8 of the hardest things about solo travel and how to overcome them
Solo female travel is one of the hottest trends in the travel blogging community right now. I feel so proud to be part of a movement that encourages women to live out their travel dreams and not sit at home waiting for their perfect travel buddy to magically appear.
Most of the time I don’t choose to be a solo traveller – I’ll take a +1 with me whenever I can – but a lot of the time I don’t have anyone that:
- Has the time, money or desire to travel
- I could spend a solid 4-5 days with without wanting to murder them
When I have the choice between travelling alone or sitting at home, I’m going to choose travelling alone every time. If I always waited for someone to be available to come with me then I’d never go anywhere. My friends and family all have busy lives, lots of commitments and other priorities – it’s hard enough to pin them down for a drink in the pub, never mind a weekend away!
But solo travel isn’t easy. In fact, solo travel can be really hard. First of all there’s the mental hurdles to overcome. What will people think? What will they say? Will I be OK? Will I get lonely?
And then there’s also the practical stuff that makes travelling that little bit more difficult when you’re alone.
Here are what I find to be the biggest challenges when it comes to solo travel (whether you’re male or female) and how I overcome them.
#1. What other people think
Here’s the biggy for a lot of people. Will your friends and family think you’re crazy for travelling alone? Will strangers in the street see you travelling alone and wonder what you’re doing? Will you look like a weirdo eating dinner alone in a nice restaurant? Will hotel staff be curious as to where your boyfriend or girlfriend is?
The answer is yes, in some circumstances people will think this. Some people will even ask you what the hell you’re doing alone.
The only question you really need to answer is this one:
Would you rather be sat at home (possibly alone) dreaming about travelling or living your dreams and travelling the world?
It’s better to live your dreams alone than to never live them at all.
And you can’t wait for someone to live your dreams with you because what if that person never comes along? If that person does come along then it’s a bonus! You can live that dream all over again and you can play tour guide.
#2. Photos of yourself
Having photos of beautiful landscapes is awesome but you’re going to want to be in some of your travel photos. When you look back in them in 10 years time they’re so much more fun if you can laugh at your out-dated hair cut and cringe at your skinny jeans.
We’ve all had that moment where a stranger offers to take your photo and you smile awkwardly at the camera for what feels like an eternity until they hand it back and realise they’ve chopped your head out, your face is out of focus and the backlight is doing weird things to that incredible monument. It’s completely unusable and you have to wait for the stranger to disappear before asking someone else.
It doesn’t have to be this difficult, here are my tips for getting a great photo of yourself while you travel:
If you’re taking selfies, use a selfie stick – Yes, you’ll look like an idiot but your photos will be approximately 3 million times better.
Use a tripod and a remote or self timer – Use a mini tripod for your phone or a lightweight tripod for a proper camera. Set it up and then quickly jump in the photo. Personally, I don’t like travelling with a tripod for my DSLR because they’re too big but I do sometimes use a Gorillapod for a DSLR and I really like it because it’s a bit smaller. You don’t get the same height with it but you can easily rest it on things or securely attach it to things like railings.
Have the light on your face – But if you’re staring directly into the sun look to the side so one side of your face is illuminated but you’re not squinting and worrying about going blind.
Look away from the camera – Most of us can’t pull off that cheesy grin as you look directly at the camera so look to the side for a more natural pose.
Get out early – Avoid the crowds by getting out and about as early as possible.
Ask someone with a DSLR to take your photo – It’s not a guarantee they’ll take a good shot but it’s your best bet when asking strangers
Pose quickly – If a stranger is kind enough to take your photo then get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Don’t ask them to do it again and again, this person is not your personal photographer.
Getting lost in a new destination when you’re with a friend can be exciting. Getting lost in a new destination when you’re alone can just be terrifying.
I’m hopeless with directions and I pretty much always get lost so here’s how I handle it:
I always wear comfy shoes as there’s a high chance I’ll get lost and will end up walking twice as far as I meant to. Walking for miles while your shoes rub at a raw blister is possibly can seriously ruin a trip.
Always pin locations on Google Maps. I drop pins in the places I want to go so I can easily find them on the map. I also drop a pin at my hotel. Google Maps works on GPS so you don’t need to be connected to wifi or 3G for it to work – don’t worry, you won’t spend a fortune in roaming fees. Just make sure you set it all up before you leave your hotel where you’ll probably have wifi as you can’t load the map without wifi. Be aware that if turn your phone off or properly close down Google Maps that it will lose the map – something to be aware of in case your battery dies on your phone. I always travel with a small external charger for my phone – not only for Google Maps but also because I think it’s good to have a mobile phone for safety reasons.
