Scared to Travel Alone? Here’s How to Travel Alone for the First Time!
In short, you shouldn’t be scared to travel alone, although I know that’s easier said than done. Some people think it’s weird that I travel alone at times and don’t seem to mind it. But after many years on the road for work in countries all over the world where I was often by myself, I learned to deal. (Club sandwich from room service or dinner at that cool looking place down the street? Hopefully it’s obvious which one I chose.) Nowadays, I’m lucky to have a job where I don’t have to work 12 months a year. (I do MBA admissions consulting and my busy season is roughly July to January.) This is both a blessing and a curse — at this time of year, I have some time on my hands while the rest of the world is doing its 9 to 5 (6?) thing. Hence my recent 2.5 week journey through Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos. (I swear it was only 2.5 weeks. She who travels fastest travels alone.)
Since I left financial services and started my new gig in 2015, I’ve learned that I MUST keep myself busy during my slow season. And the way I choose to do that is through travel, although lately I’ve been considering combining that with volunteer work abroad in microfinance. (If you have any leads, please let me know.) I’ve also set myself a goal of visiting 100 countries by the time I turn 50 — it’s always good to have a goal to work towards and this is a meaty one that can keep me busy for the next 21 years. (Because I’m 29. Hah. Right.)
Why are You Scared to Travel Alone?
If you are scared to travel alone, first analyze why. Are you afraid you will be lonely? Are you afraid you’ll feel unsafe? Are you afraid you’ll look like sad-Johnny-no-mates? There are solutions to all of these fears. If you are scared to travel alone because you are worried you will be lonely, then make sure to book tours and guides everywhere you go. If you’re scared to travel alone because you’ll feel unsafe, book better quality hotels and travel with anti-theft bags. If you are afraid people will take pity on you, well, that’s more a mindset issue and a bit harder to conquer but remember no one is thinking about YOU as much as you are.
How to Travel Alone for the First Time
So in no particular order, if you are scared to travel alone or have anxiety about traveling alone, here are some of my specific suggestions for traveling solo, especially as a woman and especially as someone who isn’t a budget traveler but isn’t a kajillionaire either. And hey, once you get over the first trip, you’l be less scared to travel alone on future trips!
Getting from Airports
As a solo female traveler, this is my main concession to my mother who is not keen on me gallivanting around the world on my own. If there’s no good public transport from the airport, I will always get a driver to meet me at the airport. (This also helps reduce my anxiety about getting ripped off by an unscrupulous taxi driver.) I start by asking the hotel for the price of a transfer and then I look at the prices of transfers on Viator, Groundlink, and Blacklane. I prefer using the hotel service because I can charge this to my hotel room and get hotel points. There’s something so nice about coming through customs and immigration and having someone there with a sign with your name on it. If I’m lucky, they’ll also have a bottle of water for me and a cool towel. What could be bad? Note that Uber is good too but I’ve spent way too much time trying to explain to Uber drivers where I am in the airport arrivals area so I prefer the more traditional airport meet-and-great instead. Regarding costs here…in most cities, airport transfers aren’t THAT expensive. And to be clear, I’m not looking for a limo here. Just a guy with a sign with my name on it.
Selecting a Hotel When Traveling Alone
I think about my personal safety a bit more as a solo female traveler so things I look for in hotel photos and reviews are lifts that require a room key, security chains and additional locks on the back of hotel room doors, and secure lobbies with staff. (One type of lobby I’ve learned to love is the one where you have to take one set of elevators to the lobby and then switch to another set of elevators to get to your room. Much more secure because guests have to pass reception to get up to the rooms.) I have only once ever had a problem and that was in Tel Aviv many years ago when a man tried to get into my hotel room but luckily I had the security chain on. (He kept saying it was his room and I was like, “Uh, it’s not.” To this day, I don’t know if this was an honest mistake or a ploy. I thought it was odd that he was so angry at me and really thought that I was in his room.) I also look for a decently sized hotel safe — there are still some pretty small ones out there that are useless given my gargantuan laptop and all the other stuff I carry with me. Oh, biggest tip?? Use Booking.com and look for hotels with a Location Score of 8 or greater. (Honestly, I prefer 9 but because the ratings are subjective, I don’t want to cut out the 8.7 and up hotels.) When you’re by yourself, you don’t want to be way out of town or in an inconvenient location! That is lonely and keeps you a prisoner in your hotel, thus inducing anxiety.
Don’t Be Scared to Get Out There & See Stuff when Traveling Alone
When I am traveling solo, my main mantra is “One thing a day.” Traveling solo is hard so I try not to overdo it. But at the same time, I want to enjoy myself! My personal rule means that I have to at least experience one main touristy thing per day. A lot of times I do more of this of course but “One thing a day” is a good minimum target. I’ll check out the tours on Viator, Urban Adventures, Get Your Guide, and CityDiscovery and see if anything looks interesting. These organized city tours are great if you want to travel alone but not be lonely. Usually I can find something but I’ve learned through experience that four hours is my natural limit so half-day tours are my bag. If I can’t find a decent tour, I’ll ask my hotel to set me up with a guide and if that fails, I’ll make a list of things that I want to see and ask my hotel to set me up with a driver to take me from one place to the next. (This worked particularly well in Kuwait many years ago. My flight was cancelled so I had a whole extra day in town. I never would have seen as much as I did without my crazy Egyptian driver who took me everywhere, which was super helpful because Kuwait is not an easy place for a solo female traveler.)
