The golden rules of solo travel

Globe Aware volunteers concerned about traveling solo, here are some golden rules to follow! A volunteer vacation offers many of the recommendations listed!

The golden rules of solo travel

We ask our editors and favourite solo travellers for their savviest tips and tricks

19 May 2024

The joys of travelling solo are endless. There is something truly freeing about exploring new places alone – you can go where you please, eat when you want, and have uninterrupted quality time with yourself. The interest in solo travel has been slowly rising for a while, but new data from UK-based travel organisation ABTA shows that 16 per cent of travellers went on holiday by themselves in 2023, a five per cent increase from the previous 12-month period. Plus, there is a huge increase in solo travel from “those aged 35-44, where solo traveller numbers more than doubled to 13 per cent in 2023 from just 6 per cent in 2022.”

Alongside this shift is a need for deeper, slower, more connective travel. For many, solo travel is the perfect way to achieve this – it provides an opportunity to trust your instinct, go with your gut and get lost in the experience. You rely on yourself rather than on others’ whims or desires.

But, if you’re not a seasoned solo traveller, it can be a daunting prospect. In an age of constant connectivity, the idea of being alone for an extended period of time is a convoluted one. Below, we spoke to travellers who frequently book solo trips about their golden rules for travelling alone.

Dining alone isn’t weird

For most people, the thought of dining alone is one of the biggest barriers to travelling solo. But once you get past the conviction that everyone is noticing or judging you, it’s a totally freeing experience. “Dining alone isn’t as uncommon as you might imagine,” says Estée Lalonde, a creative director and influencer with a passion for solo travel. “I personally find it empowering! Sometimes I bring a book with me or watch an episode of my favourite show on Netflix with my headphones on, but other times I just enjoy the atmosphere and end up chatting to the people at the table next to me.”

Fake it til you make it

Most people feel nervous about meeting new people, and introverts especially can struggle to make the first move when arriving in a new place. But remember that everyone is in the same boat, and most solo travellers will have experienced those same emotions. The first five seconds are the hardest, but once you’ve introduced yourself, you’ll quickly realise it wasn’t as big a deal as you originally thought. You’d kick yourself if you let a bit of shyness ruin your trip, so use that as the motivation you need to approach a fellow traveller. And remember, if you pretend to feel confident, that will show – fake it til you make it is a reliable life rule to follow.

Book counter dining at restaurants

If you are someone who does feel uncomfortable about dining alone, opt for a bar or counter seat. It’s much less intimidating than having a whole table to yourself, and you are more likely to end up chatting to the staff or the person sitting next to you. “The first time I went out for a meal alone, I went to JG Melon on the Upper East Side of New York City,” Sarah James, Condé Nast Traveller’s deputy digital editor, says. “I took a book, and nervously shuffled onto a bar stool for my burger – but ended up chatting away to the charming bartender and the women sat next to me. Now I often opt for a counter seat when eating alone, and no longer take a book with me. Either I end up talking to someone or just enjoy the peace. A general rule I live by – we’re all so wrapped up in our own lives, no one is paying much attention to other people.”

Don’t be afraid of being lonely

“Remember that a bit of loneliness can be bracing and character-building,” says Toby Skinner, Condé Nast Traveller’s features director. “My experience travelling is generally that people are decent, kind and interesting – and you found that out most acutely by being alone (whereas everyone leaves couples well alone). Some of my most memorable travel experiences have been on my own – like when I was stranded in Nanjing at 2am by a delayed train in 2001, and a local student let me bunk in his dorm room for the night.”

Plan around cultural events

Arriving at a destination just as the locals are gearing up for an important cultural event can be an incredible way to immerse yourself straight away. Look up religious festivals, bank holidays, and street parties to see what time is best to visit and plan accordingly. You’ll get a real flavour of the people, the food and even the music, and you might end up making friends along the way.

Research solo travel in your destination

As obvious as “do your research” sounds, it’s an important step to remember. Look at online forums and speak to people who have previously visited the destination. What safety precautions should you be taking? Is it safe to walk between locations, or is it better to use taxis? Are taxis easy to find? What is the destination’s culture like after dark? For women, in particular, it is best to plan ahead to avoid getting stranded in remote neighbourhoods after dark.

Have a rough plan for each day

It can feel daunting waking up in a brand new destination and not knowing where to start, so make sure you create vague itineraries for your trip. What are your non-negotiables in this destination? Any big attractions you want to tick off? Restaurants you’ve been desperate to try? Beaches you’ve always wanted to visit? “I like to have 3-5 little activities in mind for each day, like visiting a particular store or trying the local cuisine,” Estée tells us. “If you have a bit of direction you can leave space in between each activity to be spontaneous and discover the local area.”

Build in group activities

Booking tours and group events is a great way to meet other travellers. Most hostels have a list of activities available for guests to sign up for, and if not, then there are walking tours or live music events at local bars. “Try to see people as opportunities”, Toby advises. “I’d build in communal activities to your itinerary and remember that you’ll probably never see these people again, so you have nothing to lose in almost any interaction and possibly a lot to gain (though there might be a touch of male privilege in that).”

Walk as much as you can

“Sometimes if I travel to a new place, I can be nervous to leave my bed as a solo traveller,” Estée admits. “As soon as I get outside and start walking I feel better – like I’m part of the city and that I belong there!” Exploring by foot is a great way to get to know the bones of a destination. You’ll soon create a mental map of the area nearest your accommodation and might stumble upon some hidden gems you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

Allow yourself to be spontaneous

On that note, try to allow yourself some spontaneity. Having a rough plan is definitely advisable, but don’t stop yourself from following your gut if you have a sudden urge to pop into a shop, follow the sound of the crowds or head for the beach. It’s often the spur-of-the-moment decisions that result in the best experiences.

Bring good books

It’s easy to whip out your phone and rely on scrolling when you’re by yourself, and while that is a great way to decompress if you’re feeling jittery, there are few things more romantic than settling in at a streetside cafe and getting lost in the pages of a good book.

Bring a journal

Journaling has become a popular pastime of late, and keeping a travel journal is a great way to combine the mental health benefits of getting out your thoughts and feelings with the memories and emotions of travelling solo. “I find all of that time alone enables me to clear my head, and journaling is a great way to regulate those emotions,” Estée explains.

Keep a separate copy of your personal details

Sounds old school, but in lieu of printing out paper copies of all your bank details, phone numbers and accommodations details, try keeping a document of all your information and emailing it to yourself. This way, if you lose your phone, you can ask the reception of your accommodation or staff at a hotel/restaurant/bar to borrow a phone and log into your email account to access anything you need. It’s also worth memorising your card details and any emergency phone numbers (both personal and local emergency service numbers).

Take other safety precautions

There are plenty of ways to protect yourself when travelling alone. Sharing your location with your friends and family back home is a lovely way to keep in touch without having to actually message them – they can watch your journey from afar and keep track of your whereabouts if you haven’t contacted them for a while. Remember to bring a padlock for your backpack and lockers if you’re staying in hostels, and study basic phrases in the language of your destination, just in case you get lost and need some help.

Don’t forget insurance

There’s always something that doesn’t go to plan on any trip, and as a solo traveller, you’ll want to make sure you mitigate any stress that comes from changing itineraries. Buying travel insurance is the best way to protect yourself from any transport cancellations and unforeseen circumstances, and will cover any costs from injuries or thefts. Sounds scary, but it’ll be worth it if the worst happens!


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