Solo travel for the first time is nerve-wracking. It’s especially scary when you’re a woman, or when you’re going to a place where you know nobody.
My first solo trip to Italy was a hot mess, because I lost all my cash and credit cards within the first 2 hours. I blamed it on my mom for cursing me to bad luck. But of course, there were things I could have done better. I have a full account of that trip here if you want to read — beware of lengthy and shitty writing. It’s a bit disastrous, a bit reckless, and a bit stupid, but still a very special journey.
Some of my friends have asked for my advice as they’re planning their first solo trip. Now, I can actually give some solid suggestions after surviving a year of solo travel. Alive and well. Here are some questions I’ve gathered that might be helpful if you’re traveling solo for the first time.
Should You Travel With Cash?
It’s okay to have a $100 in the local currency of wherever you’re traveling to. I used to exchange for a small amount before I left home just so I could have something with me. However, it’s always best to take out cash at the airport’s ATM when you land. ATM withdrawals give you the best exchange rate even with a small fee.
Charles Schwab is the ultimate bank for American travelers as it reimburses all ATM and foreign transaction fees. The registration process takes some time but it’s absolutely worth the effort.
Should You Bother Getting Travel Insurance?
YES, especially if you’re traveling with expensive gear like cameras and laptop. Most travel credit cards come with travel protection, so you should check with your bank to see what benefits you can get. If you think the coverage is not enough, get a travel insurance policy. I used World Nomads before, but switched to Allianz because it’s cheaper.
You never know the importance of insurance until the moment you need it and you don’t have one.
How Do You Make Friends On The Road?
- Stay in hostels or a private room in an Airbnb. As I age, I prefer Airbnbs over the younger crowd in hostels, but I still meet awesome people in hostels. Choose a more expensive hostel if possible, because the quality of guests would be different. In Airbnb rooms, most people are in pairs. It’s a bit rare to run into solo travelers but I still made a lot of friends and third-wheeled quite a bit.
- Join walking tours and spot the other solo travelers. I’ve made countless friends through walking tours. You just have to strike up a conversation while you’re walking, or better yet, someone will be curious enough to ask if you’re traveling alone.
- Instagram. I’ve been to several places where my followers offered to show me around town. Most of those nice people have followed my photography work for a long time!
- Facebook Travel Groups. I’ve met some awesome women through Girls Love Travel and Digital Nomad Girls. You can post where you’re going and see if anyone will be in the same area. Sometimes I just asked a question in the group and ended up meeting someone in real life 2 weeks later because we happened to cross paths.
- Tinder / Bumble. Tinder Group Match or Bumble BFF works, although Tinder tends to be creepy.
- Being Asian. Not kidding. I’ve made a handful of friends just because we were the only two Asians in the tour groups…
What Do You Do When You Feel Lonely?
I rarely feel lonely on the road, because I amuse myself. 😛
When I crave for some human connections but have no one around, I start talking to my mom. Kidding, I talk to friends back home, too. Calling someone helps a lot. I called an old friend in Hong Kong when I was in a hotel room alone, and we talked for 3 hours straight. That felt great 🙂
When traveling solo, you should learn to enjoy things on your own. Eat at a restaurant alone, watch a movie alone, go on a day trip alone, go to a bar alone. You’ll either love the quiet time alone or you’ll have some sweet encounters.
How Do You Protect Yourself?
- Walk like you know where you’re going. My travel friends know I ALWAYS look lost. Even in New York, people would be asking if I’m lost in the subway station 🙁 But when I’m in a sketchy area, I always walk faster and act like I have somewhere to go.
- Stop somewhere before you check your phone for directions. This mostly applied to my experience in Colombia. When I had to check Google Maps on my phone in a busy area, I would first lean my back against a wall so no one can creep up from behind. Don’t just walk around looking at your phone because someone can grab it easily.
- Avoid flashy clothing items. I didn’t bring anything too revealing or too fancy to South America, because that’s just asking for trouble. I already caught a lot of attention as a solo Asian girl — no need to gain extra attention by wearing anything too fancy.
- Don’t respond to cat calls. Pretend like you’re deaf and keep walking. In New York, I’d mostly tell people to fuck off, but seriously, try not to do that.
- Keep your taxi window up and door locked. If you’re in a somewhat unsafe city, don’t stick your head out the car window or get lost in your phone with the windows rolled down.
- Listen to your instinct. A reasonable amount of fear is what keeps you alive and well if you’re on the road alone. So many patronizing males have scoffed at how intimidated I was about exploring sketchy places. Don’t let anyone talk you into doing something reckless.
If you’ve never traveled alone before, it is terrifying, especially for a woman. I understand why the idea of solo travel doesn’t sit well with some people, and it’s absolutely okay to be scared and unsure. After traveling alone so many times, I still get nervous arriving at a new city, but I do it anyway. One precious thing I’ve acquired from traveling is the power of saying yes.
A day trip through mountainous, winding roads on a motorcycle? Yes.
Disgusting cow brain, ant salsa, grasshoppers? Yes.
Want to take a dive in the river but forgot to bring your bikini? Yes.
Are you scared of traveling alone but want to do it anyway? Hell YES.
If you muster the courage to say yes to uncertainty, the universe will find a way to reward you with new experiences and unforgettable tales to bring home.
Say yes 🙂 and book that flight now (if you found a cheap one).