Tips for Traveling Alone for the First Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started

Woman happy traveling alone

Congratulations! You’ve decided to start traveling alone for the first time. That’s awesome! You won’t regret it.

You’re probably thinking, now what? Where do I go? How do I go? No worries, I’ve got you covered.  I have some suggestions to help you get started.

First.. how “alone” do you want to be? What I mean is, there are two ways to approach solo travel: Going completely on your own, or, on your own but with a tour. Both have their pros and cons. I’ve listed a few of each below.

Traveling Alone For the First Time

Pros

  • Freedom to be blissfully selfish. Your time is 100% yours to do with what you will. You can see what you want to see, change your itinerary at will, and spend hours in one place without feeling guilty. It’s all about you. Embrace it.
  • You’ll learn a lot about yourself. Good or bad, how you deal with the day-to-day of traveling alone will end up giving valuable insight into who you are, what you really like and what you’re capable of.  And that’s never a bad thing.
  • You’ll be totally present since you won’t have someone else to distract you or influence your perception. (This assumes you’re not spending all of your time staring at a device or bingeing on social media.)

Cons

  • You’re responsible for all the choices. It’s funny how even though you get to do whatever you want it can be challenging when you’re used to having others participate in the decision-making.
  • You might get a little lonely. I admit it. Now and then I get lonely. It rarely lasts long but it happens. That said, I’ve also felt lonely in a crowded room filled with friends and family.
  • From a security standpoint, you need to be extra conscious of your surroundings and the situations you put yourself in. Use common sense and don’t take chances. I’ve never had a problem but I’m also alert.
Man traveling alone
Photo: Shutterstock

Traveling Solo on a Tour

Pros

  • If you’re feeling a little shaky about going full out with the solo travel, joining a tour is a great gate-way alternative that gives you a taste of independence without being completely by yourself.
  • Tours have set itineraries and staff to take the burden off you to plan and manage logistics.
  • There’s a really good chance you’ll meet new friends you’ll keep in touch with long after you get home.

Cons

  • You’re subject to a set itinerary and a group consensus.
  • You may end up with a few people who rub you the wrong way.
  • It’s likely to cost more than a trip you arrange yourself.
Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler at Machu Picchu
Me at Machu Picchu

Ok, you’ve thought about the pros and cons above and have decided how you want to travel. Next step…

If You Travel Solo

Are you going to plan your own trip or work with a travel advisor? That’s a good place to start. There’s no wrong answer and I’ve done both. If my schedule is insane, I’ll work with an advisor—someone that has expertise in the places I want to go and can narrow down the options, plus they usually have insight on deals I wouldn’t know about otherwise.

If you’re traveling alone for the first time, you may find a specialist helpful. I did. After a couple of trips, I became more confident, and the research and planning became part of the fun.

How to Find Advisors/Advice

The obvious: ask your friends who they use. You’re bound to get some great suggestions.

Try Consumeraffairs.com:  For a combination of travel websites and travel specialists that can assist you. The site has a nifty search engine that asks you a few questions about your travel needs and then spits out recommendations.

Check out the trusted and true: Many leading travel publications provide an annual list of their top travel advisors (some call them “specialists” or “designers,” they’ve got all kinds of names) grouped by destination or specialty or some other criteria that provides helpful direction.

Four people happy in the Masai Mara / Insatiable Traveler
From L>R: Nancy, our guide Sammy, Yours truly and Lori .. two lovely ladies I still keep in touch with because of traveling.

You Want to Plan the Trip Yourself

Keep it simple: Unless you really enjoy putting complicated itineraries together, keep it simple. Instead of going on a multi-city jaunt through France, choose a single city and really immerse yourself in it.

Decide on a daily anchor: When putting together your itinerary, choose one big thing that you want to accomplish each day. A museum visit, a day trip, a cooking class. Whatever. Figure out the timing requirements, transportation, costs, etc. Then fill in with other things around that such as meals, time to wander, smaller excursions. If you’re a person that likes to wing it, great, but if you need a little more structure this is a great way to start.

Research: To get some ideas of what you might like to see and do, you’ll need to do some research. Refer to travel guides you respect, ask friends, comb tourism websites, they typically provide lists of top tourist spots. Check out lux hotel websites and see what activities they suggest to their guests. Pull together lists of ideas that seem interesting and find your anchors.

Indulge in a private guide: Consider splurging on a private guide for a part of your adventure. I suggest hiring someone when you’ve got a really special excursion in mind. Group sight-seeing tours can be good but the information is usually pretty general and often just scratches the surface. Printed travel guides are helpful but they can’t answer questions. A good private guide can bring a destination to life.

I hired a guide when I explored Machu Picchu. It’s a vast and fascinating city and I wanted to know more about. I wanted the details. We went as fast or slow as I wanted and I didn’t have to compete with other travelers. Plus, I could ask questions to my heart’s content without feeling as if I was hogging his attention. The investment was worth every penny.

