The question of solo travel confidence arises often. People wonder about safety, their ability to look confident, and what it might mean if they don't. There is the issue of last-minute jitters before getting on the plane and not being quite sure how to manage things on the ground.
Here is an excerpt from one reader's email.
…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 exciting but also anxiety-inducing when the time comes to leave.
So how does one develop and maintain that confidence? I have some advice.
7 Tips: Plan for Solo Travel Confidence
There are many things you can do before you leave that will build your confidence to travel solo.
- Go cold turkey on the crime shows. These shows wildly overstate the threat of violence in the 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 so that you can communicate. Have a plan so that you know how you will spend your first day or two.
- 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. Pro tip: arrive in the afternoon so that if it doesn't meet your expectations, you have time to make a change.
- 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 and contribute to developing your solo travel confidence.
- 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 and Canada. It is highly unlikely that you will need their service but, if you're a bit nervous, the backup will put your mind at ease.
- Plan for communication. Whether you prefer email, text, phone, or Facebook, if you can find Wi-Fi (Starbucks, McDonalds, and more have free Wi-Fi) you can get in touch with home for free with a smartphone. WhatsApp is a good possibility. Most libraries can give you access to a computer and the Internet.
- Get a local contact. Remember six degrees of separation? Well, that number was determined based on snail mail – long before Facebook. Now you likely have a friend of a friend just about everywhere in the world who is local and whom you could meet for a coffee or call should you have a moment of anxiety.
10 Ways to Travel with Confidence for Solo Travel Safety
Confidence is a traveler's armor. Lacking confidence makes you look like a good mark for a con artist or other undesirables. Being confident makes such people look elsewhere.
What if you're not really that confident? Sometimes, you need to fake it 'til you make it.
- Know that you're amazing. Many people are still astounded when they meet someone traveling solo. They think you're strong. To them you are exotic. Think that and know that and it will show in your body language without any effort at all.
- Smile. A worried look on your face does not project confidence. A smile does. Use it.
- Walk with your head up and with awareness. Stand tall. Lift your torso up as though stretching your spine. Pull your shoulders slightly back so that they widen. Walk looking side to side as well as in front of you so that you appear very aware of your surroundings. In a café or other public space, scan your environment from time to time. Appearing aware of your surroundings can cause pickpockets and the like to look elsewhere for a mark. Read: Protect Yourself from Pickpockets: Keep Cards & Cash Safe.
- Be decisive. A hesitant person looks vulnerable. Be decisive in your actions and you will look confident. This may require a bit of research and map memorizing so that you know exactly where you're going, but it is worth it to help develop solo travel confidence.
- Look alert. You're safest when you have all of your senses working for you. You know it and so do others. Don't wear earbuds so that you can't hear what's going on. Don't be distracted by your mobile phone or reading a map on the street so that you don't see what's happening around you.
- Make a statement as a statement. When you make a statement, don't let your voice rise at the end as though it is actually a question. This suggests that you are uncertain of yourself and are looking for confirmation from the person you're speaking with. If you have a question to ask, that's fine. If you have something to say, say it with confidence.
- Make eye contact. If you're speaking with someone, make eye contact so that they know you are a strong person. In more general situations eye contact is not necessary but don't hide your eyes either.
- Stand strong. When standing still, stand with your feet apart (as much as 12 inches) and your weight evenly distributed. If you're speaking with someone, face them directly to display confidence.
- Take up space. Sit back in a chair and use the armrests if they're there. Resist the urge to fold your arms under your armpits or fidget with your hands. Put your hands on your hips or use them to emphasize a point as you speak. Lean against a wall but don't slouch against it. This way you look like you own the room. This is all called “power posing”.
- Act natural. This is likely the most difficult point of all. Do all of the above as though it is absolutely natural to you.
If You're Still Having Difficulty Feeling Confident
- Be patient with yourself. Take things slowly. Sit, watch, see how things function, let the rhythm of your destination catch you, and then go with it. Knowledge helps you travel solo with confidence.
- 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.
Return Home More Self-Assured
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. With every trip, I feel a rise in my self-confidence.
Confidence comes from really knowing yourself and your own strength. Solo travel can certainly help with this. It presents the opportunity and freedom to:
- travel for your goals exclusively
- be spontaneous and pursue unique opportunities as they arise
- enjoy your own company
As you travel solo, being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you will discover just how capable you are. As you push your boundaries, whether it’s by going to a restaurant alone for the first time or navigating a country where you don’t know the language, you will gain solo travel confidence. As you make every decision about your trip, your day, and your meals, your confidence in your ability to make good decisions will also grow.
Traveling solo isn't about what others see in you, it’s about what you see in you. And what you see will build your confidence.