So you've decided to stop waiting for company and take the plunge to travel alone. Fantastic! As you make your first foray into the world of solo travel, your mind must be boggling with questions. Where should you go? How should you break it to your family and friends? Should you book everything in advance? What should you pack? Use these practical tips and ideas to get started:
Deciding where to go on your first solo trip.
Truth be told, the experience of going solo is more important than the destination itself, on your first solo trip. If you're not used to travelling alone, you're already stepping out of your comfort zone -- so make sure your destination is one that makes you comfortable.
It could be a weekend trip to a place you've already been with your family or friends; you know what to expect, you're familiar with the language, and you can find your way around. It could be a popular tourist destination near where you live; you know the place is used to travellers, and good tourism infrastructure is in place. If you want to stretch your boundaries further, refer to my pick of seven destinations for solo women travellers.
Convincing your family to let you travel alone.
A common obstacle for first time solo trippers is dealing with travel-wary parents, irrespective of their age! The key to dealing with parents lies in having a sound plan. Saying that you're going on a trip alone, without knowing the first thing about where you're going, is sure to set off alarm bells. When you break the news, be prepared to answer all their questions -- how many days you're going for, how you plan to get there and back, where you intend to stay, what you intend to do. References of friends or acquaintances who've been there before, or who live there, are a huge bonus. Have conviction in your plan, be confident and promise to stay in touch throughout your trip.
Planning ahead: How to get there and where to stay.
Research is terribly important before the first time you travel alone, if only to boost your confidence. Plan ahead so that you arrive at your destination well before sundown, and book a place to stay at least for the first night, so you're not left wandering around unfamiliar streets with your luggage. Based on your budget, browse through Booking.com and the B&B and Specialty Lodging tabs on TripAdvisor for your destination, and only consider reviews written by regular contributors. Sacrifice a few extra pennies for transport and accommodation that clearly sound more comfortable and safe.
I prefer to stay in home stays and family-run B&Bs or guesthouses when I travel by myself. Not only is it safer (judging by the reviews, of course), but it also helps acquaint me with the local people, eateries and hangouts. Plus, it's nice to have a homely place to come back to.
You're going to be lugging your own luggage the entire trip, so take only a single backpack (the easiest to carry around), and pack it as light as you can. Carry layers, so you can mix and match your clothes without having to carry too many. Pack miniature versions of toiletries and accessories. Avoid carrying valuables as much as possible, so you waste little time fretting about your bag's safety.
Pack a pepper spray for emergencies, keep a journal to record your travels, and most importantly, keep a good book that can draw your attention away from the awkwardness of eating alone (of which you'll be doing plenty).
Keeping in touch.
Staying in touch with your family and friends during your trip is a great way to deal with loneliness while traveling alone. Enable data on your phone or look for accommodations with free Wifi, so you can share your experiences on Twitter and Facebook on the go, which are also good sources for credible recommendations on where to eat and what to do. Make sure at least one person back home is always clued in to your plans; Skype offers cheap calling rates and calling cards are easily available if you're travelling outside your own country.
Trusting your gut.
While the entire aim of travelling solo is to step out of your comfort zone and discover the world at your own terms, it is important that you remember to trust your gut at all times. Whether an unlikely friendship, an eatery with a questionable sense of hygiene, or an accommodation with a creepy owner -- it is better to be safe than sorry. Get out of the situation as quickly as possible, even at the cost of a potential adventure or a hair raising story; you'll come across plenty as you become a seasoned solo traveller!
How did you go about planning your first solo trip?