Thankyou so much to those who took part in my giveaway! I just announced the winners on Instagram so if you entered, go and have a look! I am making customised goodie bags of gifts and I’ll do it again when I hit 4000 on Instagram. <3
I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while! I’ve been travelling solo for nearly half my life and have a lot of adventurous travelling friends who were happy to share their knowledge, so, as I often get asked how exactly to organise a solo travelling trip, this is the biggest and most informative guide I can possibly write! (Though if you have further questions, ask in the comments and I’ll edit.)
Everybody needs to eat. Everybody needs to sleep. Everybody needs to travel to their destination.
Logistics can get overwhelming but you can do without most things except these three and to be honest, once you have these, the hard part is over.
(Of course if you are on medication, add that to the above list. I’ll cover a medikit later but if you have extra medical needs, take them into consideration.)
Veggie? Vegan? Allergies? When it comes to food, the world is more diverse than many think with a huge worldwide ‘ethical eating’ community but a common concern still seems to be finding food. Look into the country you are visiting and join a facebook group or community dedicated to solo travel and your requirement (e.g. gluten free). The UK and Europe are generally very easy to eat in but parts of South America and Africa have been difficult for my vegetarian friends. In general, big cities have a lot more choice but do your research if you are really worried and make sure you have a supply of you-friendly snacks as a last resort just in case.
Are you a light sleeper or do you crash out anywhere? Does a terrible night’s sleep ruin your day or can you work through it? One thing travelling solo has taught me is that you can take a lot of things in your stride if the experience and adventures are worth it. A shower full of hair and other people’s shampoo? Who cares if you’re seeing Sweden for £15 per night including breakfast!
These are your best options; know yourself- and if you don’t know yourself, test yourself! This guide is about having an adventure. 🙂
- Hotel: You get your own room, they are generally cleaner and you have more security for your belongings but if you want to connect with fellow travellers, you have much less chance of making friends.
- Hostel: CHEAP! Many offer free breakfast, walking tours and plenty of communal activities for next to nothing. I use Hostelworld.com and Hostelbookers.com to book places due to the rating system. Major cons are the lack of privacy, potential grottiness and snorers. Take earplugs, ignore the grime and know yourself- can you cope in a dorm? There’s only one way to find out!
(I’ll address mixed dorms in the safety section.)
- Airbnb: Stay in the home of a local (or a property owned by a local) for a lot less than a hotel rate. There are all sorts of amazing places from rooms in somebodys house to Romany style caravans, tree houses and glass pods! You generally get given a key and the freedom to come and go as you please. You are sometimes able to cook for yourself in the kitchen (check the individual listing). There’s a stringent verification and rating system on the website but the helpline isn’t wonderful. My advice is to sign up and browse, but always always check the host is verified with lots of references, especially from single women. I’ve had wonderful times with Airbnb and most hosts are very happy to tell you where the best places to visit are.
- Couchsurfing: I have only listed this because I know people use this site. It’s a similar set-up to Airbnb but with the expectation that your host is happy to play tour guide and hang out with you. It sounds great but it is less formal/regulated than Airbnb and honestly, I don’t trust it.
If you intend to take a solo trip, you’re probably going to hear horror stories about absolutely everything you could possibly want to do and most of the time, they are just that: stories meant to scare you. However, couchsurfing does not carry the same level of safety that most of the above do and I recommend you stay elsewhere.
- Airport: Want to save money? Book the earliest most antisocially timed flight possible (around 6am- they are the lowest rates) and stay the night in the airport. You don’t have to sleep- if you want, take a book and load up on coffee. If you want to sleep, pick a place on the comfiest bit of floor you can find and wrap yourself in a thick jumper or blanket. Bear in mind some places will move you on from coffee shops- look to see where everyone else is sleeping.
Coach, bus, train, plane? Are you buying your tickets in advance or doing everything on the spur of the moment? Lots of countries have travel passes so you can come and go as you please. If you have a schedule, book tickets well in advance for cheaper prices- especially in the UK. I’ve written a guide to travel here.
Make sure you have directions (preferably a printed map) from the airport or train station to your first nights accommodation.
Once you know how you are getting to your destination (and where you’re sleeping/if food will be easy to find), you can sort out everything else later.
It’s totally okay- and normal- to be nervous! It is more important to feel like a badass adventurer than to actually be one because once you feel confident, you pretty much have ‘awesome adventurer’ status already!
