My Top Tips For Travelling Solo
I’m an avid solo traveller, in fact I’ve been travelling solo for over a decade now! From North America, Central America, through Europe, the Caribbean, and Australia- here are is the advice I have collected over the years for the #1 question I get asked: tips for solo travellers.
1. Decide What kind of Experience You want to Have
What do you want to get out of your travelling experience? This is vastly different for each person, and to be honest you may not even know until you’re actually there/ experiencing it. People so often base their goals on other people’s lives, without asking themselves what it is they want as an individual. Some people just want to plop on the beach and eat at an all-you-can-eat buffet for 7 days. Some people want to rip nightclubs till 4am and spend their days hungover in bed. Some people want to camp off-the-grid. Some people want to bicycle across the continent. No two people are the same, and spending a few minutes to ask yourself what it is you want to experience will help you ensure you head in the right direction.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
Do you want to be comfortable the whole time or out of your comfort zone?
Do you want to cook for yourself?
Do you want to party or relax or adventure (or a combination)?
Do you want to see many places for a short while, or really get to know/ a few one area well?
Do you want to be around a lot of people or by yourself?
Do you want to spend time with other travellers or locals?
How are you in the extreme hot, or cold?
Do you want to experience nature/ wildlife?
Do you want to go with the flow or follow a strict itinerary?
As you can see, even these simple questions will draft up an incredibly wide array of different experiences. Speak to people who have done the specific type of solo travel you want to do, and pick their brains. No two trips will ever be the exact same, but perspective is always helpful. What might they have done different?
2. Start safe, then spread your wings.
Whether you’re new to solo travel in general or are thinking or exploring somewhere totally new (and possibly a bit more dangerous), a great way to get going is to start your journey off in a more structured, group setting. This could be a volunteer gig, staying at a friend or family, or even opting to stay in an airbnb with a visibly helpful/ friendly host. From there, you will have gotten a lay of the land, start to understand the culture/ customs a bit better, and will feel more comfortable really taking off on your own.
3. Budget/ Money
Many people ask me how I afford to travel so much, but the reality is travel really isn’t that expensive if you do it smart. For me, this has been easy because my favourite nature-based activities are free. I seek out hikes, beaches, mountains, and get more pleasure renting a bicycle and exploring a new town than I ever would spending money on pricey paid tourist attractions.
For the most part: plan ahead and buy food at markets/ prepare your own food
Pick a selective few restaurants that come highly recommended, and really savour the experience. Don’t waste money on frivolous (generally gross) meals on the go every single day.
Opt for a sleeping situation that gives you access to a kitchen, and/ or get good at eating foods that don’t require cooking (sardines in olive oil FTW!)
I love hitting up the markets, and always having some fresh veggies, nuts, and cans of sardines or mackerel to eat on the go.
Pick up a job (you can work cash in hand virtually anywhere in the world)
This depends on how you want to travel (jump around, or stay in one place), but you can easily pick up a little job (cafés are always looking for wait staff, heck you could even wash dishes)
In Australia you can travel the whole country fruit picking/ doing manual labour if you enjoy group settings/ being with other travellers; but personally, I just got a regular job and stayed longer term in Sydney. Again: decide what kind of experience YOU want to have, and then build a life around it.
Do a work/ trade exchange, or find a gig that enables you to travel
In Maui, I worked with the WWOOF’ing program, where you work full time in exchange for room and food
When I was in highschool and university, I staffed trips with a travel company S-Trip (now called I Love Travel)
For longer flights/ train/ bus/ ferry rides: try to travel at night (so you avoid paying for accomodation too, plus you arrive during the daytime, which is always easier)
Don’t over think the money thing: the universe flows in abundance when you learn to trust. This isn’t about spending frivolously, but energy flows where attention goes- and if your focus is always on the lack, it will persist.
Minimalist travelling is where it’s at. No matter how long I am travelling for, I pack only a carry-on. My backpacking pack actually works (just barely) as a carry on. This way you avoid lost luggage (which can be a massive pain if your travel plans are very nomadic). Check out my packing guide for 2 months in Europe HERE to get inspired.
