If you have found yourself contemplating solo travel lately, then you’re not alone. The number of solo travel bookings in the UK has increased significantly in the last few years.
I have travelled solo for years, ever since I took a gap year and travelled on my own around Europe during my law studies. As much as I love holidaying with friends, I really look forward to my solo trips. It’s a time when I can do exactly what I want, where I push myself outside of my comfort zone, meet new people and make new friends.
But not everyone is as comfortable and at ease when travelling alone. And that’s understandable. Introverts can be pushed further back inside their shells and end up having a terrible time. But take it from this introvert, solo travel can be the best experience of your life.
Here are fourteen tips that have helped me become a better solo traveller and a better human as a result:
The key to solo travel is all in the preparation. As you’ll see below, most of the challenges to solo travel can be overcome before you even leave home. So give yourself time to research locations, neighbourhoods, accommodation (always check the reviews), transport for getting around your chosen destination, and what you want to do when you’re there.
Prepare as much as you can, but always leave time and opportunities for serendipitous encounters and adventures.
Choose your destination carefully, using your appetite for adventure as your guide. If you’re new to solo travel and don’t want to jump in the deep end straight away, avoid countries with a reputation for crime and danger. Japan is an ideal destination if you want to experience a new culture without worrying about safety. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, as well as being one of the most fascinating places on earth and home to pretty awesome people.
Also avoid destinations that are typical honeymoon destinations. Places like the Amalfi Coast in Italy (Positano in particular), French Polynesia and the Maldives are spectacular to be sure. But you’ll probably end up feeling totally self-conscious as the only weirdo singleton in the whole place.
Think about which nations are known for their friendliness and hospitality. Ireland is a great option, as is Australia and a lot of places in the USA.
Once you’ve chosen where you’re going, research neighbourhoods where you want to stay based on safety and what you plan to do when you’re there. There’s no point staying in a dodgy neighbourhood where you’ll feel nervous about walking home on your own at night.
A Google search for “How safe is [xyz] neighbourhood” will always give you an answer. And Google Maps is fantastic for planning how easy it will be to get from your accommodation to the various places you plan to go while you’re there. Work out whether it’s walkable, requires public transport or an Uber.
4. Walk Everywhere
Walking is a great way to get around. It’s free, it gives you time to explore neighbourhoods and it can provide unexpected discoveries of local shops, galleries and cafes. If nothing else, load up on podcasts and use the time to catch up on whatever inspires you.
5. Talk to Everyone (and smile)
This one can be a little daunting for the introverts amongst us. But it’s a mindset and just requires an open perspective and commitment.
Make the decision that you’ll talk to everyone you encounter on your trip and you’ll be surprised at the results. Smiling and having open body language helps. If you sit there hunched over your phone, it’s not going to work.
If you go to cool independent coffee shops, interesting galleries and independent boutiques and markets, chances are the people there are pretty interesting. Strike up a conversation – what’s the worst that could happen?
The best trip I’ve ever been on was the one that came out of the blue. I walked into a bar in Tokyo, got chatting to the regulars and ended up exploring the city for the rest of that week with the most crazy, eclectic and creative group of locals. And they have all become friends who I’ve kept in touch with to this day.
6. Go to Independent Coffee Shops
Every time I go on a solo trip, I always start every day at a local independent coffee shop. This requires some research by looking up the best premium coffee places. Avoid chain coffee shops and anywhere that is featured in mainstream travel guides like the Lonely Planet.
The reason why I do this is because usually the people who work at or go to good cafes are generally discerning when it comes to coffee, and usually know about other good cafes, restaurants and things yo do in the city.
Sit at a communal space if you can, strike up a conversation and ask for tips on dining, drinking and culture in the city. And don’t forget to ask the baristas for their travel tips – they always have great recommendations.
7. Museums and Galleries
Museums and galleries are always a great way to experience a city and not feel self-conscious about being on your own. I always research the lesser-known galleries to avoid the big tourist crowds, and to experience something a little unique.
