Solo travel confidence.
It's something that people write to me about a lot. Here's one email that made me particularly happy.
I would like to take a few moments of your time to thank you for such a great travel site!
I can't remember when I stumbled upon your site but I do know that thanks to your insight, experience, and great advice, I am departing on a 6 week solo trip starting in September to Paris, London, Scotland (3 1/2 weeks!), and Amsterdam. This will be a number of “first's” for me.
– First time getting a passport.
– First time flying longer than 3 hours.
– First time flying internationally.
– First time to Europe.
And many more firsts to be done during the trip. Did I mention that I am 53 and spending my 54th birthday in Edinburgh?
Thank you for all your inspiration, without your site I would be totally terrified and probably not do this..solo.
I can't tell you how satisfying it is for me to receive such a letter. It makes 10 years of learning online technology, social media, and writing truly worthwhile.
Facing Fear Builds Confidence
Theodore Roosevelt said “Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.”
This statement is, to me, an absolute truth.
For me, the feeling of confidence gained on trips now is not as dramatic as it was in my early years of solo travel. But still, with every trip, I feel a surge of the confidence that had waned a little while I was at home.
For some, solo travel confidence comes naturally. Others require some direct action to build it. One reader wrote to me saying
…while allowing room for spontaneity, I've researched countless blogs, spoken with friends and friends of friends, tidied up loose ends at work and home. I've been ecstatic and energized and caught up in the whole process. I've dotted my i's and crossed my t's. I leave for Thailand in a week and all of a sudden I'm terrified. I'm that shadow of my young self, lacking in confidence and self-esteem, full of doubt …
Yes, the prospect of a solo trip can be so exciting and yet anxiety at the last minute is common. So how does one get and maintain that confidence for solo travel? I have some advice.
My Top Tips for Solo Travel Confidence
- Go cold turkey on the crime shows. These shows wildly overstate the threat of violence in this world. Yes, you must take safety seriously but take a break from the crime shows well before leaving on your trip so that your imagination doesn't run away with itself. Read: Solo Travel Safety: 50+ Tips for Those Who Travel Alone.
- Do your research. The more you know about where you're going, the more confident you'll feel. Study a map of your destination so that you have an idea of how your destination is laid out. Find out about local transit and the cost of taxis so that you know how you'll get around. Understand the currency and exchange rate so that you’ll be able to quickly do the math in your head to know what something costs in your own currency. Get a few phrases down.
- Book your first few nights' accommodation. Your accommodation is your safe haven. Whether it's a hotel, hostel, B&B, or apartment, book a place with great reviews before you leave so that you know you'll have a soft landing when you get there. Use The Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide which includes 223 listings from 62 countries, all recommended by solo travelers.
- Find your cheerleader. When you’re getting nervous, talk to friends who are thrilled about your upcoming trip and stay away from those who are only lukewarm or even negative. Those enthusiasts will bolster you.
- Sign up with your government. Check your government's advisory website and register with them as a citizen traveling abroad. Here are the pages for the US, Australia, and Canada. The registration service is no longer offered to British Nationals. They are offered basic travel information here and asked to sign up for alerts.
- Plan for communication. Whether you prefer email, text, phone, or Facebook, if you can find Wi-Fi you can get in touch with home for pennies (if not free) with a smartphone. Skype allows you to call directly to a landline for just a few cents per minute. Most libraries can give you access to a computer and the Internet. Read: Use Your Phone Anywhere in the World: Free and Low-cost Options
- Get a local contact. Remember six degrees of separation? Well, that number was determined based on snail mail – well before Facebook. Now you likely have a friend of a friend just about anywhere in the world who is local and whom you could meet for a coffee or call should you have a moment of anxiety.
- Be patient with yourself. Take things slowly. If possible, plan something simple for your first day like a city tour or a museum visit. Take the time to sit, watch, see how things function, let the rhythm of your destination catch you, and then go with it.
- Pamper yourself. What do you find calming? Is it a cup of tea or coffee? Being by water? Reading a book? A massage or facial? Know what will calm you if you get nervous.
- Find what's familiar. There are international brands that look and work in a familiar fashion everywhere in the world. Think Starbucks or McDonalds. If you need a taste of home, go to one of these places for an hour.
And if all that doesn't work, read 10 Ways to Look Confident even when you don't quite feel so. You may also want to check out the Wits & Wonder Travel Course – Especially for Solo Travelers.