1. Choose the right destination.
Some countries and places are great for solo traveling, some others aren’t.
If you’re a beginner at solo traveling, set the level to “easy” and choose big cities in developed countries as your destination. If English is your native language, you may also select a country where English is an official language—it will make things that much easier.
The basic rule for a beginner solo traveler is: choose a destination where you can easily communicate with the locals and with your loved ones at home. That’s because whenever you feel that you need advice or help, you can quickly get them.
I recommend starting your solo travel experience with big cities. In most metropolises in the world, it’s easy to communicate in English, find a restaurant or cafe, an open shop to buy anything, or working wifi. In smaller towns and villages, these things may be more challenging.
Of course, there are some basic safety rules for choosing a destination – not only for women. Avoid conflict-stricken, unstable countries, even when they’re stunningly beautiful. There will be a better moment to visit them. In big cities, learn which districts are safe and what areas to avoid (at night or in general).
2. Be aware of your limitations.
Don’t be afraid to limit yourself to “touristy” places when you’re new at solo traveling. You don’t have to act like an experienced explorer, and seeing the most touristy stuff in Paris or Rome is still much fun!
Always stick to social rules in a particular country, and learn about its culture.
I also try to avoid solo trekking/hiking. Maybe I’m too soft, but I don’t feel comfortable walking or sleeping in the wild all alone, so I prefer hiking with my friends. There are some exceptions, though. I wouldn’t be afraid if I was doing a very popular hike in an English-speaking country, for example, the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park.
Although, hiking solo has its undoubted charm.
3. Make a day-by-day plan.
I know that spontaneity has its charm, but preparation is the key if you want to stay safe and get the most of your trip.
Always book accommodation at least for the first night (although, I like to have at least a few days planned ahead). You really want to avoid looking for a hotel room when you’re jet-lagged or late in the evening. Searching for a nice place to grab some food near your hotel/hostel is also a good idea. When you plan on traveling by plane, train or bus, find out if you need to book any tickets in advance. Learn if you need to have some cash on you or if there’s an ATM near your hotel/hostel/airport.
It’s good to have a rough plan for your trip. List the places you’d want to see, a few addresses of hotels and hostels nearby, restaurants with good reviews. You can always modify the plan and be more spontaneous, but this list will be something you can stick to whenever you get stressed or overwhelmed.
Besides, spontaneity is often more costly.
4. Choose the right accommodation.
Hostels are probably the best accommodation for solo travelers. Once associated with low prices and students, now they’re practically for everybody!
Hotels, especially chain hotels, tend to look the same wherever you go. Also, most people stay in luxury hotels only when they’re traveling in business. On the contrary, in hostels, you can usually feel the vibe of the place you’re at, and you meet the specter of different people. Plus, hostels are generally much cheaper than hotels.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I avoid hotels. I just choose those with great reviews and unique traits, like boutique hotels or famous hotels (like Marina Bay Sands in Singapore with its famous infinity pool).
Airbnb is another great accommodation option. Apart from renting an apartment from a local, you can also ask a host about the city you’re staying in. Besides, when you rent someone’s apartment, you can immediately feel like a resident in a certain place: start the day in a local cafe, go to the nearest grocery store for a sandwich, have a morning run in a park nearby, etc.
If you’re more sociable and you don’t want to spend so much time alone, you can enjoy the company of your host! Many hosts rent rooms instead of whole apartments.
Couchsurfing is an interesting but sometimes risky option. I chose it a few times during my travels, but I still prefer hostels. If you’re on a tight budget, though, CS can be a good idea, but staying with a proven, well-reviewed host is a must.
5. Pack light.
Pack whatever you need but try to avoid overpacking, which is a common mistake, especially among inexperienced travelers. There’s a good chance that many things you pack won’t be used even once.
Make wise clothing choices – choose those t-shirts, sweaters, pants, dresses, etc., that are versatile and that you can mix and match. You can never go wrong with a white t-shirt, jeans, or a simple midi dress. Pack up to 3 pairs of shoes and be sure they’re comfy. Bring only a small toiletries bag – you can buy shampoo everywhere, and you don’t need to have full make up every day.
If you’re not sure what to bring, make a checklist of everything you think you need. Then generously cross off half of these things. Really.
And by the way, remember that whatever you take, it’s you who will carry your bag along, so taking too much stuff just isn’t convenient.
6. Browse through resources.
There are numerous travel blogs, forums, websites, etc. everywhere. Finding a perfect itinerary, hostels or food recommendations, and any information about your destination became easier than ever before. If you have any questions or seek advice, you can always find an experienced traveler who can help you.
There are also great Facebook groups for solo travelers. When you’re a woman, you can find lots of inspiration and information in the Solo Female Traveling Network, as well as a more general group, Girls LOVE Travel.
7. Talk with your family and friends about your trip.
You’re family and friends might not be as enthusiastic about your trip as you are, especially if you’re traveling solo for the first time. And don’t be defensive about that—many people have some ideas and fears about traveling alone, and they’re probably just worried about you.
If you fear that your loved ones might not support your idea, prepare arguments about why this trip is important to you. Also, tell them about your plan, maybe even hand them a list of the hotels you plan to stay at and places you plan to visit (if you already have all the details). Assure them that you’ll contact them often.
When someone tells you that your plans are unreasonable, then it’s easy to get discouraged. Nevertheless, remember that it’s your life.
8. Find your “why.”
Take some time to reflect on why you want to make this solo trip.
Are there any specific reasons you want to go on this journey alone? Maybe you’re fed up with waiting for others to be decisive enough to go with you. But maybe there’s something more: maybe you want to escape your problems, or you want to find inspiration for your career, maybe you want to face your fears, boost your confidence, or maybe you just want to have some fun.
Whatever your reasons are, reflect on them and honestly answer what your “why” is. This will save you from possible future disappointments.
When was the last time you had time to reflect on your goals and dreams?