Like museums and galleries, markets are great places to blend in and not feel self-conscious. Research markets in your chosen destination because often they are only open a couple of days of the week or only on weekends.
The Rose Bowl Flea Market in Los Angeles is the ultimate experience for vintage clothing and furniture. You could spend a whole day there. Food markets are also a great way to spend time, pick out fresh produce to use to cook for ourself at your AirBnB that night (if you want a night off from dining out on your own…)
9. Dine Out on Your Own – Here’s How to Do it with feeling weird
A lot of people struggle with this, and I can understand their reluctance to dine alone. Most people feel incredibly self-conscious about dining by themselves. But like anything else, it just takes practice and before you know it you won’t even think twice:
- To ease yourself into it, choose casual cafe-style restaurants where it’s not unusual to see people eating or working on their own.
- If you want to try finer dining, then go during the day when there are fewer couples at other tables. There’s nothing more intimidating than arriving at a restaurant in the evening to find it full of couples, low-lighting and candles and soft jazz music on the sound system.
- Choose a restaurant that has counter or bar seating. I do this all the time, and never feel self-conscious about it. There are often other solo-diners doing the same thing, and you never know, they might be pretty interesting to talk to. And if all else fails, the bar staff can be a great source of local travel tips and conversation.
- Always take a book with you. It gives you something to occupy yourself with and somehow a book is slightly less anti-social than being hunched over your phone for the duration of your meal.
In the end, you’ve just got to bite the bullet and not care what people think of you. Because when you think about it, have you ever been at a restaurant with friends, clocked a solo diner and judged them cruelly? No! No one will care if you’re there by yourself or not. The world does not revolve around you and your dining habits. Get over yourself and enjoy a delicious meal in an exciting foreign location.
10. Establish a Routine
If you’re staying somewhere for a good few days, establish a routine. If I find a really good cafe near where I’m staying, I go there each morning around the same time for my morning coffee and to plan the day ahead. Doing this, I get to know other regulars and the baristas, who are all great sources of travel tips and often great for conversations.
11. Do NOthing – And Don’t beat yourself up about it
There’s nothing wrong with deciding to do nothing at all. Set yourself up with a book in a sunny spot in a scenic corner of the place you’re visiting. Laze by the pool and catch up on emails. Don’t feel guilty for indulging in a lazy afternoon. The beauty of travelling solo is you can do whatever the hell you want.
12. Organise an Experience
This is where your research is important. What is unique to the place you’re visiting? What would be an awesome experience to write home about? I’ve done sauna yoga classes in Helsinki, and plunged into the Baltic Sea at floating sea baths afterwards. I did sound baths in Venice in Los Angeles, as well as an urban sweat lodge by way of hangover cure in West Hollywood. I did a meditation class on the beach in Santa Monica.
There are so many things you can do everywhere, you just need to look it up in advance. A good place to start is on AirBnB Experiences.
13. Walking Tours
Although the quality can vary, walking tours are the perfect way to discover a city, and hear about its people and history. If the tour guide is particularly good, they are also great sources of tips for discovering the city
Check the online reviews before you sign up.
14. Organised Group Holidays
Forget tacky Contiki tours. There are now so many options for solo travellers to base their travel around a sport or interest. I’ve done an open water swimming holiday in the Greek Islands, and a sailing course in southern Spain, both of which are still so memorable for all good reasons.
These kinds of holidays generally attract like-minded people, although it can be luck of the draw and each group will have its villains who annoy everyone, but that’s part of the group bonding and fun.
There’s week-long cooking schools in the Dordogne, hiking trips through Nepal and sailing schools in Croatia. Whatever your interest, there’s someone organising a group travel experience around it.
One final note on safety – all of these tips are based on travel to relatively safe places. If you’re venturing solo to places known for crime, backwards attitudes towards women and civil unrest, then obviously these tips may not necessarily be practical without taking a lot of extra precautions, but that’s a blogpost for another day.
So, with that in mind, go forth and travel and let me know how it goes. And if you have any other solo travel tips, leave them in the comments below!