Don’t Be Scared to Dine Out by Yourself
Because I’m not a huge fan of wandering around as a solo female traveler in strange cities alone when it’s dark out, I prefer to make lunch my big meal of the day — it tends to be less crowded and I feel less weird as a solo diner. This works well with my “One thing a day” rule because if I do a morning tour that starts around 10 am, I am ready for a break around 3 pm. HOWEVER…in a lot of countries, many restaurants close after the lunch service so then you need a tour that starts by 9 am and ends at 1 pm. I prefer sit down restaurants where I can spend a quiet hour or two with a book or newspaper. (Or, uh, my phone.) I will often ask the hotel concierge for recommendations on good places to dine solo. This worked well when I was spending a lot of time in Sao Paulo. My hotel concierge introduced me to the lovely Nagayama, where I spent quite a lot of time. But you really need a knowledgeable concierge to make this work as it’s not the type of request they get often. Along with being scared of traveling alone, most people tend to be scared of dining alone and it induces anxiety. Personally, I think dining alone is one of the best possible indulgences as a solo female traveler and a great way to better enjoy your travels.
Spa Treatments are Your Friend When Traveling Alone
Sometimes I joke that I travel 5000 miles for a manicure. But honestly, as a solo female traveler, I find spa treatments a great way to pass the time. Manicures, pedicures, massages and the occasional facial and body scrub are my poison. I particularly like doing this in Southeast Asia where you can usually get a whole package of services for a very low price. I generally try to steer clear of hotel spas because they are much more expensive than local spas. So check TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Google Maps, or ask your hotel concierge for suggestions. If you are stressed from traveling alone or suffer from anxiety, a massage has a side benefit of helping calm you down too!
Get Travel Insurance!
If you are traveling by yourself, you really need to give yourself and friends and family peace of mind. Get travel insurance. I use World Nomads. You should get travel insurance if you’re scared to travel alone or not!
Hotel Happy Hours are a Cheap (Solo) Date
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that most hotels have some sort of discounted hotel happy hour between 4 and 6 pm. This is a great way to meet fellow travelers AND save some money. Sometimes there are free snacks too! Going back to my “One thing a day” rule, this means my day usually looks something like tour (my ONE thing), lunch, spa treatment, happy hour, DONE. I retreat to my hotel room around 6 or 7 pm to read or catch the news. (MAYBE I go to the gym — another tip for reducing anxiety when traveling alone.) This is a day well spent and I’m usually pretty exhausted by this point anyhow. You’re probably wondering where dinner is…usually when I travel solo, I just do breakfast and my late lunch and then I am pretty much done. Although there is always that can of minibar Pringles to consider…
One note on this one though — in this day and age, especially as a female traveling solo, it goes without saying that if you do hit up a hotel happy hour, you shouldn’t leave your drink unattended and nor should you get rip roaring drunk with strangers, no matter how nice they seem. Also, if you suffer from anxiety, alcohol is probably a bad idea. Go to the gym instead!
Beware the Tropical Destination Honeymoon Hotel
Beware honeymoon hotels!! This has happened to me twice now: once in Cancun, another time in the Dominican Republic. If the hotel is in a tropical setting and looks too lush and romantic…it is probably geared towards couples. Which will make you miserable if you are traveling alone!! Choose the more business-class looking option in the tropical destination instead.
Keep in Touch with Friends and Family when Traveling Alone
In today’s day an age, there are so many ways to keep in touch with your friends and family while traveling! Share pictures on Facebook and Instagram. Facetime or Skype with your friends! Take the time to connect with your loved ones and share your experiences…it will make traveling alone a little less lonely and scary. Also, sometimes I’ll find that when I share my location, I’ll learn that a friend or friend-of-friends is also in the same town, which gives me a chance to socialize!
In Conclusion…Don’t be Scared to Travel Alone!
The only one that will notice that you are traveling solo is you and your hotel and your tour guide. And you know what? Your hotel and tour guide don’t care as long as you are paying them. As a woman, you should probably expect some “Are you married” and “Do you have children?” questions which I now respond to with a smile and a quick turn of the tables which people find hysterical for some reason. (Me: “Are YOU married?”) Most importantly though, if you have some spare time on your hands coming up and aren’t sure what to do with it, ask yourself…”Would I rather Netflix and chill? Or is Laos calling my name??” I’ve been to Laos now so I can tell you — it is totally calling your name! Do be afraid or scared to go!
Still scared to travel alone? Need even more help to get over the hump of traveling alone for the first time? You might find my post on traveling solo after 40 helpful, even if you are not over 40! Also check out my favorite travel sites more tips and advice.
This post contains affiliate links