Solo travel seems to be a bit of a hot topic at the moment. Social media is especially good at showing you snippets of bad-ass backpacker types cavorting on a sun-drenched beach. And this is all great stuff for getting inspired to get out there and find your own beach. But what these posts seem to be skipping over is the unsexy truth that for many people the thought of solo travel is about as appealing as a cold shower.
Actually, that needs a little clarification. It’s not the thought of travel that makes you break out in a cold sweat. No, you’ve pretty much booked that plane ticket, am I right? What actually gets your bottom lip shaking is the thought of doing all of that by yourself.
Because, that’s just really scary, right?
In some format or another, travel is an intrinsic way of life. Whether by bus or by car, we don’t blink an eye at using a variety of modes of transport on a daily basis. If you were truly afraid of the act of travel, then it’s unlikely you would ever stray far from the house.
So aside from the terror of travel in its physical form – called hodophobia in case you were wondering – we create an intricate web of worries for ourselves based around solo travel.
- Will I be lonely?
- Will I get lost?
- Will I be unsafe travelling alone?
Similar concerns cross the mind of many people wanting to travel by themselves.
It’s hard to know who to turn to when you are in your first solo travel stages. Unless you’ve got a friend who’s returned from a period of solo travel, you may not personally know anyone who has done it before.
Turning to your family and friends for comfort may not provide you with the level of reassurance you need in those early days. In fact, they may even fuel your fear fire without even meaning to.
What do I mean? Let’s take a look at a conversation I feel pretty much all wannabe solo wanderers have experienced at some stage.
Telling Your Family And Friends You Want To Travel Alone
When you tell a close friend or family member that you’re thinking of going travelling their immediate reactions tend to be positive. For a split second, everyone’s very excited and you can’t wait to get planning and booking your trip.
Then, before the smile has even faded from your lips, comes the killer question that knocks the wind out of your sails: “Who are you going with? Wait, you’re not thinking of going alone, are you?”
In that moment, your friend’s eyes take on that worried glint reserved only for your most cray-cray ideas. Your poor mother sucks in air between her teeth before pursing her lips into a thin, disapproving line.
“You’re so brave,” they tell you in the tone of voice that implies they think you deserve a medal, or a straightjacket.
If you weren’t worried about travelling solo before, you sure are now.
Are You Brave For Travelling Solo?
Do you have to be brave to travel alone? If that were the case, after five years of mostly solo travel, I would be wearing my gold star sticker like a badge of honour.
Am I as hard as nails when it comes to solo travel? Absolutely not.
Do I still have concerns before – and during – any trip I take? Of course.
Sadly, I can’t offer you a security blanket for you to take with you on your trip. If I could find one, I would give it to you. (Although I don’t think you’d thank me, because: weight limits).
What I can offer you is massive congratulations for being inquisitive, driven and downright determined to book a solo trip. That, my friends, is all the secret sauce you will need. Just the knowledge that you wanted to travel and you have made it happen.
Bravery doesn’t really come into it. It’s more about equipping yourself with the right advice and tools to help you on your journey. Once you feel prepared, it’s quite easy to look forward to your trip.
To help you feel prepared, I’ve written a free 32 page eBook called Travel Like A Boss. It’s crammed full of ideas on how you can rock your first solo trip.
The Decision To Travel Alone
Let’s go back to that conversation with your family or friends for a second. You’re in that moment where they’ve just popped your travel dreams like the hypothetical pin in the balloon. Whatever enthusiasm you had for travel has suddenly taken a nosedive.
I appreciate that it’s hard to look forward to solo travel when everyone else takes it upon themselves to be afraid for you. Their fear is contagious and seeps into the seams of even the most watertight travel plan. Even though you may hold your head high and ignore the naysayers, your fears of travelling by yourself begin to multiply. You begin to doubt whether you can go through with your trip.
You have a huge mental battle to wage, my friends.