The best way to get your confidence level up is to prepare. Assuming eating, sleeping and travelling is sorted, here’s what’s next.
Pack these things:
Passport, ID/visa, washbag (toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitary products, any prescription medication, condoms), any tickets, insurance documents and itinerary you need, bank card, charger and adaptor, the correct currency.
That’s your essential packing list done. If absolutely nothing else gets packed, it’s not a catastrophe. Pack as lightly as possible- there’s less to lose!
Other things you can pack: snacks, clothes for a few days*, medikit.
* If your trip is longer than a few days then use a laundry service (or wash stuff in the shower) so you aren’t carrying loads of dirty clothes around.
Medikit: Being ill is miserable enough when you’re at home. Prevention is the best cure but if you are worried about getting sick, pack painkillers, blister plasters, allergy medication, indigestion tablets, cystitis meds, cold and flu meds, insect bite cream. And if you get periods, bring more tampons/pads than you think you’ll need!
Bear this in mind: Some countries like Dubai forbid you from taking certain medication into the country. Check the rules, especially if you are going to the Middle East.
Otherwise, don’t over-prepare- you risk ending up with a million lists!. You can pick up most things you have forgotten on the way so just pack the night before and get a good sleep.
Last thing; let people know where you are. There are apps for that. Aron Ralston had to cut his own arm off because he didn’t tell anyone where he was going. So tell somebody back home or at your hotel where you are going and more importantly, when you’ll get back in touch.
Other than running away a couple of times as a teen, my first real experience of ‘going solo’ was my first ever modelling assignment in Madrid, age 19. I hadn’t flown in years, never alone, and I had no idea how to get around. Still, I managed a mini adventure in the five hours I had to spare before my shoot. I tried traditional Spanish hot chocolate, sat in the sun, found a lovely sculptural courtyard and took myself to a mini aquarium! (And as I had no idea there were such things as luggage lockers, I did it with a 30-kilo suitcase full of designer clothing practically welded to my hand.) No matter how short your trip is, your first trip solo will always be an adventure whatever you do. On that subject…
Travelling solo is living in a real-life “choose your own adventure” book. You can do anything you want– if you would rather visit Highgate Cemetery than the London Eye, go for it. It’s your turn to choose whatever you want to do without having to answer to anyone- that’s the beauty of solo travel. Embrace it!
That said, while it is tempting to seek out the familiar- especially if you are feeling daunted and lost, try and try something new. I was recently in a little English seaside town and feeling grumpy as there was no familiar Pret-A-Manger or Marks and Spencer for breakfast. So I googled “breakfast” and looked through the reviews of independent little cafes. The one I found (the next street over) was without a doubt the best breakfast I have ever had!
No matter how organised you like to be, save room for adventures! Plans change, sometimes you make friends, you might want to stay longer in one place or leave another early. Spontaneity is part of the journey!
Once you’ve arrived, there will almost certainly be some kind of shuttle bus or train from the airport, which will take you to the nearest city. Check your map/directions and make sure you can get to your hotel. If you forgot to print the map, use the internet in the airport to get online, find that map and take screenshots.
Once you’re in your hotel, the staff/host will be able to tell you the best way to explore and any areas to avoid- it really varies from city to city. Cork and Dublin are very walker-friendly (literally- they film Game of Thrones in Ireland) 😛 while Belfast is quite a sprawl and you might need to take a bus. Tip from a Brit: If you’re planning to walk around, check distances!! Being from the UK, this is what trips me up every single time I reach the US. What looks like a 20-minute walk is actually about three hours!
Going into the wilderness is great but you don’t want to be stuck there! If you’re doing a serious trek, check the map for the nearest population centres. Knowing roughly how far a population centre is and how long it would take to walk there is an essential thing to know
Check when the last bus or train goes and also if the entire place shuts down at a certain time. Cities usually run late but small towns close early- you don’t want to be bus-less and food-less at 6pm!
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
This is one of the best pieces of ancient advice I could possibly offer. Showing respect will win you respect from the locals- especially in very touristy areas. Trying to get into a cathedral or temple while wearing a bikini is simply rude. It doesn’t matter if the rules are ridiculous (to you), if the locals take their shoes off, take your shoes off. If the locals bow in a doorway, bow in the doorway. Showing respect is the right thing to do anyway but if you have respect from the locals, you’re likely to be befriended, hear tips about places the guide books don’t mention and have the chance to learn some of the language.
