Going Solo: Your essential guide on how to travel solo for the first time
11th July 2019
I get it, I was also intimidated by the idea of being alone in a foreign country for the first time. How am I gonna be safe? Where to go for the first time? To make your life easier, here is my guide on how to travel alone for the first time based on my own experiences.
My first time traveling abroad was solo 3 years ago in Thailand. From then on, I just fell in love with this way of traveling. For the past years, although I’ve traveled with my friends sometimes, I made it a point to go on my solo adventures. I believe everyone should do it at least once in their lives!
Ready? Here we go!
Choose a popular backpacking destination for solo traveling
For first-time solo travelers, it might be good to start where you can find other solo backpackers as well that you can hang out with, share stories with, inspire you and go explore with. This way you will learn a lot on traveling solo and you’ll get the hang of it. Popular backpacking routes also cater to travelers so traveling around is easy – booking hostels, restaurants, getting a ride, and most locals speak English. Take this as testing the waters. It might not be the big adventure that experienced solo travelers aim for, but hey, you’ll get there if you’re already feeling it.
I went to Thailand for the first time and I was amazed by the number of backpackers traveling solo. They helped me through a lot of getting around and also they kept me company when I feel I needed to be social.
Get a travel insurance
A lot can happen when traveling – from canceled flights to lost baggage to bad things as getting into bike or hiking accidents. Paying for those things in the country you go to might be very expensive. Good travel insurance will help you through these tough times. Get your travel insurance especially when you are traveling for a long time and doing some rad activities. Most travelers use World Nomads. This is a very important tip on how to travel solo for the first time. I personally use the ones offered by my countries insurance company Malayan insurance which is cheaper but covers just as much especially for short trips.
Learn the culture and the do’s and dont’s
There’s nothing more that screams hideous than when I see a girl in short shorts in a Buddhist temple or drunk backpackers in their bikinis and swimming trunks through the streets of rural Laos when clearly there are signs that says it is inappropriate to do so. I believe this is a very important thing to know for first-time solo travelers, in fact, I have made it a major part of my travel to learn about the local culture. Firstly, because it’s fascinating, and secondly, it is a way to show respect, and in turn, the locals will love you for it and they will help you out when you travel.
Also, I know how it may seem so cute to be riding on elephants or have a selfie with a sleeping tiger. But please don’t! Just don’t! This is animal cruelty. My general rule is that if the animal is in a cage or are used by humans for profit, don’t do it. Although there are sanctuaries that rescue animals, it’s best to look up if the animals are really taken care of like how they claim in the adverts.
Load your phone with travel apps
A great start on how to travel solo for the first time is downloading different travel apps. For booking flights, I use Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Kayak most of the time. These apps help you find cheap flights by comparing prices from different airlines for the same route you plan to take.
Maps.me is a great map app that works even when there is no internet. Download the map of your destination before getting there. Google maps shows terrains and also enables you to get an offline map for your route.
Booking sites such as booking.com, hostelworld,Agoda, and Airbnb are great apps to find accommodations for solo travelers. Book your accommodation in advance through this apps and you might get discounts as well.
Other apps that I find really helpful are weather apps, Duolingo (to learn the local language) and a good VPN since some of the countries don’t allow access to certain websites such as Facebook or WhatsApp for example, in China.
Be friendly and talk to people
Solo traveling can be scary and lonely. The best way to get rid of the fear and loneliness, if you feel them at some point, is to socialize. Talk to other travelers and exchange stories. Experienced travelers can give you insights on how they manage to do so while newbies will be there to share whatever you are feeling.
Enrich your travel experience by talking to the locals. There’s no better way to learn of the culture or to be safer, at least, than knowing some locals that you can trust. They’ll show you around and might help you in some sticky situation when the need arises. Perhaps one of the best rewards of traveling is gaining new friends from all over the world.
Stay safe as much as you can
While your mom has probably prodded you from time to time that solo traveling is inherently dangerous, it is not. Everywhere in the world can be dangerous. An important tip on how to travel solo for the first time is to take precautions as you would anywhere. While solo traveling, it is smart not to drink too much, or walk alone in a sketchy street, or drive motorbikes when it’s your first time driving. Trust your gut wherever you go. Let your friends, your family, or your hostel or roommates where you are headed. Get the emergency number of the country you are on your phone.
For your valuables, use your hostel’s lockers or safe of
your hotel room. As a precaution, I always carry my own lock and keys.
Sometimes, however, when there are no lockers, I hide my passport in discreet
areas such as hidden pockets in my bag or in the pocket of my pants (just
remember where you placed them). When going out, it’s best just to take what
you need for the day, or if you must, separate your bills in different pockets
or have a security belt close to your body.
Manage your expectations and be open for anything
When traveling, a lot of things can happen. Your trip might not go as exactly as you planned despite adequate preparations – delayed or canceled flights, bad weather, unexpected detours. There were times when I had planned a full week of hiking, and driving around, chasing waterfalls. But that week turned out to be rainy. Instead of sulking, I spent time talking with my roommates, making crafts, cooking food from our countries and I enjoyed it just fine.
Join travel facebook groups
Travelers have set up facebook groups for every type of traveler and for many locations. Just type in Backpacker + name of the location on the search bar or name of country plus backpackers or travelers and you’ll get a lot of results. For example, when I traveled to Indonesia and needed advice on the weather at that time, I joined Backpackers Indonesia.
Solo traveling is a mix of exciting and nervous feelings and
that is completely normal. Let go of that nervousness and fear and go on an
adventure that will change your life. It might be for you and you’ll end up
doing more solo travels or it might just be a one-time thing but at least you
had the feel of it. No more questions of what if.
For those who have wandered off to this page and have done their share of solo travels, any more suggestions on how to travel solo for the first time and make it fun and safe?