions of muesli.
Call me a weirdo, but I actually enjoy grocery shopping in new places, too. It’s fun seeing all the different products and what I could potentially make out of them!
8 -pack one good book
This is pretty self-explanatory. Long-haul flights, train rides, sitting alone in a cafe – they all call for a good read.
9 - journal every day
These are your memories, and travelling alone means there won’t always be someone with you to share those memories with. When you get home, you won’t have another person to whom you can say “remember that time when…?” but you’ll have your journal, and you can relive your experiences over and over whenever you open it.
I’ve found when looking back over my journalling, that I forgot a lot of what happened during my travels. Maybe not the big parts, but the little moments that although may not carry as much significance as others, just as well made my adventure what it was.
10 - take video footage
We all take photos when we travel, but few of us take video footage.
This was something I only thought to do half way through my 40 day trip, and I’m so glad I started the habit. Video has a different way of evoking memories to photos. It’s no more or less valuable than photos, but there are certain moments that can only be captured on film.
When I got home, I uploaded footage from my iPhone, and put together a little music video that I can watch and reminisce on whenever I want. You don't have to be an expert videographer (as I said, I used my iPhone), and you don’t even have to edit your footage – it’s just nice to have that extra memento to bring home, along with your photos.
Now, go see the world! You got this.