“Please, I really need your help.”
So began a message I received from a reader. Galit had just begun her first solo journey, traveling from Israel to London.
Her note continued, “I am very anxious and have not slept all night. I don't feel safe, and I am considering going back home, even though I am supposed to travel in Europe for 16 days. Can you help me somehow?”
I turned to the amazingly engaged Solo Travel Society on Facebook. This knowledgeable, encouraging, and supportive community of travelers, now more than 270,000 strong, dove right in with general travel advice, tips specific to London, and words of encouragement to help Galit deal with first-day solo travel anxiety. From all over the world, experiences were shared, reassurance was given, and invitations to connect online and in person were extended.
Over the years, there have been others who have reached out for advice on how to cope when becoming overwhelmed at the beginning–or even in the middle of–a solo trip. It is something that can happen to anyone, whether experienced or brand new, sometimes when we least expect it. To help you prepare for such a situation, here are our best tips for dealing with first-day (or any day) solo travel anxiety, from people who've been there.
Table of Contents
First, Take a Breath
Don't feel obligated to dive into a strenuous travel itinerary right off the bat. Give yourself some breathing space and remember that this trip is yours alone.
1. Take a walk.
It doesn't have to be far, but leaving your room for a walk within the vicinity of your accommodation will give you a start. You'll get some fresh air, hopefully a little sunshine, and the movement will be good for your body after time spent sitting in transit. It will also allow you to begin to get familiar with the area, while still staying close to home base.
2. Take a bus.
Hop on-hop off buses are a great option. You don't have to worry about getting lost, because they run in a circuit and will drop you right back where you started. They require nothing of you, other than sitting back and taking in the view. It's a great way to get an overview of the city and note places you'd like to return to when you're ready.
3. Do something you’d do at home.
Try doing something you’re comfortable doing at home, but in a new place: go for coffee, do some shopping, go to a movie, visit a library. In the process of doing something you're accustomed to doing, you'll learn something about the destination you're in, so you'll experience a balance of comfort and newness.
4. Understand that solo travel anxiety is normal.
In addition to suddenly being in an unfamiliar environment, you may be feeling the effects of jet lag, which can be tougher than you expect. The good news is, it will pass! Here are some tips to help: How to Survive Jet Lag: Symptoms, Remedies & Prevention.
5. Get some rest.
“The best advice my momma gave me was never make a decision when you are tired,” said Jo. “First, get a good night's sleep. I went to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago and even as an experienced solo traveler I felt overwhelmed so I just slept lots, ate, went sightseeing for 3 days and nights and then the world looked very different.”
Next, Ease Into Your Trip
Once you've gotten through the solo travel anxiety of the first day, the next will begin to feel a bit easier. Take a deep breath, remember why you came, and know that you can do this.
1. Take a tour.
I always recommend taking a walking tour as early in your trip as possible. If it's a food tour, all the better. It's a great option because they’re so interactive – you naturally have things to talk about with others while tasting new foods. Plus, you won’t have to worry about where to eat that day.
2. Take lots of photos.
Sandra shared this great idea. “Get busy putting a camera between you and what you are seeing. Take a lot of photos. Then you have more to focus on (no pun intended) and less energy for the worries.”
3. Take a class.
In addition to accumulating new knowledge or skills, if you take a class you’ll be so caught up in learning something new and interacting with other travelers that you won’t have time to worry. You’ll meet other travelers, and perhaps locals as well, and if it’s a cooking class, you'll have the added bonus of sitting down for a meal at the end.
4. Take a step back.
I always remember this quote by Storm Jameson: “I am never happier than when I am alone in a foreign city; it is as if I had become invisible.” It takes a lot of pressure off when you take on the role of observer rather than actor.
5. Take it all in.
Soak up the environment and atmosphere. “Sit down in a beautiful place, have a cup of tea and first of all, relax. If you haven't brought one with you, buy a notebook and write down your thoughts, feelings, observations, discoveries, while sitting there and watching the life and the people,” suggests Ilona.
6. Take care of business.
Grace suggests you get some tasks out of the way at the beginning of your trip while you're acclimating. “Someone once told me to give yourself 3 days. The first is to get over jet lag, the second to do business (exchange money, etc.), and the third to get out and see things. Don't push it, just let it come naturally. If you give yourself those 3, it will be less overwhelming.”
Practical Steps to Move Through Solo Travel Anxiety
1. Figure out transportation.
As Clare says, “Spend a few hours learning the transport system. Once you have that figured out, the city will feel much smaller and less scary.” But don't feel you have to use public transportation if it stresses you out. I use Uber all the time, everywhere it exists. (I'm also impatient.)
