If you have been thinking about a solo adventure and are not sure where to start or how to prepare, I’m here to help. I’ve got 5 tips for those of you just starting out.
1. Start Local
I always suggest that you venture out and try some of the things you will do while traveling in your own backyard. Yes, you will be in a new place – but if you’ve done it before in your hometown, you’ll find that you will feel more comfortable and confident during the experience in a new location.
Find a street with a few cute shops near by and go on a little adventure. Walk down the street exploring, alone. Find a spot to have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine – sit alone for a while – just watch the people. Engage in some small talk with the staff. Feel it out, see how it goes, are you comfortable? You might try taking a small day trip on your own. Go for a drive and get out of your own neighborhood.
If you are planning to take a train or other public transportation during your trip, give it a try locally. Most public transit is very from place to place. Having done it once or twice will give you some knowledge and experience to draw upon during your solo trip.
Think of it as training. If you were planning to bike across Italy, you wouldn’t wait until you got to Italy to learn to ride a bike. Even if you already know how to ride – you would likely train a bit. This is the same thing, just training for your time alone and your adventure!
2. Get Social
Just because you are traveling alone, doesn’t mean you spend every minute by yourself. One of the most beautiful things about solo travel is the people that you meet. I’ve met some amazing people and have had some very special moments with strangers while I was traveling alone. One of the ways to encourage these kinds of encounters is to put yourself in some social situations.
- Join Meetup or another app that will allow you to connect with locals in an informal way. You can reach out to the organizer and let them know you are visiting and ask if it is okay to join them for an event or two. Most groups welcome visitors and are eager to share their hobby or interest with others.
- You might spend part of your trip working – teach English, WWOOF (Worldwide Organization of Organic Farming), or another “WorkAway” gig. These types of situations will put you in contact with locals and connect you with the area in a special way.
- Join a small group tour with Tours by Locals, Free Tours by Foot or other local tour. If I am interested in a guided tour, I will sign up for one or two of these instead of a big multi-day tour. It allows me time in between to do what I want and gives me a chance to meet different groups of people. I am always eager to meet locals and the guides on these tours are often able to suggest local places for lunch or dinner and other spots to socialize in the area.
- Some solo travelers swear by hostels. I typically sprinkle hostel-stays in my trip. No, there is no age limit and they are not all filled with partying college students. Yes, some of them cater to the party crowd, but that is typically noted in the hostel’s description. I shy away from the hostels that tout beer pong or dance parties at their amenities. I have met professionals (yep, they get up and dress for the work day), seniors, artists and even people with kids. I’ve taken my kids when they were younger. We would stay in a private room, just like a hotel, but we have the benefit of the community areas (kitchen and tv room) at a great price. These community areas are great places to meet other travelers. Head to the kitchen for breakfast or a cup of coffee and chat up some of the other travelers. You might be surprised who you meet!
- Use your travel time to meet up with friends and family. Connect with these folks before you head out, give them a little heads up on your plans and see if you can connect with a few select people during your trip. You might have dinner with a cousin or meet a Facebook buddy for lunch. Whatever you do, enjoy traveling alone can give you the freedom to you can share parts of your journey with friends and family.
3. Relish the Freedom
The beauty in taking a solo trip, is the freedom! You get to make your own decisions on how you spend your time. I have spent days in bed, snacking on some local garb and watching movies, I have gone to a local library and spent the afternoon just daydreaming of places I want to visit. I have baked a cake – because I found the perfect pineapple and wanted a pineapple upside-down cake for dessert. I have gone to thrift stores to check out their wares, I have gone to bed at six in evening, taken a nap in the middle of the day and slept till noon. All without any judgement from my travel partners. I am by myself and I can spend my time how I like.
Let go of what you are supposed to do – and do what you want. Do what makes you happy. It’s okay to nap in the afternoon, or sleep in, and you can skip the line for the big historic monument – and have gelato instead!
4. Location, Location, Location
How do you pick the right destination for your solo adventure? It is a solo adventure, so you have the freedom to chose what works for you. If this is your first time traveling alone and you are feeling a bit nervous, that’s okay, there are plenty of places for adventure that will make the trip less stressful.
Here are a couple things that I consider when I select destinations.
Lodging and ease of movement
Checking to see if there is suitable lodging available in your price range and how I will get around. Is the city or town walkable? Could I rent a bike? What about public transit? If a car is necessary, how do I feel about driving? I typically avoid the rental car option in most places, simply due to cost. But honestly, I feel that traveling by foot or public transit gives me the best opportunities to view the place as a local and to slow down and see the place. But these are all good things to consider when thinking about a place you will be traveling alone.
Language & culture
I find that I really enjoy visiting places with culture, customs and etiquette that is different from my own. I enjoy the “stretch” in my comfort zone. I do consider how different the daily life is in the area I am traveling and most importantly, I consider the language barrier. I am terrible with languages. My first solo trip was in Belize and one of the selling points for me was that everyone speaks English. And even if the national language isn’t English doesn’t mean you will be lost. In Vietnam for example, almost everyone spoke English. Experiencing a different language and culture are essence of travel – but if you haven’t traveled much or if you are apprehensive about traveling alone, minimizing the “stretch” and staying closer to your comfort zone will give you confidence.
5. Practice & Prepare
Taking the “Start Local” tip above a little further, use your time before the trip to practice and prepare for the experiences ahead of you.
Before I went to Costa Rica, I knew I was going to swap SIM cards in my phone to have cell coverage during my stay. I had never done this before. I needed to have an “unlocked” phone and swap my SIM card at the airport. So, before leaving I followed the steps to “unlock” my phone and then found a friend with a different cell carrier and swapped SIM cards to ensure that it would work. I struggled with finding my SIM card and getting it out of the phone. There was a few extra steps to get the phone to see the new SIM card. I found that the “practice” not only made me more confident – I appeared more confident when I was at the San Jose Airport in Costa Rica.
Make a little list of the “new” things you expect to experience when you are on your trip. Whether it is reading a map, taking public transportation, driving in a new location, ordering and eating unusual foods, or connecting to the WiFi at the in café. Now, practice these things, go to a café or library and connect to the WiFi or take a bus or train someone local. Maybe you can’t practice the activity in person, but you can watch videos. I watches several videos on driving in Panama before I landed and drove the three-hundred miles from Panama City to Boquete.
Traveling alone builds confidence and strength, but don’t forget that you can “stretch” your comfort zone before going!