Everything you need to know about traveling the world alone
Solo travel might be daunting, but it's also infinitely rewarding. Read on for tips, inspiration, and useful advice on traveling the world alone.
Traveling the world alone can seem intimidating at first, especially if you're a solo female traveler. Taking on the whirlwind of traveling, with unknown lands, foreign languages and new faces everywhere you go, is a whole lot easier with a friendly companion to help you along the way.
But traveling alone is a truly unique experience that I think everyone should try at least once. You can go anywhere you want on this vast planet, and experience it exactly how you want to.
Whether it's outdoorsy adventures, relaxing beach days, or interesting cultural excursions that spark your interest, solo travel means you can cater your trip to suit your own desires without any hesitation. Travelers often describe their first solo trip as a religious experience, and there's a good reason why. There is a sense of freedom that comes with solo travel, and this liberating and exciting feeling cannot be recreated anywhere else.
Personally, I've visited countries like Ecuador, Peru, Denmark, England, Croatia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Portugal, and Spain by myself. I always feel a bit nervous before a solo trip; I find myself fidgeting the whole plane ride with anticipation and a little bit of anxiety. But I always fly home beaming with satisfaction and bursting with new valuable memories. I've never traveled solo and regretted it.
I was absolutely terrified before my first trip to Ecuador, as it was my first time in South America and my first time doing a Worldpackers work exchange. I was 21 years old, I felt so alone and a bit scared. I was about to land in Quito Airport, at 10pm in the dark, and take a taxi to a random house in the suburbs to stay with an Ecuadorian family I'd never met. This was a huge step for me, and I knew I had to just be confident, trust my mediocre Spanish speaking skills, and hope that everything would work out.
And it did. Three weeks later I felt like I was part of this huge local family. I'd taken care of the babies, played football with the younger boys, talked politics with the family schoolteacher and made homemade pasta with the grandparents. My Spanish had improved immensely, and I'd seen such breathtaking natural beauty that I was just about ready to pack up and move to Ecuador.
I never would have had such a unique and memorable experience without taking that leap of faith and getting on the plane by myself. After that first solo trip, backpacking around the world alone has been a piece of cake.
With this article, I'll provide some useful tips on how to travel alone, so new solo travelers can have an idea of what it takes to have a smooth trip.
I'll also include a list of, what I believe, are the best parts of traveling alone. These highlights are some that I've experienced personally, and I hope that this advice will inspire travelers around the globe to pack up and set off on a new solo adventure.
Tips on how to travel alone
1. Be brave
If you're wondering how to travel solo, finding the courage within yourself to conquer any obstacles while traveling is the most important tip. You can't really travel without facing a few bumps in the road, and it's important to be fearless when these things happen.
Maybe it's asking a local for directions, or setting out to explore without using Google Maps, or maybe it's just booking that flight in the first place. Traveling alone for the first time definitely takes courage. If you can face your fears, you'll be able to have new and enriching experiences that you'll remember forever.
2. Be outgoing
Traveling with friends is great because you always have people to socialize and laugh with. When you don't have your friends with you, you might miss the comfort of having someone to share experiences and stories with.
But with an outgoing mindset and a friendly personality, you can easily make friends while traveling alone. Especially if you're staying in a social hostel, surrounded by fellow backpackers, you'll find it almost effortless to meet new people and bond through exploring and sharing travel stories together. You actually tend to meet more new people when traveling alone, as you're not always talking with your friends and you're almost forced to look outwards for human connection.
3. Learn to enjoy alone time
Though you'll definitely make new friends while traveling alone, you will inevitably spend a decent amount of time by yourself. Being alone can be beautiful; you can connect with your own thoughts and become more comfortable with yourself.
You'll learn certain things that you love and things that you hate, all without other people to sway your opinion. You can even work on things like meditating and practicing mindfulness, which can be great for mental health. If you can find peace in spending time alone, traveling solo can seem like the greatest thing ever.
4. Make time for things you love
Traveling sometimes means you'll have to spend lots of time sitting on buses or planes, and without friends to distract you this can become tedious and irritating. Be sure to bring along things that make you happy so you can pass the time with ease.
Listen to music or podcasts, read books or magazines, write in a journal or draw, knit or sew, whatever it may be, always make time for activities that bring you happiness. This will help keep you sane when spending time traveling solo.
5. Attempt to learn the local language
If you're traveling alone in a foreign country, learning a few words in the local language can help you immensely. You'll find yourself staring at street signs, restaurant menus and shop signs with confusion and no one close by to ask for help.
This can seem scary at first, but just remember that you have the power to control your situation. Carry a dictionary with you to decipher words you need, or even have a language app on your phone. Try to memorize helpful words and phrases, as you'll feel so accomplished when you can communicate with locals in their native tongue. Even learning how to say a simple "thank you" will help you earn respect from the locals, which is always a good thing.
6. Avoid your phone when possible
A common trap of traveling alone is spending too much time on your cell phone. These days everyone overuses their phones anyway, but when you're traveling it's basically a crime to stare at a screen when you could be experiencing the world around you.