You Want to Go Alone but on a Tour

Chances are, you have a dream destination in mind. Perfect. Now, how do you want to see it? Do you want a general introduction to your destination and hit the main tourist hotspots, or do you have a particular passion filter you want to apply to your decision?

Today, there are many companies that provide highly specialized tours that cater to all types of enthusiasts who love culinary trips, African safaris and adventure activities to photography workshops, itineraries focused on history and virtually everything else in between. I recommend these types of tours because focusing on something you love and traveling is a potent combination. You’ll also be with like-minded people, maximizing your chances of having a great time.

Me on a trip by myself to Belize repelling 300 ft into a sinkhole. Never did that before. You know what? It was awesome!

How to Find the Right Tour For You

Use Google as a starting point: I love Google to get the creative juices flowing but there’s no quality filter there so use it as a tool not as a definitive answer.

Try a Facebook Group: Ask people in a public Facebook group (or ask to join, they often are very welcoming) that shares your particular passion for recommendations.

Go to the experts: If you want to indulge a passion, check reputable institutions in your field of interest. For example, if you’re into history or art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC offers trips. For photography, The Santa Fé Photographic Workshops leads tours in various locations such as Cuba and Japan. The Institute of Culinary Education offers periodic trips that include hands-on cooking and master classes.

Research your idols: If there is a professional you admire in a field you enjoy, check out their website. You may find they lead trips or guest host tours you can take.

A brand may have the answer: If your passion requires special equipment or garments, professional retailers may be affiliated with tours. Lovers of outdoor adventure who like the REI brand, REI Adventures could be a good resource.

Don’t be afraid to ask a tour operator a lot of questions: If they seem at all hesitant or too busy to give you thoughtful answers, move on. That’s a big red flag in my book. Questions you might consider asking include:

  • How many solo travelers do they typically have on these trips? (You don’t want to find out after the fact that the tour is predominantly couples so you can decide if that works for you.)
  • Do they have any previous clients they can connect you with to give you a personal reference?
  • How flexible is the itinerary? (Schedules that are too rigid are less favorable because they don’t take advantage of serendipitous opportunities that often arise while traveling.
At Amita Cooking School in Bangkok
Taking my own private Thai cooking class. Too much fun. And too much food. I was stuffed.

110 thoughts on “Tips for Traveling Alone for the First Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started

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  2. AHMED IJAZ says:

    Awesome post Susan. That’s a lot of good travel tips and advise. I have done many solo travels, but found many I could add to plan future travels from your post. Thank you!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      I’m so glad to hear it! What a wonderful compliment. Thank you for checking it out and for letting me know. 🙂

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  4. Adventurous Kate says:

    Lots of great advice for first-timers here! I love your tip of planning one big activity for each day. That’s something that I should have done more often, to be honest, and I’ve planned some trips way too long (a full week in Medellin, WHY?!) and way too short (two weeks in Macedonia, Kosovo, AND Bulgaria? No). Now that I’m based in NY and traveling less often, I try to plan my trips with a scalpel — no endless days of free time, but plenty of cool activities packed.

  5. Paolo says:

    So far, I’ve only had two trips alone. Both lasted 3 days: the first in Venice and the last in Tuscany.
    I will definitely follow these tips because I want to make a longer travel.

  6. louresa says:

    Oh wow! One day I will travel solo! But for now I love traveling with my twin sister. But when the time comes this post will be very very helpful so thank you!

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  8. carlamcgill says:

    So much valuable information here, Susan. How nice of you! Thanks for the suggestions and perspective! I am not currently traveling much, but I enjoy vicariously traveling through your photos.

  9. thewanderingdiabetic says:

    Solo travel is the scariest, most liberating thing I have ever done. You have just inspired me to book another trip away!
    Thank you for the inspiration 🙂
    Looking forward to following your journeys.
    Aislinn

  10. spreefirit says:

    Hey Susan,

    Great deal of writing on the things you need to be aware while you are solo travelling. Keep up the good work. Looking forward for more works from you.

    Regards,
    Ramjith

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  12. sapphirestone315 says:

    Hello! This is such a great post!
    I’ve recently started travelling solo (alone with a tour), and I’m loving it! And your post just opened up a whole new set of things for me to think about and experience!
    Can’t wait to read all your other posts! 😀
    Cheers!

  13. mirang12 says:

    yy On Mar 10, 2017 9:56 PM, “The Insatiable Traveler” wrote:

    > Susan Portnoy posted: ” Congratulations! You’ve thought about traveling > solo for a while now and you’re finally going to take the leap. That’s > awesome! You won’t regret it. You’re probably thinking, now what? Where do > I go? How do I go? No worries, I’ve got you covered. Fi” >

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  16. marieryan says:

    Hi Susan…Great post.
    I’m a bit of a ‘solo’ traveller too and can agree with absolutely with all of your tips.
    I’ve found that a big friendly smile goes along way and that often other ‘solo’ travellers are always happy to team up.
    Regards. Marie.