Accomodation is probably the biggest expense when it comes to travelling, and especially so while travelling solo. Be mindful of this. If you’re on a minimal budget, you may consider pre-planning your accommodation, because these days hostels and airbnbs (or anything remotely affordable) books out ages in advance. That being said, this can backfire if you end up wanting to change plans. Pre-booking really depends on the type of person you are, and what will make you feel most comfortable.
Accommodation can an incredibly big role in the overall experience depending on how you like to travel. Personally, I spend very little time there (often just come home to sleep), but I always want to feel safe at night. Read reviews, there are so many forums these days to know what’s up before you get there. If you plan on camping, don’t go in blind- have the proper gear and make sure you speak to people who have experience camping in the same weather conditions. Again, read other peoples experiences online! There is so much amazing info out there.
always stay somewhere with free access to internet
read the ratings/ reviews, and don’t stay anywhere that has none
reach out to friends and see if they have anyone subletting a room, or that knows someone with a spare room you could rent from for a short or long while. When I was living in Byron Bay, I subleased a room from friends for a few months- it was awesome
consider reaching out to a family member abroad, as a way to start your travels with someone safe/ familiar
many gigs offer free accomodation in exchange for work, see some opportunities below. When I worked for Moskito Island (in the British Virgin Island) all the staff either lived on island on on the neighbouring island, housed as part of the contract.
consider working on a boat, or for a resort- they also house you!
Sites for booking accomodation
https://www.airbnb.com/ I have a love/ hate relationship with this site. They “accidentally” cancelled all my bookings 5 days before leaving for my Europe trip last summer, but also I’ve has flipping amazing experiences with epic hosts around the world. A great way to connect with locals right off the bat! If you’ve never used airbnb, you can click the link below and get $45USD ($53 CAD) off your first experience!
https://www.booking.com this site saved my life when airbnb decided to cancel all my bookings 5 days prior to leaving for Europe this past summer. I actually found many of the same properties on it, even slightly cheaper. By clicking the button below (my affiliate link), you will receive 10% back for your next trip!
https://wwoofinternational.org/ WWOOFing is a great way to explore, without dropping bank on accommodation, but more importantly it’s a profound self-development journey. Learning to connect with the earth, support organic farming, partake in the literal magic that is organic farming. You exchange your labour on the farm for room and food.
https://www.trustedhousesitters.com/ If you’re flexible with your travel and open to going with the flow (and responsible…), try housesitting!
https://www.couchsurfing.com/ This website connects travellers to people across the globe willing to lend their couch out. I have never actually ended up using it for sleeping anywhere, but I’ve met some amazing people that turned into life long friends through the site.
https://www.hostelworld.com/ is a great booking service for hostels around the world. You can price compare, and their added minimal added insurance allows you to cancel whenever. If you’re pre-booking your whole trip, I highly recommend getting the canceling insurance, because odds are things might change (you’ll love the South of Italy so much you want to stay a bit longer before heading North) and having free cancellations is a lifesaver.
If the city is cycleable, rent a goddamn bicycle: it’s the best way to get around and get to know the area
Don’t be afraid of public transit! In my 2 months in Europe this past summer, I took one taxi. Smartphones are super handy when it comes to telling you public transit routes. That being said: know the individual safety levels of your particular travel destination; when I was travelling in Nicaragua there is a taxi scam whereby “fake” taxis essentially kidnap you. A quick Google sesh will inform you of the do’s and don’ts of your particular destination.
If you won’t have access to data on the go, Google Maps offers a way to pre-download and save regional maps for offline use—you just need to do it on wifi before you go out!
To download a map: tap on the More menu (three horizontal lines) in the upper-left corner, then select Offline Maps. Google will recommend some maps for you to download based on your home and frequent locations. You can also tap Select Your Own Map to download another area.
You can also download the Maps.Me App, so you can pre-load the maps while on wifi, and have access even when you have no internet connection (with no data).
Don’t take a taxi from the airport to your destination: there is (basically) always a train or bus. Figure this out before you fly, because airport taxis are an easy way to just throw money in the garbage.
