MY 10 BEST TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS
From the Amazon Rainforest to the African bushveld, I’ve definitely explored my fair share of places as a solo traveler.
Traveling alone has been one of the best investments I’ve ever made in myself. It’s humbled me, it’s made me tougher, more confident . . . I could go on and on. So whether you’re thinking about taking your very first solo trip, or you’re thinking about booking another one, all I gotta say is this: DO IT. (Just be sure to read this post first 🙂 )
No matter your age, gender or travel experience, traveling solo is almost never a bad idea, but that’s not to say it can’t turn bad if it’s not done responsibly. While most of my solo adventures have gone off without a hitch, there’s definitely been a few that almost sent me home in tears.
So to help any aspiring (and seasoned) solo travelers minimize any bad and maximize all the awesomeness that comes with traveling alone, I thought I’d share some of the best tips I’ve picked up while exploring the world. . . just me, myself and Mar.
From safety-focused advice (including some personal experiences I’ve learned from) to tricks for improving your solo travel game, here are My 10 Best Tips For Solo Travelers.
Disclosure: The following blog post contains affiliate links, denoted by ** . If you click on them and happen to make a purchase/reservation/etc. I’ll get to earn a small commission to help keep Mar Gone Wild running wild. Thanks in advance for the support!
Be sure to share your travel itinerary with more than one person you know and trust. Preferably, at least one of these people should exude good investigator/stalker skills (so basically that friend or family member you have that’s known for being the “crazy” girlfriend/boyfriend).
While this tip might seem obvious, it’s pretty easy to do a half-a$$ job of it — especially the more comfortable you get with traveling alone.
Before taking off on your solo adventure be sure to make a copy of your itinerary and leave it with your peeps back home. Include any flights, transfers, accommodations and tours you have booked, along with any names, numbers and locations you can provide. If your travel plans change along the way be sure to let these people know.
I also recommend making yourself a copy for reference. This might seem silly, but trust me, it’s easy to lose track of what day it is and where you’re at in your itinerary when you’re out there livin’ it up.
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I’ve made the mistake of going the old-school printed itinerary route and lost my hardcopy before I even made it to my destination.
My advice? Use your cell phone to store this information. It’ll not only be easier and quicker to access, but you’re less likely to lose it.
Consider outlining your itinerary on an editable, digital platform for easier sharing and real-time updating. I usually defer to a combo of Google Docs and Google Calendar to outline and share my solo travel plans. (Note that you need a Google Account (it’s free to sign up) to use/access these products, as will whoever you decide to share your itinerary with.)
If you’re going to emphasize anything when planning your trip make it your transportation.
Going from Point A to Point B is often when travelers are most vulnerable. It can be hectic and fast-paced to get from one place to another, especially when your hands are full of luggage and you’re dealing with unfamiliar territory, languages, etc.
Situations like these make us a lot more susceptible to misplacing and/or forgetting things. They also make you an easier target for people to take advantage of.
Make this aspect of your solo travels as seamless as possible by booking as much of your transportation in advance. A lot of accommodations offer transfer service in-house, or at the very least can help you arrange safe, reliable transport to and from its location.
Last but not least, try to avoid any late night departures and/or arrivals when you’re traveling alone. I’ve definitely made the mistake of booking a cheap(er) flight and overlooking its crappy 1:30 am arrival time, so just be mindful of this stuff during the planning phase.
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One of my worst, and scariest, experiences as a solo traveler had to do with transportation.
I once had a 6-hour overnight layover at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and had planned to just sleep there. But after a month of traveling, I was so exhausted and decided (last minute) to just book a nearby hotel to try and get some rest.
I did a little research to see what a taxi ride would be from the airport to the area I was staying (to make sure I had enough cash on me to cover the cost of the round-trip, plus tip). When I showed the taxi driver the address to my hotel he said he knew where it was and confirmed how much it would be. But when we arrived at my destination, which turned out to be in a super ‘dead’ area at night, he tried to get me to pay double what he had told me it would be.
After a bit of going back and forth with him about the price, he snatched the money right out of my hand and preceded to speed off with me in his vehicle. So I opened the car door and started screaming for help. Right when I was about to bail he stopped the vehicle and I was able to jump out.
By this time two people had walked out of a nearby building and were watching what was happening, so I at felt safe enough to try and retrieve my luggage — which was in the trunk. He demanded more money to give me my luggage, so I just threw what I had left at him (and thankfully he popped the trunk). I yanked my suitcase out, threw it on the floor, and before I could close the trunk he sped off again.
Hysterical and shaken, I ran towards my hotel (without my bag) yelling for help. There I found the night guard sprawled out in a chair, literally sleeping (I’m not even exaggerating .01%).
