You're going to travel alone for the first time. It's a big deal and yet, not such a big deal if you know how.
You likely have some questions.
You may have some concerns.
Don't worry, we're here to help.
For more than 12 years, Solo Traveler has been helping people with solo travel tips for newbies, as well as for those stretching their solo travel muscles to more challenging destinations.
Some people don't give their plan to travel solo a second thought. Others live with anxiety at every stage of the planning process. For still others, their worries only come at the 11th hour. They are about to leave and start to panic.
Having a good sense of what solo travel is like and planning for it will go a long way to easing you into your first solo trip. There is a lot of information on Solo Traveler. In fact, there are over 1,000 posts about the many aspects of solo travel.
This post covers the basics of how to travel alone for the first time. It will also point you to more in-depth articles on specific aspects of solo travel. If you're in your 20s or 30s, check out this piece on solo travel.
It's my hope that it will help those who are new to solo travel find what they need to go with confidence.
How to Travel Alone for the First Time
When first-time solo travelers announce their intention to travel alone, they often face a lot of questions from family and friends. The primary one is, “why”? To get this issue out of the way, read about the why of solo travel here.
Now, let's get on to the how.
Preparation for your first solo trip can be broken down into a number of parts. You need to decide:
- How much you have to spend.
- Where to go.
- How to get there.
- Where you will stay.
- How long you will stay.
- How you will travel at your destination.
Huh! Those six decisions look pretty familiar to anyone who has traveled. Yes, much of solo travel is the same as all travel.
However, there is another list, this time of questions, that first-time solo travelers need to consider:
- Am I ready to travel by myself?
- How challenging a destination should I consider?
- Am I comfortable with my own company?
- Do I want to meet people on my trips or is solitude my objective?
- What do I need to do to be safe?
- How do I ensure my loved ones that I will be safe?
- Am I better to go solo on a group tour or is independent solo travel right for me?
Those seven questions are not the questions that every traveler asks. They are, however, important for first-time solo travelers.
Below, we'll get into tips and advice that will help you answer each question.
Is Solo Travel a Good Idea? Get Ready to Go Solo for the First Time
Solo travel is a confidence booster but you have to actually travel solo for that to happen. So how do you gain confidence before you go? I have a few suggestions.
- Find your cheerleader. When you tell people about your trip, notice who is excited about it. Spend as much time as you can with those people as they will build your confidence. Try to avoid the naysayers.
- Stop watching crime shows. They are not representative of the dangers in the world.
- Plan how you will stay in touch with home. The fact that you will stay connected will build your confidence.
- Find a local contact. Chances are, someone you know, knows someone where you're going. Get the concept of six degrees of separation working for you.
- Find out if there is a Greeter program in your destination so that you can meet up with a local.
- Be patient with yourself. Take your time. Settle into a destination. There's no rush.
Best Countries for a First Solo Trip
Your choice of destination for your first solo trip is important. It can make the difference between a successful, confidence-building first trip with a future of many more solo trips, or one with mixed results. I suggest that first trips be to destinations where it's easy to find people who speak your language. In your own language, you'll find it easier to navigate, feel safer, and meet more people.
Certainly you can travel your own country. There is always more to see near home. But if you want to visit another country, as many new travelers do, consider Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand.
You'll find more specific ideas for where to go on your first solo trip here. You may also want to read Destinations That Are Solo Traveler Tested, Best Budget Destinations for Solo Travelers, and this post for those who like hiking and the outdoors.
Travel Solo but Not Lonely
Solo travel need not be a lonely experience. Many solo travelers say that they meet more people traveling alone than they do when traveling with others. After all, you are not focused on a companion. You are open to meeting people and that makes people feel comfortable approaching you.
However, there are things you can do to make sure you have a social experience. Here are a number of posts that will help.
Stay Safe While Traveling Solo
There is so much to be said on this topic, especially for first-time solo travelers.
Here's a link to our Solo Travel Safety: 50 Tips post that covers just about everything you need to know.
Here are a few basics:
- Arrive at a new destination well before dark. Daylight gives you a better sense of the safety of a place.
- Take the business card of your hotel with you when you go out for the day.
- Don't tell people you meet where you're staying. Your accommodation should be your safe zone.
