I was interviewed about my book the other day. The journalist was trying to nail me down on just a few tips for solo travelers.
Just a few?
Not possible. There is so much to be said on the subject. So many details on how to have a great time solo and how to do so safely.
That's why I wrote The Solo Traveler's Handbook. It provides hundreds of tips as well as stories that show the tips in action. You can buy the book or you can simply read through this blog and get most of the information for free. (The advantage of The Solo Traveler's Handbook is that it organizes all that you need in a logical order and includes the right stories for the points being made.)
Below are over 50 solo travel tips. It's certainly not an exhaustive list but it will take you well on your way to being an exceptional solo traveler. Here you go…
Before You Leave
- Research so that you understand the basics. As a solo traveler you are responsible for everything so, at minimum, understand any passport and visa requirements, the currency exchange and especially where you will stay the first night.
- When planning your accommodation, consider a guest house, hostel, B&B or small pension as they usually offer solo travelers more access to friendly travelers and locals.
- Consider a destination where you can stay put, not constantly move from place to place, and still enjoy a good variety of day excursions. This way you save money and get to know the locals.
- Pack light – one carry-on if possible so that you can handle your luggage with ease. This is for safety as well as convenience. Read Bare Minimum Packing.
Concerned about Being Lonely? Here's how to meet people as you travel solo.
- Take advantage of local tour guides. Read 8 Ways to Find a Free Local Tour Guide.
- Learn how to talk to strangers. Read Travel Solo and, Yes, Talk to Strangers.
- If you’re in one place for a while, connect with others by taking language or cooking classes. Whatever interests you.
- Use your camera to take pictures of yourself as well as where you are. Friends and family will be far more interested in your pics if there are some of you. Read The Tricks of a Solo Photographer for how.
- Visit the same café, fruit stall, restaurant… every day. You'll get to know the people there.
- Be curious. Ask questions of locals and other travelers. People love to talk about their country, city, thoughts… when given a chance.
- If you want to meet other travelers, go off the beaten path. Travelers that find each other where there are few tourists, are more inclined to talk to each other. Plus, you will likely have something in common.
- Break up long trips with organized tours. You’ll enjoy the company and a chance to let someone else take care of all the details for a change.
How to Travel Solo by Day
- Give yourself a full day to really land in each new destination. A new city can feel overwhelming to a solo traveler. I find that it takes about a day to feel comfortable.
- Establish a routine. Find a place to have coffee every morning or to buy fruit for your day. People will get to know you and it will be nice to be known.
- Bring photos with you to make your temporary home a home.
- Carry the essentials with you when you head out for the day. Have the name of the place you're staying in the local language. Have a copy of your emergency contacts and your documents on you.
- Always keep your most important items in the same place and have a simple check. For me it's passport, wallet, camera and phone. Those are the items I check when I feel the need.
- Enjoy dinner as a solo traveler. You can:
- Go to restaurants with communal tables. Read this Dining Solo Post for info on how to find them.
- Go to coffee shops that are the hubs for freelancers. These are social places that also offer free wifi to stay connected with home. Read: Finding the Freelance Hub
- Take a book. It will not only occupy you but also signal other soloists that you travel alone.
- Ask people who are alone if you can join them. Worst case… they say no.
- Dine in the same place regularly so that you become friendly with the staff.
- Take your main meal at noon when the romantic crowd aren’t out and the prices are lower.
- Eat at the bar – this is my choice as I usually meet other solo travelers there.
- Read 5 Ways to Enjoy Restaurant Dining- Solo and “Eat Alone and Meet New People“.
How to Travel Solo by Night
- Taxis there and back are important for safety.
- Leave a note in your room saying where you are going and with whom AND inform your hotel where you are going and when you expect to be back.
- Stay sober. Drink very responsibly so that you have your wits about you.
- Ask your concierge whether the place you’re planning to go to is fun and safe.
- Know where your purse is – or better yet, don’t carry one.
- Consider dinner/show combinations where you know you’ll be seated with other people.
- If you’re going to a small club, arrive early to ensure that you get a seat at the bar.
- If you’re going dancing and there’s a line up outside the club, look for a group of tourists that you read as safe (they’re not usually too hard to spot). Read How to Crash the Club Scene Solo
- Leave a club if it doesn’t feel right.
- Chat with the bartender so that they care about you.
- If a conversation starts with another patron, introduce yourself with your first name only.
- Don't tell people you meet where you are staying.
- Leave by yourself and by taxi and don't tell people where you're staying.
- Read Clubbing and Pubbing Solo.
Managing Money and Documents
- Keep copies of your documents using cloud computing. Read Travel Technology: keep your photos and files safe in the cloud
- Carry important documents in a secure place such as a money belt. Keep a photocopy of all documents in your suitcase, separate from the original documents.
- Ensure your security when using public WiFi. Read Travel Technology: Increase your security and reduce costs
- Use ATMs to get money and don’t take out large sums at one time.
- Consider a prepaid credit card.
- Keep emergency back-up funds in a separate place from your regular funds.
- Consider buying an unlocked cell phone so that you can buy a SIM card for your phone in each country as you travel. This will save you lots of money.
- Load Skype onto your phone so that you can Skype with friends and family at home when you have access to the Internet without paying .
- Download useful apps to your phone such as a GPS, a translator, a currency convertor and some travel guides.
1. Local transit
- A half-day tour can be great for getting oriented. After that, walking and local transit give you the best feel for a city.
- If you are going to a non-English-speaking country, research how the system works before you get there or ask the people where you're staying before you head out.
- Look for daily or weekly passes and other special deals for tourists.
- Overnight trains are efficient if you are traveling with time constraints.
- If traveling overnight by coach in North America, try to get a double seat to yourself. A carry-on is about the same height as a train bench so you can use it to widen one of the benches and curl up.
- If you can, select your seat so that you are sitting near people who you consider safe.
- Always know where you luggage is.
- Travel with one carry-on so you don’t have to wait in long lines for check-in or wait to pick up your bag. Plus, your luggage won’t get lost.
- Board early so you have no trouble putting your carry-on luggage in an overhead compartment.
- At check-in, ask if the flight is ‘full’ or ‘light’. If it’s light, you may be able to jockey for a better seat.
- If you have a connecting flight, get all the information you need before boarding your first flight to make the connection easily.
- Bring light snacks with you. If there’s turbulence there won’t be service during the flight. Ginger snaps are a good snack and they settle the stomach.
- Check in advance what the driving license requirements are for the country you’re visiting.
- A GPS is a fabulous tool but don't rely on it. Have a map and compass when road-tripping solo.
Part of knowing how to travel solo is knowing how to do so safely. Please read Solo Travel Safety: 15 analog safety tips, 12 digital safety tools and check out the Solo Travel Safety section. You can also check out The Best of Solo Travel page for lots of solo travel stories.