Traveling solo for the first time is a daunting prospect, whoever you are. It means taking a leap into the unknown, which is a challenge in itself, and women often face additional stress because in many parts of the world it’s seen as strange for females to go solo.
However, solo female travel is becoming more and more common: there are a host of role models out there, such as Sherry, Jodi, and Janice, who have been travelling alone for years now. They did it, and you can do it, too. Don’t feel like you have to set off on a round-the-world adventure to succeed at solo travel, though — know your limitations and learn as you go.
1. Start small
Just like you wouldn’t do a marathon straight off the bat, it’s best not to do a long trip as your first solo venture. To start with, look close to home: is there a beach or national park near you that you’d like to visit? An event in a nearby city? Plan an overnight or weekend trip there.
If you’re not ready to go completely solo, visit a friend or family member somewhere: you’ll have to travel alone but you’ll have someone to meet you at the other end of the trip.
2. Decide where to go
When you’re ready to head off on a longer trip, it’s time to decide where to go. If you don’t already have a ridiculously long list of dream destinations (is that just me?), check out travel blogs, browse travel guides in your local bookshop, or use Skyscanner’s “everywhere” feature to find the cheapest flights from your closest airport. Enter your airport in the “from” box and “everywhere” in the “to” box, add dates, click search, and you’ll be given a host of options. Make sure to check toandfromtheairport.com to see that the airport you’d be flying to isn’t difficult or expensive to get away from, and check accommodation prices before you buy your flights.
I usually travel with Craig, and we divide the travel planning and on-the-road tasks between us. When I travel alone, it’s a whole different story — suddenly I have to make all the decisions and do all the planning. Our joint travel style is quite laissez-faire; we do the minimum of planning and go with the flow. However, when I travel solo I do quite a bit of extra planning: I book tickets and accommodation a bit more in advance and make sure to know what my transport options are.
I’m not saying to plan every minute of your trip, just make sure you know how you’re getting to where you’re going before you leave, and have at your first night’s accommodation booked. We’ve had some bad luck with bookings falling through recently, so I always have the details of a backup hotel just in case. Also, it’s a good idea to make some basic notes in a notebook in case of technology failure: don’t let your phone battery ruin everything!
4. Be prepared to meet new people
You’re travelling solo, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always be alone. In fact, one of the best things about solo travel is that it’s easier to meet people than when you’re travelling as part of a group, as we tend to interact with our travel companions if we have them. When I’m travelling alone, I’m much more likely to strike up a conversation in a hostel or ask someone for advice in a shop. These interactions add a lot to the experience, and you might end up making a new best friend or finding a temporary travel partner.
5. Enjoy the freedom
Travelling alone means you don’t have to answer to anyone, you can make your own choices and move at your own pace. If you want to sleep until noon or stay out until three in the morning, you don’t have to negotiate with anyone to be able to do what you want. You can stay longer somewhere if you want to, or pack up and leave if you don’t like it; you can plan your day around your own desires. I found this freedom helped me learn about myself — suddenly I needed to decide what I really wanted to do, not what I thought my travel companions might enjoy.
Like everything, solo travel has its challenges. Starting small will help you learn how to face some of those challenges and travel well.
Have you travelled solo? What did you find helpful to do on your first trip alone?