Whilst you’re booking flights or organising visas, the doubts keep piling up until you’re in that horrible moment where your plane is leaving in the morning. You’re still in total denial that you’re going anywhere and you’ve barely even packed.
Worst of all: you’re not even looking forward to your trip.
Overcome Your Travel Fears And Smash Your First Solo Trip
Ok, that’s enough of me wittering on about fears. Goodness knows we’ve all got a bunch we can admit to. Yes, now it’s time to look those doubts straight in the eye and tell them that they will not stop you travelling.
Repeat after me: I will not let my fears of solo travel stop me from rocking my trip.
Good. Ready to find out how?
Let’s do this!
Calm Those Pre Trip Nerves
My first advice is to focus and then focus some more
Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed with your pre-trip anxieties, remind yourself that you don’t need to fear the unknown. You want to travel to discover new places and with that exploration has to be a certain degree of uncertainty.
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is your trip.
2. Focus on you
Where do you want to go, what do you want to do when you get there, where do you want to stay? Take the opportunity to craft yourself the perfect trip based on your preferences. You’ll quickly realise that one of the biggest joys of solo travel is that you don’t have to make compromises for anybody. Take time out to indulge your hobbies, interests and favourite foods. After all, this is your trip and it doesn’t need to meet anyone else’s needs except your own.
3. Focus on the reasons you want to travel
If you’re still struggling on staying positive about your holiday, take a moment to remind yourself why you wanted to do this. Were you feeling overwhelmed at work and really need a few days off? Have you just landed yourself a promotion and wanted to celebrate? Do you have a family connection with a country you’ve never visited? Did you read up on a country’s history and tell yourself you would visit one day to learn about it first hand?
Whatever the decision is behind wanting to travel, repeat this to yourself when times get rough: your choice to travel solo is the right one. It’s likely to be just your current situation or headspace that’s making you feel down.
Whenever I am feeling blue, it’s usually nothing to do with the fact that I am travelling – or travelling by myself – but something else like lack of food or lack of sleep that’s making me grumpy.
4. Start small – go to a nearby town by yourself
Travel doesn’t always have to be about picking the furthest corner on the map and booking a one way ticket. Spending the weekend exploring a town 40 miles down the road can be just as big of an adventure as a country 4,000 miles away.
A great way to get into the swing of travelling alone is to plan a mini break somewhere close by. It’s always been a goal of mine to see more of the UK and I would feel just as much of a tourist exploring new places in my own country as I would somewhere else.
Think of a local trip as the training wheels on your bicycle; you get the experiences of travelling solo with support in place. Soon enough you can balance on your own two wheels and will feel confident to explore a bit further away next time around.
Are there any towns, cities or regions in your own country that you have always fancied checking out? Look into transport there, accommodation options and things to do. Take yourself off for a weekend and see how you feel travelling alone in a place where you know the language, customs and the currency.
5. Start making connections before you go
Use social networks and blogs to do your research on your chosen destination. Reach out to people and ask them to tell you where their favourite dinner recommendations are or the best places to shop or sleep.
If your trip is a longer one and you plan to be in that new place for some time, groups on Facebook can be the perfect place to introduce yourself and put the feelers out for arranging meet ups. For example, in Australia you can search for ‘Australia Backpackers’ or any city name followed by the word ‘backpacker’ and be sure to find traveller friendly groups of likeminded people.
6. Use recommendations
People love to share their knowledge and experience. If someone you know has been to the place you intend to visit, ask them for their tips or tricks. Armed with information about what to expect and what worked for others can help build your confidence. This can be especially helpful if you’re considering a guided group tour. Look around for highly reviewed tours and consider whether you would enjoy this style of travel.
Remember to take people’s word with a pinch of salt. People can often be quick to criticise and less likely to praise. At this stage it’s important to focus on yourself again and what you want out of your travels. What doesn’t meet someone’s expectations may be exactly the experience you are looking for.
