The idea of traveling by yourself, especially for the first time, can be incredibly daunting. You don’t know what to expect of each country, their customs, and their transportation systems, and there’s so much about being on the road that you can never predict or prepare for. Nonetheless, if you’re the type of person who loves adventure and doing things your way or you’ve had maps scattering your bedroom walls for years and never miss a new edition of Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel books — take the leap. Solo travel is one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences you can have, and with a few helpful tips, hopefully you can feel more prepared to pack up and hit the road.
1. Release Expectations
The best part about solo travel is that you get to do exactly what you want to do. Not hungry until dinner time? Don’t stop and eat until 6 p.m.! Want to explore the local park instead of the ancient cathedral? You can — no one’s watching! The first step to successful solo travel is to relinquish the idea that there’s any “right” way to travel, and really give yourself the freedom to do exactly what you want. If you’re paying for you own trip and there’s a day where you just want to read in a park or hang out with a group of cool people from your hostel, you should! Traveling by yourself isn’t going to be any fun if you’re still holding yourself up to what other people would expect you to do while in a new place. As long as you’re trying tradition food, interacting with locals, and seeing something of your destination, you’re doing everything right.
2. Know Your Travel Style
It is important to give some thought to how you want to travel and what you will find most rewarding and plan accordingly. When I travel solo, I love the thrill and freedom of spontaneous planning. On my first solo trip throughout Europe, I had a rough idea of which countries I wanted to visit and vaguely planned a route from Portugal and Spain through Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and up to England. I didn’t book my hostels or bus tickets in advance, but left my trip open-ended and booked just a few days I went somewhere new. This worked exceptionally well for me, and I ended up taking someone I met in a hostel’s advice to skip Vienna and also decided to go to Croatia instead of Amsterdam at the last minute to meet up with a different friend. I was so glad I made both of those decisions and loved having the flexibility of leaving one place at any moment and going elsewhere. However, if you’re the type of person who needs a strict itinerary and tons of time to research your decisions, plan your whole trip from start to finish! There’s no wrong way to travel, as long as it’s right for you. Also, take into account where you’re going. I could plan last minute because bus rides and hostels throughout Europe are universally inexpensive even with last minute booking. Spontaneous travel won’t work somewhere you have to book flights or can only stay in hotels unless you have a lot of extra cash to spend.
3. Stay in Hostels
If you’re the type of person who wants to travel solo, but has a luxury backpacking trip in mind, allow me to try and talk you out of it. Hostels are wonderful, exhilarating, sometimes horrifying places that have been quintessential to the joy I’ve had while solo backpacking. There is no better place to be than in a hostel filled with other young and fascinating travelers. You will meet like-minded and diverse groups of people, find fellow travelers to go out at night with and to museums and sights in the day, make lifelong friends, and get free travel advice. Yes, hostels can be too hot and crowded and have cold showers or unclean communal kitchens, but that’s all a part of the thrill. You’re all in it together, and the very best nights of my solo trips have been those spent in the company of hostel companions. Plus, a hotel or Airbnb is lonely. I promise you, after a few weeks on the road as a solo traveler, you really won’t mind sharing a room with seven other people.
4. Do Your Research
Research is important for a couple of reasons. First of all, research the places you want to visit. You may have heard great things about Bali, but if you would rather spend your time in Turkish ruins than tourist-filled beaches, don’t go to Bali. Solo travel should be all about you, and you’ll only know the right places to go for your specific interests if you spend the time figuring it out. Research is also important for the day-to-day of your trip. As stated earlier, you shouldn’t feel pressure to have to do any one thing in a particular city — but you should at least know what you’re giving up. There’s nothing worse than spending a few days getting drunk in ruin bars and recovering in thermal baths in Budapest, only to realize after you’ve left that you would have killed to go to the Terror Museum. Know what’s available before you plan your days and also be sure you know the customs and manners of any given location. Finally, research your hostels. It’s worth paying a tiny bit more for a central location and warm water — you can find incredible hostels for very low prices so don’t make a rash decision without looking into your options.
5. Your Trip Doesn’t Have To Be Totally Solo
This last piece of solo backpacking advice might be a little counterintuitive. Solo travel is impactful because it forces you to do everything yourself, from endless problem solving and stressful decision making to enjoying beautiful moments and coming to terms with the fact that there’s no one to share them with. However, if you’re going on a really long trip (four weeks or more), you should seriously consider trying to get someone to meet you at a certain destination. Breaking up your trip with a few days in a place with someone you know not only revitalizes your spirit and allows you to relax and let your guard down for a second, but it also makes you appreciate going solo again after they say goodbye. A solo backpacking trip is for you and shouldn’t be a prideful accomplishment — there’s no shame in bringing a friend along every so often to spice things up.