Most people do not grow up with extensive experiences traveling alone. When we are young, we go on family vacations, in school we go on class trips and when we are older, we go on trips with our friends or significant other. But what happens when our friends can’t go on a trip? Or don’t want to go to a certain destination? Or what if we don’t have a significant other to accompany us? For many people, that puts an end to ideas of going to a certain place. But it shouldn’t! If we waited for others our entire lives to do something we really want to, we would constantly allow others to shape our experiences.
Of course it’s scary. Being somewhere alone by yourself, potentially somewhere where there is a language barrier. But I have 5 tips to share with you that will hopefully allow you to make solo travel a part of your life.
1. Do Things Alone at Home
My first piece of advice is to do things alone… at home! By doing things alone in a familiar environment, this can help ease you into solo travel. I will admit, I’ve always enjoyed doing things alone. I would go to the movies alone, eat out alone and always preferred shopping alone. If you are worried about solo travel one reason why may be that you aren’t used to having one-on-one time with yourself.
Just as it is important to give time alone with your friends, family, partners, kids, it is equally important (perhaps even more!) to learn how to be comfortable by yourself. So start small. I know some people are afraid of looking like they are alone, perhaps for safety reasons or because they don’t want to look like they don’t have friends. So, go to the movies for an early show when not many people are around. Or a diner on a weekday during business hours. Trust me, way more people do daily activities alone, it is not weird!
2. Start With Small Trips
As much as I (and I am sure many of you) want to jetset across the globe, diving in that deep for your first experience may be a bit overwhelming. So I would recommend doing small, local trips. That could include day trips to a nearby city or a weekend trip out of state via train or bus. My first solo trip was to Montreal from New York (11.5 hours on train, there for two full days). I have done things by myself but never an actual trip. It was a bit scary but honestly, it was not that bad and it made me excited to do more travel. Before that I was a little nervous to have outings in less familiar places. But now I go into the city by myself all the time and I even took another solo trip (all within the same summer) to visit my old school for almost an entire week. It felt amazing.
Start with the day trip. Then do a weekend getaway. Then a four day trip. Soon, you’ll be on your way to long vacations with the best company: yourself.
3. Use the Internet for Comfort
Okay, okay. So I know that you can’t always rely on people you see online for giving you the most accurate, unbiased opinions, but looking up people’s experiences REALLY helped me ease into going places by myself. I searched on Youtube for those who traveled to Montreal when I was going (bonus if they were a solo traveler, double bonus if they were a woman) to see how they got around, the things they did, places they stayed. Don’t just rely on the big Youtubers. I find that is where you can run the risk of just getting sponsored videos (not always) and less than honest opinions. For some reason I was really nervous about my accommodations in Montreal. Even with the seemingly hundreds of reviews I read of the hotel, I was still imagining anything that could go wrong – what if it’s dirty? what if it’s infested with rodents? what if the staff is rude? what if, what if, what if. That’s where Youtube came in handy to put me at ease. I was able to find reviews/tours of the place I was staying to put me at ease, even if it was just a little bit. I have two vlogs from my time in Montreal, check out part one and part two.
Instagram can be great for using the “Places” feature to see people’s photos who logged their location. By the way, check out my Instagram here. It can be helpful to see what people thought of a certain places and see pictures taken by actual consumers/customers, and not the highly edited photos the business uses. I am planning a trip for next year and decided to stay in a hostel, to save money and for the experience. I am pretty nervous to stay in a hostel but I looked up the hostel on Instagram from the places feature and it made me pretty excited to get there. So use the internet as a tool to help ease your mind a bit. It helps.
4. Leave the Spontaneity Behind
At least in part. You should definitely leave some room to do unplanned activities in your trip. That also brings so much excitement to traveling. However, I know there are plenty of people who pretty much book their ticket and that’s it. They enjoy the spontaneity of figuring out where they will sleep, eat and what they will do. I don’t know if I could ever get to that level. I am a planner at heart and as much as I like to believe I am a free spirit, I also like having a routine or structure. A routine is a security blanket. So for your first solo travels, I would not recommend waiting until you arrive to book your accommodations and I would suggest having at least a skeleton of what you will do each day. You may already feel stressed about being alone, you don’t want to arrive to the hotel you thought you would stay in and find out it’s booked, leaving you to stay in a sketchy motel in a bad part of an unfamiliar city.
Tripadvisor is amazing. You can browse the “things to do” section or head over to the forums to get ideas of what to do throughout your trip.
5. Just Take the Plunge
Seriously, just do it! Before my Montreal trip I was sitting in my room, going back and forth in my head about whether to do it or not. I would enter in my information to buy the train ticket, then delete it and close to the page, then bring the page back up and re-enter. Once I got out of that pattern I had the page with my info all ready to go, staring at the purchase (or submit?) button for literally over an hour. I thought, “maybe I shouldn’t go. I can just go to the city instead.” The fear was trying to convince me it was a bad idea, I was alone, I would be a target, etc. But then I remembered how much I dream of traveling and exploring the world and the fact that I am able to do so. I was about to finish my first year of law school (and boyyyyy was it tough), I DESERVED this. I WANT this. So I did it. I purchased my ticket. I had a few minutes of “Oh my gosh, why did I do that? Should I call Amtrak to cancel?” But that quickly subsided and the excitement soon replaced it. And I am so glad I didn’t let fear win.
The hardest part was not the trip itself, but it was putting the wheels in motion and making the committment to go. Same with the gym. The workout isn’t the hardest part mentally, it is actually getting to the gym. It’s getting out of my own head and reminding myself how much better I’d feel once I went. Same happened here. I only took this one trip and I already feel like it changed me for the better. And let’s be real, I went to Montreal, not a third world country or somewhere where there was a complete culture shock. But I learned that I don’t have to rely on anyone else to pursue this passion of mine which is travel. It reaffirmed to me that I am able to rely on myself. It made me comfortable in making my own decisions. And it made me realize that even with little hiccups and mishaps, everything is going to be okay in the end.
So for all of you out there scared to take the plunge and book your first trip, treat it like a bandaid. Close your eyes and do it quick, click confirm and let it sting for a bit. But I promise, just like ripping off a bandaid, you’ll be glad you did and it will feel so much better. You got this.