- Be prepared to be impolite if someone is bothering you.
- Always have travel insurance. Since I started to travel at 15 years of age, I've always had insurance. Read: Going Alone? A Complete Guide to Travel Insurance for Solo Travelers in which I analyze the price and benefits of a number of insurance policies.
- Use public Wi-Fi with a VPN. If you're planning to use public Wi-Fi for doing anything that requires security, such as booking a hotel room with a credit card, make sure you have a VPN. Read Best VPN for Travel: What, Why and Feature-Price Comparison.
- Keep your money and credit cards in multiple places. Read How to Manage Money While Traveling.
Remember, as you travel you're in a holiday mindset and a different culture. Both factors will affect your ability to judge situations. To keep you safe in a variety of situations, it's helpful to be clear on your safety rules before going. And, most importantly, trust your instincts.
First Trip Solo: Should It Be a Tour?
When does a tour make sense?
- If you're concerned about
- being alone
- your safety
- finding the time to plan
- missing important highlights
- navigating new cities
- getting lost
- If you want to go to a destination that you consider challenging.
- If you want to break up a long trip. If you're on your own for a month or more, you may want to include a tour so that you have company for a while and you can relax while someone else manages the details.
Tour companies are not all the same. There are a wide variety of experiences available and a number of things to consider when choosing a tour.
Read How to Choose a Tour: Top Tips for Solo Travelers.
You'll also want to check out our tours and trips pages. Solo Traveler is the best source for a continuously updated list of a variety of tour companies offering trips with no or low single supplements.
How to Plan to Travel Alone
If you have decided that you have the confidence, that you are comfortable in your own company, and that you can take care of your safety, you may have decided that you will travel solo independently.
Here are my suggestions:
- Make a budget. Know how much you can spend so that you plan your transportation and accommodation, the two most expensive aspects of a trip, accordingly.
- Know the basics. Before you leave, be sure you understand the visa requirements and spend a few moments to understand the currency exchange. Make sure your passport doesn’t expire for at least three months after your trip ends as some countries have such a minimum for visitors.
- Book your flights/trains. Yes, you check your passport and visa needs first and then book your flights. You don't want to get ahead of yourself, put the money out for a flight and discover later that you have to pay a fee to have it changed. Also, book your transportation so that you arrive before dusk. Everything looks better in daylight and, if your hotel/hostel isn't to your liking, you'll have time to make changes.
- Book your accommodation. Arriving in a new city, not knowing how it works, and still having to find a place to stay can be stressful. Plus, you can end up spending more than you budgeted because you just have to get a place.
- Study a map. Maps provide a bird’s-eye view of a new destination. They give you a sense of distance between places and, therefore, what’s possible to do in a day. You’ll also get a sense of where the areas are that you want to avoid for safety reasons.
- Add important numbers to your phone. Research useful apps for your phone and download them when you have free Wi-Fi. While you may not want to stay connected with home as you travel, important numbers should be in your phone before you leave. Get the front desk staff at your accommodation to help you add important local numbers to your phone such as the one for your hotel or hostel.
- Pack light so that you can manage your own things. One carry-on sized bag and a daypack or large purse should do it. Here's how to pack light. A reader recently provided an excellent reason for this from their own experience: “I used the info on your blog about traveling with only carry-on and a small wardrobe when I traveled solo to Peru. Having no checked bag saved me from missing a connecting flight in the Lima airport.”
- Arrive at the airport, train, or bus station early. Whether it’s traffic congestion or a massive lineup at the airport, many things can slow you down when trying to catch a flight.
- Don’t plan much for your first day. Take the time to settle in and get to know the city and how it works. Do people line up for the bus? What’s the street food like and where are the busiest stands? What’s within walking distance of your lodging? Take it slow and learn.
Tips from Seasoned Solo Travelers
Over on the Solo Travel Society on Facebook, there are many experienced solo travelers as well as people who are new to traveling alone. I asked those experienced travelers what tips they would offer a solo travel newbie and here's what they had to say.
- Annalie Carry a game with you, like a backgammon set, chess, a pack of cards. People all over the world can become friends over a simple game!