  17. jazminej11 says:

    This is super helpful, thank you for sharing your knowledge! I have been contemplating traveling solo and this guide gave me the push to take the plunge.

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  19. Jolien says:

    I’d love to travel solo with my dog (so I guess it’s not totally solo). With an animal by my side, I have more courage to visit remote places.
    I don’t know if you have experience with that, but thanks for the tips anyway!

  20. vadettevanderhaar says:

    Thanks great article. While I love the idea of travelling solo, my head automatically goes to everything that can go wrong (I’m a little obsessed with crime shows). I have a holiday club and almost every year have to forgo hiking.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Ok.. I totally get that you have concerns about safety in general and you’re probably exacerbating that perspective by watching crime shows. Try going on a tour by yourself. You’ll feel safer and it’s a great way to start and then maybe the next time you’ll feel better about doing it by yourself. You don’t have to go to a third world country, by the way. Try baby steps. Go on a long weekend somewhere in your home country (not sure where you live) and make it easy on yourself.

      All that said: Why do you have to forgo hiking?

      • vadettevanderhaar says:

        I live in a 3rd world country 🙂 South Africa. My group prefer spa’s and 5 star hotels etc, we have a majority rules policy. I love outdoors and don’t really care if there is someone to wash my dishes and clean my room. As long as I get to leave in the morning and return at night. So exhausted but knowing that I experienced or saw something that I will not again. I think that luxury accommodation is so well refined in terms of their offerings that you get the same experience as everyone else. Will try baby steps. Thanks

  21. wallaceadventure says:

    Great tips, even for me travelling with my hubby. We’re going for a 2 week trip to Ireland for our anniversary in August. I’m doing all the planning and have decided to combine group tours, one private tour and time to explore on our own. Hopefully will achieve a balanced & memorable experience! Thanks for sharing the insurance website…definitely gonna check that out!

  22. Simply Splendid Food says:

    I jumped in to read your blog. I am thinking about traveling alone. The main thing I worry about is the feeling lonely. You want to see the faces of your friends and loved ones and talk to them about your days experience. Thank goodness for the internet. Skype may be my new friend! 🍀

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      I won’t lie, every now and then I get lonely, but it’s brief. Really brief. Sure, social media is a great way to feel a connection as well as Skype. There’s so much to get out of going alone. Consider it a gift to yourself. If you feel like it would be difficult to go totally on your own, definitely find a great tour that’s connected to a passion. Looking at your website address, you might adore a culinary trip of some kind. You’ll make new friends who “get” your passion for food. You won’t regret it.

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  24. francetaste says:

    Don’t limit yourself to English-speaking tours, especially if you speak a foreign language. I did two weeks of trekking in Morocco with Nouvelles Frontières. It was wonderful. Well-organized, plus intensive French practice (I was the only non-French person).
    When traveling alone, especially solo women, consider hiring a guide just to have peace. I would be beseiged the instant I set foot outside my hotel (in any country). I would pick the youngest candidate, explain that I was calling the shots, and as soon as the other guides saw me with this child, we would be left alone. The price was very low, even though I never haggled. And every time, the kid turned out to be great company.
    I also made many friends, both other travelers and locals, whom I never would have met had I been traveling with companions.

      • ColorMeLocal says:

        Sorry for the very late reply – I was about to travel when I commented on your post. I traveled through Scotland and Wales, staying mostly with friends of friends. It was so wonderful. =) In many ways I enjoy traveling alone and meeting people along the way. I do wish I would have been able to have joined a group hike or something like you suggested, but I did get to meet some locals in addition to the friends of friends. =)

  25. lilisar says:

    Great advice, thank you! I’ve been travelling solo for years now and quite like it. Also, I like to make a “menu” for sightseeing, divided into “dry weather options” and “rainy day options” with, like you’ve written, all the opening hours. That saves a lot of precious travel time!

    • travelwithclem says:

      Lilisar, I agree. I have been traveling solo for a few years now. At first, it was a burden, but now I am enjoying it and in fact,I feel like I prefer traveling solo. I have been independent for so long that it feels difficult to revert back to traveling in groups! Of course, an occasional travel partner would be great here and there, but I do love traveling solo.

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  28. Dacian says:

    Awesome article! Thank you for the tips and lists!
    I always find myself wondering if I want to travel somewhere alone or not. How would I enjoy and experience that location best? Nice to find someone else who also thinks about these things, and organizes them so neatly haha
    Great photos as well! Thanks

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