How to travel alone and love it
Ever wanted to travel alone, but don't know how to start? You're in luck! Learn how to travel alone and see the world open up to you in amazing new ways!
Jun 24, 2019
Since she was born in California, USA, Madelyn has been traveling one way or another-- her love for exploring new places and cultures to share them...
Some people are perfectly content to travel with their friends and family — which isn't a bad thing. When traveling with people that you already know, you have a built-in companionship element to your trip. You'll get to know that person better than you've ever known them, learn how to work as a team, and have plenty of opportunities to practice conflict resolution!
But have you ever wondered what it's like to be one of those solo travelers, fearless and freely exploring the world?
Traveling on your own is unique. The solo traveler is offered an experience that nothing else in the world can compare to, and it’s worth the risks— believe me!
I've taken many different kinds of trips in the 25 years I've been alive — road trips with family and with friends, international trips with huge tour groups as well as with just an intimate handful of people. Let me tell you: the international trip I did last year — all by myself — is one of the best things I've done in my life.
I'll never regret taking the leap and going overseas on my own, not as long as I live! Some of the best memories of my life came from the time I spent on the coast of Scotland, volunteering in the United Kingdom as a receptionist through Worldpackers in a little seaside town, and from wandering the Scottish highlands as I based myself in Fort William and cleaned bunks at another hostel!
Not only did I make great friends and learn more about people and other cultures as I moved from hostel to hostel, but I got to know more about myself! This is a common benefit that people experience when taking a trip alone — when you aren't already part of a group, you're forced to interact with people you wouldn't normally talk to, and it's easier for others to talk to you!
Likewise, during times when you don't have anyone else around to chat with, you're forced to make do with your own self for company! More often than not, you'll have the time and distraction-free space to get to know yourself better as you travel alone.
What other benefits can traveling solo offer you?
1. You will gain confidence!
When I traveled alone for the first time, I got to see firsthand just how capable I was! One risk of traveling the world alone is the possibility for making big mistakes and then suffering the consequences with no one to help us out!
It can be scary knowing that any decision you make could be a wrong one that could get you in trouble — without having anyone else to act as a sounding board for our ideas, we don't always want to be the only person to blame for a wrong choice.
When we get tired, frustrated, hungry, or scared, our logic can be impaired, and we can mess things up royally... and when you're on the road alone, that can mean anything from losing money, missing a train, bus, or plane, or even ending up with no place to stay for the night. Sometimes, it could even lead into a dangerous situation!
But the amazing thing is this: when you are on your own, you'll quickly find out how able you are to handle these things. You'll learn to trust your instincts when it comes to interacting with strangers. You'll see that you're more resourceful than you think, that you can be confident enough to take care of difficult situations as they arise... it's a beautiful moment when you can look back on all of the ways you have risen to the occasion and succeeded.
When I look back at my first solo trip, I smile — even when I think of the hard times. When I think of that time I had to spend an unplanned night in a strange city without a place to stay, I remember how I ended up at an AirBnB with a lovely young woman and her adorable dog — and that we're Instagram friends now.
When I remember the times I wandered through new towns and found the right buses to get where I needed to go, I can't help but be proud of how few times I got lost, or how I was always able to get back on track.
When I remember a time when a man that I thought was just friendly turned out to be a nasty person who just wanted to touch me inappropriately, I can remember with pride how well I handled it and scared him away.
Although some of these experiences were frightening, especially when I was alone, I am so happy that I saw what I was capable of — as a solo traveler, and as a young woman!
Just like it did for me, traveling alone will give you plenty of opportunities to develop independence, self-sufficiency, and confidence in your ability to take care of yourself.
2. You'll make awesome new friends!
Another benefit of exploring new places alone is the opportunities you will have to create relationships with people you'd never thought you'd be friends with.
Whether you plan on staying in hostels, volunteering at international organizations, or on just meeting people as you tour new places, you will find that it's easier to mingle with people when you are part of a smaller group — especially if it's just you! Whether on a plane, in a line to get into Buckingham Palace, or in a local shop, chatting with people will be a breeze in many places!
For some people, talking to strangers and making friends while traveling alone might feel more overwhelming than learning to skydive! If you typically have trouble talking to people, all you need to do to get a conversation started is learn to ask questions: most people love to have an answer, and before you know it, you'll either have the information you needed... or a new friend!
