Solo travel, all your questions answered.

I’ve only been solo travelling a year but I’m hooked and I know this is something I will spend the rest of my life doing. I’ve joined a load of facebook groups for women who solo travel (listed below) and time and time again I see the same questions and concerns from women starting out. The advice varies and the level of apprehension varies and anxiety plays a big factor for people. Preparation and research has the power to take away a significant chunk of people’s concerns and these steps done before any of my trips ensure I feel safe there.

I want to go but where is good for a first time solo traveller? Recommendations please!

So you’ve just booked your first solo holiday, the thrill of it right?! Now what? Solo travel is like any other trip, but without the compromise on things you want to see and do and the only factor taken into consideration is what suits you (and what you can afford!) The when, where, budget and what time the day starts, all yours to decide.

For people like me who get a weird sort of high from planning trips, making the itinerary gives me such a buzz it keeps me going in the weeks/months leading up to it. I will spend a lot of time researching which day trips are best, reading reviews, seeing how long they are and so on. I also try to make sure I’m maximising any points/benefits I could be earning too, have a look at my ‘Money saving travel tips’ blog post for some ideas if you’re not doing any of this  If you’re not this kind of organised planning  person you can always book an all inclusive trip if that’s your jam or book some day trips if you’re not up for exploring on your own. If you’re going to do this personally, I’d go into a local travel agent (I know, I’m shocked they still exist too) or one you know and be careful with the random online people.

If you do a day trip at the start of the trip, the first day or two it can be an easy way to make some travel friends to meet up with or have a meal together with. I can’t speak for the experience on the all inclusive holidays as I’ve never done one, I’ve never been one for sitting still on a holiday, lounging by the pool for the week is not for me. 

I would recommend following some travel bloggers on insta/tik tok and seeing where they go, what their reviews were like and get an idea of what kind of holiday you like the look of. I often save places that look incredible on google maps under the name of the country. These quickly build up and all of a sudden there’s a country with like 50 places saved, from restaurants to beautiful sites.

Some lovely people I met on my Sintra Day trip in Portugal.

What should I do there? Anything I shouldn’t miss?

I always start with Trip Advisor, look at the top attractions, top day trips and read the reviews. Then I look on Instagram and then I use the search function on the Facebook groups for women travellers. Usually wherever it is I want to go, hundreds of women have gone before me, posted for places they shouldn’t miss and taken advice from the women who responded. This is a great place to start.

I save these places on google maps under the name of where I’m going so when I’m there I have a list all in one place. It’s also handy for when you’re finished with one site and are thinking ‘right, whats near me’?

Another good piece of advice, get to the most popular sites as early as possible, I’m talking sunrise early. Others will have the same idea so you will have someone to ask to take photos of you but the crowds won’t be as bad.

I’m worried I’ll feel lonely when I’m there, how do I prevent this? 

I always think this question is such a vulnerable and honest one. We are so used to travel being a group activity it’s hard to imagine what it would be like on your own. I think if this is something you’re nervous about maybe try and do some solo stuff back home? Go on a day trip? The cinema? Dinner in a restaurant alone? Then again, I never did any of that and some of it I still haven’t done.

Holidays are different doing these things alone though. There’s so many more solo travellers than we realise and only when I started travelling on my own did I even notice them. I see them on group tours, walking tours, in cafes and restaurants and wonder, were they just invisible to me before? I think if we look around our own cities in the tourist traps areas we’d see a lot of the same. Locals just eat in different places don’t we and we don’t look around at restaurants or cinema’s at home, as we tend to be with people and don’t really give a shit. Do you remember when you were a teenager and you were convinced everyone was looking at you all the time, and judging you for how you acted or what you wore? And then you grow up and realise that literally no one gives a shit and that we’re all really just walking around thinking about ourselves? It’s the same thing. I think once you embrace this concept and realise you don’t look like billy no mates and literally no one knows, or cares that you exist, never-mind that your eating by yourself. It’s just about embracing the solo time yourself. You’ve essentially taken yourself on a date and who better to spend some time with?!