One of my favourite things about staying in hostels is the way many people become very patriotic, wanting to share stories and show off our home countries. I once found myself chatting on my bunk with a lady from Iran, swapping pictures of our local wildlife and churches/temples. I was in Holland but learned a lot more about Iran, which challenged my perception of the country. (I’ll blog more about this another time).
Don’t worry if people in hostels seem unfriendly at first. When you first walk into the dorm, you’re an unknown quantity- sometimes all it takes is a friendly hello and the offer of some kind of food from you to get the ball rolling and a conversation starting! Sharing food is actually a great ice-breaker and a must in some countries!
Laughter, food and music are all universal. The best backpacking hostels host dinners and events designed to get you mingling.
Safety concerns seem to really put people off travelling. Just like anything in life, there will always be an element of risk but if you take sensible precautions, you should be absolutely fine. Always write down the emergency services number and police station address.
Walk like you know the place
Think about the way you walk in your home town. You know where you’re going- no hesitation, no distractedly staring at a map in the middle of the street while your bag hangs wide open at your side. Walk like that. Even if you’re a little lost and unsure, duck into a coffee shop or sit down for a second while you check your phone then pick up where you left off. If you look like you’re at home, you present as less of a target.
Do not put yourself in a situation that takes control from you.
This means no hitchhiking alone, getting into a strangers car (you have no idea how safe a driver they are), no getting blind drunk/drugs etc, and be vigilant over your drinks- don’t leave them alone. Solo travel is generally very safe- as long as you remain in control.
Hide extra cash on you. If you’re carrying a backpack, bring it around to your front, especially if you are watching a show in the street. Pickpockets often stand near signs warning you about pickpockets. Why? Because the second you read a warning, you instinctively check your money is still there- and they can now see exactly where it is. Keep aware at all times.
It’s always a culture shock when I leave safe little England, devoid of scorpions! Don’t go out in bare feet, obey warnings about sharks etc and don’t be a douchebag in National Parks (like getting out of a car to pose with a bison.) Places famous for dangerous creatures usually give you lots of warnings. Heed them!
Lost or needing to get out of a situation.
Try to keep calm. This is where we are lucky it’s the modern age and most phones have satnav. Screw your roaming charges for the moment and get yourself somewhere like a public toilet or a doorway you can put your back to and get a map up on your phone. Can’t access the internet? Call somebody. It doesn’t matter if it is 3am at home, somebody who loves you will help you. If you are really really really stuck, find the nearest public place with staff and ask for help.
If you think you are in trouble (but not emergency services level), get to the nearest airport or major train station. Most are staffed 24/7; there’s food, medical supplies, warmth, security and charging points for phones. If you have been the victim of a crime in a country where most people do not speak your language, the airport is a great place to ask for help- most staff will be multilingual.
Men (to and about).
I’m heartily sick of reading travel guides for women with lots of advice about how to minimise your chance of getting at best, catcalled and at worst, raped and murdered. It seems the best way for a woman to avoid being found in a bin is to become a man on the spot but as that isn’t going to happen, here’s my advice:
If you stand out, you are likely to get attention. Sadly, ‘standing out’ includes being blonde, tall, very pale, very dark, very curvy, very thin, very curly hair, tattooed etc etc etc. There is often nothing you can do to stop the attention- especially in places where women walking alone is unusual.
So… against all my usual advice and judgement and much as I hate to say it, try to ignore it no matter how much your skin crawls.
In your home country, you’d have a better read on the situation- will this man turn violent if I yell back at his gross comments about my body? In a place far from home, on streets that you do not know well, you are at a major disadvantage. In catcalling and leering cases, perfect the 1000-yard stare and keep walking. If you’re being groped, by all means push someones hand away and if you like, sternly and loudly say “shame on you. I am somebody’s daughter” or words to that effect.
If things are worse and you are being attacked, fight for your life and go straight to the police so they can do a DNA test. I have found depressingly few international guides but Cosmopolitan did an advice piece about being attacked abroad and Rape Crisis (who also cover other sexual assault) have a page on their UK website.
Men, you can help with this situation! If you see a woman being harassed, please help in any way you can. Here are some practical things you can do to show solidarity against the creeps that give men an unfairly bad name:
– If it’s a large pack-type situation and you are in danger of being harmed yourself, call the police or train guard etc- any authority that could help.
