Solo travel is a great way to take time for yourself, test your limits, explore the world at your own pace, and connect with other travelers and locals. It’s also quite popular.
About a quarter of millennials have already travelled solo. Online searches for “solo travel” have surged in recent years, too: a 2018 analysis from a prominent UK research group found that in the past seven years, the number of people traveling alone has doubled. And a Booking.com study of some 20,000 travelers found that more than a third loved their first solo trip and already hoped for another.
As fantastic as solo travel can be, planning your first trip can feel daunting as you consider how to stay safe and finance a trip on your own in a new place. You might even be questioning if it’s truly going to be fun!
Not to worry. With just a bit of planning, you can care for your emotional, logistical, and safety needs while you explore alone. Here are three tips to set yourself up for a safe, fun, and flexible adventure.
1. Plan to travel during daylight, and always reserve your first night’s accommodation in advance.
Ignore that ultra-cheap 2 a.m. arrival flight, no matter how tempting, and go for one that arrives in the daytime. That’s when ground transportation to your accommodation will be easier, cheaper, and safer — and this matters when you’re alone.
Daytime will present more taxis, shuttles, public transportation, and other options (i.e., meeting a fellow traveler headed in the same direction and splitting an Uber). It’s no fun to land in a new place after dark only to find that the cabs you assumed would be lined up outside the airport aren’t there, and you don’t have phone service to call one.
You’ll spend less on ground transportation during daylight as well — the $50 you saved on a nighttime flight might be nullified by paying for a midnight Uber instead of the public bus that stopped running at 8 p.m. Finding transportation alone is safer in the day, and if you plan to arrive at a busy time, you’re more likely to have folks to wait with.
Additionally, reserve your first night’s accommodation ahead of time and write down exactly how to get there. Research and planning at home gives you more time to maximize your well-deserved vacation. There’s no reason to be stuck in the airport your first day because you didn’t know that the bus you needed only runs twice a day and you missed it by five minutes. Or that the entire 10-block radius of your hotel is closed to transportation until tomorrow because of a street carnival you just learned about.
And don’t expect your phone navigation to work or to have battery remaining! Such scenarios can be manageable with a travel partner, but add unnecessary risk and stress when you’re alone.
2. Second, plan your trip to balance alone time with one-day or multi-day tours with a group.
Because it is your first time traveling alone, you might want to plan for some comfortable human interaction. Joining a tour group once or twice on your trip will give you touchpoints of community and like-minded travelers.
Group trips are a nice break to look forward to if you worry that you might get lonely, don’t have time to plan logistics for a particular sight or location, or are unsure for exactly how long you can handle driving a rental car alone on the wrong side of the road. If you are concerned for your safety as a single traveler at a destination you really want to see, joining a group tour is a great solution.
You might write off such group trips as applicable only to loners or retired couples or people who were too lazy to read travel guides themselves, but don’t dismiss them too easily. Instead, think of group trips as tools to access new places and simplify your travel plans.
Group tours take care of logistics that are more difficult and costly for solo travelers, such as transportation between faraway places in remote areas. Group tours are also helpful in countries where people do not speak your first language. They can facilitate travel in places where road conditions are unsafe or difficult to navigate alone.
For example, as part of a tour you can travel to the Amazon River by a combination of pickup truck, boat, and bus — but good luck arranging all those connections yourself! Guides also make more travel experiences accessible to you. A backcountry hike in Denali is dangerous for a solo hiker but reasonable as part of a guided group.
3. Finally, pack the least amount possible.
Packing lightly with a backpack opens new travel options. As a light packer, you can fit on a crowded subway in Tokyo, take your luggage on a scooter taxi in Bali, hitchhike through New Zealand in an already-crowded van, or even take an e-bike around NYC.
With light luggage, you can walk between destinations if you wish. As a solo traveler without a companion to split rental cars or cab fares with, this saves money, too. Whatever you pack, you’ll have to be responsible for — no one else is going to carry those bags!
Packing lightly also allows you to meet more people: you won’t be the one lagging behind the crowd with a giant bag; you won’t be sweating as you trudge down the street with backpacks strapped to your back and chest. Instead, you’ll be casually walking down the street with the freedom to pop into any store or café you like without being worried about knocking things over as you go through the door.
The less you bring, the easier it is to travel with other people you meet spontaneously, as well. For instance, a 35-liter backpack might allow you to snag the last spot in a campervan where your 55-pound suitcase might leave you behind.
As you can see, solo travel might take a bit of extra consideration, but is nothing to stress about. Just a few extra hours of preparation at home will set you up for a rejuvenating and fun trip.
There’s something about striking out alone —walking the line between being smart and adventurous — that seasons us and teaches us about ourselves. And meeting new people and experiencing new cultures not only broadens our horizons — it helps us to understand the interconnectedness of our world and find our place in improving it for its animals, plants, and people.