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A beginner’s guide to traveling on your own

For every person who loves traveling alone, there are 20 others who would rather walk across hot coals. To them, the idea of solo travel is filled with uncertainty. However, if you’re interested in setting off on your own, know this: traveling solo is not as frightening, difficult, or impossible as you think. In fact, with a bit of planning, it can be the best thing you’ve ever done.

Where and when to go

Make a plan | Before you rush off and buy the first plane tickets you find, sit down and think about the sort of trip you’d like to go on. Picture yourself in the middle of your ideal trip. Where are you? Maybe you’re in a coastal town, a cosmopolitan city like London or Sydney, hiking in Canada, sampling local food in Japan, studying abroad, or on an Italian biking trip. Another idea is to write down all the countries you want to visit in your lifetime and highlight those that get your heart racing and that seem like good ideas for a solo trip.

Decide when | Next, consider what season or time of year you can travel in. If there are limitations on when you can go on your trip (perhaps because of your studies or job), put a positive spin on them. So what if you can only travel in winter? Use the off season to your advantage and travel more cheaply.

Meeting other people

Travel socially | For most would-be solo travelers, their biggest fear is being lonely on the road. Sure, while some portions of your trip will be spent on your own, the truth is that few solo travelers find themselves alone 100 percent of the time; and those that do usually actively seek solitude. If, on the other hand, you’d like to meet people while on the road, don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to do so. Start by considering more social accommodation options like Couchsurfing (where locals host you in their city) or renting a room with an Airbnb host.

Study abroad | If meeting people is on your to do list, another idea is to study or do a short course overseas. Perhaps you’d like to study a foreign language, diving, cooking, dance, or photography? English is taught all around the world (imagine yourself with your new classmates in Australia, the UK, Ireland, the US, New Zealand, Malta, or South Africa!) and joining a course is a sure-fire way to make friends with other students – usually of a similar age and with common interests. Other activities – like salsa dancing in Colombia, cooking classes in Thailand, surfing in Australia, or taekwondo in South Korea – might suit you better. Apart from the benefit of making friends with like-minded people, you’ll stay for longer in a single destination and get to know it thoroughly.

Packing

The most important principle when packing for long-term travel is to pack light. When you’re about head away for a month or more, this may seem like an impossible task – but with a few changes it’s more than possible.

Be selective | From toiletries to clothes and electronics, pack selectively. Bring no more than a week’s worth of clothing and just make sure you have a good selection of clothes you can mix and match. For toiletries, bring mini versions only – you’ll need to buy something in your destination anyway, especially if you’re staying for longer (and the same goes for clothes). Finally, don’t fill your backpack with unnecessary electronic equipment. The world is ultra-connected now and with internet cafes and WiFi in hostels and coffee shops, you won’t need to take all your devices. If you plan to study overseas, consider bringing your laptop; however, solo travelers moving from place to place will be able to get by with a smart phone or small tablet.

Above all, remember that you’re not going to Mars! Anything you might have forgotten – think phone charger, toiletries, non-prescription medication, or item of clothing – can be bought in your destination.

Transport

One of the benefits of traveling solo is being able to change destination at a moment’s notice, without consulting a group or travel partner. But how to get around? Trains, buses, and planes will be your first modes of travel. To choose between them, think about how much flexibility and comfort you need.

Hop on a train | Trains – especially in Europe – offer comfortable short and long-distance travel between and within Euro zone countries. But because adding up single trips becomes expensive very quickly, it’s best to buy a country or time-specific Eurail or Interrail ticket (non-Europeans travel using Eurail). Trains travel is also possible in Asia, Australia and other countries: for worldwide information on train routes head to Seat 61, a great one-stop-shop for train information.

Bus it | Hop on/hop off buses in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are another option for travelers looking to travel through a number of countries or regions. The benefit of using these services is that you decide how long to stay in each destination before continuing on to the next. The disadvantage is that the route only passes through a certain number of stops, meaning that complete flexibility isn’t possible if a place you’d like to visit isn’t included. (Lots of companies offer these services, so Google will be your friend! Just search “hop on off bus + country” to compare.)

Fly | A further option is flying. In Europe, cheap flights can easily be found using budget airlines like EasyJet, Ryanair, and Vueling, and by comparing flight prices online (try Skyscanner, Momondo, and Kayak). Flying provides the quickest travel time, although after you travel to the airport, check in, and pass through customs, it can take as long as a train. A major downside to flying – particularly on a budget airline – is that trips are often nonrefundable and nonchangeable, so be sure about your dates and destination before booking. Also, unlike train and bus travel, you must keep below your airline’s baggage limits – skip this problem by packing light and traveling with only hand luggage (our tips on how to pack hand luggage like a pro here).

Safety

Though safety might be one of your greatest concerns when traveling on your own, the fact is that most countries are no less safe than your own and the vast majority of people you’ll meet will be wonderful! However, to calm your (and your parents’) nerves, remember that remaining safe while on the road is not difficult. Start by following these simple principles:

Let people know where you are | If studying or living abroad, send your overseas address to your family and keep it handy for yourself both in a notebook and your phone’s notes. Remember to inform home of your rough itinerary before leaving, as well as of any changes you make while on the road.

Keep valuables out of sight | Don’t flaunt jewellery, cameras, and expensive electronic equipment. Better yet, don’t bring them at all. While out, keep money and other valuables on your person (never in a pocket) and don’t leave your belongings unattended or casually on the seat next to you. Basically, there’s no need to draw attention to yourself or tempt pickpockets into making a quick catch!

Split your money | Never carry all your cash or bank cards with you at once. Instead, leave at least one at your room and carry only the cash you’ll need for the day. Along the same lines, scan your passport, bank cards, and other identity cards and send them to yourself and a family member for safe keeping. Both these simple tips save you time and sanity should you lose your valuables while traveling and need replacements sent.

Don’t take unnecessary risks | While at home, would you really walk through a dark, unknown neighborhood at night alone? So much of what we consider “dangerous” can be avoided by not acting rashly and by trusting our gut. Cut out unnecessary risk by not leaving drinks unattended at any time, not walking alone at night, observing local customs regarding appropriate dress, and deciding not to take a stranger up on a strange-sounding tour.

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