solo travel

Our essential guide to solo travel for beginners

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Travelling alone can be daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. Here’s everything you need to think about as a first-time solo traveller.

Until recently, I’d never have even considered going out to lunch by myself, let alone travelling across the world. But after a couple of years watching countless friends venture to exotic locations, the allure of solo travel is becoming more and more difficult to resist.

According to leading online travel agent Opodo, the main reason travellers embark on solo journeys is so they can be in control of their own decision-making. For someone who’s never travelled by themself — and tends towards disorganisation — this is both exciting and terrifying.

I sat down with a few expert solo travellers to figure out what I need to consider before finally taking the leap.

A woman lies on the floor her stomach looking at a map with an open suitcase next to her
Solo travelling takes research and planning

Research thoroughly

Over the years I’ve come to learn that sometimes the best way to reduce stress and anxiety over approaching any new thing is to research it in depth.

“Safety is the number one thing you should take extra care of when traveling to other countries and continents solo,” says Mercedes Zach, travel expert at ASAP Tickets, part of Trevolution Group. “Do some extra research to make sure that you stay in a safe neighbourhood, be aware of your surroundings and gather information on where to seek help in case something unexpected happens,” she advises.

Blogger and social media manager Sarah Berlingieri recently returned from a three-month trip across Southeast Asia and swears by reviews. “It’s worth checking online reviews for everywhere you stay and searching relevant keywords,” she recommends. “This way you’ll avoid accidentally running into any non-inclusive or poor-quality hostels or accommodation.”

But Sarah found that the most valuable advice she came across was through first-hand accounts of people’s experiences on social media. “I’m a big fan of authentic reviews on TikTok, there are so many travel bloggers that break down all the must-know details and it was a game-changer. The most helpful account I’ve found is @okay.kara.travels,” she adds.

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Do your research before travelling alone

Plan ahead

It’s impossible to prevent all mishaps, but with enough knowledge and a plan for if something does go wrong, you can stay calm when issues do arise.

David Doughty, CEO of Admiral Jet, recommends carrying essential identification, medical information and emergency contacts with you at all times. “You can prepare for unexpected situations by carrying these in both physical and digital form, as well as taking out travel insurance to cover any potential emergencies.

Remember, just because you’re travelling alone doesn’t mean no one should know where you are. Drilling down on the importance of personal safety, Mercedes says: “Share your planned locations, travel itinerary and contact information with close relatives or friends so that they know where you’re meant to be.”

Sarah advises downloading a specific area on Google maps for the location you’re visiting that you can use offline, to ensure you always have directions available even without internet access. She also suggests minimising last-minute stresses by ensuring you’ve seen to all the relevant admin for each country you visit well ahead of time.

“If you need vaccines, don’t leave these too late! Sometimes you need several and they can be weeks apart so always keep that in mind,” she says. “Visas can also be tricky business, so always go to the GOV website if you’re UK based to get the accurate up-to-date info and apply well in advance.”

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Hostels can be a great place to meet other solo travellers

Be open to meeting new people

“You may have to push yourself beyond your comfort zone to get to meet people and strike up new conversations,” says Lee Thompson, co-founder and CMO of adventure travel company Flash Pack.

Hostels are not only affordable but tend to be social hotspots for travellers, and some will organise outings and parties, too.

“Plus, locals and solo travellers alike will be far more friendly than you imagine, and your best source of knowledge and support within a given area. You never know who you might meet — potentially even a friend for life.”

Dip your toes in with a solo-travel group holiday

Part of the fun of travelling alone is feeling independent and in control. However, a group holiday that’s also been planned by professionals would be a great way to ensure you don’t feel alone.

“A great way to ease into solo travel would be to embark on a group tour — they’re a helpful way of kickstarting your solo adventure with other like-minded solo travellers,” says fellow Flash Pack co-founder and CEO Radha Vyas.