In hostels, among other travelers, a simple "where are you from?" or "how long have you been in this city? Any sights that are a must-see?" will go a long way! Just smile, listen, ask more questions, and pretty soon you'll realize that most people are easy to talk to.
3. It will give you a taste of freedom!
Last but not least, the freedom of being able to go wherever you wish, whenever you wish, and to do whatever you wish when you get there is more than a little intoxicating.
With almost no one else you need to consider when you make plans (except the common courtesy you give to the people around you, of course) you are free to experience life in a way that few people can say they have! You can take on any challenge you wish. You can change your plans as much as you want, or have no plan.
I loved being able to go where my fancies led me while I traveled alone— I could explore bookshops to my heart's content, eat wherever I felt like eating, or just sit in a coffeeshop and sketch, all without worrying that a friend would get bored or want to do something else. As much as I love all of my friends, traveling alone was delightful!
Now, traveling alone can be difficult — I don't mean to say it's always easy! Loneliness is real, and it's possible to feel indescribably lonely, even when you are in a room full of friendly people. If we travel long enough, we will almost always feel the absence of the familiar, and miss the comfort of our family and friends that we've left behind. During times like these, especially when you feel overwhelmingly alone, it's important to keep a healthy perspective.
4. You'll become better at being alone and managing feelings of loneliness
Remember that your trip is temporary, but your relationships are not. You will be home soon enough, and your friends will still be there when you get back! If you miss someone, it's okay to talk to them — find a wifi signal and give them a call! Write them a postcard! Send them a text!
But also know that it's important to enjoy your trip. It would be a sad thing to get home and realize that you spent the trip of a lifetime simply wishing you were somewhere else.
It's okay to miss your home, your loved ones, or even familiar things — your food, your culture. This is normal. Let yourself be sad for a little while, but be sure to tell yourself when enough is enough. When you are ready to move on, plan something extra fun for yourself to do, preferably with other people — and then do it, and then tell someone you've been missing about what you did.
When you hear how excited they are for you, you will be assured that your solo trip is not a failure simply because you are lonely... and you'll be less lonely because of your interaction!
So... are you convinced that a solo trip is your next big adventure? If so, you may be wondering how to get started.
Let me tell you this: there is a lot of work that goes into planning a solo trip, especially if it's your first. But don't get overwhelmed. Let's take a look at how you can overcome some of the obstacles that may be keeping you from packing your bags and hitting the high road.
How to travel alone and love it
1. Get your family and friends onboard!
The first thing that comes out of the mouths of many of my friends when I mention how awesome solo traveling is this: "My parents would never want me to travel all by myself!" Sadly, I think this mindset that solo travel is inherently more dangerous keeps a lot of smart young people from experiencing any travel at all!
We don't always have friends who are as adventurous as we are, or who want to go on the same kind of trip to the same place as we do — or, if they do, they may not be the best person to travel with! It's absolutely possible to go on a trip with a friend or two and get into more trouble because of the people you're with than you would on your own!
If your family or friends are worried about you traveling by yourself, talk it over with them— you may not need their permission to go, but it's MUCH easier to travel alone when you know you have a supportive group of loved ones back home!
Ask them what their concerns are. For example, maybe they're worried that you will be robbed while you travel. After finding out the concern, tell them how you are going to keep yourself safe from robbery while you are abroad: such as precautions you will take with your luggage, a special pocket you will wear that will protect your passport under your clothes, etc.
Show them that you are aware of all the problems that may occur, then show them that you are prepared to handle them. If they know you have thought about the difficulties as well as the fun, they will feel much better if they know you have a plan to take care of yourself!
If you are worried that you will be lonely, you can ask your friends to write you notes or plan time to video-chat while you are on the road. My mom and friend both wrote me letters while I was in Scotland, and I loved hearing that I had mail. It was so special to open up a card and carry it with me from hostel to hostel — almost like I had a piece of my home with me. Physical letters or not, with today's technology, it's very easy to keep in touch!
2. Research where to go!
If you already know you want to travel solo but don't know where to go yet, check out my article on the top places and tips to travel alone in Europe. You might find your next adventure!
Start looking at your dreams, and see what it takes to turn them into real-life options: maybe your dream is to travel all over China, but you don't speak Chinese and are nervous about being all alone in a place where you can't speak the language. That's an easy thing to fix!