Once You Are Travelling
7. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Go and visit the museum, watch a play, take part in a cooking class. It will all help build your appreciation of your new surroundings.
Getting stuck in will distract you from the feeling that you are alone in a foreign place. Actually, when you write it like that it sounds pretty bleak, right? Wrong!
Recognise the opportunity to dive into the culture, the language and the history of where you are right now. Before you know it, a satisfying day of exploration will have passed and you will come away with more knowledge and experience of, plus empathy for, the country in which you are travelling.
8. Less is more
I know it’s incredibly tempting to plan every last detail of your trip before you step out of your front door. However, packing your schedule with a checklist of must-dos is only going to see you rushing between them like the proverbial headless chicken. All you will end up achieving is spending most of your time in transit between destinations.
Take your time and spend at least a couple of nights in places. Allow yourself the chance to while away an afternoon doing nothing – just because. It gives you the time to enjoy that gorgeous little café in that colourful Spanish town where you fancy lingering over a cup of coffee.
9. Touch base
It’s completely ok to fear that you’re going to feel a little bit lonely when you travel alone. Most solo backpackers would be telling you a bit of a fib if they said they didn’t worry about travelling by themselves on occasion. Travelling without constant company means that there is no one there to immediately turn to when you want to share a cool experience, vent when things go wrong or simply just natter away those long travel days.
If you want to feel that encouragement, touch base with your existing support network of your family and friends. You will feel better keeping in regular contact with the people you love and they will enjoy hearing about the great things you’re up to. Just be wary of falling into the vacuum that is social media. Don’t spend all of your time communicating with the people who aren’t physically around. Instead, focus on the new experiences that surround you and you will find yourself opening up to meeting new people.
10. Don’t forget to treat yourself
Remember that person who thought it would be a fun idea to travel to X, Y or Z place? That’s right, I’m talking to you. And because you were the one who dreamed up this fantastic travel plan, you should be the one who is enjoying themselves.
Travel is by nature an indulgent activity. Why not take it up a notch and treat yourself to a few more luxuries when you are by yourself? Want to try a delicious Italian gelato? Go for it! Want to upgrade from a 10 bed hostel dorm to your own room for the night. Just do it.
Reward yourself for being you; being motivated and committed enough to travel alone.
11. Learn to give yourself some slack
Ultimately, if you feel like you have bitten off more than you can chew with this solo travel lark and it’s all getting to be a bit much, don’t forget to be kind.
Not everything will go right when you travel. As scary as that sounds, I’m just trying to offer you a realistic point of view. Believe me, I have cried, I have made mistakes that cost me time and money, I have lost items of my clothing or broken beloved belongings from home. Travel can be frustrating and challenging.
But for all those moments that test your mettle, a hundred more are waiting around the corner to lift your spirits and remind you what you are doing this for. And definitely trust me on this one: those fabulous moments are totally worth the crap ones.
You are not perfect, nobody is, so don’t feel like your trip needs to be wall to wall sunshine and roses to be a success.
Cut yourself some slack and stop obsessing over every little bit of self-doubt. Take each day as it comes and celebrate what you have achieved.
Travelling Solo Is For Everybody
No matter what your relationship status, I’d argue that most people daydream about jetting off to somewhere exciting by themselves at least once in their lives. However, not everyone has a friend or partner who is willing and able to travel at the same time. Or you may just fancy taking a trip by yourself.
Whatever the reason behind your solo travel, let me put one thing on record: you are not weird, mad or sad for wanting to travel alone.
More specifically, you aren’t braver than anyone else. You’re just a normal, realistic person who wants to get out there and explore the world they live in, with or without the company of others.
So, what’s holding you back? How can you overcome your travel fears? Let’s deconstruct your worries and create you an action plan to overcome them. There’s only the voices inside your head between you and an incredible, challenging and eye-opening solo adventure.
Share this with someone who is thinking about taking their first solo trip. Give them a high five for being their awesome, inquisitive self!
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