Not only are group activities fun and a great way to meet new people, but they can end up getting you better value for your money. “In Southeast Asia I did lots of group activities, like cooking classes, market tours and hikes, and I loved them all,” says Sarah. “I’d recommend choosing a small group tour for around 10 people max, otherwise it can get overwhelming — unless that’s what you want!”

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solo travel trip riding camel activity
Flash Pack curate boutique adventures for solo travellers

Trust your instincts

“There’s a reason why everyone says to trust your gut — because your instincts are the most powerful tool you have when travelling solo. The more you realise you can fully rely on yourself to navigate the world and make new friends, the more your confidence will grow,” says Radha.

To truly make the most of travelling, you have to learn to trust yourself. Sarah recognised early on that her tendency towards anxiety and worrying could end up preventing her from enjoying her trip to the fullest.

“I usually have to push myself outside my comfort zone when travelling to experience the really great moments,” she says. “Although it can be quite daunting doing activities that you’d never try at home, my gut always trusted that it would turn out great and it always did.”

Don’t wait to be ready

Radha encourages me to realise that I’ll never truly feel ‘ready’ to travel alone. “That fear barrier of what you don’t know will always loom in the background, waiting to hold you back.”

Nervous about the potential of getting ill abroad — without the comforts of home, family and familiar medical services — Sarah had a lot of doubts before leaving for her travels and she was forced to battle through a lot of her anxiety on the trip.

Recalling a particularly memorable day in Koh Lanta, Thailand, Sarah concludes that it was all worth it for moments like this: “It had been raining for hours and instead of staying inside all day we ran to the beach and swam in the ocean in the rain. It was magical, I’ve never experienced anything else like it.”

It may be one of the scariest things you’ve ever done, but the chances are you’ll never feel more ready than when you’re in the moment, facing your fears and trying new things.

“It’s only when you’re working out how to get from A to B on the Mexico City Metro, or discovering an incredible hidden hammam in Marrakech that you’ll realise what you’re truly capable of. So, go ahead and give right in, you’ll learn best on the go,” says Radha.

an open first aid kit against a pink background
Take a first aid kit with you

And of course, make sure you pack the essentials

When you can only pack what you can carry on your back, it’s difficult to know what’s a must-pack. Here are Radha’s five must-pack items:

  1. Electrolyte hydration sachets

“It’s easy to forget to keep yourself hydrated when you’re travelling — from setting off to see new sights, to drinking more alcohol, or even just being in the sun. Electrolytes are a great on-the-go way to support your body’s hydration needs.”

  1. Battery pack

“Although it seems obvious, you never realise you need it until you’re under 40% battery and are asking the nearest coffee shop for a charge. You’ll want one that’s not too heavy — bonus points if it’s part of a phone case so you’re never without it.

  1. Eye mask and ear plugs

“A good night’s sleep is integral to having a successful travel day, so doing what you can to ensure that your body gets ample rest is key. Eye masks and ear plugs are also extremely useful when you need to help your body conquer jet lag and quickly adapt to a new time zone. As someone who travels solo frequently, I say you can never underestimate the power of sleeping well.”

  1. Google Translate

“The single best thing you can do when you travel somewhere new is to make an effort to learn the language and customs of the country you’re visiting. Whether it’s a simple hello, please or thank you, a little goes a long way. Google Translate’s photo translation feature also makes it easier for you to navigate a city with confidence, able to immediately scan and translate a foreign language on a shopfront or menu!”

  1. Vitamins

“When travelling, you don’t have the same comforts you’re used to. This means you won’t necessarily be consuming the same nutrients and vitamins that your body needs, so it’s important to pack some multivitamins to keep your body fuelled for all your travels.”

Sarah recommends bringing a ‘just-in-case bag’ everywhere you go, consisting of a small first aid kit, water, snacks, toiletries, medication and wet wipes. On top of that, put Apple AirTags on all your bags, so you can keep track of all your belongings on the various flights, boats, trains and coaches.

Lastly, Sarah urges: “Take as many photos as you can! I’m so happy I did this — I go through them on a weekly basis and remember every incredible moment.”

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