When you're alone and there's no one to talk to, it's easy to resort to the phone for entertainment. Before turning on the phone just pause, and choose to observe your surroundings instead. You'll be able to take in little details of a different culture when you just sit quietly and observe.
It's also easier to fall into conversation with people when you're not on your phone, so you have a better chance of meeting some interesting folk around the world. Of course it's okay to use your phone when necessary, but try to branch out from that tiny little screen and engage more with the world while traveling alone.
7. Use good street smarts
Traveling the world solo makes you a bit more vulnerable, as you don't have the protection of friends or family. This means you need to look out for yourself, and ensure you stay safe. Always be smart and aware when traveling alone. Try not to stand out too much or look like an obvious tourist to avoid becoming a target for pickpockets or hagglers.
Try to wear simple clothes rather than super bright ones that stand out. Also avoid wearing flashy jewelry and carrying around expensive gadgets. This will make you blend in more with the background, which is what you want when backpacking solo.
Definitely converse with locals, but trust your gut instincts. If someone seems sketchy or even threatening, leave the conversation and never give away important personal information like where you're staying. Just use everyday street smarts and general common sense, and always be aware of your surroundings and you'll be fine.
8. Take care of yourself
Because you're looking out for yourself while backpacking solo, ensure that you remain in good health as well. It's easy to get run-down when traveling often, and sometimes you may feel pressured to do and see as much as possible in a short time. If you're feeling under the weather, don't hesitate to slow down and take a day off from exploring because your body may need a break.
It's also very easy to overlook the symptoms of sickness while traveling. Most travelers would rather explore than be stuck in bed, but listen to your body if you really need rest. You can also try and prevent sickness by maintaining healthy habits while on the road. Drink lots of water (filtered, if you're in a country without safe tap water), eat plenty of healthy foods and if necessary, go to a local doctor or take medicine.
You don't want to ruin a trip by getting sick, but if you do feel ill it's better to just relax and heal rather than push yourself too hard.
Highlights of traveling the world alone
1. Incredible freedom
The most obvious perk of traveling alone is that you make your own schedule. This is quite a liberating feeling; you can do and see exactly what you want without having to worry about anyone else. You can eat dessert for breakfast if you want, or partake in crazy adventure sports that others may be too afraid to do. You can spend a whole day napping in a park instead of sightseeing.
You don't have to please anyone or compromise with anyone, which is often a challenge when traveling in a group of friends. The chaos of everyone's different ideas and preferences melts away when you're traveling the world alone. Being in charge of your own life, especially when out in the world and in unfamiliar ground, gives you a sense of freedom that you'll never find anywhere else.
2. Self discovery
Solo travel around the world enables you to become more familiar with yourself. When stuck in difficult situations and thrust completely out of your comfort zone, you'll learn things about yourself that you’d never discover while sitting at home.
Maybe you're great with directions, or quick at picking up foreign languages, or fearless when haggling for cheap prices at street markets. Maybe you're compassionate towards local animals, or generous towards homeless people, or curious enough to strike up conversation with locals in a bar. Maybe you're great at scoping out delicious authentic meals for affordable prices, or patient enough to wander through an entire massive art museum.
You spend a lot of time with yourself when backpacking solo, and you'll probably leave your travels feeling more confident and sure of you are.
3. Cultural immersion
Traveling the world solo also allows you to become closer with the local culture. Traveling with friends or family can sometimes act as a crutch; you tend to socialize more with your close companions rather than reach out to socialize with locals and other travelers.
Being by yourself compels you to seek companionship elsewhere. And that stubborn language barrier is easier to conquer when traveling alone, as you are usually less afraid to make mistakes in front of your friends. You can just try your best at those new words without fear of judgment. This means you can at least attempt to communicate with others, and then you can enjoy the beauty of human connection.
Branching out and interacting with locals and their language allows you to immerse yourself deeper in the local culture and really feel like a part of the land you're traveling in. It's also easier to do work exchanges and home stays when you're traveling by yourself, since you only have to coordinate one person with the host. This can potentially open up more opportunities for living and working in a new country, thus really grasping onto the local culture.
4. Improved budgeting habits
Young backpackers love budget travel. It's so satisfying to be able to explore some of the planet's most stunning spots without paying for a luxury private tour. Traveling alone is a great way to learn how to travel on a budget, and can sometimes make budgeting a bit easier, as you're not peer pressured by your friends to spend money on things you don't necessarily want.
Because you are completely in charge of your trip, you'll only really spend money on things that are important to you. This is one of the best ways to save money while traveling, which allows you to stretch your trip even longer. It’s also a bit easier to keep track of your spending when traveling alone, as you're less distracted by other people and more focused on yourself.
So these are some of my own favorite parts of traveling by myself. Every different person will have a unique experience traveling alone abroad, but hopefully others will be able to enjoy some of these perks like saving money and feeling close to a new and exciting culture.
I hope my advice for how to travel the world alone will help some new travelers feel more confident and prepared when setting off on a new adventure. Just remember that your own mind, body and spirit are your most valuable asset in life. You have the ability to conquer any fears and step out into the world beaming with courage and positivity.
So if you can't find any friends to accompany you on your next dream trip, just head off on your own. I'm sure you will not regret it!