Solo travel is nothing new. Individuals have been traversing the globe since before records began. What is new is the number of us venturing to foreign shores alone. According to travel search engine Kayak, hunts for single-person flights in 2023 are up a whopping 36% on 2022, while Google Trends show a post-pandemic surge in searches for “solo travel” hitting an all-time high.
The benefits of travelling alone are well documented, from maximum flexibility to zero need to compromise. You can eat, drink and see whatever you like. Yes, it can take you out of your comfort zone, but it’s also the most genuinely transformative type of travel you’ll ever experience.
If you’re considering travelling solo this year, read on for our expert-approved rules, to ensure your trip is a singular success.
Location, location, location
For first time solos, cities are a great way to find your feet. For one, you won’t feel alone as there’s always someone nearby to ask for directions, strike up conversation with or meet on an organised activity. Ideally, you’re seeking places that are easy to navigate, have a user-friendly public transport system and a vibrant and social café culture. The likes of Tokyo, Lisbon and Reykjavik are great starting points, all ranking highly in terms of safety, ease of travelling around and activities for solo adventurers.
Do your research
When travelling alone, it’s important to gather as much first-hand information as you can in advance. If you hunt diligently on social media, you’ll almost certainly find someone who has been to your destination before, or even lived there, willing to share some tips. Search Instagram via hashtags and use its bookmark feature to save restaurant, bar and activity tips to an album you can easily access on the road. Set aside time to scour TripAdvisor, Reddit and Pinterest for specific tips, too, particularly looking for interesting activities, neighbourhoods to target (and avoid) and the city’s biggest social events.
Choose the right accommodation
Your choice of accommodation is fundamental to success when travelling alone. For a truly local experience, homestays are a great option. And while hostels may not be your normal abode of choice, some cities have boutique versions with private rooms, meaning you get privacy and the chance to meet fellow travellers. For example, KEX hostel in Reykjavik is a trendy find, housed in an old biscuit factory. Alternatively, pinpoint hotels with their own city tours, group activities or quirky social spaces, such The Millennials boutique hotel in Tokyo, which prioritises a large chunk of it space to communal areas, like workspaces, a kitchen, play zones and dining area, that are open 24 hours a day.
Join a group
Search meetup.com or Facebook for local groups that align with your personal interests. In major cities, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find a manga lovers club, a running group, a pickleball gathering or whatever takes your fancy. Not only will this give you an event to aim for, but it will also provide the opportunity to speak to other participants for insider tips about their hometown. And you may even make some new friends in the process.
Arrive in daylight
It makes a world of difference when you land in a new place during daylight hours, especially after a long flight when you might be
tired or disoriented. Not only is it safer and usually cheaper to travel during the day, but that first journey from the airport to your hotel is also an invaluable opportunity to get your bearings. If you plan nothing else beforehand, you should always plan your transfer. Try Rome2Rio, which helps with everything from train schedules to buses and car hire.
Take a tour
A tour on your first day is always a smart move, even if it’s just a hop-on, hop-off bus. But the epitome of fact-finding excursions is undoubtedly the food tour. Not only because it helps you get under the skin of a destination from the outset (and meet other like- minded tourists), but also because it’s the perfect way to recce lunch and dinner venues you’ll feel comfortable dining alone in for the rest of your trip. Can’t find a food tour that fits? Check out the International Greeter Association and plan your own.
Eat at the bar
This is quite possibly the single most important solo travel tip you’ll find. At mealtimes, resist the urge to sit at a table for one with your nose in your phone, and saddle up at the bar to eat instead. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll pick up a few local tips from the bartender. In a best-case scenario, you’ll make friends with some of the other patrons who might tell you about events and socials, and, if they are going, even invite you along.
Be aware of scams
Familiarise yourself with the most common local scams, from fake police officers asking for cash to friendship bracelets placed on your wrist as a feint to pickpocket you. Then give yourself an extra edge by accessorising wisely. An RFID-blocking wallet will stop more advanced con-artists cloning your bank card data, while a low profile hidden money belt is always a smart option for keeping cash and cards out of sight. Savvy solo travellers generally pack light as they have to lug everything themselves, but TSA approved locks for both your day pack and your main luggage are a good addition when there isn’t a second pair of eyes to keep watch.
Leave time for spontaneity
As a solo traveller, it’s tempting to cram your itinerary in order to sidestep any potential bouts of boredom or loneliness. Don’t fall into that trap. Not only will you exhaust yourself by trying to do too much, but it’s good to allow room for spontaneity. Plan the spine of your trip to ensure you don’t miss any of the big or important stuff, but always leave some space to go with the flow, too, as that’s usually when all the best stuff happens.
Say yes to everything
To successfully travel solo, you need to open yourself up to possibility and adventure. And that usually starts with one simple three letter word: yes. Safety is paramount, but when opportunities arise, it’s good to consider every option. Feeling undecided due to confidence or feeling shy, rather than feeling unsafe, is a key indicator to veer towards the positive. You may experience something new you’d otherwise have avoided and you may make wonderful friendships from shared adventures. In general, yes tends to open a lot of doors – and that’s always a good move when you’re exploring a new place solo.
Jonathan Thompson is an award-winning journalist, SOLO columnist and presenter of Adventure Cities on the Discovery Channel.
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Images: courtesy of Mat Willder and Flash Pack