I think the only way to know is to do it. Plan a day trip or group tour on your first day. Say hello to someone in your hostel, start with a ‘Hey, I’m Sarah, whats your name?” and then a “where are you from” and “how long are you here for”. This gets the conversations started, most people are receptive, even people travelling in couples or groups but especially solo travellers. We all like making new friends and would prefer to do an activity with a new friend that alone. This can be a bit daunting but keep at it. Soon you’ll be doing this so often it won’t be the least bit intimidating. 

If you do a group tour, try and do a smaller one. I find 6-10 people a good number, theres a bit of mingling, usually a lunch together, sometimes with wine over lunch! There will usually be at least one other solo traveller on this tour and they are also normally keen to meet up again or go for dinner and or a drink after. This is the reason I recommend doing this on day 1, not your final day. The amount of times I’ve met someone on the final day and been like “I wish I’d met you on the first day”. That’s not to say you’ll have found you new best friend, but you’ll have found a travel buddy, and you’ll be surprised how much you can put up with for a 24 hour travel buddy! 

A amazing bunch of people I met and spent the weekend with in Lisbon that started with a “Hi, are you here on your own too?” and a smile 🙂

I’m worried about eating alone or asking for a table for one in a restaurant? 

I get this one. One, theres the whole “I’ll look like billy no mates” fear. Remember, no one is looking at you, they’re all watching the waiter willing their food into existence. Two, will someone take a table for one reservation? The answer does depend. Some places only allow table bookings for two ( I found this in New York, a lot!) This is bullshit and a blatant desire to bring in more money per table. I have in the past booked for two and have prepared some lie about ‘my friend/partner isn’t feeling well’ just in case I’m quizzed. I never have been. I also recommend you do this as sometimes if you show up they’ll sit you at the bar and if you’re like me, I don’t want a seat at the damn bar, I want a table please with a nice crisp tablecloth and a candle thanks very much. You are worthy of a proper table. Don’t be afraid to insist or leave them a review if you get a shitty experience at a restaurant. You may not feel like it but there are a lot of solo travellers and we’d rather know so we can take our money elsewhere. 

Once you’re in and sat down, I recommend bringing a book with you, or a magazine or something. People watching is nice, but sometimes you need something to distract you. I love catching up on a bit of reading during meals and enjoy the break from the pretty much constant walking around. To be honest, its been at these meal times I’ve developed a real sense of calm and appreciation and pride in myself for doing this. I’ve wished I had my laptop so I could write about how amazing the feeling is. If you’ve not found any people in day trips, or your hostel to go for a meal with you can always join the local cities Girl Gone International page (these are in most cities, but not all!) and post up that you’re there for X many days and would love to meet some women to go for dinner/drinks/activities together. This is a woman’s page so fella’s sorry, I don’t know of any equivalent ( get on it!!). 

My first ever margarita in a Mexican restaurant in New York.

What about safety? How do you feel safe and what can I do to keep myself safe? 

I think this is something people who have not extensively travelled often worry about, or people talking about solo travel have people saying to them which can sometimes make you more nervous than you were originally. Here’s the thing about safety. It’s subjective. One person could feel completely safe somewhere and others would be terrified. As women there’s so many things we do to make us feel safe. We share taxi details with your friends, we check in with each other to make sure we got home safe, we plan our ways home, we travel in pairs, we share our live locations, we don’t walk alone after dark. These things we’re doing are the same steps you follow when abroad. 

