Going solo? Good for you. Traveling cross-country or overseas alone can seem very daunting, but time and time again it’s been described as a must-have experience by anyone who has done it. Taking in new surroundings unfiltered by the judgments, tastes or preferences of others gives you the chance to fully indulge yourself and have a completely different experience when traveling.
Individual travel does have its drawbacks, like concerns about safety and budgeting, but a little preparation paired with common sense will go a long way. “Safety in numbers” isn’t always accurate, a solo traveler can blend in easily and won’t attract attention the way tourism groups do.
Before You Leave
Definitely prioritize informing your bank of where you are going and let them know which countries you will be traveling to if you are visiting more than one. There would be nothing worse than having your credit cards frozen because the bank thought your cards were stolen.
Be prepared for any kind of emergency. Create digital and paper copies of your passport, driver’s license, insurance documents, important phone numbers and anything else you may need in case of an emergency abroad. This includes having emergency money. Bring a backup credit card kept somewhere safe or emergency cash in case you lose your wallet. Consider getting travel insurance, which will help you out should you get in a situation where you lose your wallet or passport.
Create an itinerary of what you are doing and where you want to go, and share it with your friends and family. Keep in touch with them regularly, there are many messaging apps available for free downloading that allow you to message abroad without using data. Consider enrolling in STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. STEP is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are looking to save money, think about booking your trip offseason. It’s a great way to save money on flights and accommodations and is a fantastic way to find package deals that will offer discounts on both flights and hotels. By traveling out of season, you can avoid being stuck in huge crowds, and instead find more quiet time on beaches and visiting places on your bucket list without waiting in huge lines.
Always do research on transportation before arriving to your destination if you are traveling by air. The last thing anyone would want after a long flight is to stress about getting to their reserved accommodation. To avoid this, try researching the airport website for public transport connections or ordering a taxi or Uber. If you are staying in a hotel, check to see if they offer transportation from the airport.
It’s important to know how long it takes and how much it will cost you to get from your arrival destination to your accommodation. Watch out for taxi drivers who look to scam tourists. Ask the driver an estimated fare before leaving- if it’s a considerably different amount than what you know is normal, leave and get a different taxi. If you are someone traveling alone, especially a female, it’s always safer to order an Uber or Lyft, as those drivers are beholden to background checks and there will be a logged record of your whereabouts.
If you are booking a hotel, try to book a hotel with a 24-hour front desk, that way you are able to check in whenever you land. If you are looking for more wallet-friendly options, hostels are a great way to save money and meet new people. Whatever accommodation you choose, be your own best council—if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Do some research about the areas you’re staying in and make sure it feel safe.
Traveling solo can be a little lonely at times, so staying in a hostel is a great way to make new friends. It’s a more social environment compared to a hotel and often has common areas. Sometimes hostels will host or give information on bar crawls, tours, excursions and other fun events that are happening in the city you are in.
One of the best direction apps out there might already be on your phone. Offline Google Maps is highly recommended when traveling abroad and when you know you won’t have a connection. It’s simple to set up: go on the Google Maps app on your phone and download the region you will be in. Before you travel or go somewhere you know you won’t have service, save your places of interest, such as attractions and restaurants, and they’ll appear on your offline map. Another great app for navigating underground and metro transport in major cities is City Mapper, which breaks down every step you need to get from point A to point B on your journey.
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh / Pexels.
Staying safe is one of the biggest concerns for solo travelers abroad. There are a few simple tricks to use when traveling alone to give off the impression that you are an experienced native. This will hopefully prevent you from being a victim of more common crimes, like theft.
Don’t be afraid to lie a little if you ask someone for directions. Pretend that you are on a phone call and say: “Could you direct me to the museum? My friend is waiting for me there.” When checking your map and transportation schedules while on the go, try your best to not be over absorbed on your cellphone and pay attention to your surroundings. Doing things like stopping in the streets or on busy sidewalks can make it obvious you don’t know where you’re going.
When at restaurants and cafes, feel free to chat with the waiters and waitresses, they are often some of the best local guides you’ll discover. They can offer you handy tips and recommend places to see that aren’t the usual popular tourist attractions. When dining, opt to sit at the bar or in a booth. It’s not unusual to sit alone in most countries and it might make you more comfortable if you bring a book or magazine to distract you. If you opt to not eat alone in public, consider ordering room service if you’re staying at a hotel or order carry-out from a nearby restaurant.
Don’t be Afraid to Enjoy Yourself
Don’t feel like you can’t enjoy your time when you’re alone somewhere new—just because you’re traveling solo doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to relax, indulge and enjoy yourself!
You are on your own terms and you quite literally get to do whatever your heart desires. Connect with people if you wish or you can avoid them completely if you want some solitude. Shop until you drop or sit in an outdoor cafe and people watch for however long you want. Go out and venture into the unknown by yourself—spend hours exploring one museum exhibit without being pressured to move on by companions. Traveling alone has its difficulties, but if done right it can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever gift yourself.