– If it is only one or two douchebags, go over and either pretend she’s an old friend (“It’s YOU! I haven’t seen you in ages!”) or straight-out ask her is she is being bothered. Sadly, many creeps will only leave women alone if they think she is ‘claimed’. Pretending to be a boyfriend is also a good tactic- put yourself between her and the creep but don’t get too huggy with her. She’s got her guard up and you don’t want to give the impression you’re actually coming onto her!
– Be really, really, REALLY annoying. To the harasser. If you’re a naturally extroverted person who can take care of yourself, go up to the guy like a happy puppy and start chatting away oblivious to the fact they’re trying to get lucky, giving their victim the chance to get away.
– Sometimes your mere presence is enough to get a creep to back off. Stand nearby, in her eyeline, close enough that you can step in if needed but don’t immediately go for violence as that puts you at risk. You want to help stop the situation, not escalate it.
– Speak out!! Speak calmly but assertively. “Leave her alone”. “That’s not okay”. “She’s asked you to stop, so stop.” Be calm but don’t be quiet.
Finally, I mentioned mixed dorms earlier. While I book a female-only dorm by default, if there are only mixed ones left, it’s not a big deal to me. A good thing about a dorm room is safety in numbers. Were something to happen, a loud shout can wake people. In mixed dorms, I tend to be very quiet but self-assured and confident. Cultural differences sometimes mean that friendliness could be perceived as flirting so I am less smiley and chatty in a mixed dorm, while remaining polite. In any dorm, I sleep with my valuables in a bag next to my head.
Fortunately I have not been arrested abroad! (touch wood, haha!) but I found this website with good information. https://www.fairtrials.org/i-have-been-arrested-abroad-what-should-i-do/
– As soon as you arrive, make sure you know where these places are:
* 24 hour supermarket, gas station or hotel lobby
* Nearest public transport stop/station
* Pharmacy/medical centre
– If you’re taking a taxi or public transport, write the name of your destination down. If you’re struggling to pronounce it, you can give it to the driver or train conductor. I pronounced Van Nuys as “Van Neeeewwwws” for ages- no wonder nobody know what I was talking about! 😛
– If you’re seriously awesome and trying wild camping (camping without being at an ‘official’ campsite), here are a couple of websites that will help you! Recommended by a very experienced wild camper. For the US: https://freecampsites.net/ For the rest, there’s the app iOverlander. There’s also the website http://ioverlander.com/, but the app works offline, so it’s really an excellent way to find a place to sleep when you’re out and don’t have service.
– Do not worry about eating alone! Take a book with you and enjoy the food. Many Asian places are great for solo diners as the seating is often on long shared benches. If you really don’t want to be around people, ask the staff to package your food up so you can take it back to your hotel for a bed-picnic!
– If you are worried about taxi drivers, get the card of any cab driver that you use from an airport pickup lane, they have to be vetted before they can pick you up.
– Travelling can be stressful on the body. You may be very tired with a dodgy stomach for a couple of days. Get rest and drink bottled/filtered water. You are going to be okay.
– It can be difficult navigating cultural barriers when you’re on your own and there is no answer that will please everyone. That said, a good rule of thumb is this: sharing and learning is a good thing. It makes me ashamed to see tourists eating chips while glued to Sky Sports and whinging that nobody speaks English. Try the local food, listen to the local music, see the local art, talk to the local people. If you are offered traditional dress to wear, food to eat, a dance to try, then go for it- take pictures if the locals say it’s okay, but don’t fool around or do rude impressions. You are not wearing a funny costume so don’t act like a clown. Show respect.
– There are going to be some people who worry and start scaremongering. Ignore anything that is not good advice or encouragement. Solo travel is lots of fun- if you want to do it, get out there!
– You may have a crap time. That’s a possibility. I hope it doesn’t happen but sometimes everything just goes wrong. I once had a two week work trip I dubbed “the tour that went wrong”- I know shit happens but wow, did shit happen. Give it another go. Can you learn anything from it? One of the rules I live by is “expect the unexpected and never leave an experience empty handed”. You might only end up with a story to tell but that’s something. <3
The realisation that there is nobody to ‘save’ you if you are stuck and you will have to figure any problem out for yourself can be daunting and pretty scary but once the initial OMFG feeling has passed, there are few things more freeing and empowering than stepping into a new place and feeling completely confident knowing you’re about to explore it.
It is through my adventures around the world that I have learned to be self reliant, better at problem solving and open to whatever the next adventure is. Good luck! 😀
Where have you gone solo? I’d love to hear about your adventures! <3