All these worries and more (Will I get attacked by bandits? Or my car stuck in a ditch?) plague most travellers before their first solo trip, but quickly evaporate, outweighed by the innumerable benefits. Here, our authors and editors offer their top tips on how to travel alone successfully.
1. Know your strengths
Are you a sociable person who wants to be in the middle of everything? You might go crazy if you can’t communicate, so head somewhere you speak the language.
If you’re more of an introvert, forget the language barrier. Vibrant cities are perfect for people watching, especially if they have a fantastic café culture.
2. Sleep around
Try a homestay or look for room rentals in an apartment – this gives you an automatic connection with residents when you’re travelling alone. As a solo traveller, you’ll have tons of options to choose from. Even if your landlord doesn’t take you out on the town, you’ll at least scoop up a few local tips.
Hostels are of course ready-made for solo travellers too, but you might wind up spending more time with other tourists than with locals.
3. Don’t be afraid of your own company
Being alone for large quantities of time can be daunting – but just roll with it. You might learn to love your own company along the way.
And if you’re feeling particularly social, you can always try to make new friends. Show off your free-agent status by offering to take a family’s photo at a big sight, for instance, or by sitting near a chatty gang at a bar.
4. Just say no
Sometimes, especially in more hospitable and foreigner-fascinated cultures, the attention you get travelling solo can be a little intense. Learn how to say “no, thank you” in the local language, as well as “absolutely not” – plus the local nonverbal gesture for “no”, which is often more effective than both.
Also have local help numbers, such as the tourist police, programmed in your phone. You’ll probably never need them, but just knowing you have them can give you the confidence to deal with awkward situations.
5. Take photos
Making photography a mission, even if it’s just snapping odd little details you notice about a place, gives structure to your day. Your friends at home will appreciate your perspective and the story that comes with it.
6. Eat big
You might be tempted to live on fast food just to avoid awkward restaurant situations. Don’t. In fact, fancy establishments are fantastic places to dine alone. Waiters are happy to help solo diners who smile and say, “I made a special trip just to eat here. What do you recommend?”
Social folks might want to eat at the bar, but there’s no shame in taking a table for two.
7. Get an early start
If the thought of bar-hopping alone makes you die a little inside, just recast your day. Wake up early, enjoy a leisurely breakfast (when all the good stuff is still available on the hotel buffet) and head out for parks, museums and other daytime-only activities. If you pack your day full enough, you’ll be ready for bed by 9pm.
8. Find your people
Use Facebook and Twitter to make connections where you’re travelling. Offer to take local friends of friends out for dinner, and you’ll be surprised how many people take you up on it – everyone likes to be tour guide for a night. Also seek out your interests in your destination – the fan club for the local football team, say, or the chess association.
9. Revel in it
Even if you do get lonely, don’t lose sight of all the things you can do when travelling alone. Some of those perks are tiny – whether that means double-dipping your chips in the guacamole or changing your mind every hour, without worrying about driving anyone crazy.
But the real bonus of solo travel is much larger: pure freedom. You can take the exact trip you want, and even if you’re not quite sure yet what that might be, you’ll have a great time figuring it out.
10. Embrace technology and terrible films
Remember that it’s OK to spend the occasional night in watching the TV in your guesthouse. You wouldn’t be out every night at home, it’d be exhausting, so why would you try and do it for several months abroad?
And a smartphone or tablet is a must now that there is free wi-fi almost everywhere. Among many other things it means you can book your accommodation ahead and ensure a safe pick-up at your destination. If you’re feeling lonely you can connect with home, read the news and podcasts are great for passing time on long journeys.
11. Don’t bury your head in a book
It’s easy to be daunted by travelling alone – and retreating into the pages of a good novel can feel like the perfect way to escape curious stares on public transport or in restaurants.
But going solo means you have a chance to really take in your surroundings, meeting locals and travellers alike along the way; be content to be by yourself, but confident enough to introduce yourself to people when you want to be sociable.
12. Learn a little of the local language
Make the effort to learn a few words and phrases before you go travelling. Just knowing how to introduce yourself, start a basic conversation, order a beer and count from 1–10 makes all the difference. People love to know you’re making an effort and doing your best to interact, even if you’re a little rusty.
13. Be aware of safety
Travelling solo can be both safe and rewarding, but be mindful of safety concerns just as you would travelling in a pair or group. Take care in large cities at night, watch your drinks, be aware of any local scams and keep a close eye on your valuables.