An Easy, Step-By-Step Guide to Becoming A Solo Traveller
Solo Travelling is my absolute passion. I have been a solo traveller for more than 7 years now. I want to share my experience as a solo traveller to share the joys this has borne me. This guide should get you up and running for your first trip as a solo traveller from day one. This easy, step-by-step guide to becoming a solo traveller is also available in a video if you prefer watching instead.
Why Solo Travel?
I went through a lot of trauma in my past and sticking to one place made me felt claustrophobic. I was constantly on the run to avoid facing my feelings and emotions. When I moved to the UK, some 9 years ago, I got the chance to start exploring the neighbouring countries. I quickly leant it fulfilled my emotional needs and I quickly got addicted. I started exploring different parts of Europe I could escape to. Soon enough I hit a roadblock. Most of my friends had normal life patterns and I couldn’t find someone to travel with me and the ‘trips with friends’ soon exhausted its maximum capacity. It was a bit of a blow but then I realised that I could do it on my own without taking someone with me or visiting someone. I took a brave step and became a solo traveller. It has been 7 years now and I have been to so many places solo that I think twice before taking anyone with me.
Solo Travelling is the ultimate friend, companion and teacher if you do it well. There is no right or wrong as different people respond to different things. It has been a game-changer to me. I have confronted my internalised feelings in far off places and found a new relationship with myself that is meaningful and deep.
I am sure, if you are reading this, you are contemplating a trip on your own and trust me it will be a rewarding experience. Here is my set-by-step guide on how to become a solo traveller, and a good one.
Note: Check out my article about Staying Safe While Solo Travelling for some special trip on safety.
The Solo Traveller Mentality
It takes some time to develop the solo traveller mentality but it is an automatic process.
You Are Free to Leave Anytime
This is perhaps the single most important thing when it comes to people’s anxiety about solo travelling. Always remember, if you are not feeling great, you are free to return home at any time, it is not a failure, just an experiment with an undesired outcome. That being said, don’t give up, the time you arrive in a place it is usually dark and you’re tired, don’t base your experience on that, instead, wait for next morning when the places become alive. It certainly helps me.
Keep Your Expectations Realistic
I cannot stress how important this is. a lot of people start with the expectation that they will immediately be surrounded by other travellers and locals, make friends instantly and things will be all hunky-dory. You will have both good and bad experiences, the good ones will be memories and bad ones will become lessons for next time. Real-life travelling isn’t like movies where you instantly make friends but you will meet some interesting people for sure. I always go with an empty mind before leaving. Even better, start on the lower side of expectations so things don’t seem too bad when I actually get there. It has been very few times that things have turned out to be even worse. It was still fun finding some way to survive it all and I mostly laugh about those things now.
REMEMBER, a bad trip doesn’t mean the next trip will be bad, usually, that’s the lowest point and things pick up again.
Keep An Open Mind
This is more important than anything else. The whole point of this adventure is to let your mind soak things that are out of your comfort zone. Different cultures have different ways they interact with you. People in South Asia are very touchy-feely but people in Europe are very conscious of personal space. Showing emotions out and loud is considered a sign of weakness in Western and Northern Europe but perfectly alright in the Middle East. Kissing your same-sex partner is fine in London but kissing your wife in Saudi Arabia could land you in jail for indecency. Observe and adjust, this is your best weapon.
Planning a Solo Trip
This is not a research project but you do want to dabble your feet in this water if you want a smooth trip.
Research & Plan
It is quite important you do some research before booking a trip. The last thing you want it to be stopped at the airport because you don’t have a visa or get sick in Venice and spend all 4 days in a hospital with food poisoning (like me). I always check the main sports I should cover, how to get to my accommodation from the airport or train station and which sim card I should buy if I cannot use my mobile roaming. I’d highly recommend TripIt App which keeps everything in one place and you don’t need to open your emails to look for addresses. Here are my tips for finding the best accommodation.
This will also have the advantage of you not standing in long queues to buy tickets you can buy in advance (and usually at a discounted rate online).
Keep Your Plans Flexible
While it is important to plan and do some research, don’t make very rigid plans where you don’t have any legroom to have spontaneous fun. I usually make a list of things I absolutely want to do and then a tentative list and I sacrifice items from my tentative list. They don’t have to be physical lists, I just keep things in my mind. It works amazing when you meet people who are of the same mindset.
This is a really dangerous area. It can make or break your trip. I always book my flights and hotels and any other tickets in advance and get some idea of how much I will need depending on how expensive the destination is. Then I keep 120% of that amount as budget. Some trips, I use more, some times I use less and in the long run, it balances out.