2. Make a plan.
If you are someone who finds planning and structure comforting, by all means, plan away! That's what Leslie does: “Go to a library or cafe and use the internet. Plan out your days. This will give you comfort in knowing what you will be doing each day. I like to plan my days, that way I am not wandering around wondering what to do.”
3. Indulge yourself.
How would you deal with tension and anxiety at home? Consider doing it while traveling. What could be nicer than treating yourself to a massage? How about taking a yoga class? What about relaxing in a park or by water? All of these things will not only help calm you but will be more special because you're doing them in a new destination.
4. Read a map.
If you have a visual understanding of the layout of the city, you will feel more confident heading out into it. Never underestimate the value of those one-pagers that hotels and hostels give out. Ask the staff to circle places you want to go and show you how to get to and from them. They are experts in getting around and are always happy to show you how to do it. If you're tired at the end of the day, pull out the map and you'll have the name and address of your accommodation handy to give to an Uber or taxi driver.
5. Ask for suggestions.
Staff at your accommodation or in restaurants and cafes, tour guides, drivers, locals you encounter as you wander around: they are all great sources of information and recommendations. When I'm overwhelmed, I find they also make things seem very doable. Because, in fact, they are–it's just that solo travel anxiety making things seem insurmountable.
Words of Support & Encouragement
When you're in the throes of solo travel anxiety, sometimes it can help to have some encouragement from other travelers who have been in your shoes. And trust me, we all have been there! Here are some supportive words from fellow travelers.
Anne Don't go home! Anxiety is normal, Get your sleep, spend time just watching what is going on around you, and then move on. You will never have your first trip again.
Kevin If you go home now you will be regretting it the rest of your life. Be brave. It will all be fine. You're doing what life is really all about.
Linda I have travelled since I was 17. But nothing got me more anxious than 2011 following some sad things that went on in my life before my trip. I was very nervous embarking on traveling alone again. When I arrived in Italy I had to force myself to leave the airport. I cried when I saw my tiny hotel bed. I talked to my best friend at home, and she said “You are just tired. Have a cry, wash your face, take a nap, wash, and go out.” That is exactly what I did . Rome is amazing by night. I made friends. I have never felt scared or lonely since. Enjoy yourself. You have nothing to fear but fear itself. Everything else is an adventure.
Ilona You will soon see something that you have always wanted to see, and then you will be totally amazed that you are there, flying solo, and being so brave and strong! Trust us. We know!
Theresa Breathe. Don't go home. You will rob yourself of an exceptional experience. Be gentle with yourself. Do what you love.
Lisa I had a wee moment of solo travel anxiety in Hanoi a few years ago. I rang home, and got the best advice from my sister: things are always better after food and a sleep. I found a place to get some comfort food, put a smile on my face, and ended up making friends with a lady who felt just the same. The next morning, we were on a day trip together, and I got my mojo back.
Karen Find the nearest coffee shop, sit, breathe, relax, unwind, observe. The beginning of a solo trip can be daunting but this is only day one. Rest, sleep, and get yourself centered. All will be well. Honestly.
Jill I've travelled solo a lot and the first day of any trip to a new country is scary. Just take it slowly, sit in a cafe if you get overwhelmed and people watch for a while. Take the city bus tour on day one to get your bearings. Please don't go home, just relax, enjoy, and soak up all the new experiences. Good luck. I'm 72 and still travelling solo.
Colton You mean to tell me you flew all that way just to turn around? The world is your oyster. Who knows when you may get an opportunity to do this again? You will find people feeling the same way you as you: scared and intimidated. Truth is, everyone is experiences it their first time traveling. Once you get past that you'll be overcome with joyous emotions that will be hard to control.
Jean Pierre Enjoy this opportunity to get to know yourself better as well. Being solo is different than being lonely.
Some Final Thoughts & Resources
We have lots of resources to help you deal with travel anxiety and master solo travel. Start with our Ultimate Solo Travel Guide: Travel Alone & Love It. If you are new to solo travel, you'll find lots of helpful tips in Travel Solo for the First Time: Complete Guide for Newbies. And don't forget these important posts to set your mind at ease:
- A Complete Guide to Travel Insurance for Solo Travelers
- 10 Solo Travel Safety Apps: Technology for Peace of Mind
- Best VPN for Travel: What, Why, How & New Recommendations
- Stress-Free Solo Travel: Advice from Experienced Travelers
And what of Galit, who inspired this post? I followed up with her the next day, and she was already feeling better and beginning to venture about the city on her own. Five days later, she wrote from Amsterdam to express her appreciation for the outpouring of support from the Solo Traveler community. She had enjoyed London and was now starting to get her footing in the next country.
And that's how we do it: one step at a time, with a little help from fellow travelers, building confidence as we go.