So you’re about to set off on your first solo travel adventure. How many people have tried to give you advice? No doubt you’ve been told numerous times to use common sense, not to talk to strangers and to stick to well lit areas. You probably sat there nodding while thinking to yourself “I’m not an idiot”.
Before I jetted off on my solo travels around Central America I went through all of this. I worried myself silly about Nicaraguan bandits, getting sick from Mexican street food and being eaten by mosquitoes in Panama. While the latter may have come true, l think that’s the worst that happened, so I’d say I coped pretty well!
It’s natural to feel nervous before jetting off alone. So here are a few helpful tips on how to stay safe and make the most of your solo travels.
1. Research, research, research
From how you get the bus in Thailand, and the safest area of Havana, to where the most fun hostel is in Budapest, it’s not just about Googling places. One of my favourite ways to research is by hopping on Instagram. Search by your location and you can see all the photos people have posted recently. Just last week I found the best ramen in San Francisco using this method!
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2. Feeling intimidated by travelling solo? Then book a group tour
My first solo travel experience was a 2 week trip to Mexico. I booked a spot on a group tour of 14 people – a bunch who became great friends. I’m a big fan of group travel. It takes the stress out of the daily admin that goes along with travel and allows you to really enjoy the experience. It’s also a great option when you’re travelling through areas that may seem threatening. I was really glad to have the security of a tour and a local guide while in Honduras.
3. Savvy Packing
Taking care of yourself on the road can be hard at times. One of the best purchases I ever made – sun cream in an aerosol. Finally I can apply my suncream evenly rather than looking like I’ve been assaulted by an iron! I’d also recommend portable battery packs for when your phone battery is running low and padlocks for your luggage and lockers.
4. Allow for spontaneity
I always used to get carried away with tip number one and over plan. It felt safer to know exactly what was happening every single day. Yet some of the most exciting moments on my own have happened when there was an unexpected change. I met a new friend or saw somewhere I’ll never forget and more. Start with a rough plan but allow a bit of breathing space.
5. Get to know yourself
This is something I definitely did during my time travelling solo. There were days when I barely spoke to another human being. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner alone. Wandered around the shops alone. Hit the beach on my own. You get the idea. While I’ve always enjoyed my own company, I wasn’t sure I’d feel very secure spending prolonged periods solo. Before you hit the road, try going out for dinner on your own to see how you feel. It gets easier, especially when the restaurant has wifi! Also, if you’re not sure about the neighbourhood you’re in, grab street food or cook in the evening to avoid any nasty after-dark surprises.
6. Get to know the locals
So your mum warned you not to talk to strangers? Well, sometimes it’s actually a good idea. Throw a little caution to the wind and ask locals where to eat, stay and go out. While in Mexico someone suggested I go to a lagoon called Yal-Ku. It was pretty much deserted, totally magical and one of the best places I’ve ever snorkelled. Thanks for the tip Pedro!
7. Travelling solo doesn’t have to mean you have to stay solo
When you’re fancying company, find out which hostels have a good social scene. Even if you’re not staying there, there’s often a bar or list of activities you can take part in.
8. Be travel efficient
Save a scan of your passport on your email, take out comprehensive travel insurance, let your bank know you’re travelling, send your itinerary to friends and family and make sure you have access to everything you need when you’re away. I changed phone networks recently so that I can use my phone as normal in 18 countries across the world. Being able to access the internet on the go has saved me from a few sticky situations, while also allowing me to be a bit more spontaneous once I’m out and about!
9. Don’t worry if you don’t love every second
If you’re away for a long time it’s only natural to have low points. I travel solo a lot, but I still have my off days. Whether I’m feeling homesick, a bit under the weather or stressed, I try to remember that it’s all part of the travel experience and it’ll pass. I’ve panicked that I’m not enjoying something enough, and that’s made me enjoy it less and less. You have off days back home, so you’ll definitely have them when you’re away. Loosen up and embrace it!
10. Embrace the solo life
Think of all the things you wouldn’t be able to do if you were travelling with others. Want to party until dawn? Go for it! Fancy going to bed at 8pm? You can! What about going on a spontaneous date with someone you just met? Do it, he may be the love of your life! Freedom is one of the greatest feelings in the world and this is your chance to let go and live a little.