How to travel solo – my story, safety and other tips
Why you should book a solo trip
Traveling solo, should you do it or not? Of course I say: YES YES YES! Traveling alone is great in many ways. The best thing is of course that you get to see the world. Do you really want to miss out on an opportunity to visit a new country or revisit your favorite city because your friends can’t go? There are so many beautiful and fantastic places in this world that are just waiting to be explored.
When I say I travel alone, I get all kinds of reactions; “I wish I could do that too.”, “How dare you?”, “That’s so cool!”, “Isn’t that boring?” and every now and then I can hear the sub-meaning “Poor you that don’t have anyone to travel with.” And yes, I like to travel with my friends and would love to do that more often. But honestly my friends can’t keep up with me, they either don’t have the same interest in it, or the time to do all the trips I do! And I don’t want to stay home just because of that. I’d rather travel alone than not at all. And traveling solo has its perks too.
For a solo trip you can tailor your trip for everything that you like and plan the days just the way you want to spend them. Do you want to visit all sights at a high pace? Read books all day long? Take morning runs? Eat, eat and eat? Well it’s all up to you. It’s such a big freedom and it’s up to you to make the best out of it. It’s not just rays of sunshine or “ice cream and balloons” as we say in Sweden though. For your first trips you may need to plan a little differently and think things through a little more. Also be prepared that things don’t always go as planned. Hopefully those are the things you get strengthened by. Further down I will tell you some of my worst solo stories.
I also feel like it sometimes can be easier to take in all the impressions of a place if it’s only you and your own thoughts. In a way you get closer to the culture when you can’t “escape” with conversations in your own language with someone else. If you are open to it you can learn so much and get to know yourself better as well.
Why I started traveling solo
I have always loved to travel, and for all of my adulthood I’ve always tried to get my friends to go with me. But that didn’t happen often enough. Before 2015 I never really figured traveling alone was an option. But then when my longing for it got too big I started to do some research about it. But not until October 2016 I took the leap and went on my first solo trip! Before this I had been flying alone, but always had someone to meet up with in the other country. But now, I would have a whole weekend for myself in a foreign city. Here I come Prague!
The reason I didn’t travel earlier wasn’t that much that I was scared or uncertain about the safety. It was actually most that I didn’t even see it as a possibility and later that it would be boring. I’m quite used to being alone, but still it took me a while to travel solo. But then I figured, if I’m gonna be alone for the weekend – I can just as well be alone in another country. I had been on plenty of trips with friends so I felt very comfortable with the traveling itself and safe in finding around the airport and stuff like that. And after that first trip the threshold was crossed and the solo trips just kept on coming!
The kind of solo trips I do
Since I started traveling alone in 2016 I’ve done 11 solo trips. Maybe doesn’t sound like too many, but it’s like 3 a year (can’t count the Covid-19 year), but it feels like I’ve done them forever. I like all kinds of trips and have been on different types on my own. It’s been city getaways to San Sebastián and Málaga. Longer trips (2-3 weeks) where I’ve been traveling around the country between different places, where I’ve stayed on islands and beaches in Costa Rica and Thailand/Cambodia. I’ve also traveled around Austria and Italy which was really great. And I have been doing roadtrips in Sweden and Norway where I have been on a search for beautiful nature and been sleeping in my car or a tent.
Most of my trips have been really nice. But the first one I did, the weekend to Prague, wasn’t the best one. I think it was because I was thinking a little too much about the fact that I was on a trip alone. After that trip I have been a lot more relaxed and haven’t thought about the fact of it that much. And maybe that although I like all sorts of trips, city weekends aren’t my favorite, especially not cities that are packed with other people, haha. Although I did love my city trips to Porto and Lisbon in Portugal.
Things I like about traveling alone
- I decide EVERYTHING, where to go, what to do, when to sleep and eat.
- I can take photographs of everything I want for as long as I want.
- You have to speak with others and practice other languages. Both other tourists and locals.
- It’s easier to get a table for one or sit at the bar and eat if the restaurant is full.
- The feeling of being strong and independent.
Things I find more or less annoying
- Hotels and taxis and stuff like that are more expensive.
- No input from anyone and you have to do all research by yourself. Sometimes you get tired and it would be nice if someone else could make a decision.
- The dinner goes by too fast.
- You have to make an effort to get photos of yourself…
My bad stories from solo travel
I’m sure many of you have your own stories of things that has happend to you while traveling. Sometimes not so nice things happen, that’s just the way it is. And sometimes these things can be scarier when you are all alone. I have been pretty lucky and haven’t had that many problems, but I will tell you about the times I’ve had the most problems.