Obviously some places are worse for certain behaviour in others. Rome and other cities are known for pickpocketing. Cairo is known for street harassment (men towards women). We adjust the steps were already doing. In Rome, wear your bag on your front. In Cairo, ignore the behaviour, don’t make eye contact and learn “no” in arabic. In general I think all of the above are steps we can and should be doing abroad, as at home. I’ve included some others here:

  • Share your live location with trusted few. This is on google maps and it doesn’t time out as it does on other apps. It’s on until you turn it off. 
  • Get a sim card upon arrival so you have maps, your live location works and you don’t get lost and accidentally end up in an area considered higher risk. If you have roaming and mobile data is included google your network and roaming data settings as you may need to adjust some settings for it to work abroad.
  • Share your plans and details with your friends/family back home and chat to your hostel buddies, let them know your rough plans day by day (if this feels safe to do so).
  • Trust your gut, if you’re getting creepy vibes, trust yourselves. This can mean limiting information. If you’re not comfortable in your room, if someone is making you uncomfortable or is behaving in any way weird or inappropriate go and speak to reception. Ask for a room swap or something. 
  • This is just general security but lock your shit away and don’t put your full name, address, email address and mobile number of a luggage tag on your case so everyone can know all your information. 
  • Review everything before booking. This goes for everything from restaurants to bars but most importantly accommodation, and guides. Look for accommodation where people have felt safe, places marked solo traveller friendly and places women reviewed highly. I know some women that carry a door stopper (such as these ones ) so if they are in a hotel room or some other accommodation they don’t feel comfortable in but can’t afford to leave they jam the door stopper under the door so it can’t be opened from the outside. This obviously only works on doors that open in though. Some other people swear by these door security locks, I’ve not tried one though so I can’t speak to them but the reviews seem good. Again, they only work on certain types of doors so it’s good to know that in advance. 
  • In general, don’t leave yourself in a situation where you can’t afford a taxi home in case you need one. Have an Uber account set up and research which taxi app is the most popular before you land and download upon arrival. 
  • Have good travel insurance ( I hear World Nomads is one of the best) so that if the worst does happen, you’ve got help. Save these details in your email address and remember your login details so if you end up without your bag/items you can log in and get all the details you need. 
  • Use your common sense. A great source of friendly advice is the women’s solo traveller facebook pages. This question is asked often so if you search you’ll find hundreds of women providing their tips and tricks to keep themselves safe. 
  • Learn the emergency services number for the country you’re in and save it in your phone. Don’t wait till you need help to find out its not 999!
  • Try to look like you know where you’re going.
  • Learn at least SOME of the language, it can really help and also shows respect towards their culture. Yes, no, please, help me and excuse me at least.
  • You got this! Don’t let the fact that there are shitty people and socioeconomically disadvantaged people hold you back from seeing the world.

OK, so I’m now hooked, I need MORE. How do I keep this up? 

I’m going to refer you to my money saving travel blog. Now that you want more and need to do this more often you’ll need to learn to budget, presuming you can’t drastically increase your income. 

In a brief summary though my top tips are, be flexible where and when you go, learn to pack light (carry on light), stay in hostels, eat the free breakfast (and load up for lunch) and set yourself a budget and stick to it. If your new to staying in hostels or are contemplating one for the first time check out my Hostel for newbies blog post.

This bag in the max size you can bring on as ‘hand-baggage’ for Ryanair and other budget airlines and has saved me a fortune.

Are there any solo women traveller groups so I can meet other solo travellers? 

SO many you’d be surprised! Once I fell in love with this solo travel thing I started joining groups for women solo travelling and it made all the difference. Before I felt like the odd one out, everyone around me had lives that were so different. It was very isolating. Finding these pages and the literal millions of women in my boat, expressing my feelings made me realise I’m actually part of a huge community that wouldn’t be visible to me when I’m at home without social media. 

These groups are great for advice on specific topics as well as the ‘Help I just wanna travel the world but I have a stupid job so I can pay my stupid bills, how do I escape this’ posts. If you want to go to Lisbon but don’t know what things NOT to miss, these girls have your back. If you need a recommendation for some quality period pants or sandals that are good for walking in for 18 hours that aren’t completely hideous, look no further! 

If you want to meet more women like you, the get up and go-ers, the fuck it I’m gonna move country people, the lets go on a bit adventure that might not work out people: find your local Girl Gone International page. This community, started by one women is now international and is in a huge number of cities around the world and is mostly made up of non-natives, people that have moved to a country and are here now, blank slate and trying to make friends and settle into their new community. Go find these people if you don’t have any others in your life already, they’re your kin. 

