Setting out on your first solo travel experience is an exciting prospect. It’s exhilarating to know that you can do what you want, when you want, without having to compromise on an itinerary to placate other travelers. It’s also just a little bit terrifying. Who will you talk to? Who will take your fantastic vacation pictures? Who will be your travel buddy for walking alone or navigating new neighborhoods?
Luckily, the benefits of solo travel usually outweigh the risks of being by yourself in a new place. Even still, it’s wise to take some extra precautions while planning your trip so that you can not only have the most relaxing, eye-opening experience, but that you can do so with a peaceful mind.
This is usually the first concern of a solo traveler, especially those who are female or in minority groups. It’s scary to be in a new place all alone — we’ve always been told there’s safety in numbers. Just remember that more often than not, solo travelers set out and return just fine, but to be cautious, here are a few tips to remember:
– Research the area. Be familiar with the general neighborhoods and layout of where you’re going, and do some research to find out if there are any areas you should avoid. There are destinations that are safer than others, and there’s usually a neighborhood or two that you should avoid after dark.
– Plan your transportation. Do your best to avoid getting (or even appearing) lost. If you know what major destinations you’re going to hit, plan your transportation to and from. Know what train you need to be on or where the bus lines go. Also, find out if it’s safer to take public transportation, use a rideshare company, or take taxis in the area you’re visiting.
– Copy your itinerary. Give a copy to friends or a family member back home. Depending on the location, consider sharing your itinerary with the embassy or police information for the region you’re visiting. Set a check in schedule with them, and make sure you stick to it — if you miss one, they should notify the authorities.
– Keep cell service. Sure, it’s more expensive and it can be a pain, but you don’t want to lose your ability to contact help resources or get directions if you’re lost. In the same vein, travel with a spare battery pack for electronics and a paper map that includes transportation lines.
– Trust your gut and use common sense. If you get a weird feeling from a person, get yourself away from them. If an area doesn’t feel safe, then leave. Your intuition is a powerful tool, especially when you’re out of your comfort zone and exploring new places.
– This information isn’t meant to scare you, but rather to make sure you’re prepared. It’s always better to be overprepared for an emergency than to find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
Have a Plan
You don’t have to plan every second of your vacation, but walking out your front door with a destination and no sense of what you’ll do while you’re there is a recipe for disappointment. Don’t get me wrong — you should absolutely leave time for spontaneity — but planning at least a little will save you from serious regret. Plus, when you have an idea of what you’ll be doing, it makes packing way easier. No more “just in case” items, or ending up without your hiking boots when the mountains start calling.
Make yourself a destination bucket list. Write down what made you want to go there (even if it was just a cheap plane ticket and a need to get away) and make a plan accordingly. If you’re traveling for a beautiful blue sea and some tropical weather, research the best beaches and how to get there from your hotel. For foodies, make a list of things you need to taste while you’re there. If you just want to relax, find a spa, a hiking trail, a coffee shop, or whatever your vibe is. You can even divide up your luggage into packing cubes for each day or destination — swimsuit, towel, and sarong for the beach, or a chic outfit (including accessories) for shopping in New York. I saved so much time in Paris by not digging through my luggage and analyzing outfits.
For the rest of the time, leave yourself open to whims. Visiting an amazing coffee shop might lead to a conversation with a barista who recommends a wine bar, where the sommelier tells you about a local theater with an amazing evening show. If you have every second planned, you might miss out on the local gems that tourism articles overlook.
Unplug Your Life
It can be tempting to bring work with you on vacation, especially when you’re traveling by yourself. There won’t be anyone to chastise you for checking email, running a quick report, or returning messages. In fact, as remote work becomes more common, you might be able to stretch your vacation an extra day or two by working while you’re abroad. It’s a slippery slope, though, and if you make yourself available for part of your vacation, you may find yourself on call for all of it. Before you leave, make sure you set clear expectations about when you’ll be available and what the communication requirements are between you and your boss (and don’t forget the time difference).
Once you’re done working, though, be done. Put the laptop down and step away from the work chat. It’s time for you to enjoy your vacation and get back to the basics. No one wants to spend their time abroad with their nose stuck in their phone, so put it in your bag and reserve that battery power for only the absolutely necessary. That travel bucket list you wrote before you left will help you be prepared for a vacation sans-phone; you can research hours, tickets, and transportation for each venue before leaving.
While being off your phone and in the moment might be uncomfortable at first, you’ll eventually find it freeing and invigorating. Relish the time you’re spending without having to be accountable to anyone, and if you start to feel guilty, don’t worry — taking pointed time off will actually benefit your work in the long run.
Take advantage of your unplugged time to feed your soul. Watch the sunset until you’re bored, and then keep watching it. Savor your dream meal without instagramming it first. Shop for clothes that make you feel like you. Slowly but surely, you’re building a bank of memories that are just yours. Quiet moments where you get to enjoy things without social media’s commentary will remind you of what you love, and there’s a profound sense of peace that comes along with just being present for the experience.
Open Yourself to Experiences
Traveling by yourself is a whole new ballgame. You don’t have to compromise on what you want, you can strike up conversation with anyone, and you can change plans at the drop of a hat, and therein lies the beauty. You will learn so much about yourself. You’re going to learn what scares you, what excites you, and what you love about the people you left at home. You might learn that you LOVE to dine alone, or you might hate it because you can’t taste as many things on the menu. Open yourself up to that. Feel everything you feel, embrace unexpected emotions, and give yourself time to watch that sunset.
What other tips do you recommend for a first solo trip? Comment below!