While travelling with family or friends is fun, I love going solo and will try and head off alone at least once a year. I find travelling solo more adventurous than travelling with others, as I get to decide exactly where I go and what I do without having to take anyone else’s interests or needs into consideration. It’s my chance to be completely selfish with my time. It also enables me to grow as a person. I feel that all the times that I’ve headed overseas for a solo city break, or set off alone for a destination race, or even when I lived abroad have helped me to become more confident, capable, independent and increased my ability to take care of myself.
But travelling solo can be daunting. Even though I’ve gone away lots of times by myself, I sometimes still get nervous when going abroad alone (although I find doing something that scares me a little also part of the appeal). This is why I can understand why travelling solo for the first time can be scary.
If you are planning on travelling solo for the first time, hopefully these tips will help to make it a little less daunting.
Choosing the destination
Before choosing the destination I will often ask around, especially my female friends, and find out if anyone has been before and, if so, whether they feel it is a safe place for a woman travelling alone. I also use my commonsense. I know that a large western city is going to be used to seeing a woman on her own so I’m less likely to run into problems there as a solo, female traveller. Outside of western countries, places on the backpacking trail are also more likely to be used to seeing females travelling on their own. If I wanted to go to a country that was more conservative or off the usual tourist trail I’d make sure I booked with a tour company so that I am part of a large group and with a guide who knows the local language and customs.
Research and plan ahead
Normally once I’ve chosen a destination I will research as much as I can about the place – specifically looking out for warnings and safety issues. I read guide books, look up the location on social media and read as much as I can online. I try and find out how the local transport system works and whether it is considered safe, as well as whether taxis can be trusted. I will also try and find out any areas that tourists are advised to avoid and the most common type of crime tourists face. Once I have this information, I will then look for a hotel close to tourist areas (usually this means paying a bit more but helps me to feel safer) and again research and read reviews about the hotel to make sure it will be ok for a solo female traveller. When booking flights I will make sure that the plane lands in the morning or early afternoon so that I have plenty of time to get to my hotel before it gets dark.
What to pack
When packing for a solo trip it is best to take as little as possible and leave valuables at home unless you really need them – this isn’t the best time to dress to impress! Avoid wearing expensive jewellery as it could possibly bring the wrong type attention and make you a target for pickpockets. Also I normally wear flat, comfortable shoes as they are not only good for walking around in all day, but also mean that I’m about to move around quickly and easily if I need to. I usually pack casual clothes, just plain jeans and tops, as again I don’t want to draw attention to myself.
Eating and drinking
One of the most intimidating parts of solo travel is eating out in a restaurant alone and is something I’m still getting used to. I find that sticking to tourist areas helps, mainly because the serving staff will speak some English, plus there tends to be English versions of menus. I have also found that taking a book with me helps and just acting confidently and discreetly draws little attention.
Staying in tourist areas usually means there is no problems when I’m sightseeing on my own. I’m always conscious of the fact that as a tourist (whether in a group or solo) I can be a good target for pickpockets and, as such, I’m usually very alert to who is around me in busy areas. I will generally use the local transport for getting around (provided that it is safe) or use specific tourist buses. I normally like to wander around a city as a way of exploring, but again I just use my common sense and avoid areas that look deserted, unlit or make me feel uncomfortable.
Generally most tourist cities are safe for females travelling solo, but it is usually a good idea to avoid train stations or areas with lots of bars or pubs late at night. It is also normally better to stay in well-lit, tourist areas but be mindful of pickpockets in these areas and on both local and tourist transport. Walking confidently and looking like you know where you’re going will help to avoid looking like an easy target. Personally, I don’t drink any alcohol when travelling abroad on my own, so that I can remain fully alert to what is going on around me, but this is just my personal choice.
Whenever I’ve travelled solo I’ve found people to be incredibly friendly and, at times, have gone out of their way to make sure I’m ok and safe. I find that more people want to talk to me, whether on the plane or sitting in a local cafe, than when travelling with family or friends and it can be a great way to find out about the local area and people. Being sensible and little bit cautious (for example not telling a complete stranger where you’re going or staying) will usually mean that you are in no less danger than if walking around your home city alone.
Travelling solo can be scary, but when you’ve done it once you can also see how liberating, empowering and fun it can be as well.