Solo Travel can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. You gain a new sense of independence by exploring a place on your own schedule, and you decide exactly where you want to go and what you want to do without anyone holding you back. While it can certainly be very exciting, there are a few important things to keep in mind in order to have a great and safe trip.
Before you go off on your journey, make a general plan of what you want to do. I found it helpful to look at a guidebook or run an internet search in advance to determine what your destination city has to offer and how I can best fit everything into my any time constraints I might have— remember, you won’t have anyone making the decisions with you. Doing this before you leave will save you time, so you’ll be able to accomplish more every day.
Conversely, however, only making a bit of a plan and having a huge adventure when you get there is another option if you’re not pressed for time.
When you’re booking accommodation, don’t just look at cost—look for somewhere with a high safety rating, that’s close to restaurants, and close to public transportation. There are also hostels that cater to certain types of travellers (such as the all-female Hostelle in Amsterdam, which is really nice and safe), and ones that run their own guided tours or pub crawls (like the Four Courts Hostel in Dublin). Make sure to explore all of your options and pick the place where you’ll feel the most comfortable being on your own.
If you’re travelling to a country where language might be an issue, learn at least a few basic phrases. It may be intimidating to approach someone to ask for directions when you’re by yourself, but I’ve found that people are very willing to help out if you start by using a phrase in the local language. Don’t just assume everyone speaks English— it’s rude and close-minded. A little goes a long way when it comes to getting help from strangers. “Hello, do you speak English?” and “thank you” in their own native language are usually enough, but it doesn’t hurt to learn a few more phrases.
Research safety before you leave. It’s really important to know how safe is your destination country and city. Crime statistics are available online, and some websites offer general safety tips and specific safety information about your destination. Safety should be one of your biggest priorities when travelling.
Watch your belongings and never flaunt valuables. Travelling is very exciting, but it’s possible that you’ll be so overwhelmed with the new experience that you’ll forget some very basic travel tips.
Remember that you won’t have a friend looking out for you— no one will be there to watch your stuff when you use the restroom or walk with you from a pub late at night. Don’t ever flaunt valuables or leave your things unattended, and that includes not asking the nice-looking couple at the table next to yours to look after your coat and bag as you go order another latte. People may seem trustworthy, but it’s really better to be safe than sorry— you don’t want to be stranded alone in a new country without your wallet or passport! Also never get into a car or go home with strangers. As adventurous as those may sound, the dangers most certainly outweigh the potential thrills.
Do not use an iPod or mp3 player in public areas. An iPod or mp3 player will block out environmental sounds around you and make you oblivious to your surroundings, therefore oblivious to possible danger. This is not something you want to happen while on your own on the street or in a public area.
Avoid walking through the streets at night or early in the morning. This may seem like common sense, but a young tourist alone at night is a target for crime. If you can, both arrive and depart from your location during the day—nothing attractions attention like a giant backpack! But whether it’s from the airport or the pub, taking a cab to ensure your safety is money well-spent—
it’s the difference between becoming a victim and arriving at your destination safely.
If you are a female on a solo trip, doing research is of utmost importance. Be aware that you must be more careful in certain countries that have a strong religious orientation. You may need to follow a certain dress code. Also, specific behaviors (like a female traveller making eye contact with a male on the street) can be considered highly immodest and inappropriate. So, please be careful and learn the cultural norms!
As a young female, I would never have felt comfortable travelling alone in Cairo, Egypt (where I was harassed even when in a group), but I had a very pleasant time by myself in the relative safety of Geneva, Switzerland.
Unless you meet a group of people in your hostel that you befriend, you’re going to have a lot of time completely to yourself. If you’re like me and have no problem going to a restaurant or pub alone, then great, you’re probably going to have a good time!
But if this is your first experience on your own, a book can make both a fantastic dinner companion and a way to pass the time while in transit. Even if you’re going to a place that’s geared to the solo traveller, such as a museum or concert, I would still bring a book for long queues or intermissions.
I believe one of the primary reasons for travel is to meet other people. So, while you may be travelling solo for self-discovery or the experience of complete freedom, it is always beneficial to connect with other people.
Meeting young travellers in your hostel or at a cafe can give you some companionship, which could really come in handy for both monetary (getting the reduced group price on tours) and safety (people to walk home with).
But keep in mind that while there is often “safety in numbers,” this isn’t always true. Groups do stand out a lot more and can draw attention. Nevertheless, groups are usually better for the simple reason that meeting people from different countries around the world will give the observant traveller new perspectives and make your loneliness go away. And who knows: it’s possible some of these new friends might becoming life-long friends!
If you’re planning to travel by yourself, I wish you the best of trips. I’ve had some of the most incredible experiences while travelling solo. I hope you will too. Just remember— act smart and stay safe!