Other groups I can recommend:

  • Women Living Abroad Girl Gone International
  • Solo Female Travellers (FIRST FB group for women who travel solo)
  • Girls Love Travel
  • Gals who travel
  • Host a Sister
  • The Solo female traveller network

I note there’s a lack of mens/non binary groups here, if you know of any PLEASE let me know. And if you’re a bloke and you know there isn’t (after looking) be the change you want to see in the world and make one yeah? 😉 

I have anxiety/mental health issues, does this mean I can’t go? 

No, is the short answer, it doesn’t. It does however mean you need to prepare yourself for those negative feelings and I recommend having ways to manage them, steps you follow in that instance. This may mean, making sure to bring your meds, it may mean meditation each morning and getting a full night sleep. Travel can often take you out of your usual routine so I’d say try and plan in such a way that as much as possible the routine that keeps you well at home is still followed.

If you have a therapist, link in before and ask for some advice. Let your friends know how you’re feeling so they know to be ‘on call’ in case of a panicked phone call. Your support system is still always a phone call away.

This might take away from some of the spontaneity of the trip but guess what, travelling on your own means your time is yours to do exactly as you please. Meaning if you need to lie in bed till midday and spend 2 hours getting ready, do that. If it means getting up for a early morning coffee and an afternoon nap, do that. You’ve no one to answer to and no one to make you feel guilty for “wasting” precious holiday time. 

Finally, make sure you have emergency ‘time to go home’ money there, just in case. Also good travel insurance. Doing all the steps before going on the trip can really take the anxiety away from it, you are in control and have a way out, regardless of the situation. 

Backpack or suitcase? 

Ah the age old question! For city breaks where you’ll be Uber-ing to and from the suitcase in fine. Do your homework though, are there lots of hills and steps in the city you’re visiting? Generally speaking a small case is fine for weekend breaks for most European cities. If you’re doing several weeks/months though a backpack will be your best friend. Getting up hundreds of steps, on and off trains quickly is so much easier with something on your back rather than pulling it behind you. 

There are so many different types of backpacks on the market these days, you’ve so many options. There’s ones that open up like a suitcase and top loaders. If you like being able to see everything all at once you’ll like the ones that open up fully. Look out for good straps, adjustable height for the straps, the waist padding (a lifesaver) and the click strap across the chest is also very good at making you feel secure. My first one was 90kg, just because you CAN carry it, doesn’t mean you should. Pack light best you can, realistically you’re going to live in that one pair of shorts aren’t you? 

General Advice

  • Leave your bunch of keys at home and just bring your house key (do people at home have spares just in case?) Especially leave your car keys. 
  • A small key for a padlock can be looped around your wrist when sleeping at night. 
  • An extension lead from home can help charge all your devices at the same time at the end of the day if you’ve only one plug socket in your bed bunk. 
  • A power bank will save you, get a good one (4-6 full charges). A functioning phone with mobile data keeps you informed, able to call for help and stops you being quite so vulnerable, especially if you don’t have the local language. 
  • Bring the least amount of liquids possible, they’re heavy. Try to be conscious of the ‘leave no trace’ mentality with travel. Bring what you need and don’t just buy large bottles there and leave them behind, it’s hugely wasteful and bad for the environment. 
  • Most European cities have refillable water spots now so do bring a reusable bottle with you if you can, they’re find through the airport as long as they’re empty for security.
  • Flip flops for the shower, you don’t want to be going home with verrucas.

Are there any things you have done abroad that have helped you feel safe? Any products you’d recommend? Note here as well, carrying mace/pepper spray is illegal in most parts of the world (Americans, I’m looking at you!) so do your homework beforehand. 

I’d also love to hear about how you felt solo travelling at the start vs now or if you’re just back from your first trip how you got on 🙂

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