The point of me sharing this story isn’t to scare anyone, but to point out that when you’re a passenger in someone’s vehicle they have a certain power over you. So when it comes to traveling, especially alone, be sure to book these moments wisely.
If possible, stick with reputable transportation options that can be pre-booked, or at the very least offer some kind of service receipt. This will help ensure some level of accountability in terms of getting you where you need to go, safely.
The trick here is to be coy, and if you have to, lie a little. There’s really no need to go around telling people that you’re traveling alone. In fact, if you can avoid the topic altogether even better.
This doesn’t mean that every person you meet during your solo adventures is looking to take advantage of a lonesome traveler, it’s just better to err on the side of caution until you’ve really had a chance to assess a person’s vibe.
If you do find that someone’s eagerness to get to know you is a bit shady don’t be afraid to kindly (or aggressively if you have to) brush them off. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve pulled the whole “I gotta go meet my friends now” act plenty of times while traveling solo.
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When I first started traveling solo I was so eager to tell people that I was on an adventure all by my big girl self. It felt empowering, freeing and all kinds of #IndependentWoman. But over time I realized that nobody really freakin’ cared, except those that viewed me being solo as some kind of advantage to them.
The best advice I can give is to try and ‘take the wheel’ during conversations you have with strangers your solo adventures. Try not to ask them too many personal questions and hopefully they won’t bombard you with them. Stick to relevant small talk and lead with stuff like “How’s your trip going?”, “What’s been your favorite part?”, “Have any must-see recommendations?”, etc. If nothing more, this can at least buy you more time to feel out the person and the situation.
And ladies, I hate to have to say it, but this solo travel tip is especially directed at you. While travelers of all genders should be cautious about broadcasting their solo status, it’s ultra-important for us women to keep this in the back of our minds.
If you do find yourself in a situation with a person who is too interested in the fact that you’re alone, try to pull in some backup — literally and/or figuratively. If someone is making you uneasy try to interact with other people around (i.e. other travelers, staff, anybody). Hell, fake an incoming call and casually walk away if you have to.
The final thing I’ll add here is that a ‘single’, solo female traveler seems to warrant more attention than a non-single one (at least in my experience). So don’t be afraid to flaunt that you have a significant other — even if you don’t. This is one of the few situations when pretending like you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, etc. doesn’t make you coo coo.
I think we can all agree that being able to reach people back home is important, especially when you’re out exploring the world solo. But believe it or not, this is one thing a lot of travelers, especially newbies, don’t plan for it.
Many of us living in developed areas of the world have become so accustomed to how easy it is to stay connected that we take it for granted — so much so that the idea of the Internet not working is borderline apocalyptic.
Unfortunately, this mentality can really mess things up for a traveler when they find themselves trying to connect to that spotty hostel WiFi, only to get that dreaded “Unable to join the network” error.
So what’s the workaround? Plan ahead.
While most stops along your journey will have working internet, or at least a phone or homing pigeon of some sort, you should still plan for your own means of connecting. One way of doing this is to purchase a local SIM card when you arrive at your travel destination. I didn’t start doing this until a couple of years into my solo travels and man, I kick myself for not knowing to do it sooner.
Before you travel abroad, do some research as to the best international sim card options available in your destination(s). If you’re looking for a recommendation, I personally use World SIM**. Alternatively, you can usually find kiosks selling them in the arrival terminals at major international airports. The process can take about 30 minutes and generally costs around $25 for enough data to last you a month.
Keep in mind that you must have an unlocked phone to use an international SIM card. So be sure to confirm with your service provider that your phone will work with other SIMs before you take off.
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If you find that your phone isn’t unlocked, consider buying a used one before your solo trip. Nowadays you can find old smartphones for super cheap on platforms like Craigslist. You can even ask around to friends and family to see if anyone has an old phone they no longer use that you can buy.
When it comes to my go-to form of communication while traveling it’s all about WhatsApp (it’s free to download). iMessage is cool too but only works with other iPhone users (and my momma ain’t got no iPhone), so just be mindful of that.
Then there’s always trusty social media for communicating. But for a lot of people what goes down in the DM doesn’t always pop up as a notification, so just be sure that your emergency contacts know to check their social media if this is how you plan to reach them.
Before taking off make sure you download any and every app you’ll need/want while abroad — there’s no need to use your international data or rely on potentially snail-slow WiFi for all that.
Oh, and make sure you don’t lose your original SIM card while traveling. It’s happened to me and it was a total pain to deal with when I got back. Now, my travel routine is to tape my original SIM card to the back page of my passport, which makes for easy access when it’s time to swap it back in. (This super helpful tip was passed on to me by another solo traveler so I can’t take credit for its genius).