Hitchhike/ ride share. Don’t ever do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing, and always use a strong sense of intuition, but I’ve hitch’s everywhere from the Caribbean, Canada, to Australia, and Europe. It’s especially great in smaller-town vibes that still have a strong sense of community (the islands- both caribbean and Greek were the easiest places I’ve hitched). Before you hitchhike, get to know the local hitch culture! It varies wildly from place to place, a quick google search (or speaking to a local) will save you a lot of hassle. There are also amazing ride-share programs in more developed areas that facilitate carpooling. I find these especially helpful to get to more remote/ random places that buses and trains don’t access.
I’ve never been one to select the added insurance when it comes to any flight booking, but have gotten in the habit of getting insurance for trips under 3 months duration. I’ve been using World Nomads for over a decade, and there is no doubt in my mind they are the best. Their insurance is built for adventurous travellers, so you won’t get f'd over at the last second (like most conventional insurances) if you’re doing anything like hiking, sports, or other type activities. During my trip in Hawaii they covered all the contents of my stolen backpack (including an iPhone), and the cheque arrived in the mail within a week of submitting my claim. In France they covered my visit to the osteopath (hello, plantar fasciitis). I’ve never has to use them for any major crisis (thank God), but the peace of mind you get knowing its there is absolutely worth the cost (which is honestly, affordableAF).
Have an iPod loaded with all your fav tunes + podcasts (it’s ideal to have this separate from your phone, so you can preserve battery)
Buy a portable recharger, to make sure your phone doesn’t die on you (maps, safety, etc)
McDonald’s and Starbucks may be the scum of the planet in my normal life, but when it comes to travelling- they’re the place to pee, recharge your phone, and get free wifi!
Don’t be afraid of people. Obviously be smart and intuitive, but in all my years travelling solo as a female I have been so supported and cared for my strangers. Ask for help if you need it, and don’t be afraid of strangers… creeps are like dogs, they sense fear: be confident.
Google “hidden gems of *insert location*” to find off the beaten track cool spots to see; also use instagram location to see places worth checking out
Leave your jewelry and fancy stuff at home. Don’t invite people to rob you!
Bring two locks: I have one bigger lock, and a smaller lock (to keep the main zipper of my backpack shut, and to lock a full-sized locker)
The airports and train stations will always have automated lockers to keep your bags safe; if you have a 3 hour + layover, lock your stuff away and go explore!
Let loved ones know loosely where you’re at (a new city, etc), but especially when you take off on an 8 hour hike off the grid in the middle of nowhere in the jungle
Make a photocopy of your passports and travel documents, and e-mail them to yourself, so you have an accessible copy in case you ever lose them
Also e-mail yourself the phone numbers of emergency contacts, in case you ever need access to a phone number
For longer flights/ train/ bus/ ferry rides: try to travel at night (so you avoid paying for accomodation too, plus you arrive during the daytime, which is always easier)
Download WhatsApp to make free calls/ message people you meet, no matter what their area code is
Consider getting a LifeProof Case for your phone, and really keep an eye on it; phones are really key for so many things- losing it or breaking it abroad (I’ve been there!) is a huge pain in the butt
Invest in good gear! Whether it be a backpack, a tent, or hiking shoes: invest in the best. My backpack is Deuter and has transformed my travels. Research brands and read reviews! My tent: Big Agnes. Invest.
Trust your intuition when it comes to everything and everyone. If it feels off, leave. Don’t be afraid to be rude, always trust your gut!
Get to know the customs and culture of a local place before going, and respect them.
Bask in the LONELINESS
It’s comfortable to be around people we know. Travelling by yourself definitely brings on waves of loneliness, and it’s extremely interesting to witness. So often we run from uncomfortable feelings, but I truly believe that getting comfortable in the uncomfortable is one of the greatest tools to awaken the Self. I find travelling solo has enabled me to sharply shift my perspective on being alone. Lonely and alone are two different things! We can feel lonely in a crowded room, or even as the center of attention. Being alone and finding a deep peace and connection to the Self is one of the most powerful awakenings.
In moments of loneliness:
Ask yourself: what am I feeling? Where am I feeling it? (locate the emotion in your body)
Calm yourself and observe the sensations, knowing they (and all sensations) are impermanent. Loneliness is one of the best ways to practice equanimity.
