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
- 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.)
- 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.
Traveling Solo on a Tour
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Condé Nast Traveler: “2018 Top Travel Specialists We Trust”
- Travel & Leisure: “The A – List 2018”
- Wendy Perrin: “The 2019 WOW list: Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts.”
- If you’re not sure how travel specialists work, how they get paid, or what they offer, this is one of the better overviews I’ve read from Sally Black, founder of Vacation Kids.
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.
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 masterclasses.
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.
- If you’re interested in a photography tour specifically (I’ve gone on more than a few), I wrote a post called “Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing A Travel Photography Tour.”