By Jessica Russo
In a world filled with so much to see and do, there's no time to wait around for a travel buddy. I mean, really - how many times is that one friend gonna say, "I need to see if I can take off from work?" In the wise words of Kimberly "Sweet Brown" Wilkins, "Ain't nobody got time for that."
You've decided to take a leap for yourself, and we couldn't be happier for you. Planning your first solo trip is incredibly exciting, but it can also be a bit nerve-racking. We get it, and we're here to help. Read through these tips and rid yourself of worry. Your adventure is waiting!
1. Be confident
Yes, you can do this! And yes, this will be one of the greatest experiences of your life! Trust yourself and remember that you are equipped with everything you need. You're strong, you're intuitive, and your thirst for adventure is what got you here in the first place. If you hit a bump in the road, don't let it get you down. The more confident and resourceful you are, the more successful your trip will be.
Boasting an aura of confidence will also help you blend in with locals. If you seem shy and nervous, you'll stick out like a scared tourist. But, if you seem positive and self-assured, people will assume you know what you're doing. Good planning and researching will help you feel confident and comfortable in your destination.
2. Don't have everything planned
There's a difference between a well-planned trip and an overly planned trip. Leave some room for spontaneity! Sometimes, when you pack in too much, you actually experience less. If you're always on the go, it's hard to be fully present. Stay relaxed and don't burn yourself out. While there's beauty in a full day of planned activities, there's also beauty in a day of aimless wandering and experiencing local culture. Find a balance that works for you.
3. But always have a backup plan
Of course, we always hope that things will go according to plan, but that wouldn't be real life, would it? When traveling solo, always prepare for something to go... well, differently than you'd planned. Perhaps an attraction you wanted to visit is closed, or a train that you planned on taking isn't running. Things happen! This doesn't mean that anything will "go wrong." Oftentimes, a change in plans leads to a brand new, unexpected adventure. Who knows - sometimes the unplanned things wind up being the most memorable.
In short: always be prepared with a backup plan. It may mean a little extra prep work, but you'll thank yourself later.
4. Check and double-check
Flight times, reservations, train times - do yourself a favor and double-check everything. Traveling solo is amazing, but it also means there's no one around to say, "Isn't our flight at 8, not 9?" With only one pair of eyes, you're fully responsible.
Tip: Keep a small pocket planner in your backpack. Write down important phone numbers, hotel addresses, your flight times/numbers, and any other important info. You can also keep track of your days and write down when you have tours, activities, or meals scheduled. Sure, you can keep these details in your phone, but what happens when your battery dies or you lose cell service? Sometimes, Dad's right - old-school is best.
5. Let someone know
It's smart to stay in touch with close friends and family. Before you leave for your trip, choose a select few people to be your go-to contacts abroad. Each morning, tell these people where you plan to go, and what you plan to do for the day. Every night, tell these people that you are safe in your accommodation.
An easy way to do this is to create a group-chat with friends and/or family. This way, just one quick text alerts several people of your whereabouts. And in the rare case of an emergency, multiple people seeing your message usually means a quicker response time.
6. Reserve in advance
This goes for every traveler - solo or not. If there's a sight you want to see, a tour you want to take, or a restaurant you want to go to, make reservations way in advance. It's never too early! Some very popular sites and restaurants require reservations months in advance, so no, they won't think you're crazy. There's nothing worse than showing up and being told, "sorry, we're all booked." It's better to be safe than sorry, especially when you're traveling so far.
7. Take only what you need
Take the old phrase, "bring only what you can carry" to heart. When traveling by yourself, there will be no one by your side to help you with your luggage every time you board a train or change hotels. Even if someone is around to help, schlepping around heavy luggage is a pain. Prioritize comfort over cute and bring only what you need with you. And - as always - leave room for souvenirs!
8. Remember that it's okay to be vulnerable
Whether you like it or not, you may be hit with feelings of loneliness, awkwardness, and homesickness along the way. Don't fight these feelings, and don't be mad at yourself for having these feelings. While they won't be the happiest moments of your trip, they will teach you so much about yourself and make you even stronger! Feeling vulnerable is completely normal when traveling to a new country - especially when you're alone. Don't feel like a failure, and don't think for a second that you're the only one. Almost every solo traveler experiences these feelings at some point, and every solo traveler makes it through saying they'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Tip: We've all felt the solo-blues at some point during our travels. Some of our favorite ways to cheer up are: getting something yummy to eat, hopping on a tour with other travelers, seeing a local show or performance, journaling, or calling a friend or family member back home! Try to keep yourself distracted and push through. You got this!
9. Join free walking tours
Almost every big city offers free walking tours. Do some research before you leave to find out where they meet in your destination! Walking tours are a great way to meet other tourists. Also, local tour guides are a great resource for authentic recommendations, so don't hesitate to ask questions!
10. Talk to strangers
Okay, okay - don't talk to every stranger. Trust your gut and be friendly to people who seem approachable. Remember that people are inherently kind, but always use your head. Chat with locals at a bar, make conversation with other tourists, and ask your cab driver about their backstory! Don't be afraid to speak up. You'll be rewarded with an open mind, new friends, and wonderful stories to tell for a lifetime.
11. Pack these items:
- Sealable plastic bags
- A lock
- Portable phone charger
- Emergency contact info card (index card in your wallet)
- Jacket with zip pockets
- Money belt
- Customized first-aid kit (fit to your needs!)
- Cash currency
- Comfortable shoes
12. Forget about what's expected
There is no right or wrong way to travel. The name "solo trip" says it all - this trip should be about you and no one else. Don't worry about what you "should" be doing; do what you want to do. If you want to sleep in, sleep in! If you don't want to go to museums, don't! Each person's solo experience is unique, and that is the beauty of traveling on your own.
13. Email your documents to yourself and a loved one at home
These documents should include: copies of your passport, flight itineraries, hotel confirmations, tour confirmations, etc. While you should always have physical copies of these documents with you, it's important to have digital versions as a backup. If, for some reason, you can't access your email and you need your documents, you can call your loved one and they can read you confirmation numbers, or forward the documents to an appropriate party.
14. Keep a journal
Journaling is a great way to explore your feelings and hold onto memories. At least once a day, jot down where you went, what you did, and how you felt. Have tickets, maps, or brochures from attractions? Stick them into the pages of your journal, like a scrapbook! When you see so much every day, it can be hard to remember everything. Journaling is a great way to keep your adventure alive.
15. Remember to take pictures
It may sound strange, but when flyin' solo, many travelers actually forget to take pictures. When walking around, it's perfectly okay to pause for a minute and snap a few photos! In fact, you should consciously make an effort to do so. Be sure to also take tons of shameless selfies. Don't waste time "feeling weird" - this is your vacation, and if people give you funny looks, remember that you'll never see them again.
Tip: Of course you'll want someone to take your picture in-front of iconic sites - um hello, Instragram! Just be careful about handing over your camera or cell phone to strangers. Especially in Europe, this is a known theft technique. Try to find someone who looks trustworthy - a tour guide, a family of tourists, etc. Again, just trust your instincts.