When I was 20, I hopped on a plane to London for a semester abroad — alone. What started as nervous trip filled with ‘what ifs’ quickly blossomed into weeks of gallivanting around the city, crossing all of the tourist must-dos from my travel bucket list. I quickly realized that it was the first time I had truly been alone in my 20-something years of life, so I decided to capitalize on my new-found freedom — and you should too. With little prep or planning, I did it the hard way. But you don’t have to! Here are the 7 things you should know before taking off on your first-ever solo trip:
1. Choose a destination near your home base
Living in London, Europe was practically my backyard. For my first trip, I chose Rome because it was a quick 2 hour 45 minute flight London, and I knew I could maximize my time there. When planning your first solo adventure, try choosing a city or country within 3 hours of your home base. Being a quick plane/train ride away can help soothe the anxiety that is sometimes associated with solo travel.
Pro Tip: If possible, set your self up for success by polling travel-savvy friends to find the best places around the world for solo travel.
2. Try solo activities in your city
Before I ever jetted off around Europe alone, I traveled around my city by myself to wet my feet. From taking myself on coffee dates around Shoreditch to roaming the V&A Museum sans-friends and lounging on the best beaches near London, I got comfortable with having new experiences on my own. Adventuring and trying out solo activities in your own city before planning your solo adventure will give you the confidence to go out and explore once you’re abroad.
Pro Tip: Reddit solo travel is a great place for meeting like-minded travelers in your city.
3. Have a backup plan
Remaining flexible is one of the cardinal rules of travel, but it becomes especially important when you’re out in the world by yourself. Remember that you have no one to fall back on if your plans suddenly change or if a tour gets canceled. Having a backup plan and a flexible itinerary can keep you from being disappointed if things go astray. On one of my solo travel trips, I took the wrong bus and had to book a hotel upon arrival. I had multiple options for hotels that I researched before my trip. Traveling solo means that you have to over prepare because your travel buddy won’t be there to lean on.
4. Join a group tour
Sure you’re deciding to travel alone, but that doesn’t mean you won’t meet anyone new during your trip. In fact, on most of my solo trips, I’ve met friends that will last a lifetime. If you want to meet travel buddies right away, try signing up for a group tour. This way, you’ll meet locals and other solo travelers, which is nice for those moments that are most beautiful when shared with others. If you’re staying in a hostel, try a pub crawl or an organized excursion. If you’re on the move, try an Airbnb experience.
Pro Tip: Travel communities (like these black travel groups) are a great way to help you navigate and enjoy your new city with people who inherently understand your experience.
5. Pack Light
While traveling solo, you’ll probably be walking and using public transportation in or around your destination, so try to pack light. There’s nothing worse than arriving in a new city or country on your own and with heavy luggage weighing you down. You want to be as agile as possible so that you can be ready for whatever comes your way. On a weekend solo trip in Italy, I spent weeks researching minimalist travel packing tips and ended up with just one small backpack and a fanny pack. I brought along one pair of pants, three shirts, a dress, one pair of sneakers and sandals. The fanny pack held my valuables and electronics like my passport, phone, and portable charger.
6. Acknowledge your fears
It’s perfectly normal to be nervous while traveling solo, meeting new people, and everything else that comes with exploring by one’s self. Acknowledge those fears and then act on them. I usually bring a journal along so that I can reflect on how I’m feeling before, during, and after a trip. Usually, you’ll find that the worries you had before a trip become dissolved. After all, everything that we want is always on the other side of fear.
Pro Tip: Safety is key when you’re alone. Learn how to navigate solo travel safely (without sacrificing any of the experience).
7. Set rules for yourself
While it’s important to acknowledge your fears around traveling alone, it’s just as crucial to set rules and expectations for yourself. If there’s something you’re simply not comfortable doing without the presence of a travel buddy, then don’t. Solo traveling can be a rewarding experience and you are already defying the odds you’ve placed against yourself just by embarking on this journey. Don’t push yourself past your limits if you don’t want to. When I travel solo, I typically don’t stay out very late after dark because I don’t feel as safe as I would if a friend was with me. Figure out what your rules are and stick to them.