In February 2019 I was traveling in Thailand and Cambodia. My plan was to go from Siem Reap in Cambodia to an island in Thailand called Koh Kut outside Trat and close to the popular island Koh Chang. To travel between these places you can either fly, take a taxi or share a shuttle bus. The by far cheapest way is by shuttle bus. I was really looking up taking a taxi, but it was super expensive and I couldn’t find anyone to share it with. So in Siem Reap at a tourist office I booked transportation to Trat.
The trip itself wasn’t very nice and the border crossing was awful. The trip there from Thailand to Cambodia was very bad too with scamming and horrible border crossing. So I wasn’t looking forward to the trip to begin with…
But well on the Thailand side of the border another company took over to drive us the rest of the way. The border can take a very long time to go through but the driver was waiting for the last people to catch the shuttle bus and then drove in the last minute. The last minute being just in time to be able to catch the last ferry from Trat to Koh Chang. All of the other people in the bus were going to Koh Chang and I was going to Trat. We all got stickers so that they would recognize us at the border, and mine said Trat and the others Koh Chang.
The driver then drove like crazy, really fast! And when we finally arrived at the ferry terminal in Trat, just in time for them to catch the ferry, they just dropped me off. The driver had no clue that I was actually going to the city and didn’t care at all! I was so angry that the driver was such a jerk. So there I was, all alone in the dark at the Trat ferry pier, 30 km (!!!!) from Trat!
It was dark and there were no other people after the last ferry had left. The small shop that was there was closed and yeah, there was nothing to do. The whole trip had been awful and I had already lost one night at the hotel I had booked in Koh Kood because I couldn’t go to Koh Kood in one day from Siem Reap, so I was really upset. I was really really lucky that that I found this guy sleeping in his taxi that could take me to Trat. Although I have no idea what he was doing there and he wasn’t very nice I paid a lot for him to drive me. If he hadn’t been there I have no idea what I would have done though. And it makes me so mad that there’s no way of getting a refund and you can’t really complain to anyone…
I finally got to Trat and got a small super hot room with a very hard bed…
So what have I learned from this? That you can never trust shuttle buses, it takes WAY more time than you think. I normally plan really well, but this didn’t work out anyhow… I normally also try to not be “stupidly cheap”, but in this case I just couldn’t motivate to pay a fortune for a private taxi all the way.
Well well, the day after I finally got to Koh Kut and it was like arriving in paradise!
The other story isn’t that bad, but I feel like I want to tell it anyway, because at the time being it was annoying and energy consuming.
When I was traveling in Costa Rica I hadn’t planned the whole route before the trip and therefore hadn’t all the hotels booked in advanced. At the beginning of the trip I traveled from Puerto Jiménez to Drake bay. When in Puerto Jiménez I looked up a hotel on a hotel comparison site and booked a place to stay. After a very long and sweaty transport to Drake Bay the people at the hotel said they didn’t have a room and didn’t understand how I could have booked it online. They had seen my booking though and cancelled it. So I had to look up another hotel for a few nights. I was lucky enough that there was a room for me at a hotel nearby in this small town.
I actually had a hotel booked in the same town for the nights after. But when I got to the town I realised that the hotel wasn’t at all where it was supposed to be so I cancelled that and eventually extended my stay at the first place. I always look for hotels depending on where they are on the map so this was a deal breaker. The hotel was far from the town and in the jungle. I wasn’t comfortable with staying there on my solo trip. So there I was looking for a place again! Like I said, maybe this doesn’t sound that bad, but it was just in the beginning of the trip and I had all this annoying administration to do. It takes energy and time when all you want to do is chill!
Tips if you get lonely
I believe there are many people out there like me that want to travel but are afraid they’ll get lonely if they travel alone. But if you want to it can actually by easy to meet other people.
- Stay at a hostel
I sometimes stay at hostels but in a private room. That way I get to have my own space but also meet people in the common areas. I stayed at a hostel in Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica where I started chatting with a girl. We hung out by the pool and later had drinks together with some other people.
- Book guided tours
For example I did a free walking tour in Bratislava where I met someone I could practice my Spanish with for a couple of hours. I’ve also met people on shuttle buses. One time I ended up hanging out with a girl the following day, exploring Angkor Wat together. (In San Sebastián it was a little fail though. I booked a tour but it ended up being just me and the guide, haha, but sure I had him to talk to for a couple of hours.)
- Use Social Media
There are so many Facebook groups about travel nowadays. Join local groups or other travel groups and ask if there’s someone that wants to show you around.
