A solo traveller taking pictures on the edge of a cliff (Dreamstime)
List 03 October 2018

Taking the plunge: 5 steps to going solo

Whether you book an organised tour or go independently, travelling alone can be scary. But it needn't be. Take the leap from planning a solo trip to actually heading off with our 5 steps to solo travel...

1: Find a friendly welcome

Herd of African Buffaloes (Dreamstime)

Herd of African Buffaloes (Dreamstime)

The majority of us like meeting new people, but it can be difficult. Booking an organised small-group tour (typically between eight and 16 people) cuts through all that. Sharing the day’s experiences at dinner is a rite of passage, especially on safaris and cruises when there’s plenty to be dissected. The same applies for trips where you have to muck in; for example, active sailing escapes are great for breaking down barriers, as you’re all in it together. It’s no surprise that, along with overland and rail adventures, these trips attract the highest number of solo travellers.

Top tip: It pays to ask operators beforehand about the ratio of couples to singles on trips; you may not feel comfortable being the only solo.

2: Embrace your niche

Husky-sledding in the Arctic circle in Finland (Dreamstime)

Husky-sledding in the Arctic circle in Finland (Dreamstime)

Special interest and active tours are a good way to ensure that you’ll find an open and accepting group – and maybe learn a thing or two along the way. Such tours are naturally bent towards the solo traveller; after all it’s rare that a couple shares the same obsession for tropical birding or high-altitude trekking. A shared interest tends to open people up more. It also leads to plenty of adventures, from driving a team of huskies across Finland’s boreal forests to photographing caribou in the Arctic wilds of Canada.

Top tip:  Active tours are not only a good way to meet like-minded souls, but mean you can travel further and deeper, especially on trips where the logistics of a week’s hike or kayaking mean that you can’t just travel light.

3: Do things to build up your confidence

A woman writing at a table in front of a tropical sea (Dreamstime)

A woman writing at a table in front of a tropical sea (Dreamstime)

If you feel awkward eating out alone, make that your first challenge. Bring something practical to do, such as filling in a diary or checking emails (a book can be isolating) and don’t sit in a corner; a counter is better, as it allows others to join you and for you to chat to staff, who often have good tips. Or you could go to a Meetup event, walk a trail, strike up conversations. Remain open to adventure. Before long, it’ll be your first instinct.

Top tip: For your first solo trip, pick somewhere easy to navigate or an activity you’re familiar with (kayaking, cycling, etc) – it’ll help you get over the hump of being alone in a new place.

4: Put yourself in other people’s hands

A guide with a group of tourists at the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt (Dreamstime)

A guide with a group of tourists at the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt (Dreamstime)

If you’re travelling independently, homestays, hosting websites (Airbnb, etc) and hospitality exchange networks such as couchsurfing can put you in the homes of  local people happy to meet and share their knowledge. It’s far friendlier than a hotel; some hosts will even show you around. It may also give you more confidence to meet others. Once settled, there are lots of sites and apps to put you in touch with locals. Or just take your newfound confidence and head out on your own. Solo travellers can usually be squeezed into local tours at the last minute (there’s always space for one), so you’re more able to do things on a whim.

Top tip: Try to arrange for someone to pick you up at the airport or station, especially if you arrive at night; it saves on the stress of rolling up in an unfamiliar place and having to worry about safety or scams.

5: Don’t pay more because you’re alone

A backpacker alone in a hotel room (Dreamstime)

A backpacker alone in a hotel room (Dreamstime)

Tours that factor in accommodation typically base their rates on two people sharing a room. When travellers book individually, a fee is added to account for a single occupant: the dreaded single supplement. We’ve heard the arguments ad nauseam (basically: hotels claim to lose money), but that doesn’t make it any fairer, especially when single rooms are rarely half the cost of a double and often pretty pokey. Speak to the operator and see if they’ll cut a deal or hook you up with a partner in a shared room. Alternatively, look for times outside the school holidays when hotel capacities are low and hoteliers are more likely to waive added fees.

Top tip: Tour operators that exclusively cater for solo travellers typically dispense with single supplements, but not all do. Check first and don’t assume.

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