- Scott Leave the third pair of socks and the fourth t-shirt at home. Pack more smiles than you think you'll need, and more patience. Take all the expectations out of your pack and leave 'em at home.
- Pamela Go to the market while you are traveling. The experience will shed light on cultural, culinary, agricultural, linguistic, and family composition differences. People are always willing to teach you something new and befriend a stranger with a wealth of information. My first experience of this was in Aruba. I saw very little at the market that I was familiar with, but I came out with knowledge and friends.
- Tony Join free walking tours whenever you can! It's great for getting to know the city, learning its history, and meeting other backpackers.
- Laurie Spend Day One at your new destination getting oriented: stop at the local chamber of commerce for a free map and suggestions for must-see points of interest; if you ride, rent a bicycle, you'll cover a lot more ground and still be able to see things up close and personal; chat with storekeepers, cab drivers, and servers and ask them their thoughts about their mayor, their favorite place to eat and drink, changes they've seen in the area over the years, and where they would take out-of-town visitors. Spend the rest of your time following up on their suggestions and return to let them know how you fared.
- Toni Give yourself the gift of strangers: ask questions, share impressions, get directions. Use Facebook or Twitter to friend or follow for ongoing exchange and learning.
- Sam Make sure (wherever possible) that you arrive at your next destination during daylight hours. When you have to find your way from the airport or train station to your accommodation it is much less nerve-racking to do this during the day when you can see where you are going and there are lots of people around and shops open to ask for directions. Once you get to your accommodation you then still have some time up your sleeve to get your bearings, have a look around, and plan where you will start exploring the next day. Plus, if you are staying at a hostel it is good to arrive before people are making dinner or having afternoon drinks as this is one of the best times to get a feel for the place and meet new people.
- Tracey Take the time to observe how people interact and how things work. While sitting at a sidewalk cafe, on a park bench, or just killing time standing in a lineup, I love to watch locals going about their day. If you pay attention to the little things, you can learn a lot: how to use public transit (and how to conduct yourself on it), whether to pay your bill at your table or at the counter, whether people are expected to line up in an orderly fashion or just jump in where you can, how to tip, or how to hail a cab. I find this particularly useful in a place where I don't speak the language.
Stories About First Solo Trips
What's it like to travel alone for the first time? Well that depends a bit on you, but here are a few descriptions by readers of Solo Traveler.
- Deborah – I was a late bloomer as far as travel goes. I took my first solo trip to Nassau, Bahamas when I was 34. I was nervous at first, but I got there and made so many travel friends. I had a glorious time. I haven’t stopped traveling yet and I’ll be 64 soon. I'm planning another big trip around the world. I'm retired now and will live on the “road” until I decide to come back.
- Massy – On my first solo trip I went to Japan. I am an introverted person and I get very self-conscious about myself (seriously). On January 1, 2013 I posted on my Facebook page the “2013 mission to Japan.” On my birthday in July 2013, I bought a ticket as a gift for myself. I got a lot of questions from friends because no one really went solo. I made it to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. It was the most worthwhile and enjoyable experience. It was fascinating to see how communication clashes and cultural differences bring people together. It was just an amazing journey. I learned so much. I met new people. What a journey! It’s addictive.
- MG – I went to Puerto Vallarta and I was depressed. Then I met new friends at the hotel. I didn’t expect to end my vacation having so much fun. This is one good thing about traveling solo. You get to meet new friends that you wouldn’t have if you were in a group.
- Leslie – I had just gotten my professional designation, which took 7 years of exams (post-college) and I wanted to do something big to celebrate. I love to travel, but several of my friends said they couldn’t get the time off or couldn’t afford to go somewhere too far away. I finally decided I shouldn’t be held back just because no one could travel with me, so I booked a camping safari in Tanzania! I love animals and an African safari had always been one of my dreams. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that scared to get on a plane and fly halfway around the world by myself (and to a Third World country, no less). It was exciting! I learned that I’m much more self-sufficient than I thought and that traveling alone can be fun and very rewarding. Now that I know I can travel alone and be just fine, I feel like the possibilities are endless!
- Zola – My first earned vacation out of college I booked a week in Mexico. I loved going on an adventure by myself. I learned a few lessons that have been useful for my other solo trips I have taken to Bali, Egypt, and Thailand.