Are you thinking about traveling alone for the first time but feel intimidated and can’t decide? Or maybe you just decided to take your first solo travel, and now you’re not sure anymore it’s a good idea?
Getting to travel alone for the first time, especially as a female, is a big step. You get to ask yourself a lot of questions. Is it safe? Will men harass me? Am I going to feel lonely and sad? How do I choose the right place? Will I feel uncomfortable eating alone? Am I going to get bored?
When we do something for the first time, we often feel a mix of excitement and apprehension. It happens on the first day at work in a new workplace or trying a new sport, and it happens with travel.
The first trip alone is the most difficult because you’re getting out of your comfort zone
I traveled alone for the first time more than er… 25 years ago. I had broken up with my long-time partner, with whom I shared everything. I was used to a life as a couple and finding myself without my better half was at first devastating. It was not only the lost love. I just couldn’t think of myself as one, instead of as a half.
One day, I realized that day after day my grief was waning. The time for vacations was approaching. At first, I got struck by panic. I didn’t want to go on holidays with my friends who were all couples. Too painful. I could have gone with an organized tour, but that’s not my style. The only option was to travel alone, or to stay at home, lonely and defeated.
I knew it was time to react and do something for myself and by myself. I had to regain my self-confidence, or at least to work in that direction.
My first solo travel was to Morocco. I spent a few days visiting the Imperial cities, then to the south, exploring small villages, the wadi, and the desert. Come to think of it, my travel style emerged on that first trip. I bought my flight, booked the first night, and landed in Casablanca with my luggage and my Lonely Planet. I only had a rough itinerary in mind and decided day by day.
Back then, I didn’t know that this first solo journey would become the beginning of a long series. In the last 25 years I’ve been traveling alone to many countries, some of them more relaxed, others – like Pakistan, South Africa, Guatemala, Venezuela – more challenging. And with solo travel came solo hiking.
Internet and new technologies changed the way we travel. With a smartphone and a credit card, solo travel has become much easier than it was. Still, traveling alone for the first time remains a big decision. But believe me, if you follow a few simple rules, a solo trip can be one of the most enriching experiences in your life.
How to travel alone safely
Whether in your backyard or in a foreign country, safety is mostly a matter of common sense and awareness. Here are a few habits I developed over the years. They indeed are useful if you travel alone for the first time, but I like to remind them to myself from time to time. Because self-confidence is good, too much self-confidence is not. It may lead to underestimating the risks, and this happened to me a few times.
Research your destination and prepare your solo trip
If you’re traveling alone, it’s always good to read about the country and the places you’ll be heading to. Research is all the most important if your destination is culturally very different from where you live.
Gather as much information you can to find out about local customs, possible annoyances, potential health issues, areas that might be better to avoid. Read destinations guides and blogs, ask friends and other people who traveled there before. Knowing the potential risks is the best way to get ready to avoid or face them.
Plan your journey, or draw a rough itinerary
For your first solo trip, you may want to have everything planned and booked in advance. Nowadays, with the internet, it’s much easier and faster than it used to be in the past. Facing the first time traveling alone with all set beforehand can be reassuring. If it makes you feel better, go for it.
If you’re more like me and don’t want to be limited by strict planning, I suggest you draw a rough itinerary and make a list of possible accommodations. That will help to do your research and get prepared, especially if you’re traveling to a popular destination in high season. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere without a roof on your head, right?
As a rule, I ALWAYS book the first night and take information on how to reach the hotel from the airport or the train station. There’s nothing like being tired and disoriented to become easy prey for pickpockets, thieves, and other people with harmful intentions.
Passport, money, and other valuables
Always make a photocopy of your passport before starting your travel. Whenever possible, leave your passport at the hotel and bring with you the copy. When you’re on the road, don’t keep it in your wallet but in a separate place, better if on yourself (in an inner pocket, or in a small bag around our neck.
Luckily, in the last twenty years, credit cards have become common in most countries. No more big stacks of money, and the constant worry to get robbed and feel miserable. There are still a few places, though, where credit cards are accepted only in the main cities, and you need cash as soon as you visit smaller towns. Divide the money and hide it in different locations.
Always keep your valuables with you, and hold your backpack on the front. Especially if you travel to poorer countries, bring as little items of value as possible.
Never leave your luggage, not even for a minute while you go and ask for information. I know, it’s a hassle, but if you are traveling alone, you must take into account that you and your luggage are an only thing. I’ve seen many travelers having their bags snatched in a matter of seconds. And if you’re going around by public transportation, always personally control that your luggage is loaded in the trunk.
Ask for information to local people
Even if you did your research before your first solo trip, things could change quickly. There’s nothing like locals to advise on the Dos and Don’t, the areas to avoid, the possible annoyances. Ask locals on social media, inquire about your hotel or hostel, get advice from other travelers you meet during your trip.
