I was born with a traveler’s soul, stepping on my first plane before I could even walk or talk. Since my first flight, I have traveled to over 30 different countries, and moved to 6 different cities across the globe, all by myself. These are my words of wisdom for slightly nervous first time travellers. I know that what holds back a lot of individuals, especially women, from travelling is the thought about doing it on their own. I hope this gives you the push you need to get that backpack packed and that ticket booked. It’s time to go on that trip of a lifetime!

slow travel

Prepare Yourself

Depending on where you are going, you should have a rough outline on where you want to go. At the very least you should have a hostel booked for a couple of days once you have arrived at your destination and know how to get from the airport to your hotel/hostel. One of the MOST common scams are airport taxi scams, so be prepared. When arriving in Chile, I learned that there is a a service called a Transvip (a small private bus) that dropped of people at their respective locations for around US$6. one way. When I was checking into my hostel in Santiago, another new arrival asked front desk it if was normal to pay US$100 for a taxi ride. Do your research on the climate you are going to and be smart with what you pack SMART. Chic outfits for a night on the town can be bought, make sure to pack the basics: a sturdy pair of shoes, power converters, warm clothes (layer up!) and a copy of all important documents either on a USB key or emailed to yourself. Trust me, if you loose your passport, a copy can be quite the lifesaver. 

black-and-white-iphone-smartphone-desk

Ease Yourself Into it

If you have never traveled alone by yourself and solo-travel irks you, then why not travel with a tour company. Yes you could do it cheaper on your own, but, again, it can be money really well spent to have the first two weeks of your trip with instant friends, instant roomies and someone showing you the ropes of travel. If you want to go with a company, try to make it a sustainable one like Apus Peru, G Adventures and/or Sumak Travel. Do your research as these types of community-based tourism companies not offer you a once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences  while also supporting local communities in a way that is socially, financially and environmentally sustainable. 

solo female travel

Be Open-Minded 

Travel, whether it is solo or not, will make you uncomfortable. New culture, people, languages and food can be a lot to handle but the best thing to do is to take a deep breathe and be open minded. During your solo-travels you might meet someone you really click with or learn about a place that you just can’t miss – these new meetings or revelations can lead to changes to your original travel itinerary. My advice is to keep an open-mind when traveling because you never know where the path might lead … 

zip-lining for the first time
zip-lining for the first time

Trust Your Instincts

There are times that you can get swept up in the excitement of travel – meeting new people, seeing new places – but remember that bad things can happen on the road and it is always best to trust your instincts. Don’t be paranoid, but if a rare situation comes up when you just do not feel safe, then don’t worry what anyone else thinks, act on it. 

Avoided my gut feelings, ending up in a mugging. Fat lip and lost glasses.
Avoiding my gut feelings ending up in a mugging. Fat lip and lost glasses. Read more here

Trust No One

People will tell you to expect the best when traveling – don’t expect everyone to rip you off or steal your stuff. The majority of people you meet will be good, and kind and happy to help you. Expect that and look for that. You will be surprised at the goodness that falls in your path. HOWEVER, expecting the best in people does not mean that you should let your guard down. I have heard of stories from people who were put in very dangerous situations because they believed that the locals were “happy to help.” Be suspicious AND most importantly never put yourself in a position where you have to rely on someone. When I was in Chile an acquaintance of mine almost got abducted from a club because she was too drunk to stand and someone took advantage of that. Her friends ended up ditching her; they didn’t want to babysit a drunk girl. Thankfully nothing happened. My advice is to: avoid getting too drunk, avoid stumbling home alone in the dark (HUGE no-no) and avoid going to unknown places with strangers. In the end, the only person you can 100 percent trust is yourself. 

Be suspicious but be friendly. My new Aussie and American friends made in Santiago.
Be suspicious but be friendly. My new Aussie and American friends made in Santiago.

BE FRIENDLY

Yes, the last point was a little grim but being careful does not mean avoiding all human contact when travel solo. Meeting new people is the best part of solo-travel. When traveling in groups, most people have their friends as their travel safety net, meaning that they do not necessarily need to meet new people to have fun. When solo, travelers are forced to overcome any inhibitions they might have to meet people. But go beyond meeting travelers and learn about the culture of a place by meeting the locals. Learn about their lives. Be generous. Take small gifts. Share about your life. Immerse yourself and learn something new. 

person-beach-holiday-vacation

Disconnect

Loneliness is a big issue when traveling solo and a lot of travellers might try to overcome that feeling by going on Skype or messaging their friends and loved ones back home. It’s easy to get sucked into it. Before you know it, you are spending your evenings on Skype with your mom or significant other, telling them how much you miss them, instead of going down to the lounge in the hostel and striking up a conversation with some of travelelrs. Yes, it is super awkward when starting a conversation with someone you don’t know, but once you take that first step, it is all downhill from there. It just takes that one commonality that sparks a conversation, then others start to join in and before you know it there are ten of you laughing, joking and heading out together for a night out on the town. 

Avoid Night Travel

As a solo traveller, I would strongly recommend against traveling by bus during the night time, especially if the bus arrives during the night at its destination. Train stations and bus stations are known as the worst areas to be in during night time no matter which country you are visiting. Whether I am in Paris (Gare du Nord), Brussels (Gare du Midi), Santiago (Estacion Central), Rio de Janeiro (Rodoviária Novo Rio) or Buenos Aires (Retiro), I’ve heard the same story: it is not safe. It may save time and money, but arriving at 4 am at a bus station in a town that you are not familiar with puts you at a greater risk. Furthermore, popular tourist overnight buses can sometimes be subject to attack. In 2013, for a example, a Cruz del Sur overnight bus on its way to Cusco was stopped by eight armed men and US$50,000 worth of goods was stolen. Although the probability of something like this happening is somewhat rare, the question is: are you willing to take the risk?

