I get so many people asking me about travelling alone for the first time, that I thought it was about time to write a blog on it. Yes, solo travel can be the epitome of freedom. There are also challenges, and despite being a major solo travel advocate, I can understand why people can be apprehensive to take the plunge. But trust me, once you have travelled alone for the first time, you will do it again, and again and again!
My personal experience of travelling alone for the first time
I personally didn’t travel completely solo until I was in my 30’s. Up to that point, there was always a relative, friend or boyfriend tagging along. I don’t think I was actually too scared of travelling alone, it’s just that someone always gatecrashed my party! By my late 20s I’d moved to London and frequently hopped across the channel on the Eurostar to friends in France and Belgium. But I didn’t quite see that as solo travel as it was quite close to home and often friends were meeting me the other end. So I moved up the solo travel scale incrementally, I would say!
It wasn’t until my early 30s when I refused to see the year go by without seeing the Blue Mosque in Istanbul that I just booked it and said sod it, I’m doing this. This was the first time I truly felt the incredible freedom and satisfaction of going solo. I was like ‘I’m doing this for me, and no-one else!’
Why people are Apprehensive about Travelling alone for the First Time
It’s easy for me to say ‘just go for it!’ as I’ve been travelling by myself for many years now. But. looking back, I remember being in my early twenties and hearing from a colleague who was taking a year out of teaching to travel the world solo. Wow, they’re brave, I thought to myself. Nowadays, I’m doing it all of the time! And it drives me mad when I hear people say that about me!
But the point is, I remember being the person who saw solo travel as the majestic ideal that was somewhat out of reach, although I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. Sometimes, it’s just about biting the bullet and dipping your toe in the water for the first time.
So many things can go through your mind before you travel alone for the first time. What if I lose all my bags and my money? What if I get into a sticky situation? What if I get bored/lonely/don’t know where to go. Yes, it’s true that any of those things could happen. But it’s more likely that they won’t as long as you have your wits about you and take a few precautions.
In today’s blog, I’m going to bust a few solo travel myths, outline the benefits of solo travel and then offer you some tips on preparation for travelling alone for the first time.
Tackling Myths about Solo Travel
It’s time to address a few solo travel myths and look at the reality of the situation…
Solo Travel is only something that gap year students or retired people do
- Nope, that’s no longer the case. People from all walks of life now travel solo. Career breakers, mature students, digital nomads, yummy mummies. You don’t need a ‘life stage’ to travel solo, you can do it at any age.
Solo Travellers are all confident (quite people can’t do it!)
- Codswallop! In fact, quite people who are more of a ‘lone wolf’ character may find it better to travel alone because you don’t have to be sociable with anyone or try to keep the other person happy! All you need to do is book a few train or bus tickets and you’re off. You might also find you that travelling brings you out of yourself a bit – you may go home more confident than when you set off!
It’s only for people who aren’t married or can’t find a partner
- Bulls**t! Hello, I’m married but still travel solo! Do I want to travel with my husband sometimes? Of course, and we do. But every now and then I want to see what I want to see. Am I gonna miss out on Cambodia just because he doesn’t like the humidity or being templed out? Hell no!
Travelling alone is highly Dangerous
- Well, of course, travelling alone always carries risks. Terrorism is often a threat (here’s why I don’t let terrorism stop me from travelling). There are bad people who con travellers, abuse people and all of the horrible things that we don’t really want to think or talk about. All of these things mean that travelling could be dangerous, but it’s often not, as long as you travel with caution and remain sensible.
Travelling alone for the First Time – Benefits of Solo Travel
I’m not here to make solo travel out to be all peachy. Let me tell you now that there are a few times I’ve been in a pickle. Robbed in Venice, throwing up in Belgrade, maniac driver in Tunisia and a UTI in Bangkok. Yep, all these things have happened to me! But I would always argue that the benefits of solo travel far outweigh the problems that you could experience on the road. Here are some of the benefits of travelling alone…
- Do what YOU want to do! Day in day out, visit what YOU want to visit, eat where YOU want to eat and party when YOU want to party!
- Develop your confidence – forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and meeting people in new situations will help you to grow and develop as a person. I’ve become more confident and more independent since I started to travel solo.
- Meet new friends! When you are travelling the travel friends that you meet on the road will often be on a very similar wavelength to you and with similar interests. Some of my travel friends have become friends for life.
- Learn about the world – learn about history or religion of a country that you never knew about before. Or maybe learn a whole new language (read my Spanish blunders here!). Solo travel will teach you more than any university.
Tips for Travelling Alone for the First Time
So you’ve decided not to let anyone gatecrash your next trip. You’ve picked your destination and booked your flight. What tips do you need for travelling alone for the first time?
It’s easy to think of so many things that you might need for your first time solo travel. But what I’ve found is that you actually need less than you think! Got your passport money and phone/laptop? Packed a few pairs of undies and a couple of changes of clothes? Your good to go! If you couldn’t carry your bag up a mountain for a couple of hours, it’s too heavy! What I’ve found is that almost everywhere you go you can buy something that you need – even in the Sahara Desert!
Always make Sure Someone knows Where you are
It’s a good idea to have someone back home to check in with. Give them a rough itinerary and agree how often you will drop them an email or call to check in. If you really want to go to town with this, there are apps that can help you to track your journey such as Polarsteps. This is as much for your loved ones back home as it is for your safety.
Pre-Book your accommodation and travel at least a few days in Advance
You can book your accommodation in advance through hotels.com and booking.com. Also book your taxis in advance if you are travelling somewhere that you can use Uber or Grab (Asian version of Uber). By pre-booking you are limiting the damage that can be done by the dodgy hotel and taxi touts who are essentially preying on people like you to con you out of your hard earned cash! It also means that you have a log of the mode of transport or where you are staying.
Build it Up!
If you are especially cautious about travelling solo then start small and build it up. For example, if you are living in the UK, maybe do a solo weekend in the next city. Then try a week in Europe. Then go for your month in Asia! By building your confidence bit by bit, before you know it you are on a month long trip to Cambodia, and you didn’t even notice that you were rocking it as a solo traveller!
Don’t Rush It!
I hear so many eager new solo travellers who are so excited to share their itinerary of 5 European cities in 5 days or their four weeks in Asia covering Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Wow, I feel exhausted by just listening to this! Slow it right down to a pace that you can enjoy (I’m a big advocate of slow travel). Take time to absorb the local food and culture. Also, take rest time and time to look after your health.
Pick Your Destination Carefully
Solo travel is great when you are a seasoned traveller and know what you are doing. But if you are less experienced or a first timer, it makes sense to go travelling somewhere that you will feel confident and be well looked after in an emergency situation. For example, you might want to pick a very safe destination such as Iceland, or another English speaking country such as Australia. If you are looking for ideas, check out this article on top solo female travel destinations.
As soon as you have taken the plunge and travelled for alone for the first time, let me know! Comment below – I wanna here your solo travel successes!