Don’t reach for distractions (food, TV, music, alcohol, drugs, people): feel it
Embrace the polarities of life, it is moments like these that enable us to enjoy moment of feeling good.
Practice gratitude: who do you miss? What do you miss? How lucky are you to have things, people, and memories to miss and cherish!
Get in nature: we are fundamentally one with the entire cosmos, and anytime I spend time in nature I am deeply reminded how connected I am to the tapestry of life
Like when you are in the depths of a flu, you really find gratitude for health- loneliness enables you to gain deep perspective as to how joyful life is and can be. Don’t run from icky feelings: feel them, watch them pass, and dance with the cyclical flow of life.
Also: stay sober. This one (as all tips…) is take it or leave it- but personally: I travel (and live) sober, because it forces me to face myself. It’s so easy to drink some liquid courage, but travelling solo is an amazing way to just get comfortable with who you really are. Embrace your awkwardness, your quirks; you’ll find that if you don’t jive with people, you just move on. You will find people who embrace who you are, the authentic you.
Tips for making friends
Shocker: say hi to people, and smile!
Realise that most people are just like you, and want to make friends/ have pleasant interactions with people. Be the one to make the first move!
Retire your Netflix account for the entire duration of your travel; don’t waste your time sucked into the vortex! At night, opt to go for a stroll instead. Staying in and staring into a black mirror is a surefire way to waste your travelling experience
Stay in a hostel or dorm; this is probably the easiest way to meet people. Hostel stayers are almost always super social and love a chat
Social media is a great way to connect with people, whether it be instagram of even a swiping dating app- start a conversation with someone and be honest about your intentions
Ask someone at a local cafe or restaurant what they recommend doing in the area
Do something you like doing, but find a group to do it with: join the local run club (you’ll easily find one on Google), take a crossfit class, attend a local church service, go the the opera, or a concert… you’ll automatically have something in common with the people around you.
Make friends on long transit trips; if you’re on a 3 hour train, odds are you have time to turn small talk into a more meaningful conversation with someone on the same trip as you. Find out where they’re going, what they’re up to, and make plans to catch up later that week!
Stay with locals, whether it be Airbnb or Couchsurfing, staying someone local means you’ll know a local straight off the bat. They’ll help you feel more comfortable and be able to suggest good places to hang. In my experience, I’ve become friends straight off the bat with most of my hosts
Step out of your comfort zone and be open, speak to people! Beyond just saying hello, try speaking to people. Generally, this works- believe it or not. …“Where are you from?” and take it away!
If you’re staying somewhere longer-term: join a society or hobby group! I’m a weirdo with a fascination for mycelium and mushrooms, so you can be sure that I joined the Toronto Mycological Society when I was in Canada. In the British Virgin Islands and in Hawaii I joined the Hiking Associations too; find your passion, and find the people on the same wavelength.
Join the local facebook group, whether it be for locals or expats- there’s almost always a group.
Get a job! A part time or full time gig can be the best part of travelling if you’re working somewhere with rad people.
Follow your intuition! When I was hiking in Greece, I kept going to the edge of the water despite being exhausted and having hiked 5 hours… something kept telling me to go, so I went and ended up bumping into a hero of mine- Jason Christoff! And we became great friends. Life has this mysterious way of supporting you if you trust that the people that are meant to enter your life, always will. Trust all will work out, and I promise you: it will.
Speaking of which: this is probably my #1 tip when it comes to travelling and life in general. So many people get caught in cycles of feeding people what they want to hear, effectively being a mirror… and navigating life with some mask on. My theory is that because we (generally) grow up with a crew of people, we morph into almost one person with our friends- and as we grow up and find out who we are as an individual, it can be hard to really express that within the circle that may not have ever changed.
Whether this resonates with you or you just feel lost and are looking to find out who you are- take the opportunity of solo travel to really be authentic. Don’t lie to please people, don’t say things just to fit it. Be kind and compassionate always (I truly believe this is our fundamental state of being), but be you! Your unapologetic authenticity will attract people into your life on the same vibration, and you will be propelled into life so supported by the universe.
Be yourself, own it, all of it.