Going at it alone

Don’t Afraid to Splurge

Adhereing to specific budgets is important, however if a certain situation arises, do not be afraid to splurge a little bit. Make sure to bring your credit card as unexpected costs can suddenly appear. When I was in Santiago, I booked a flight with Pluma to Rio de Janeiro. Little did I know that Pluma went bankrupt and when I arrived to the airport, there was no flight. 

tranquilo in Brazil
tranquilo in Brazil

Don’t sweat the small stuff

In Panama, they had a saying, tranquilo. It is a saying that most of the country adopts, and that, frankly, drove me completely insane when I first moved there. I remember one weekend when my host family told me that we were going away for the weekend. They told me: be ready for 8 am! The next day we left the house at 8 pm. Bumps and hiccups happen. You will get ripped off. You probably will loose something. You will run into someone that just rubs you the wrong way. C’est la vie. Deal with it and move one – don’t let it ruin your travels! 

And there you have it. My top tips for solo travellers who want to have a life changing trip. Don’t wonder “what if” –  you will never regret the travel you do. Don’t use “I haven’t got anyone to go with” as an excuse. Just take the plunge.

Do you agree with my tips? Have anything to add? 

19 Comments

    1. [sigh, comments earlier lost in the internet ether]

      Great list… I’ve always found female travelers are the more adventurous… solo traveling to the more “sketchier” of destinations long before the guys do.

      Couple points…

      I agree 110%, arrange your travel from the airport and a place to stay the first couple nights before you arrive. The airport is intimidating no matter what new place your at (although Schippol (AMS) is by far the best to get out of on a short layover) and it’s a gauntlet of scammers to get through no matter if you are male or female. Easier to get your bearings in the day time with a safe bed to sleep in and a place to store your things, than doing it in the middle of the night in some strange place. PS… avoid “The Dance” that happens in all the tourist epicenters, where the oblivious tourists & those waiting to pray on them congregate, ‘exchange’ valuables, and ensure horror stories return from an exotic place.

      Buy a SIM first thing you do (either at the airport – the UK has them in vending machines, or once you wake up after your first night in country). That means, you have to make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave home… and don’t think you can do it the day before you leave. You don’t have to be “face in your phone” while traveling, but the safety and piece of mind knowing where you are, or that you can call for help at any point in time, goes without saying. Monthly plans with unlimited data are roughly $20 or less in other countries… it was the 1st thing I did once in country traveling 3 months in EU last year. Yes, free wifi exists, but how much time will you end up wasting not seeing the sights or having fun as you try to track it down???

      Lastly, don’t take money from home. ATMs are everywhere, and your home bank will give you the best rate of exchange. Wanna watch the daily rates to save a few, fine. I usually pull just under US$300 in local currency and see where it gets me. The $5-8 your bank charges you, not a bad deal compared to getting scammed or ripped off by money exchangers. I’ve yet to run into a situation where I’ve needed to bring a large amount of money with me… why, just to be worried someone’s gonna jump me or take it while I’m sleeping???

      Above all, be fun, be safe, and enjoy where you’re at. 🙂

    1. Great list! I couldn’t agree more. The “don’t sweat the small stuff” one is a biggie, probably the hardest and most important. While you’re bringing a credit card, make sure you bring one that doesn’t charge international fees and tell them where you are going beforehand! I’ve made both of those mistakes.

      1. Exactly, the last point is hard – but it does come with practice. I know that I have been travelling for such a long time and I still am trying to get use to it.

      1. No problem! If you need any more tips please let me know what I would love to help you out.

    1. Great list! I definitely agree with the last one. Sometimes bad things happen but in the grand scheme of things they’re not that bad. Sometimes you do get ripped off and sometimes things don’t go to plan!

    1. Great list and insights about traveling solo, although I’d say many of them apply to traveling with someone else. I’ve learned that being prepared (such as asking in advance how much to pay for a taxi ride) is so important.

    1. When I read “Trust No One”, I was disappointed. Thankfully, I kept reading because I couldn’t agree more. People always tell me that I’m going to get ripped off or robbed or stolen from but I haven’t had it happen in any of my travels ever!

    1. These are great tips, even for non-solo travelers. I travel with my family and it does make you uncomfortable sometime and you do have to remember to now sweat the small stuff. Sometimes it’s hard, but totally worth it!

    1. i agree with Dana, these are great tips for everyone to follow. It’s so important to keep your wits about you while you travel. Of course make friends and have fun, but when that spidey sense starts tingling you need to know to follow your instincts and avoid danger.

    1. A pretty good list that should not apply to just solo travellers. I especially like the don’t sweat the small stuff. Sometimes that alone can make a lot of difference.

    1. I don’t agree with the ‘trust no one’ comment. It sounds far too negative, and puts an instant barrier up which is going to stop one of the best things about travel happening – which is meeting people from different cultures. I mean, otherwise, what’s the point of travel? perhaps a better phrasing would be ‘ be wary of everyone’, or more accurately, ‘don’t be naive’.

      1. Thank you for the point, I might have to rethink that point and maybe add some more information about it. I feel that be wary and trust no one is basically the same thing. Its the idea that you should be open minded and be friendly but always remember to count primarily on yourself 🙂 Thanks for the comment though!

    1. I’m so glad that you mentioned being open-minded. SO many times I’ve seen people in foreign countries and being very disrespectful and judgmental. People need to remember that they aren’t home and people all over the world do things differently.

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