General Travel Tips

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

Woman happy traveling alone

Photo: Shutterstock

Congratulations! You’ve thought about traveling alone for a while now and you’ve decided 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.  I have some suggestions to help you get started.

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

Traveling Alone

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 on your own will end up giving valuable insight about who you are, what you really like and what you’re capable of.  And that’s never a bad thing.
  • You’re likely to 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

Going 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 that takes the burden off you planning and managing logistics.
  • There’s a really good chance you’ll meet 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 go on your own:

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 it’s your first time, you may find this 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 an 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 scratch 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 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 the attention. The investment was worth every penny.

You want to go 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 from culinary and adventure lovers to photography and history buffs 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.

Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler, and the Black Hole Drop

Me on a trip by myself to Belize repelling 300 ft into a sink hole. 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.

  • If you’re interested in a photography tour specifically (I’ve gone on more than a few), I wrote a post on what you’ll want to consider before choosing. You can find those tips here.

General tour advice

  • Smaller is better: Go with the smallest number of people your budget will allow. The smaller the group the easier it is to build camaraderie and receive personal attention. The larger the group, the less intimate the experience.
  • Consider the mix: Avoid tours that cater to couples. When you speak to the tour operator, ask them how many solo travelers they tend to have per trip.
  • Read the fine print: Be sure to look through all the information thoroughly, especially where it talks about what’s included in the tour and what additional costs you’ll be responsible for. For example, international flights are typically not included.

Single supplements

Be mindful of single supplements (the extra fee many companies charge to offset the cost of accommodations which are priced at double occupancy).

A number of tour companies — including Rick Steves’ Europe, BackroadsIntrepid Travel and G Adventures — attempt to take the sting out of single supplements by offering a halfway measure, they will waive the supplement if solo travelers agree to be matched with a roommate. In some cases, if the travel company cannot find you a roommate, you get the room to yourself. Singles travel companies like AllSinglestravel.com offer roommate matching. No matter what, be sure to read the fine print. For instance, SinglesCruise.com notes that it “accepts no responsibility for roommate matching incompatibility such as sleep patterns, snoring, noise or age differences.”

If you’re speaking to a company that charges a single supplement, don’t take it as a fait accompli, ask the representative if they’ll forgo the charge or at the very least reduce it. You may be pleasantly surprised.  (Hint: Tours looking to fill up their slots are more likely to be flexible closer to the departure date.)

Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler at the top of Wayna Picchu

Me after a climb up Wayna Picchu looking down over the lost city of Machu Picchu

A great resource

Solo Traveler is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in traveling on their own. Janice Waugh, author, public speaker and one of the nicest women I’ve ever met and her partner Tracey Nesbitt, have put together a comprehensive site that offers advice on trip planning, personal stories, and great travel deals, many with little to no single supplements.

She put together a wonderful handbook you may find useful.

General travel tips if you’re going solo

  • Provide a friend or family member with:
    • A copy of your itinerary and the contact information for the places you’ll be staying.
    • A copy of your travel insurance policy in case you can’t access your information.
  • Check in periodically with people back home.
  • Take photos of your passport, credit cards, and insurance information for easy access. Be sure to keep print copy versions with you too should your device run out of juice.
  • Never keep all your money in the same place.
  • Don’t take stupid chances or drink heavily when out and about.
  • Write down the address and phone number of wherever you’re staying and keep it with you in case you need to find your way back and you don’t speak the language. If you’re at a hotel, just grab a business card from the front desk.
  • Because dinners can sometimes feel more lonely than other meals, choose restaurants that cater to travelers and, if possible, have big bars you can eat at. It’s less solitary than sitting alone at a table, it’s easier to chat with strangers you think are interesting, and bartenders are good conversationalists if you feel like a chat. Plus, always have a good book on your phone (or in your luggage) that you can indulge in to keep yourself occupied if there’s no one around that you want to talk to.
Susan Portnoy, the Insatiable Traveler and fellow travelers on a photographic tour

Me and some of the other guests on a photographic tour in South Africa.

Travel insurance

I’m a big fan of travel insurance, especially if I am going someplace remote and want to be confident that I gave proper medical care or flown out should I have an emergency. My dad and stepmother canceled a trip to Russia at the last-minute due to a close friend’s illness and received a full reimbursement. It’s just a smart idea.
To find the right coverage, I recommend insuremytrip, a site that enables you to compare policies from multiple companies at once. Medex is worth checking out too if you only  want medical and evacuation assistance. Note: Medex does not provide policies to recoup trip expenses.

Whether you’re traveling on your own or with a tour, don’t travel in a bubble.

Don’t be shy: Proactively engage in conversation with those around you, especially locals. Ask them what activities they love to do in the area. Where they like to eat. Are there any special festivals or events taking place you should know about. Get an insider’s view. (Don’t let not speaking the language inhibit you. Ask those who are likely to speak your language: A concierge, a staff member at a museum or other popular tourist attractions, taxi drivers.

Connect with tradition: Try at least one new cultural something every day of your trip. It can be large or small: a new type of food, shop a unique store, try a traditional activity.

For more ideas, check out my piece Best Travel Advice: 10 Tips to Help You Break Out of Your Bubble.  

The most important advice I can impart for Traveling Alone

Have fun. Embrace the adventure. Take things in stride. Yes, something will go wrong, but whatever it is it doesn’t have to ruin your trip. Truth be told, some of my fondest memories are the result of getting lost, missing a flight or my car breaking down.

It’s all part of the journey both inside and out.


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If you've ever wanted to try traveling solo, this is your moment. Take it!


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106 replies »

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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!

  8. 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” >

  9. 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.

  10. 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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  12. Amazing article! Been thinking about traveling solo for a while and this article really helped me get my head organized on the steps I should use to prepare myself. Thanks for sharing!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

    • 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?

      • 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

  15. 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!

  16. 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! 🍀

    • 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.

  17. 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.

      • 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. =)

  18. 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!

    • 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.

  19. 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

Would love to hear from you!