- Travel to a friendly country
This can mean either where the people are open-minded and friendly or a country with many backpackers. When I traveled in Costa Rica I met new people to talk to everyday! It was either on buses, hostels or at sights.
- Keep contact with friends at home
I have a group chat with my two best friends that I always chat with on my travels (as well as everyday at home). That always makes me feel less lonely when I’m away, even though they’re not there with my physically. It’s also good in a safety perspective so that someone always know what you’re doing.
Tips before your first solo travel
If you are feeling insecure and not sure if you should travel alone, but somewhere deep down you know that’s what you want, my first tip is very simple and maybe quite obvious. But start off easy and simple. Think about what kind of trips or environment you are comfortable with. Don’t expose yourself too much on your first trip. Do you like cities and weekend trips? Maybe charter trips are more your thing? Then that’s what you should do. Have you been traveling around Thailand with friends before, then maybe you feel like you can do that on your own too? Then go! If not, maybe wait with that until you feel a bit more safe with traveling alone.
Do you speak any foreign languages? French? Then maybe that’s where you should go. If you still choose another country, try to learn some simple words in the local language. It’s always good to be comfortable or comfortable-isch with the language. At least it can make things easier.
Maybe you are not feeling scared about traveling alone but rather feeling that it would be boring to not have anyone to share it with. I think this is very common. But the most important thing for your trip to be just as good as you want it to be is for you to learn how to hang out with yourself and be happy in your own company.
Don’t let it discourage you if you don’t feel like the first solo trip is perfect.
Important things/practical tips before your solo trip
- Do your research and plan thouroghly. Book hotels and other things in advance so you don’t have to care about that during the trip.
- Write down everything about your trip: Your planned route, hotels, dates, flight numbers etc. Send this to your parents and/or friends and keep them updated if anything changes. I have the document on Google Drive and give my parents access to it.
- Look up your country’s embassy/consulate in the country you’re visiting and pin it on your map. Always nice to know where you have it if you should need it. I do this for trips to countries further away, like Costa Rica, but not for Italy or Spain.
- Make a copy of your important papers: passport, travel insurance and vaccinations. I store these on Google Drive and my email as well.
- Bring more than one credit card. Preferably one Visa and one Mastercard (or other kinds).
- Have an open mind and be ready for everything. Have a relaxed mode!
Tips for during the solo trip
- Avoid being out alone during the dark hours, especially in smaller alleys.
- Do your research! Book a hotel in the center where you’ll probably want to eat in the evening. This so you don’t have to take a long way home in the dark etc.
- Don’t leave a drink to go to the bathroom. Someone can put something in it.
- Store your money in more than one place. If the worst were to happen and you lose your handbag with all your valuables it’s nice to have a small sum of money so you can get by for a day or two. That’s why I take the risk of storing some money in my bigger luggage that I have in my hotel room. Even better if the room has a safety box so you can store them there.
- Don’t show off your expensive stuff and money. Depending on where I’m staying I normally put my camera in my bag before I get to the hotel, a couple of blocks away or so.
- Lots of places have WiFi, but consider buying a local sim card so you always have access to the world wide web (without getting a huge phone bill when you get home).
- If you’re doing a certain day trip or hike or so always tell someone where you’re going.
- Bring a dry sack where you can put your valuables and bring with you in the water when you swim. Never ever leave your valuables on the beach!
BONUS: How to take photos of yourself on trips
Alright, I know this is a common question out there. And I’m definitely no expert on this. I have to really make an effort to get photos of myself, I normally don’t take that many. But I’m working on it. I take some photos in the beginning of the trip, but then I forget it, get too tired or feel too sweaty to be in the photo, haha. But it’s actually fun to have photos on yourself from a trip so it’s a shame I don’t take more. Although I realize this post is full of photos of me by now. :)
I normally have a small tripod with me when I travel. I can put it anywhere and play around with it to get some good photos. I’m still working on taking photos with it when there’s other people around though. That’s something you just have to stop caring about! Also, just buckle up and ask someone to take your photo. Remember that people are kind! I ask someone with a big camera or someone who looks friendly. If you’re looking for people to hang out with this can be a good gateway too.
So my tip is basically don’t be afraid to ask people or to look funny taking pictures of yourself.
I have never regretted a single trip I’ve done. I just wish I had started earlier. There’s so much to see in this world and I’m just getting started. Check out my solo travel category with posts from all of my solo trips for more inspiration. I hope this post has convinced you that it’s fun to travel solo!
Traveling is always very nice. But the feeling of freedom and independence I feel when I travel solo is powerful and something else.