The prospect of taking the first international solo trip of your life can be a very unnerving idea for many. So much so that they would give up the thought sooner or later. I love travelling solo because I have the freedom to decide everything without having to concern myself with what another person may or may not like. I decide where I stay, what I eat, where I visit, when I do what while I travel. That’s awesome IMHO.
Depending on how you look at it, it is you and only you who gets to plan out everything. Now, for me, who is a bit of a control freak, I am thrilled by the idea of meticulous travel planning (probably even more than the actual travel sometimes). However, for many, this can seem like an arduous task; time-consuming, stressful and confusing.
It gets worse. When it’s your first time travelling solo, unless you are a super confident, full of positivity sorta person, you will be riddled with self-doubt and what-ifs. Can I do this? What if I get kidnapped? OMG, What if I get kidnapped and they harvest my organs? I go and what if I hate being alone? And people, what if people think it’s really sad that I have no one to travel with? Seriously though, I still think of these things even after multiple solo trips.
These ‘what-ifs’ are not silly, paranoid ‘what-ifs’ (well, mostly); they are legit, your concerns are legit. BUT, the ‘what-if’ that trumps them all is ‘What if I travel somewhere solo?” Now that is something you need to do at least once in your life. Don’t let the idea of solo travel remain a ‘what-if’ in your life. Hey, it may not be for you but you tried it right? Now, to convince you even more and to help you plan your ideal first international solo trip, here are my five useful tips:
- 1. First International Solo Trip:: Pick a destination that speaks (one if your) language(s).
- 2. First International Solo Trip:: Plan a short* trip.
- 3. First International Solo Trip::Pick a destination close to you.
- 4. First International Solo Trip:: Save emergency numbers (police/hospital/women’s safety etc.) of the country you are visiting and get a local SIM with preloaded calling minutes and data on arrival.
- 5. First International Solo Trip:: Don’t rush it.
- First International Solo Trip:: BONUS TIP: Consider going with a tour group.
- First International Solo Trip:: MYTHBUSTING TIP: When people suggest you should pick a ‘safe’ place.
- Like this:
1. First International Solo Trip:: Pick a destination that speaks (one if your) language(s).
Language barriers while travelling is one of the most common problems you run into. Here’s some hard truth learned from experience: Rudimentary knowledge of a local language is all good, but when you really need it (like got food poisoning and require immediate medical help), your basic language skills will be of no use. If you visit a country that speaks your language, it will be a breeze to do almost anything. Let it be asking for directions or asking for gluten free options at a restaurant or figuring out the public transport.
2. First International Solo Trip:: Plan a short* trip.
Some more tough loving: Solo travel is not for everyone. This does not mean that if you do not like solo travelling, it makes you any less ‘adventurous’ than those who do. I know plenty of people who do not travel solo. Not because they think its pitiful/strange or anything similarly demeaning, opinionated or presumptuous, but simply because they don’t care for it. And that’s okay.
Now, if you happen to be one of those who realises that you are not really into this solo travelling gig while you are on a solo vacation, a short trip would mean you will be home soon.
*’Short’ can mean anything from a weekend getaway to a week-long trip.
3. First International Solo Trip::Pick a destination close to you.
For your first international trip, consider picking a place that is nearby. Not only will this be easy on your pocket, but will also give you a viable option of flying back home sooner if you absolutely despise your solo trip (as mentioned in Tip 2) and just want to go back home. Moreover, this could just be me and its purely a psychological thing I guess, the awareness that you are going to be ‘close’ to your home, can reduce the anxiety about leaving for your trip and make the whole international-solo-travel thing feel a lot less scary.
4. First International Solo Trip:: Save emergency numbers (police/hospital/women’s safety etc.) of the country you are visiting and get a local SIM with preloaded calling minutes and data on arrival.
This isn’t exactly specific to your first solo international trip. Nonetheless, I would argue that is super useful when you are venturing out on your own the first time. A local number will allow to make handy calls at any given time. For instance, calling your hostel in case you have lost your way, or calling a cab. Most importantly, in the case of a medical/cop related emergency, a local number will really go a long way in terms of connectivity .
With data, you can use Google Maps, which can make EVERYTHING in a new city a whole lot easier. You do have the option of downloading offline maps beforehand. However, you would need data if you plan on using public transport and want google to show you options in real-time.
Most airports sell local SIM cards in the arrivals area. You can find that information by simply looking it up on the internet (99% chances are that someone has already asked that about a certain airport on TripAdvisor). If the airport you are landing at does not have this facility, you can ask your hostel/hotel/AirBnB host to direct you to the nearest mobile shop.
5. First International Solo Trip:: Don’t rush it.
Your first solo trip may seem like a mission to be accomplished, but it really is a treat, a gift (or whatever cheesy word you can think of) for yourself. Solo travel, or rather, solo backpacking, can be both mentally and physically exhausting. You don’t want to burn out in the end of your trip. Please do not plan to do a million things in a day simply because you have to see it all! There is a lot out there that you will experience and learn not just about this new place you are visiting, but also about your own awesome self. So, give yourself time to soak all that in and revel in this new, exciting feeling!
First International Solo Trip:: BONUS TIP: Consider going with a tour group.
Pros: They do all your planning. You don’t have to worry about language barriers, where to eat, how to use the local transport etc.. Moreover, you get to be around other people.
Cons: They are expensive, your tour group companions can turn out to be really annoying, you will have no room for spontaneity or flexibility, and you will probably be charged something called ‘a single supplement’ for hotel rooms.
I didn’t want to put this down as Tip 6 because I personally wouldn’t want to do a group tour. A middle ground would be booking day excursions. So that you still get to explore a new place and also get a chance to make new travel buddies. In any case, I do know people who have done a fully booked group tour and have loved it. Therefore, it might be something you can consider.
First International Solo Trip:: MYTHBUSTING TIP: When people suggest you should pick a ‘safe’ place.
While I do see the good intentions of those who say that, I can’t get behind this one, sorry! Unless you are planning to go to a country which is currently going through a serious political/humanitarian crises and/or is at war or similar, there is no place which is by default entirely safe or unsafe. One one hand, I know of a group of friends who were mugged in Barcelona with a knife. On the other hand, I also know female solo travellers who had a fantastic time in so-called risky places like Egypt.
Bad stuff can happen anywhere, it can happen in your backyard for all you know. Of course, some places are statistically safer than others. If it is one of those destinations you plan on going to, great! But if your heart is set on going to a supposedly unsafe place with a high crime rate and/or deemed unsafe for women, you just have to practise extra caution and keep your wits about. Seriously, wherever you go, safe/unsafe, beach/hills, city/town, keep your wits about.
Finally, and this is important, I know plenty of solo travellers who have gone to far-flung places for months on end doing off the beaten track stuff, and they have totally loved it. If you have that awesome confidence/devil may care attitude, for your first solo trip, you do you. I am definitely one of those lesser mortals who was absolutely petrified before taking her first solo trip; I cried all the way to the train station and people probably thought that I was going to visit a loved one who is on his/her deathbed or worse. These tips are essentially for those who find themselves getting nervous at the idea of first first international solo trip. These tips, in the end, are all about easing yourself into that solo travel life.
All pictures are from my first international solo trip to Lisbon, Portugal when I was living in Spain. If you use them, please give credit. Thanks!
For my last post on how pick your ideal hostel as a solo backpacker, click here.