The Essential Solo Traveler’s Survival Guide

Meesapulimala

Traveling solo doesn’t mean you can’t still have exciting adventures! This is me at the top of India’s Meesapulimala, the second-highest peak in the Western Ghats at 8,661 feet (2,640 meters).

Traveling solo is an experience everyone should have at least once. That being said, to those who have never done it it can seem like a scary endeavor. I’m here to tell you once you take that first step to beginning your solo adventure, you’ll be giving yourself a life-changing experience that will allow you to strengthen your relationship with yourself. To help prepare you for taking to the road on your own, here is my personal Solo Travel Survival Guide.

Have A Positive Attitude From The Start

Before boarding your plane, say to yourself, “I will have a positive experience.” Live by the solo female traveler’s unofficial official manifesto (if you’re a male, tailor it as needed), and pledge to have rewarding adventures, grow your relationship with yourself, immerse yourself in foreign cultures, learn something new, change your perspective, help people, make friends and create unforgettable memories that help you realize why you booked the trip in the first place. While the expression may be overused, “attitude is everything” is a quote to live by.

Make Time To Connect With Yourself

Making time to connect with yourself is an essential part of traveling solo. Wander the city on your own (make sure to have a map and your hotel’s business card on you in case you get lost) and let yourself feel the pulse of where you are; meditate in a peaceful park; journal your observations and reactions from the trip; go for a sunrise jog near the water. These are all activities where your mind is free to roam without being censored or distracted. And as traveling solo allows for a lot of alone time, you’ll be able to analyze your thoughts and make deep realizations about yourself.

friends

Knowing how to make friends when traveling solo can really enhance the experience.

Know How To Make Friends When You Want To

While you should make time to connect with yourself, you should also know how to make friends when you want company. If you’re interested in meeting locals, CouchSurfing.org is a great resource, as you can post on city-specific forums to tell locals and other travelers you’re in town and would love to meet up. Additionally, hanging out in social places like bars, parks and at events can help you mingle with new people. Free walking tours tend to attract backpackers, as do money exchanges and hostels.

Know How To Stay Safe

Whether traveling alone or in a group, safety should always be your number one concern. This is especially true when traveling solo, as you don’t have other people looking out for you. As soon as you arrive at your hotel, ask for a map annotated with where it’s safe to walk around alone and where it’s not. After dark, avoid walking alone and instead opt for taxis. Have fun and enjoy the nightlife scene, but keep drinking to a minimum so you can think clearly and make smart decisions. If you’re a U.S. citizen, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) before leaving home so the government can better assist you in an emergency. For more on this, check out 17 Safety Tips For Solo Travelers.

Talk To Strangers (But Keep Your Guard Up)

I remember when I first started traveling solo, my dad would always say “Have fun and don’t talk to strangers.”; however, meeting locals and other travelers on the road is three-quarters of the fun. My advice is to talk to everyone: bartenders, cab drivers, hostel mates, the woman who made your morning coffee, your tour guide. That being said, always keep your guard up and remember you don’t really know these people, no matter how genuine they seem. Resist giving personal information like how much money you have on you, that your family has no idea where you are or your bank information so they can go take out beer money from the ATM. It’s also smart to stick to public places like bars, restaurants and attractions for meetups.

clever travel companion

Clever Travel Companion pickpocket-proof undergarments. Photo courtesy of Clever Travel Companion.

Invest In Pickpocket-Proof Clothing

When traveling solo, I always feel like a walking target when my purse is bulging with my cell phone, camera, money and credit cards. Even when backpacking Europe, which was one of my “safest” trips, I was constantly being warned of pickpocketers (I met a guy who was 6’5’’ and 260 pounds who was pickpocketed twice in two months!). That’s why I’m obsessed with pickpocket-proof clothing, which you can buy from brands like Clever Travel Companion and Clothing Arts. The clothing consists of shirts, pants and undergarments with hidden inside pockets, so nobody ever needs to know you’re carrying anything (and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t want to touch your privates to get it).

Roll With The Punches

Especially for first timers, traveling solo can be daunting. That being said, booking your flight is the first step toward this life-changing experience where you’ll not only connect with the world, but with yourself. Keep in mind, things are bound to go wrong along the way — missed connections, lost items, misplaced reservations, miscommunications. There may also be times you feel lonely, homesick or travel fatigue. Know that your reactions and feelings are normal, and deal with them in a calm and logical manner. It isn’t the end of the world, and you shouldn’t let these things ruin your trip.

Pack Light

Packing light is essential when traveling solo, as again you have nobody looking out for you (or helping you carry stuff) but yourself. The more you bring the more likely you are to lose and forget things. Additionally, if you’re backpacking it’s much easier to move from place to place with a lighter load.

piggy bank

Piggy bank. Photo courtesy of svilen001.

Know How To Travel On A Budget

When traveling solo you don’t have anyone to help you with costs on the road. To alleviate this burden, it’s best to know some tips for saving money. Choose hostels, homestays and CouchSurfing over hotels; avoid touristy restaurants or eateries with English menus and instead opt for street food and mom and pop establishments; opt for free walking tours and check to see if certain museums and attractions have free visiting hours; learn how to hack your next trip; and bring your own water bottle to refill as you go instead of buying them daily (as long as the country’s water is safe to drink). For more on this, check out 20 Tips For Traveling Like A VIP On A Budget and Essential Tips For Saving Money On Food When Traveling.

Revel In Your Absolute Freedom

The best thing about traveling solo is you get to experience the road with absolute freedom. You’re doing what you want to do when you want to do it, and going where you want to go when you want to go. No compromising on activities, hotels, restaurants or wakeup times, as the ability to decide how your trip will play out is 100% up to you.

What’s your essential advice for solo travelers? Please share in the comments below.

5 Comments

  1. Good tips. I also enroll in STEP and use couchsurfing to make friends. It is hard in India as I get at LEAST 50 weirdo messages a week from Indian men :/ I stick with it though because occasionally, I’ll meet a cool chick!

  2. Good tips! One of my favorite tips for staying safe came from a gal I met who loved to get around by hitchhiking. It was something I had always wanted to do but was unsure how to stay safe.

    Her tactic was to never tell the person where she was going, but get them to tell her where they were going first. This is to avoid feeling trapped by telling them where you’re going and them saying “perfect, that’s exactly where I’m going.”

    She could then have a conversation with them to test/judge for creepiness factor. If her gut ever told her to get away she would thank them for the offer but decline it because they were going in the opposite direction that she was going.

  3. Packing light is a great tip – I would also recommend not to wear expensive jewelry and digital cameras in “poor” places. Besides, it helps to ask locals where it’s safe and where not.

    1. @Steve: Great tips! I typically leave anything of real value at home. Would rather not have to stress out it. Anything I have to bring I keep in pickpocket-proof pants and shirts with inside pockets.

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