Be open, but cautious. Be kind, but firm
I love meeting locals when I travel, and most of them are friendly and genuinely curious. However, some circumstances ask for caution.
As a solo female traveler, only take official taxis and never accept a lift from strangers. I know, I may sound like my grandmother, but… Better safe than sorry, right?
Also, beware of people offering to be your guides. I do not mean you should always decline, but try to assess the situation. You don’t want to end up having unpleasant experiences.
Dress simple, keep a low-profile
Unwanted attention is easily the first worry for women traveling alone for the first time. How do you keep away from them?
The most important thing is to keep in mind the role of women in society and their level of freedom is strongly related to culture. In Europe and in the Western countries a woman traveling solo is nothing special. Not the same in Muslim countries, where women are granted way less freedom. And even in some areas of Latin America, a woman on a solo trip might be considered an “easy prey”.
If you plan to visit a Muslim country, research the local dress code as this can vary significantly depending on how conservative is the country (or even specific areas within a country). When I traveled to Pakistan, I found that the easiest way to “blend” was buying a Shalwar Kameez, the traditional 3 pieces outfit which, incidentally, is also beautiful and very comfortable.
Even in more liberal countries, it’s always best to dress in a simple way and keep low-profile if you rather not draw unwanted attention.
Keep healthy while traveling alone
Being sick is no fun, even less when you’re in a foreign country and alone. Falling ill can happen any time, anywhere, but there are a few things you can do to prevent the most common health issues while traveling.
Bring with you a first aid kit and a set of medicines for the most common illnesses: ibuprofen, antibiotics, anti-diarrhea, painkillers.
Unless you travel to Western countries, don’t drink tap water and always have bottled water. If you want to be a more responsible traveler, and avoid as much as possible plastic, I suggest you buy a water purifier. I’m very happy with my Steripen, which fits in a pocket and makes any water safe to drink in a matter of seconds.
Eat at busy restaurants and cafès: the food might not always be the tastier, but with a good turnover it should be fresh. Whenever possible, don’t eat ready food that has been exposed for a long time. It might be contaminated.
Never leave for a trip without travel and medical insurance. It doesn’t matter how healthy you are at home. Something unexpected can always happen and you want to be covered.
How to travel alone happily
You want the first time traveling alone (and possibly many more solo trips after that) to be fun and a great experience.
Meeting people while traveling alone
Being a solo traveler doesn’t mean you have to be alone all the time. On the contrary. I am an introvert and I soon discovered that I am much more open when I travel on my own. I met a lot of people and shared unforgettable moments with many of them.
There are many ways to meet people while traveling alone. Staying at a hostel is certainly one. Additionally, hostels often organized tours that would be expensive to do alone and at good prices. I took advantage of that opportunity in many occasions, most of all when I visited Argentina, South Africa, and New Zealand.
Hostels might not be your thing, though. Hotels can sometimes offer great deals, and Airbnb – which I use frequently -is fantastic to get in touch with locals. In that case, you may want to join a group tour to visit a landmark or an excursion to met other people. Get Your Guide has a broad offer for cities, while Tourradar is a good option for longer organized tours.
The power of social media to meet travelers and locals
If you’re into social media, even only a bit, you can take advantage of the opportunities to get in touch with other (solo) travelers and locals. Some Facebook groups are an incredible resource to gather information and find out who else is traveling to your destination almost at the same time. Twitter can also be very useful to organize a meet-up for drinks and chat.
Not everything going on on social media is good, and you need to be cautious. But I managed to meet in real life incredible people with whom I was in touch only virtually.
Keep a watchful eye, but take it easy
Whether you travel alone, with your partner or friends, or in a group, travel is about having a good time (and, hopefully, getting enriched).
As a long-time solo traveler, what experience taught me is “be cautious, but take it easy”. What I mean is that caution is important, but it shall not become overwhelming. If you ever start traveling alone, you’ll soon find out that handling potential issues is mostly a matter of research and common sense, and the more prepared (and relaxed) you’ll be, the more pleasure you’ll get from your first time traveling alone.
You may find out that traveling alone is not the right thing for you. But you’ll never know unless you try it, at least once. Solo travel is an excellent way to discover your strengths and your limits.
The best countries to travel alone for the first time?
There’s no good or bad choice, but for your first solo trip, you may want to choose a country that is different and exciting but also not too far culturally, as this is more challenging.
New Zealand – Abel Tasman National Park
There are indeed a wide number of destinations that are very easy and generally low risk: everywhere in Europe, the United States and Canada, South-East Asia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand. That’s a very good portion of the world to choose from.
Have you ever traveled alone? How was your experience? I’d love to hear from you.
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