Always carry a card with your hotel address on it – they usually hand these out at reception. This is especially handy if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language or you’re staying at small hotel or hostel that taxi drives might not know. If you get lost you can just jump in a cab back to your hotel.
#4. Eating out
I find that eating breakfast and lunch alone is absolutely fine but eating dinner alone makes me feel sad and lonely. I look at all the couples and groups of friends laughing and having fun and it just makes me feel uncomfortable. I know I should say that it doesn’t matter, ‘just hold your head high and be proud to be a solo traveller’, but it’s not that easy.
My top tip is to make lunch your main meal of the day. Go to those fancy restaurants and order the 8-course tasting menu with a bottle of wine all to yourself. Indulge and have fun because at lunch time there will be plenty of other people on their own. The atmosphere won’t be so romantic and you won’t get so many weird looks. And then at dinner time have more of a casual lunch-style meal at an informal place where it’s much more normal to eat alone.
I love my own company for a day or two but after that I do get lonely. I want someone to share my experiences with and someone other than a waiter or hotel receptionist to chat to.
The two best ways to meet people are to either stay in hostels or go on group tours.
If you’re staying in a hostel then choose it wisely and read lots of reviews. If you’re 18 and you’re looking for a party hostel then look out for hostels that arrange things like bar crawls and have party nights. But if you’re 35 and you’d rather not hang out with drunk teenagers then look for a classier hostel. The best way to find these is usually based on price and they’ll also offer plenty of private rooms with en-suites. Even if you opt for a private room you’re still likely to meet people as hostels have communal living areas and kitchens and it’s a much more sociable and welcoming vibe than a hotel.
If the thought of a hostel makes your skin crawl but you still want to meet some travel buddies then book yourself on to a tour. Even the free walking tours you’ll find in most cities are a great place to meet people. Lots of solo travellers book onto tours and if you click with someone you could travel with them for the rest of your trip. I did a street art tour in Berlin and met a group of girls who I spent the next 3 days with and we’re all still friends today!
#6. The cost
It can be slightly more expensive when you’re travelling alone because you have no one to split taxis or hotel rooms with. The answer is to take public transport and stay in hostel dorms.
Sometimes you just need a helping hand while you travel. Maybe it’s someone to watch your stuff while you go to the toilet or someone to help you squeeze your bag into the overhead compartment of the plane. It could be for moral support when arguing with a taxi driver who is trying to rip you off or if you fall sick and you need someone to go out and get supplies.
There are times like these that you will miss having a travel buddy but you just have to trust that the world is filled with nice people who want to help.
If you saw a stranger fall over in the street while dropping their bag and spilling the contents everywhere, would you step over them or help them? You’d help them, of course! If you were staying in a hostel and someone in your dorm was really sick and asked you to go to the shop and get them some drinks and snacks would you say, ‘Nah, get them yourself you lazy *****’, or would you feel really sorry for them and go and raid the vending machine? If someone looked completely lost at the train station and you knew that station like the back of your hand, wouldn’t you help them?
My point is that, yes, there are some horrible people in the world who wouldn’t help but the vast majority of people are really nice and will try and help you whenever they can.
My second point is that if you see someone who needs your help, always try and give it or Karma is going to come and bite you on the ass next time you need a helping hand.
#8. Personal safety
Generally, as long as you follow the normal rules you’d follow at home then solo travel isn’t any more dangerous than travelling with someone else. I always tell myself that I was never scared to travel alone in London so why should I be scared anywhere else?
Avoid flashing your valuables and don’t wander the streets alone at night, especially in quiet areas – you’re actually much safer in crowds because there are more people to protect you. Take a taxi if you’re arriving in a new city late at night and make sure you pre-book your accommodation.
In some places, a woman travelling solo seems to be an open invitation for creepy weirdos to follow you around. It’s not! Even if there’s a language barrier, don’t be afraid to be firm and tell the offender to leave you alone. If you’re ever scared, shout or scream and make a big scene to attract the attention of people around you.
My main piece of advice is to trust your instincts. If a person is making you feel uncomfortable then get the hell out of there – even if you’re not sure why you feel uncomfortable. Gut instincts are the most valuable things you have when you’re travelling solo!
Do you have any more solo travel tips?
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All photos taken by Elle Croft