For more information about how to manage your Finances check my article.
Documentation & Insurance
Always check if you need a visa for a destination, if not sure call the nearest consulate of destination and get the confirmation from them on email. It has saved my ass twice in the past. Also, keep a copy of your passport and driving license at you at all times. You also want to buy travel insurance, it is an absolute must. I usually use my bank’s insurance service which is great. If your bank doesn’t offer it, get an annual policy instead of small trip policies, ti turns out cheaper if you travel more.
Note: Check how many days, it covers you for, usually there is a 90 day limit in the UK.
Choosing Your First Solo Trip
Now that you are mentally ready, got the plan, let’s get the ball kicking and flap our wings. Let’s make you a solo traveller on the ground!
Ideally, you should start local especially if you are nervous about solo travelling. Try a city nearby or within the same country or state. Something you always wanted to see but never found time. Just look around and it could just be a cabin in the woods or a beach weekend away or a trip to the city to explore museums or cafes or partying. Once you are satisfied and the hesitation is gone, move on and start looking further but increase your circle gradually.
Keep your trip short and gradually increase. For my first two years, I mostly went on city breaks in countries around the EU on long weekend breaks. It helped me in keeping my trips short and I was back home before I got bored and I also managed my holiday entitlement well.
Well Known Places First
City Breaks are usually best for starters because they keep you busy, there’s a lot to see and a lot of opportunities to meet other people. Most of the big cities can be done on long weekend breaks which are perfect. There is usually a lot of help and information available for these destinations. If you are lost or bored, there will be support and things to keep you busy.
Go Off Beat Later
As your travelling experience grows, it will be easier to adapt and adjust to less familiar environments. I really like LuckyTrip App for ideas that are within my budget, give it a try.
During Your Solo Trip
Great! You have arrived at your first destination, here are some handy tips on how to make the best of it…
Free Walking Tours
My first thing about arriving in a city is to look for Free Walking Tours. They are the best way to make yourself familiar with the city in a short time and also learn some interesting stuff. It also gives me an idea to make a mental note of which places I have to visit again in detail and which ones to cut off my list (remember we talked about being flexible, it helps here).
Free Walking Tours are also an amazing way to meet other travellers. remember don’t come on too strong, start slow and be nice and please, please, please don’t be sticky and creepy, it makes people run away quicker than you’d imagine. Smile and politeness are your best weapons.
Find Things You Love Doing
Everyone knows what they enjoy and what bores them. It is a good starting point to start exploring. I usually love exploring places the first two days followed by a spa day on the third day. You can learn how to explore a new city here. This is the chill time where I just relax and pamper myself. It keeps things light and I also get to enjoy a fun weekend vibe and not get back home exhausted faced by a long week of work.
Keep Yourself Entertained
I am sure you know what entertains you, find and stock yourself with lots of what keeps you entertained. It could be movies and series, books, sudoku, mobile games, origami, writing, photography, anything, anything that you fancy really. I personally love audiobooks and my Netflix Subscription helps me from getting bored on the planes and boring evenings. As a solo traveller, you are your own entertainment.
Have Lots of Fun but Responsibly
Remember, there is no one between you and having a lot of fun. Walk away from things you don’t find interesting, you are in a foreign land where no one knows you, there is no baggage, you could truly be yourself. You can find more about travelling responsibly here. While doing all of this, you still have to stay within social norms, no one like a dick tourist from abroad.
It is Give-and-Take!
Remember the lists you made? Do follow them. A couple of time when I met people, I completely got busy with their plans. My entire Rio de Janeiro trip was spent on the beach drinking Caipirinhas (not complaining but I feel guilty for not going up to Christ, The Redeemer). It should be a mix of give-and-take. It is also nice to be mindful of others around you the same way.
Develop a Relationship with Yourself
After a few trips, your confidence will grow and you will start enjoying your own company, I promise. The relationship we develop with ourselves is the most precious one. You become aware of your emotions, the past trauma, processing feelings and most importantly a sense of confidence. You learn to dissociate from the need for validation by others. This is one relationship that only gets stronger over the years.
After Your Return Home
Now you have returned home from your happy solo trip, there are still things to do.
Reflect and Learn
It is often difficult to process emotions at the time, especially if you are busy, nervous or scared. I always think a couple days later about what went wrong and how I could make it better or avoid it altogether. For me writing about the trip is usually the best way because it helps me sort through information and emotions both.
Travel, Plan, Repeat
The world is your Oyster! What are you waiting for? I will leave you with my favourite quote by Rumi, it comes from my heart.
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”