This might seem like a no-brainer, but believe me when I say it’s easy to drink/party a little “too” much when you’re a solo traveler. While you may not actually consume any more alcohol or stay out any later than you would if you were at da club with friends back home, when you’re rollin’ solo in an unfamiliar place it might be worth it to reframe your usual limits.
If 3-4 adult beverages is a typical non-sloppy night out for you at home, then 1-2 is probably a solid/safe night for you when you’re traveling alone.
And not to be a total buzz kill, but staying out super late probably isn’t a great idea either. But if you must, at least leave a note behind at the place you’re staying and/or let someone on the staff know about your plans.
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Back in my ‘partying days’ as a solo female traveler, I went out one night in Cusco, Peru. Nothin’ crazy, I was just trying to get some late-night food and a nightcap.
When it came time to walk my butt back to the hotel I had somehow forgotten how to get back. I knew the name of where I was staying but no one I asked was familiar with it — let alone knew where it was. (And since this was back in my early solo travel days I didn’t have any service on my phone –a reference to #4 on this list.)
After a bit of wondering the streets alone, two guys approached me. They had heard I was lost and said they would help me find my way back. Long story short, when I realized that me being alone and appearing lost had made me a potential target for shadiness I quickly made my way back to the bar I had come from. There I was able to call the hotel and offer to pay someone to come and escort me back.
Moral of the story is don’t be like me back then. While it’s probably best to avoid walking around alone at night as a tourist (especially a female), it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go out and enjoy yourself after the sun goes down — you just gotta be smart about it.
Be sure to keep important phone numbers and addresses handy (in your cell phone equipped with a local SIM card 🙂 ). And always walk with confidence, even if it’s right back to to the bar you came from.
It’s no secret that packing light makes traveling more manageable. But when it comes to solo travel, packing light is equally about safety as it is convenience.
Not only does more stuff mean more babysitting responsibilities, but it also means your mobility is slowed down. I mean, have you ever tried to roll two pieces of luggage at the same time? Well, I have. And I looked like a hot mess, not to mention an easy target for some shady help.
Do your solo traveling-self a favor and only pack what you can easily carry/lift/roll with one hand. Better yet, go full-on backpacker style by going hands-free. If you travel with anything valuable, like camera gear or a laptop, give that stuff priority to go on your body. It’s a lot easier to — God forbid — have to run with a backpack than run with a suitcase in tow.
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I travel with a lot of production-related gear so my packing priorities might differ from other solo travelers’, nonetheless, here’s my general configuration when I venture out solo…
My camera bag is my baby. Clothes, toiletries, etc. take a back seat since it’s usually a lot easier (and cheaper) to pick up more of this stuff wherever I’m traveling to than it is camera equipment.
Personally, I’ve gotta have a quality camera backpack that doubles as a roller bag because my back is pretty messed up (from my previous life as a dancer). When I’m just chillin’ somewhere low key (like in an airport on a long layover) the ability to wheel to backpack becomes a total back-saver. Specifically, I use THIS** camera backpack with wheels by Ape Case.
For small valuables (i.e. phones, wallet, travel docs, chapstick, etc.) I use a fanny pack (don’t knock ’til you try it). I’ll also bring a change of clothes, spare underwear, toiletries, etc. (basically whatever I’ll need during my flight/layover) in a reusable bag. Then, when it comes time to board the plane, I’ll just toss my trusty fanny pack inside the bag to make sure I adhere to the “one carry-on and one personal item” rule. How do you like that for a travel hack?.
One of the best parts about traveling solo is the freedom to build your itinerary the way that you want. You don’t have to consider what your travel companion wants to do, where they want to eat, when they want to sleep in, or when they want to get an early start. Instead, the trip becomes yours to mold.
The downside?… Sometimes it can get a little lonely being in an unfamiliar place all by yo-damn-self.
Even if you’re the type to jam pack your itinerary from sunup to sundown there’s still a chance for a little loneliness to creep up on you, and it’s usually in the form homesickness. In fact, some of my most homesick moments as a solo traveler have happened not while I was sitting in my hotel room alone at night, but while I was out ‘n’ about doing things.
Over time I found that one of the best ways to combat this was to put a little structure into my itinerary. By ‘structure’ I mean anything that creates a bit of routine or direction in your day. This could be something like morning yoga or journaling, or more like a daily personal challenge such as learning 10 new words in the local language.
No matter how big or small or random, just know that a little structure in your itinerary can go a long way in helping to keep you connected, engaged and focused on your trip — and not focused on home.
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Wanna know my remedy for homesickness?…. Photography.
