Top 10 tips for first-time solo travelers

Oct 20, 2022

Solo travel is the best travel. 

I’m not going to waste your time talking about how freeing and empowering it is because if you’re here, I know you already appreciate it (even if you haven’t done it before) and are looking for practical advice!

When you travel solo, freedom and flexibility are the name of the game. There’s no compromise when the only consideration you have is yourself- no worrying about different opinions on activities, whether you travel on a budget or in luxury, whether you’re relaxing or rushing, or having to justify whether eating Cacio e Pepe three times in one day is “normal.”

A lot of people are anxious about traveling alone, especially women. So here they are- my 10 best tips for first time solo travelers. And don’t worry— this is a practical guide. No “woo woo have courage” emotional advice.

10 practical tips for traveling alone

1. When you’re on public transportation or in a taxi, watch your Maps app the entire time that you’re riding.

If you’ve accidentally gotten on the wrong train or bus, you’ll be able to see right away that your dot is moving AWAY from where you intended to go and you can hop off and correct yourself sooner rather than later. In Rome, my friends found themselves alone in the Italian ghetto in the middle of the night after getting on the wrong bus and riding it for 9 stops before they realized their mistake. At this point, they were so far from the city and it was so late at night that they had trouble finding transportation back. 

2. Screenshot important information, like maps and emails with hotel, dinner, and tour reservations on your phone so that it’s accessible in your Photos app.

You never know when you might find yourself without cell service and you’ll be so relieved that you can access the information that you need. NOT doing this has burned me so many times— I’ve had eSims, paid for international roaming, etc— but it is NEVER guaranteed to work. So that reservation confirmation in your email? Directions to your tour meeting point? Your bus ticket? Not accessible.

Not doing this on a trip cost me 200 dollars and made me miss a tour inside the Colosseum in Rome because I couldn’t pull up the email with the meeting place, the reservation number, or a phone number to call. I spent 10 minutes miming what I was trying to ask to the Italian police because even Google Translate was inaccessible with my cellular/roaming/eSim issues.

3. If you’re traveling internationally, know what your options are if you have phone, SIM card, or service issues.

Like with #2, I learned this the hard way. I was in Avignon in the south of France and got a notification on my phone that the “SIM card failed.” FAILED. Just like that, I couldn’t make calls, receive calls, access Maps or GPS, text, receive texts, email, buy train tickets, or do anything else- I was completely cut off in a foreign country.

After borrowing phones from strangers, I found out that there was no Verizon store within about 200 miles of me and I didn’t know what to do. Eventually I was able to connect to wifi at a restaurant and try all of these tips from Business Insider (none of which worked) and get a hold of my dad via Facebook Messenger (at 2AM in the USA- the man is a saint and sprang into action to live chat with Verizon for me). But this was a really scary moment!

4. Bring a travel door lock.

Whether you’re a budget or luxury traveler, you’re going to see some shoddy hotel door locks. Trust me when I say that there’s nothing that could ruin a trip faster than a scare with your hotel room safety. There’s a line between paranoia and not being as cautious as you should be, and this 15 dollar travel door lock gives me invaluable peace of mind. This is one of my favorite tips for female solo travelers especially!

5. Double, triple, quadruple check every Lyft, Uber, bus, train, or taxi BEFORE you get out that you have your phone in your hand.

If you find yourself alone in Istanbul and you’ve left your phone in a taxi, you’re in trouble. There’s no tracking a taxi down, especially in a country where you have a language barrier.

6. Be careful who you tell that you’re traveling alone.

You have to use your best judgement here, because there’s a balance between the “don’t talk to strangers” rule and my “make friends while traveling” advice.

Situation 1: You meet a group of gals while you’re out to dinner and they invite you to a bar across the street with them after. Yay, you made friends!

Situation 2: A sketchball in the bar asks you if you’re alone. My advice is to start telling them about your time in prison or about all of your diseases. You can also act like you don’t speak English and spew the 1 phrase you know in German (this worked weirdly well in Spain and Italy for getting rid of guys in bars and persistent solicitors. Random, right?).

In all seriousness, I usually say “I’m meeting my friends in 30 minutes” or “my boyfriend is expecting me in an hour.” Make it known that you’re with people who are waiting on you, and soon. Worst case scenario, excuse yourself to the restroom and alert a staff member that there’s a person making you uncomfortable. It goes without being said, but I’m going to say it anyway: never leave your wallet, purse, drink, or even a coat unattended. Why not even a coat? Because creeps have started slipping Apple air tags (a quarter-sized bluetooth tracking device) on people and following them back to their hotels.

7. Write down some phrases in your phone’s Notes app (which again, you don’t need to have service or wifi to access) in the local language that you may need to know in case of an emergency.

Where is the hospital? Where is the police station? Where is the best cheese?

8. Leave a copy of your travel plans with friends and family.

Make sure that your people know where you’re supposed to be in case (you guessed it!) there’s an emergency. That means hotels, flight numbers, dates that you’re moving between countries and cities, etc.

9. Make a list of your emergency contact information and put it in your wallet.

It sounds morbid, but if there’s an accident the first thing a paramedic, police officer, or bystander will do is check your wallet to see who you are. If they need to call someone for you, the information will be available. Better safe than sorry!

10. Have an organized trip planned.

This is my best, most foundational piece of advice for first time solo travelers. When people talk about being too anxious or afraid to travel alone, what they’re really scared of is the unknown and a lack of control. The best way to minimize those feelings is to be prepared with a thoroughly researched and well thought-out trip. It sounds counterintuitive, but the better prepared you are, the more time you’ll find yourself with to change plans and be spontaneous!

Looking for more? Be sure to check out:

Are you new here? Let’s be friends! I’m Sarah— a solo female traveler (& world’s okayest travel blogger) helping you travel the world, discover surprising destinations, & have a laugh getting off the beaten path. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to stay in touch (I promise not to spam you- just to share the best travel hacks, guides, itineraries, embarrassing stories, and unmissable experiences)!

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