Feeling nervous about your first solo adventure? From safety tips to packing advice, here are Culture Trip’s top recommendations for female travellers.
Travelling alone for the first time can be one of the most rewarding trips you’ll ever take. Not only will you push yourself outside your comfort zone – you’ll also have the freedom to steer your journey in any direction you choose. I started travelling on my own when I was 23. Looking back, I wish I’d known a little more about what to expect. So, here are a few tips I’ve picked up on my travels.
Not ready to go solo quite yet? Check out TRIPS by Culture Trip, immersive small-group adventures curated by travel experts and led by a Local Insider.
Before you book your trip, work out what you want to get out of it. Do you want to immerse yourself in a new culture? Are you looking for a challenge, such as learning to scuba-dive or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro? For my first trip, I was longing to visit Patagonia and improve my Spanish, so I organised my South America trip around the best time of year to visit southern Argentina and Chile.
Taking the time to do a little research makes all the difference. Check local culture and customs to avoid making any faux pas. When booking accommodation, scan the reviews to make sure it’s suitable for you – lots of hostels now have female-only dorms – and that it’s close enough to the sights you want to see. Use Google Street View to check out the neighbourhood before you arrive.
There are a couple of easy ways to eat out on a solo trip without feeling self-conscious. Choose a busy restaurant with communal tables or counter seating (it’s often easier to get seated quickly if you’re on your own). You never know who you’ll get chatting to. In Barcelona, I befriended a fellow solo traveller at a popular tapas bar, over a bowl of langoustines and olives.
It’s always much easier to get your bearings during the day. In the past, I have made the mistake of arriving in Dubai at midnight, only to exit the airport into a wall of 30C (86F) heat while wearing my jeans and hiking boots, hot and bothered, and unable to find the taxi rank. Arriving during the day is safer, and gives you more daylight time to settle in.
Before my first solo trip, I had only ever travelled abroad three times in my life. I was apprehensive to say the least. I joined an overland trip from Bangkok to Singapore, where I made some wonderful friends, but also had the flexibility to do my own thing whenever I wanted to. It helped me find my travel legs. By the time I arrived in Australia afterwards, I was confident enough to go completely solo.
No matter how frugally I pack, there is always that one sad top that never sees the light of day during my trip. If you’re going away for a long weekend, take no more than two pairs of shoes and three outfits. If you’re travelling for longer, you’ll probably pick up a few new things along the way. I personally never take heels, as they are heavy to carry and, let’s face it, uncomfortable to walk in.
Solo travel is a brave decision in itself, but what if you pushed yourself even further outside your comfort zone? Before I went travelling on my own, I was always the last to try anything even slightly scary. Once I’d built up my confidence on the road, I found myself doing things I would never have dreamed of back home, such as scuba-diving on the Great Barrier Reef and snowboarding in the Pyrenees.
When it comes to safety, research is key to knowing what to expect, such as opportunistic taxi drivers or noisy hotels. We all need to take risks when travelling solo, but if you don’t feel completely comfortable where you are, just check out and move on. I moved rooms in a hostel in Buenos Aires because I was sharing with just one other man. The room I moved into was full of friendly Australians who quickly became my sightseeing buddies.
It’s easier said than done, but try to resist the urge to pick up your phone too much when you’re away. Set daily limits on social media and turn on your out-of-office message. Not only will you have a more immersive experience – you will also be more likely to get chatting to locals and take in your new surroundings. You’ll come away with a clearer mind and way less brain fog.
Try to get the right balance of planning and flexibility when you book your trip. You may enjoy one destination so much that you would like to stay longer. I stayed in Guatemala for twice as long as expected, as I was enjoying Antigua and my Spanish school so much. I formed a group of friends and we hiked up an active volcano together – something that had definitely not been on my original itinerary. To this day, it remains one of my happiest travel memories.
Still not sure? Check out TRIPS by Culture Trip, our collection of small-group trips designed for solo travellers who want to share amazing travel experiences with others.