Travelling alone for the first time can be a really daunting experience.
It seems like every day, whether it be by email, blog comment or an in-person conversation, I hear the following questions and comments.
“How do you like travelling alone? Aren’t you scared? Don’t you get lonely? You must be so brave. I could never do that. I would love to travel, but I have nobody to go with and am too scared to do it alone.”
The truth is, solo travel truly is my preferred way to see the world. I love having the freedom that comes with travelling independently, I have a healthy sense of awareness but try not to be overly fearful, I never get lonely and I really do think that going it alone makes you more likely to meet locals, try new things, make new friends and go completely outside your comfort zone – in the best way.
So, this piece is for anybody contemplating a solo trip, planning one, or trying to figure out if solo travel is really right for them.
First things first, you must work out whether solo travel is right for you.
As much as I adore travelling alone, I must admit, it may not be suited to everyone.
At first thought, you may think that solo travel would really only work for extroverted people, and I can understand why people think this. Extroverts typically find it easy to make friends, have a seemingly never-ending supply of confidence and appear to have a natural ease with both new people and new situations. However, despite this, extroverts can struggle on extended solo trips.
Being able to make new friends easily is an awesome skill, but no matter how good you are at it, sometimes being alone is unavoidable. You may be travelling in off season and find other travellers just aren’t around. You may find yourself in quieter hostels with less of a social vibe. You may only meet groups who aren’t really interested in adding a new person to their circle. You may simply just find yourself alone, and for extroverts – who gain energy by being around other people, this can lead to some pretty intense loneliness.
This does not mean that all extroverts should avoid solo travel, it just means that they are more susceptible to feeling a bit lonesome and may not enjoy their trip as much as they would have had they been with other people.
I identify as an ambivert. Not quite extroverted, not quite introverted, hovering somewhere smack bang in the middle, and I personally believe ambiverts are the most successful solo travellers.
So what is an ambivert?
My personality is a bit of a mixed bag. Like an extrovert, I feel comfortable around new people and can make new friends fairly easily. I like spending time with people and absolutely do enjoy the company of others. However, I absolutely, without a doubt, 110% cannot cope with being around people 24/7. I find that after a certain amount of time with a person or group of people, it starts to drain me. I find myself desperately craving alone time. I need solitude to recharge my batteries – much like an introvert. Introverts tend to be more comfortable with just their own company and own thoughts, and are more than happy to spend extended periods of time alone – something which I see in myself too.
Being an ambivert is like being a chameleon when it comes to solo travelling, I never find myself feeling lonely even when I have been alone for weeks, and I find meeting new people and making new friends fun and exciting too. I get the best of both worlds, which makes solo travel a perfect fit.
So does that mean that introverts and extroverts shouldn’t travel solo?
Absolutely not! But they may find themselves facing a few more battles or ‘down days’ than their ambivert counterparts. As long as they are prepared to face those days head on, then solo travel is still definitely a good option.
Choose a destination that is right for you and your solo travels.
Though the world is full of amazing places, you may find that some places just don’t suit you while travelling alone. Maybe you want someone there to share cocktails with in Fiji; or maybe you don’t feel safe backpacking through India on your own, both of which are totally valid reasons to not want to travel alone!
So find a destination that you not only have the desire to visit, but also feel comfortable with when it comes to the idea of travelling through that destination solo.
Try to find the cheapest flights.
More often than not, flights are most expensive chunk of an overseas trip. So it makes sense that people can spend ages searching to try and find the cheapest flights possible.
My favourite sites to find cheap flights are Adioso and Cheap Flights Australia. I like Adioso because while it may not display the absolute cheapest flights, it can display entire months at a time, which makes it easier to work out on which specific days it will be cheaper to travel.
From there, I move to Cheap Flights Australia. This site is actually pretty damn good at finding bargain flights (gotta love when a site lives up to its name) and if you are not hard pressed for time, can often display flights with super long stopovers (24 hours in Athens? Don’t mind if I do!) which can provide you with extra opportunities to explore places you hadn’t initially planned on, and these are flights that are usually significantly less expensive than more direct routes.
When you have found the flights you want, do not buy them immediately. Here are some other ways to score further discounts:
- If all flights in your desired ticket are with the same airline, check the airlines own website as sometimes buying directly can prove cheaper. However, make sure all the flights are booked on the one ticket, otherwise making tight connections can prove really tricky.
- Take the flights you have found to a travel agent. Travel agents often have policies where they can ‘beat’ any other quotes. It might not be much, but you may save a few extra bucks!
- Buy flights on Tuesdays – statistically speaking, flights are cheaper on this day of the week.
- Wait until something terrible happens. This is a seriously morbid tip, but it is a fact that after any sort of travel related accident/incident or natural disaster, flight prices drop by anywhere from 3% right up to 25%. It may sound insensitive, but it can save you money.
Hostels, hotels, Couchingsurfing and more! Work out which one suits you.
There are pros and cons for all types of accommodation when travelling, it certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all kinda deal.
