Staying safe is the most important of all (Jesse Hull)

Solo travel


Overview

Travelling alone doesn�t have to be scary with Wanderlust's guide to Solo Travel

"I can’t go travelling – I’ve got no one to go with."

Rubbish! This common excuse for delaying, or dismissing altogether, plans of seeing the world is one of the worst. Although the prospect of setting off solo can seem daunting, there are plenty of options for people who don’t have a willing partner or pal at the ready.

For starters, would going alone be so bad? Many travellers love the freedom they have when they’re on their own: there’s no need to make concessions, or miss out on something you want to do because the group doesn’t want to. Also, lone travellers are less intimidating – you’re more likely to be approached by curious locals or fellow travellers. Such encounters could open up unexpected travel experiences.

There are downsides. When you’ve had a tough day (souk hassle, tummy bugs...) it can be therapeutic to offload on a friend. Also, mealtimes are little fun on your own. If you’re eating in a restaurant, sit at the counter or take a newspaper. Check out night markets and graze from stalls so you can watch the action while you eat. Or stay in a hostel where you can cook for yourself, and perhaps strike up a conversation over the kettle. Hostels take people of all ages, and many now have private rooms if you don’t want to sleep in a dorm.

If you’re still nervous, don’t leave finding friends to chance – book a tour. Small-group adventure trips are often largely comprised of solo travellers; whether they are single or are simply travelling without their other half. Ask your tour operator the breakdown of your group before you leave. You can also opt to share a room/tent with a traveller of the same sex, to keep costs down. You’ll be with like-minded people and may well come away with some friends for life.

If tours don’t appeal, you don’t have to stay on one forever. Perhaps start with a short guided jaunt to help orientate yourself, then spend some time travelling independently afterwards – you may even meet a future travel buddy on your tour. Bear in mind, though, that you don’t have to stay with the first ‘buddy’ you come across – this is your trip: if they prove incompatible or downright annoying, go your own way.

Safety can be a concern when travelling solo – there’s no one to watch your back. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined for disaster. Use your common sense – if a situation feels uncomfortable, get out of it. Make sure someone (your hotel, a park ranger, your family back home) knows where you’re going. Keep cash and copies of your important documents in multiple places, so you always have a back up. Lie if necessary: tell that slimy taxi driver that you’re waiting for your beefy boyfriend.

Ultimately, travelling solo can be uplifting, eye-opening, occasionally lonely, sometimes tough but never, ever dull.

Further Reading

Top 10 ideas for solo travellers

  1. Search out a specialist tour operator – some companies arrange trips specifically for singles, ranging from a week in the Med (be warned: these may be sun-and-speed-dating jaunts) to more exotic trips, with no romantic pressures, that are simply a chance to meet like-minded solo travellers – without hefty single supplements.
  2. Climb Kilimanjaro. Or Mount Toubkal. Or perhaps hike the Inca Trail. Lots of solo travellers join group trips to do something a little out of their comfort zone. Working towards a tough, common goal also increases the sense of camaraderie and cements friendships, too.
  3. Head to traveller hubs. In some spots – Bangkok, Australia’s East Coast, Latin America’s ‘gringo trail’ – it will be hard NOT to meet other travellers. Head to hostels and bars in these regions and you’ll find instant friends/lift-shares/drinking buddies.
  4. Join an overland truck – overlanding trips tend to have high proportions of singles, and are often the best ways of seeing large areas of the world. For instance, travelling Cairo to Cape Town independently is fraught with red tape and transport issues; go with an overlanding company and they’ll deal with all the hassle, as well as providing a group of companions. Strong bonds are often formed on these trips – you’ll likely make friends for life.
  5. Meet locals and do some good by enrolling on a volunteer programme. Arrange a placement in advance and, when you land in your destination, you won’t be alone – there will be an organisation to look after you; you may even be sharing accommodation with other volunteers.
  6. Mix and match your style of travel – if you’re nervous about heading off on a big trip alone, book a tour in your first destination to give you confidence and help you meet a few people. Then see how you go, perhaps mixing a bit of independent wandering with more group trips to remoter areas.
  7. Ensure your nights aren’t lonely by eschewing hotels for homestays or couchsurfing. Staying with locals will give you real insight into life on the ground, and often meals will be taken with your hosts, avoiding the horror of eating out alone.
  8. Sail off to Antarctica or Svalbard. Expedition cruises tend to be full of solo travellers, the confined environment making it easier to strike up conversations over dinner. Avoid large single-cabin supplements by telling your tour operator you’d be happy to share – they can try to put you in a cabin with a same-sex single.
  9. Learn a skill – perhaps Spanish in Guatemala, sitar-playing in India, ranch-riding in the Australian Outback. Many special-interest trips have high numbers of solo travellers, and you KNOW they’ll be like-minded. Also, longer courses might be residential, making it easier to make friends with fellow students/cowboys.
  10. If you really don’t fancy travelling solo, look for a friend before you leave. Even if your nearest and dearest don’t fancy it, use online forums (such as myWanderlust), Facebook and other social networking sites to see if you can find like-minded travel companions.