Can you remember the last time you did something just for yourself and without compromise? Solo travel is an opportunity to take control, follow your own interests and move at your own pace. You can change your plans on a whim, pick activities without worrying about others’ enjoyment and focus on the experience of being somewhere new.
Travelling on your own is all about meeting your own expectations, not someone else’s. If you want to splurge on accommodation and scrimp on food, you can (or vice versa). If you want to do nothing but relax in Hyde Park or browse the Strand Book Store, no one’s going to stop you.
Plus, when you’re going it alone, you’re more likely to embrace spontaneity. You’ll chat to the locals, turn down an intriguing laneway or sign up for an evening class. Why not, after all? Here’s how to make the most of a solo trip.
Choosing a destination (and a date)
With solo travel, the ball is entirely in your court. That includes the where and when of your travel plans. When picking a destination, factor in things like work commitments, available time off, budget, travel experience, physical abilities and personal interests. Check out KAYAK’s Explore tool at the link below to see a map full of possible destinations and cheap prices that you can filter by dates and categories like “coffee capitals” and “party central.”
If you only have a week available, the 24-hour journey to Australia will chew up two entire days of your holiday. Try something closer to home instead. Similarly, if you’re a fledgling traveller, consider a destination with a well-developed tourism scene. This will make getting around and communicating much easier. Personal safety is another consideration: be mindful of cultural norms and research potential safety issues before choosing a destination. Check whether you need a visa as well.
You can stretch your budget further by choosing to travel off-season, but research the weather of your intended destination first. In the Caribbean, for example, off-season is typified by heavy rains and storms. Also be mindful of major events or holidays. These can either send prices soaring or bring everything to a standstill – like Easter in Buenos Aires.
Don’t forget to pack according to the needs of your destination. Dress for the weather and local customs, load up on sunscreen and bug spray, and bring travel adaptors for electronics. Visit your doctor before leaving to make sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations.
Booking your accommodation
Travelling solo means that you can be more flexible about your accommodations, but the downside is that you’ll have to shoulder the entire cost. When booking accommodations, make your decision according to your personal interests, travel plans and budget.
Hotels, bed & breakfasts and vacation rentals by owners (VRBO) are all appealing options for a solo traveller, although not necessarily for the budget-minded. For a city stay, try a hotel downtown or on the fringe of a downtown area. In Rome, for example, it makes sense to be as close to the main attractions as possible so that you can spend your time at Vatican City or the Colosseum rather than in a taxi. For consistency and familiarity, try a chain hotel; for an “experience” try a boutique hotel or a B&B. The owners of these will often make themselves available to you and can be great for local tips and recommendations. If you plan on coming and going at night, be mindful of local safety.
If you’re on a budget, it’s hard to beat a hostel. Most offer a variety of room types – including private rooms – and are a good option for meeting people. Social events, trips and tours are usually on the calendar as well. The culture and clientele of hostels varies, so read reviews to find one with an atmosphere that works for you.
You can search for all kinds of accommodation on KAYAK’s Hotels tool where you can see ratings for location, service and value for money, plus other guest reviews and location scores that show how close the hotel is to sights, shops and restaurants in the area.
Planning your itinerary
Mapping out your itinerary can be time-consuming, but as a solo traveller it’s also thrilling. After all, when you’re travelling alone you can pick and choose which sights and experiences to explore.
Start by identifying the key highlights of your chosen destination. Determine when the best time to arrive is and how long the experience will take. (And that it won’t be closed for a special event!) You’ll want to spend as little time commuting as possible, so avoid itineraries that see you doubling back unnecessarily. Know when the last train or bus is, or arrange a cab ahead of time.
If planning isn’t your thing, try booking a tour. These can be as simple as a morning visiting literary landmarks in downtown Edinburgh, or as complex as a multi-week expedition through Nepal. Find one suited to your interests and budget, and your tour guide will do the rest!
When you’re travelling it’s easy to feel that you should be doing, seeing and experiencing more, but don’t feel like you have to pack in as much as possible, or that you have to stick with your itinerary. You’re not beholden to anyone, and no one’s going to judge if you to skip that long line to the Eiffel Tower in favour of strolling along the Seine instead.
Dining as a party of one
You were brave enough to head to Moscow mid-winter or hot air balloon over Cappadocia in Turkey, but the thought of taking meals solo terrifies you. You’re not alone, even if you’ll be dining that way. Ease into things with a sandwich by the Yarra River in Melbourne, tacos from a food truck in Austin or coffee at an espresso bar in Venice. In many countries, breakfast and lunch tend to be more casual events, so dip your toe into the water with a simple, rustic meal.
When dining in the evening, avoid peak times and consider taking a seat at the bar – or the sushi bar, if you’re in Japan. Some restaurants have communal tables as well. If you can, peruse the menu ahead of time so that you’re confident about prices, ingredients and specialties. Bring a book or a journal to keep yourself occupied while you wait.
If dining alone just isn’t your thing, look into local meetup groups: many cities have groups who enjoy foodie outings. Alternatively, if your accommodations have a kitchenette, shop for some local ingredients and cook up a storm in private.
Making friends on the road
While the freedom of solo travelling is great, it’s possible to go days without speaking to someone. The peace and quiet may be ideal to begin with, but it can take a toll after a while.
The easiest way to meet people while travelling is by staying at a hostel or visiting a bar or restaurant near or attached to a hotel. The people who stay at hostels tend to be social types, so it’s hard not to make friends in that environment.
Shared experiences are another great opportunity to strike up a conversation. Next time you’re on a long-distance bus or are in line for a concert, ask a simple question about the expected arrival time or set time to break the ice. The same goes for tours, classes and events. If you’re doing the same activity you probably have some common interests, so just get the conversation started.
Finally, keep an ear out for others who share your language or accent. Having a country of origin in common is an instant ice-breaker, so share a G’day, Bonjour or Hallo with your compatriots.
As a solo traveller you have to stay vigilant. Be mindful of local crime hot spots and research petty crime or common scams in the area you’ll be visiting. Keep valuables hidden and don’t walk around wearing headphones or staring at your phone. Carry your hotel name and address with you so that you can get back home safely, and familiarise yourself with local emergency numbers as well.
It’s also a good idea to acquaint yourself with local customs and laws. This way you won’t unwittingly cause offence or find yourself in trouble for something you didn’t even know was wrong – like chewing gum in Singapore. Some countries have zero-tolerance policies around certain behaviours, so exercise caution accordingly.
Before flying out, be sure to share your itinerary and contact details with a friend or family member. You can also share your travel plans with your country’s consulate online, and be mindful of any travel safety advisories issued by your home government. Travel insurance is also a must.
Solo travelling is a unique way to learn more about the world – and yourself along the way. From food to activities to sight-seeing, there’s nothing like a vacation tailored specifically to you.