Gain experience by traveling solo in a place where you DO speak the language, first. Then, after you've built up your confidence and experience, you'll feel more ready to tackle your larger dreams!
Some places are better for first-time solo travelers than others. If you're a woman who is nervous about traveling alone for the first time, research the cultures in the countries and regions you are interested in. This will give you a good idea of how safe you will feel in each one. For example, in Scotland and Norway, both considered great countries for solo female travel, I felt very safe — everyone was respectful and stayed out of my business!
In Israel, I had to be prepared to ignore men who catcalled in the street, or who tried to ask me for my personal information and got a little too friendly. This doesn't necessarily mean that I was more "unsafe" in Israel than in Scotland, but it was definitely easier and less stressful to interact with people in Scotland! Think about the culture as well as the language, and take that into consideration as you choose the best place for your first solo trip!
Remember, its not a bad thing to pick a place that you will feel the safest, especially for your first trip. It's important to set yourself up for success! If you're a woman traveling alone, check out this list of the top countries recommended for solo female travel.
Once you choose a destination, decide how much planning ahead you want to do. For longer trips (one month or more), I recommend planning at least two weeks out from your arrival date. This will allow you to adjust to a new place while feeling secure in a plan — knowing where to go, what to see, and how to get there.
Depending on your comfort level, you may want to plan more, and that's okay! Just make sure you don't over-plan, as you might discover better things to do and see once you start to explore. You might even meet neat people as you travel, and want to do some touring with them!
Because my plans were loose during the end of my trip in Scotland, I got to rent a car with a new friend and drive all over the highlands with her. We had a blast! But it never would have happened if I had my whole trip planned with tickets already purchased and hostels already booked.
3. Before you go, make sure you have all the information you need to succeed
What does that require?
I like to have my directions to my final destination planned out before I arrive. Before I even get on the plane to fly to the next country, I'll look up where my hostel is, the buses or streets I will have to take to get there, and sometimes I'll even look up multiple ways to get there for if I miss a train or something goes wrong. Often, I'll take screenshots of the map on my smartphone, or write directions down— just in case.
This helps me feel much more secure and safe, knowing that when I arrive at my destination, no matter how sleep-deprived and jet-lagged I am, I'll know what to do next and how to get to my new "home base"!
Being prepared also means knowing the laws and customs of the country you are visiting — make sure that you have a visa (or in what cases they require a visa), and that you know what you legally can do in the country.
It's never happened to me, but I've heard of solo travelers being deported because they have a miscommunication with a customs officer. Know what is acceptable in the country you're visiting, and present yourself in a way that is appropriate. It's important to be on the right side of the law, especially in a foreign country.
I usually know how long I am going to stay in a country before I go, and I try to have my ticket out of the country before I get there. That way, the customs officers know that I am planning on leaving after I'm done touring, and not on becoming an illegal immigrant. It can make customs much less stressful.
4. Have a plan for how to keep yourself safe in the country you visit
Some places have very low crime, such as the Scandinavian countries. Some cities, however, like Paris, are home to countless people who target travelers and try to steal and scam them out of their belongings and money!
Learn what the typical kinds of crime are for the place you are going, and then think through how you are going to handle it if someone tries it on you! For example — if an area is full of pickpockets or purse thieves, keep your valuables where you can see and feel them at all times, and don't keep them all in one place. Hide them so you don't draw attention to yourself, stay out of tight crowds, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
There are many articles online with simple travel safety tips that can help you stay safe all over the world — I suggest you check some of them out and come up with your own plan to protect yourself and your belongings as you travel! This will not only keep you safe on the road, but it may also prevent you from the struggles that dealing with theft can bring.
Some common (and helpful) suggestions are to carry your money in several forms (one or two cards as well as some cash) and in several places (wallet, secret pocket, in your shoe). In places with high crime rates, I've even carried a fake wallet, with some cash in small denominations, as well as expired ID cards and used gift cards.
If someone demands that I give them my wallet, I can give them that worthless one and escape with my real one. Thankfully, though, I've never had to rely on it!
4. Be prepared to have the best time of your life
Finally, be prepared to have the best time of your life — after all, by having a plan for the hard times, you'll be free to take full advantage of the amazing opportunities that life will present to you while you travel solo, free and without fear!