Going travelling alone for the first-time can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone but large numbers of people take the plunge and most end up having a positive experience. Here are our top tips for solo travellers to follow that should help make your first backpacking trip a good one.
How to travel solo successfully – 10 Tips
1) Stay in dorms
If you’ve not travelled much before, the hostels vs hotels debate may seem a tough decision but you will quickly discover that staying in hostel dorms will not only be by far your cheapest option, but it will also be your best option for meeting people.
Most people in hostel dorms will be open to making friends and anyone travelling alone will be in the same boat as you. Strike up conversation and suggest going for a meal at dinner time or see if anyone wants to join you in whatever you had planned for the day. Before you know it you’ll have your first travel buddy.
That may come more naturally to extroverts and it won’t be possible everywhere you (sometimes dorms are empty) but dorms are the most obvious place to make a travel buddy, even if it’s only for a day or two.
2) Bring a book or something to play music/podcasts on
When packing for a backpacking trip, you don’t want to take all your most expensive electronic items. However it’s certainly advisable to at least take something to keep you occupied during those quieter times, particularly as a solo traveller.
As backpacking tips go, this might sound fairly obvious but solo travel can be lonely and bus, plane and train journeys can be long and will certainly seem much longer if you don’t have anything to kill time with. Most travellers take their mobile with them which will serve most of your audio entertainment needs. You may also want to take a spare battery or power port if you’re going to be doing night buses and long-distance planes/trains.
3) Don’t be afraid to do things alone
Truth be told, few of us would often go to a bar or restaurant alone in our hometowns. The social stigma attached with doing things alone and being considered a bit of a loner puts many of us off doing things we’d actually really like to do.
However whatever normal ‘social restraints’ you may feel can be thrown firmly out the window once you travel. From day one you should try to get stuck in and do things you wouldn’t normally do alone. It is not sad to travel alone and there are many benefits to it. In many hostels, solo travellers will significantly outnumber those travelling with a partner or friend, so it really isn’t something worth worrying about.
That being said, doing something like going to a bar alone can still be very daunting at first. It’s much easier to stay in your hostel at night and just wander the streets by day but don’t fall into this trap. There are many good solo travel tips for introverts and if all else fails, a bit of alcohol can often help you pluck up some courage!
4) Try to meet locals as well as other travellers
When backpacking it’s very easy to fall into a trap of only talking to other backpackers and not particularly getting to know any locals. This is the easy option but as a solo traveller you will often find locals are incredibly willing to help you out and some may even want to introduce you to their friends.
This is much less likely to happen if you are travelling as a couple or group of friends. Couchsurfing can be a good way to do this. In most cities and towns around the world you can find events to join, people to hang out with and possibly even a free place to sleep. Work exchange opportunities can also be a nice way to meet locals whilst having a new experience.
5) Start a travel blog or keep a diary
Any solo trip of a decent length of time can be a huge learning curve and great experience especially if it is your first. It will certainly be something you will look back on in years to come. A blog or diary (if you don’t want to reveal your heart and soul to everyone) is a great way to document your travels.
Many bloggers have gained such a following that they have managed to turn blogging into a professional career on the back of what started as just a simple travel blog. That’s easier said than done but it’s another way of filling time during those quieter times when you have nobody to hang out with.
6) Don’t spend your entire trip chatting to people back home
While at times solo travel can be lonely, the cure for this isn’t to spend all your time on skype/whatsapp with eyes and fingers glued to your phone/laptop messaging your best friends and family back home. This often tends to increase the feeling of homesickness when you could be out having fun and experiencing things you may never get the chance to again.
Sure keep in touch but make sure any friends, parents, boyfriends or girlfriends know that there’ll be days when they won’t hear from you much.
7) Don’t plan too much
The beauty of solo travel is that it gives you the freedom to go with the flow and do things at your own pace rather than having to constantly compromise and come to agreement with friends about when and where to go and what to do.
Having a mapped out backpacking route can be a useful starting point but by no means do you have to stick to it. Every day is different when you are travelling and at any point you might meet somebody or discover somewhere that makes you want to change your plans completely.
8) Bring enough money and at least two different sources of cash.
Remember that time a complete stranger lent you a few hundred bucks? No, me neither. One worry for solo travellers may be what happens if you’re the victim of theft or unfortunate enough to lose your wallet. While you may be fortunate enough to find someone in your hostel willing to help, it’s best not to count on it, so taking a few different sources of money is a good idea and ideally don’t carry them all in the same place at the same time. Having a hidden stash of cash in your backpack for emergencies is a smart move and a smart trick to travel the world on a small budget – just make sure to look after your backpack and store it safely in hostels!
Also be aware that in small towns and rural areas in some developing countries, ATM’s are far from plentiful and sometimes don’t exist at all. The ones that do are often unreliable at best so if you’re heading off the beaten track, withdraw plenty of cash before you go – at least enough to get a bus back to civilisation if you need to!
9) Look after your possessions and don’t take anything you couldn’t bear to lose!
Anyone who has been travelling for a reasonable amount of time will tell you that you will lose things! While for most it will probably just be a few socks or perhaps the odd t-shirt or flip-flop, some are less fortunate. Thieves exist in every country in the world and budget hostels are often not the most secure of places especially when you’re sharing rooms with people you don’t know. If you have any prized possessions or special items of jewellery for example it’s best to leave them at home.
When it comes to looking after your money, debit/credit cards and important documents you need to be extra careful. In hostels, always use lockers. If you’re heading out at night, consider taking at least enough cash for the evening and leave anything valuable at home.
These are basic safety tips for travelling alone as you won’t have that friend who can bail you out if things really go wrong! They apply regardless whether you are in Europe backpacking or in what might be perceived to be a riskier part of the world.
There are extra safety tips for travelling alone as a woman and remember you are always more important than your belongings. The same point applies if you’re travelling solo as a man and in all cases, applying common sense and not taking undue risks will help you have a safe and enjoyable trip.
10) Enjoy the ride!
As tips for solo travellers go this is perhaps the most important. The truth is, however well you have planned and whether you follow these tips or not, there will be highs and lows during your adventures.
Discovering the thrill of solo travel can be an incredible experience and for many it is a life-changing time and something you can look back on with pride (for the most part!) in years to come. There may be times when you’re stuck for hours waiting for grotty buses to turn up, only for it to break down halfway up some impossibly steep mountain but it’s all part of fun!
These travel tips for solo travellers were last updated in March 2023.