Hostels are my preferred form of accommodation – especially on extended trips. They are seriously cheap, abundant and often of very high quality. They create an environment in which it is easy to make new friends and meet other travellers, and as such, can be a great way for solo travellers to meet new people on the days when they don’t feel like being quite so solo.
There is a common misconception that hostels are dangerous, dirty or dodgy, but those misconceptions are mostly unfounded. Yes, you do get the occasional shitty hostel, but the same can be said about hotels too. Also, burglary does not run as rampant as people imagine. For the most part, there is a sense of camaraderie amongst travellers, and thefts in hostels are not overly common. However, buy a padlock and keep all your valuables in the provided lockers – better to be safe than sorry!
Hotels are the traditional form of accommodation for travellers and they can be amazing, but there are a few downsides too. Yes, having a room to yourself may seem like an ideal, but it really does make it hard to meet other people when flying solo – and it can really intensify any feelings of loneliness. Not only this, but hotels are usually three or four times as expensive as hostels, rarely have kitchen facilities – which means you spend more on food by not being able to cook, and in my experience – mid-range 3* hotels are far more likely to charge you for WiFi than hostels – which is a bit of a dealbreaker for me.
Couchsurfing is possibly the most cost effective form of accommodation – as it is usually free! Friendly locals (often expats) offer up spare beds or couches and host travellers passing through. No money is to change hands but some form of payment is considered good etiquette – sometimes in the form of a home cooked meal or a few drinks – just a small token of thanks to show your appreciation. Lastly, Couchsurfing can be a little hit and miss, so make sure you read the reviews of your prospective host very carefully before you arrive. It pays off to be a little vigilant.
Get prepared to leave your home country.
There is quite a few jobs that need to be done before any overseas trip.
Firstly, make sure you know where your passport is. Once you have it in your hot little hands, check it and make sure it has at least 12 months of validity and several blank pages. You would not want to risk turning up at the airport and being denied entry through customs.
If you don’t have a passport, it is time to apply for one! Each country will have a different passport application process, but one thing that appears to be universal with passport applications, is that they can take a while – so make sure you have applied at least several weeks (if not more) before your trip is set to begin.
Next step is to buy travel insurance. It pays to purchase travel insurance earlier rather than later, as if you are unlucky and something happens before your trip starts that prevents you from going off on your adventure, comprehensive travel insurance will compensate you for some of the things you have already paid for – such as your flights.
There are thousands of insurance policies and providers out there and it can be hard to know which ones to pick. I personally like Cover-More, but really, the most important thing to look for in any policy is unlimited medical. In the unlikely event that you become injured abroad, hospital fees can be unbelievably exorbitant – like hundreds of thousands of dollars exorbitant! Unlimited medical is a must for any traveller.
Register your travels with the appropriate Government system. In Australia – we have Smart Traveller. This is designed to be aware of where Aussies are in the event of a big natural disaster, act of terrorism etc. You register where you will be travelling and when, as well as listing local contact details and emergency contact details back home. The government can then try to locate you and pass on important information about your well-being and whereabouts to your family. It is not mandatory to register which such a system, but it is smart to do so.
The absolute last thing you want is for your credit or debit cards to get frozen while away. So make sure you ring your bank and let them know when and where you will be travelling, this way they won’t see your (inevitable) ATM withdrawal in Paris at 3am as fraudulent and cancel your card.
If you have any prescription medications, make sure you have copies of your prescriptions as you may need them when passing through customs.
Work out if the places you plan to visit require you to get any vaccinations (eg. yellow fever vax) or would benefit from prophylactic medications (eg. anti-malaria pills) and get them! It is not at all smart to try to avoid getting such vaccines. Also, no matter what your stance on vaccination, some countries will require you to show proof of such jabs before you can enter them, so getting them can be kinda non-negotiable.
Do your research and pack accordingly.
A little research can go a long way. It pays to know what the weather will be like, what electrical adapters you will need, what currency you will need, what visas may be required etc.
Packing light will make your life easier, so try to only pack what you absolutely will need. For example, if you are heading to a sub-zero climate, there is literally no point in you packing a summer dress ‘just in case’. Be realistic! You will thank yourself for it when you are hiking your butt up the thousandth set of stairs with your big ass backpack.
Leave for your trip knowing that solo travel is not always easy.
Like any form of travel, when travelling independently, stuff can go wrong, it is just an unavoidable fact of life.
You may get hopelessly lost, miss a connecting flight, have an airline lose your luggage, find out that your booking has magically become non-existent, get pickpocketed, hate a city, get lonely, end up at the totally wrong metro station or face a million and one alternate scenarios.
When things like this happen, you may find yourself wishing (if even for a second) that you had another person there with you.
However, facing such difficulties on your own can be unbelievably rewarding.
Learning to solve problems, face conflicts and overcome obstacles will change you as a person, usually for the better. Since starting my solo travel life, I have become so much more fiercely independent, more confident and I now have so much more faith in my ability to face whatever the universe throws at me.
There is not a day that goes by that I regret travelling solo.
Lastly, make the most of flying solo and don’t let any opportunities pass you by.