I’ve found that anytime I slip into a solo travel funk one of the best things I can do is go out and take a bunch of pictures. Sometimes doing this simply serves as a distraction, but most of the time it brings me back to where I am and helps me live in the moment. And if all else fails I’m at least improving my photo taking skills. 🙂
Joining a tour group is a great way (and one of the safest) to meet other travelers when you’re galavanting the globe solo. But if the idea of riding in a double-decker sightseeing bus makes you cringe, don’t worry, you’re not alone. While you might have caught me ridin’ dirty for a prerecorded bus tour back in the day, I now do my best to avoid any such grouping of eager tourists — at any cost.
But that’s not to say that all touristy stuff is tour bus-bad. Chances are that wherever you’re traveling to there are some really unique and off-the-beaten-path experiences just waiting to be had, you just have to find them 🙂
So how do you find them?
Well, the easiest way is to start your search online. The trick here is to avoid popular travel sites that cater to the masses (i.e. Tripadvisor, etc.) and check out more specialized/niche sites. Online blogs, forums, and Facebook communities are great resources for discovering non-touristy touristy things to do in travel destinations.
Whatever you’re into (be it food, art, birds, history, cosplay, etc.) chances are there are other travelers out there who are into the same thing — and they might just be your best travel resource. So try to connect with these people when it comes time to plan your next solo adventure.
And if you really want to be a different kind of touristy consider turning your next solo adventure (or part of it) into an impact trip. There are so many incredible volunteer opportunities out there for travelers, so finding one that aligns with your interests and passions shouldn’t be hard.
If the notion of giving back on your next trip isn’t enough to sell you, then just know that volunteer tourism is also a great way for solo travelers to meet other like-minded adventurers.
For more information about turning your travels into impact trips, check out my post: Volunteering Abroad: An In-Depth Guide To Finding The Right Project.
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If you’re looking for some impact travel inspiration here are a few of my favorite wildlife-centric volunteer projects:
The Surin Project, Thailand – volunteer with elephants
The Vervet Monkey Foundation, South Africa – volunteer with primates
Rhino Fund Uganda, Uganda – volunteer with rhinos
La Tortuga Feliz, Costa Rica – volunteer with sea turtles
If you’ve never had an official Table For One experience then, quite frankly, you haven’t lived.
Dining alone may just be one of the most awkward and fidgety first time-moments a human being can have. But once a person has successfully endured their first solo dining experience, they’re basically invincible.
You see, dining solo is like a talent, the more you practice it the better at it you’ll be, and one of the best times to master this skill is when you’re traveling alone.
There’s just something easier about sitting through a meal by yourself when you’re traveling solo. Perhaps it’s because you don’t even have the option to drag along that one trusty friend (you know, the one you can always count on to go grab a bit to eat with you). Or maybe it’s just easier to let your guard down and enjoy the peace of dining solo when the fear of (**gasp**) seeing someone you know is virtually eliminated.
Whatever IT is, relish in it. Because there’s no better, and easier, time to master the art of dining alone.
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It’s taken some time, but dining alone has actually become one of the things I look forward to the most when I travel solo. I’ve even gotten to a place where I don’t need my iPhone or a book at the table (which I obvi only ever pretended read).
My secret? I learned that when it comes to mastering solo dining it’s all about where you sit.
If you want to be left alone avoid sitting at the bar, and vice versa.
If you need plenty of distractions to make it through your meal sit outdoors or near a window as it makes for better people watching.
Last but least, if you can, avoid sitting at a table that has other tables on all sides (aka the one in the center of the restaurant). Opt for at least one wall, window, etc., and if you can get a corner seat, even better.
Last but certainly not least, ALWAYS trust your gut when you’re traveling solo.
No one knows you better than you know yourself, which makes you the best person to set boundaries and dictate what’s comfortable for you and what’s not. If something feels off then there’s probably a reason, so why chance it? It’s better to be overly cautious and miss out on an experience here and there versus be overly carefree and have something happen that could potential to ruin your trip.
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One of the hardest adjustments for me when it came to trusting my travel gut was learning to say “no”. There have been plenty of times when I was traveling alone that I really didn’t want to do something, but forced myself to live in the moment and just go with the flow because, well, I thought that’s what solo travelers had to do.
And for the most part, these situations worked out just fine (thank goodness). But there’s definitely been a few times when going against my travel gut bit me on my ass big time.
Now, after learning the hard way, I listen extra intently to that little voice that accompanies me on my solo adventures. And you know what? I still manage to have an epic time everywhere I go.
The point I’m trying to make is this… Being cautious and doing what feels right doesn’t mean that you’re being unadventurous. After all, you are traveling solo and that already says a lot. 🙂
I hope My 10 Tips For Solo Travelers has inspired you to get out there and explore more of the world in just your own great company and helps you make the most of whatever your next solo adventure might be.
Traveling alone, even if you do it just once in your life, is one of the best gifts you can give yourself, and if you allow it to — it will be life-changing. Because as the overly-used Neale Donald Walsch quote says: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone…