Gap Year

10 Tips to Boost Your Solo Travel Experience

Traveling alone is an empowering experience. Before you set off, take in our top tips to make your solo trip fun and safe.

Key Takeaways 🔑

  • Solo travel is an overlooked and sometimes feared way to travel. At Go Overseas, we want to change that!
  • Planning ahead will give you more confidence to set off on your own.
  • Getting involved with local events in your destination is a great way to meet new friends while traveling solo.
  • When in doubt, trust your instincts if you feel weird about a situation you’re in. The world is full if nice people who will be willing to help you if you need it.
A woman sitting on a blanket alone facing the mountains.

As I watched my brother drive away, the realization hit me: I was all alone. Standing outside of Dulles International Airport, with my huge backpack strapped to my back, I had nowhere to go but in. This was my first ever international solo trip and all of the confidence I had while planning melted away when map points on a computer screen and hostel booking confirmations gave way to reality.

I had big plans, with stops in Iceland, the Netherlands, and Germany. While this first foray into international solo travel certainly wasn’t without its hiccups, it was an incredibly empowering experience. Going solo became one of my favorite ways to travel and I recommend everyone get out there and try it at least once!

Read more: 8 Useful International Travel Tips for First-Time Travelers

As avid travel lovers and experienced solo travelers here at GO, we're sharing some of our personal insights to help you set out on your first trip overseas on your own! Read on for our top tips for solo travelers!

Pack light

A woman sitting on the floor packing a suitcase.

Less is more when traveling solo – trust me. On my first trip alone, I overpacked like crazy and spent the entire two weeks regretting my heavy backpack. After trekking across vast cities, I would often get to my hostel to find it was in an old building with no elevator.

It also became harder to keep track of all my stuff. Lockers in hostels did not generally accommodate big bags either so many times I had to leave my bag on my bed, making my belongings vulnerable.

Once I learned this packing lesson the hard way, I made sure to keep it light for the future. For a month traveling around Ireland by myself, I had a single school-sized backpack. Seeing this, the man working behind the hostel’s front desk in Dublin was incredibly impressed saying other travelers were usually like turtles, carrying their entire homes on their backs.

I recommend the following tips for packing a well-balanced and light bag:

  • Include basic staples that you can mix and match for some variety.
  • Don’t try to pack different outfits for every day of your trip if you’re abroad for an extended period of time.
  • If where you’re staying doesn’t have a washing machine, laundromats can usually be found around most cities or towns. If all else fails, hand wash!
  • If traveling in fall or winter, a couple of cardigans or sweaters are great for layering.
  • Backpacks with a lot of different zippered compartments help keep things separated and easy to find.
  • Leave expensive tech at home unless you absolutely need it.
  • Two pairs of shoes max! Try to pack things that are both versatile and stylish so you can go from a day of hiking to a nice dinner out.
  • Don’t forget a basic pair of flip flops for showers if staying in a hostel.

In terms of the type of bag, it’s up to preference. Ashley W., Travel Writer & Content Creator, recommends, “Get a backpack that opens up like a suitcase but still fits within the carry size limit. This way, you won't have to check your bags or worry about rolling your backpack over cobbled streets and up stairs.”

Read more: How to Pack for a Gap Year Anywhere in the World

Plan ahead

I learned very quickly during my first solo journey that planning ahead is paramount to avoiding stress and anxiety. While winging it may sound romantic, it’s better to have things mapped out ahead of time. Planning ahead is not only safer but it saves time as well.

Read more: 6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to a New Country by Myself

Before you catch your flight, take a bit of time to do the following:

  • Whenever possible, buy transportation tickets in advance. Sometimes it’s even cheaper to book when overseas. Have an idea of the sights you want to see and the activities that appeal to you.
  • Book accommodation after careful research. Know the neighborhood and try to find places close to public transportation.
  • Have an idea of the sights you want to see and the activities that appeal to you.

You don’t have to be super strict with your plans but a general outline is a great safety net to ensure things go smoothly.

Choose your accommodation wisely

Several people sit around talking in a hostel dorm room.

Where you stay is a big part of your solo trip so it’s best to weigh the pros and cons of each to help you decide. Are you more introverted or do you want a lively atmosphere? Is cooking for yourself essential or is room service more your speed? Let’s take a look at some of the accommodation options available to you overseas.

Hostels

  • Pros: easy to meet travelers from all over the world, affordable, often have kitchen facilities to cook your own meals, offer outings and activities, have a fun and relaxed environment
  • Cons: can be noisy, multi-bed dorm rooms can be crowded (and sometimes smelly!), valuables are not always able to be secured properly causing some security concerns, shared bathroom areas may not always be clean

“Hostels are a fantastic place to stay while solo traveling. You'll encounter people from all over the world.”

Colin M., Content Specialist

Hotels

  • Pros: privacy and quiet ensures a good night’s sleep, your valuables are generally secure in your private room, can be cleaner and better maintained
  • Cons: more expensive, harder to meet people

While I prefer Airbnbs for a more of a "home away from home experience", as a solo female traveler, sometimes opting for a hotel feels safer to me, especially if I'm arriving late or if I have a long journey there.”

Alia P., Chief Operating Officer

Airbnb

  • Pros: cozy and homey feeling, may be more affordable than local hotels, a wide range of accommodation available from budget to luxury, lodging may have a washing machine
  • Cons: harder to meet people, booking requests need to be accepted by the host so the process can take longer, hosts can hit you with extra charges after check-out

“It's nice to save money and cook in an Airbnb sometimes. If I know that I'm going to be tired and in-between places, I’ll opt for an Airbnb even if I'm alone.”

Brittany C.

Research the local culture and customs

A busy street with neon signs at night in Japan.

A little research goes a long way to help you feel comfortable abroad and ensures you respect the customs and culture of the country you’re visiting. It could keep you out of trouble, too!

Some things to look into for your destination(s) include:

  • Clothing expectations for both men and women
  • Greetings and norms around personal space
  • Religious customs that are prevalent in society
  • Local laws such as those surrounding drinking in public, taking photos in public, and cycling

Taking the time to know some basic information about your chosen country or countries shows a level of respect the local people will likely appreciate. Being a humble guest is important for international diplomacy. Be a good citizen diplomat for your home country!

Keep friends and family informed

Even though I was in my mid-20s when I took my solo trip, my mom still asked that I drop her a quick email every day so she knew I was OK. I didn’t have international coverage for my cell phone and in 2012, SIM cards with EU-wide roaming plans were not really a thing. Instead, I hopped on the hostel computer every day to send her a short note. Although she didn’t order me to do it, I felt good knowing she had my location just in case.

Public wifi is available in most cities around the world and cell phones can be equipped with a local pre-paid SIM card. Whether your check-in is through an Instagram post, text, or email, letting your friends and family know that you’re safe will mean a lot to them. “Check-ins via iMessage or WhatsApp are essential. Also, Find My on iPhone is a great way to ensure your loved ones know where you are,” Colin M. says.

Read more: Top Apps to Stay in Touch With Loved Ones While Overseas

If you want to go above and beyond, Alyssa S., Client Success Manager, keeps her trip extra organized and documented for everyone back home. “Before I leave, I create a Google map that has all the locations and dates of where I am staying. If that changes at all (as it usually does), I'll shoot them a text to let them know of new plans. I also inform them that ‘no news is good news’ so that they don't worry too much if they don't hear from me for a couple days.”

Keep your cell phone charged

A woman standing alone in a field with a backpack.

Keeping a charged cell phone on you is a lifeline. Phones not only help you navigate your new location, but they can connect you to help should you need it. Even without wifi or data, you can use maps, translator apps, and make emergency calls.

External batteries, portable batteries, power banks – whatever you call them, they are a game-changer. They’re affordable these days and some models are incredibly lightweight. Once fully charged, they can then charge your phone 2-3 times.

I like to carry one with me on my travels because it feels like my own little brick of security. Knowing I will have access to my phone when I need it puts me at ease and makes more confident to set out exploring all day.

Read more: How to Find the Best Cell Phone Plan for Study Abroad in Europe

Join local events

Traveling alone doesn’t have to be lonely! There are plenty of creative activities out there to connect you with other travelers if that’s something you want to do. Some ways to meet people include guided day trips, walking tours, pub crawls, Meetup groups, and even local concerts. “Catching Sofar Sounds' semi-secret concerts are some of my favorite go-to activities while traveling and are organized in 300+ cities worldwide. When you buy your tickets, you have no idea who will be playing or where it will be exactly. You're guaranteed to have a really unique experience and it's a great way to meet people if you're traveling alone,” says Alia P.

I loved going to traditional (trad) music sessions at pubs across Ireland during my solo travel. I always ended up chatting to someone while also enjoying great tunes – it was a win-win!

If you’re more of an introvert or are using your travel time to reconnect with yourself, Colin M. recommends taking up activities you can do alone while abroad. “Photography is a great solo travel hobby. The solitude is great for the patience it requires to get the right shot.”

Read more: Top Ways to Reduce Homesickness Abroad

Embrace eating alone

A woman sitting alone at a restaurant looking at a menu.

If the thought of eating by yourself at a restaurant strikes fear in your heart, you’re not alone. However, chances are, if you’re traveling solo you’ll need to do it at least once. Sitting by yourself in a busy restaurant feels strange and even awkward at first but it may become your go-to way to eat even when you’re not traveling.

To ease yourself into this activity, Brittany C. recommends taking a book to read or a notebook to write in. Having something to do while you wait for your food will be less uncomfortable. Why not use the time to do something travel journaling about your experiences so far?

I love eating alone while traveling! It's the best. It's like taking yourself on the best date ever because you're exactly where you want to be, eating precisely what you want to eat without compromise. It's my favorite self-love activity.

Ashley W.

However, if you try it and find it’s really not for you, Alyssa S. offers this advice: “Meeting people at your hostels and asking them to dinner is a great alternative. If you are afraid to do that, [try] getting food to go and eating it in a comfortable area for you.”

Be prepared for emergencies

Ever heard the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? This age-old idiom means that it’s much wiser to take steps to avoid bad situations rather than deal with them after they occur. When traveling solo, preparation is key to keeping you safe.

Read more:

  • Get travel insurance! Whether your luggage is stolen or you hurt yourself in a skiing accident, proper travel insurance will literally have you covered.
  • Know the address and phone number of the US embassy in your destination(s).
  • Keep a list of local emergency numbers and the words for “help” and “police” in the local language.
  • Check up on any travel advisories issued for your destination(s).
  • Download a translator app that works offline when you don’t have access to wifi or data.
  • Consider signing up for the US State Department’s STEP program which helps locate you and disseminates important information during overseas emergencies.

Trust your instincts

Have you ever gotten a feeling in the pit of your stomach about a person or situation that you couldn’t explain? Gut feelings steer us away from potential danger and you should listen to signals your body gives you. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to get yourself out of the situation.

“Trust your instincts. When something feels off, get into a group of people or go inside a busy place. Ask people for help! I've gone into stores and asked for someone to walk me to the bus/car before.”

Brittany C.

When traveling alone in Amsterdam, I met a guy out who was with a bunch of his friends. We hit it off so when the bar closed, he invited me to continue having drinks with them at their hotel bar. It seemed like a safe location so I said yes. As we got closer to the hotel, I started to get a weird feeling. Before we entered, I asked the doorman what time the bar closed. Confused, he told me it had already closed. I don’t know if they knew this or not but it all felt off to me. I told him I was going to leave and went back to the safety of a busy area.

The truth is, there are more good people than bad in the world. However, even with all the kind strangers willing to give you a helping hand, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. From my many years traveling alone, I’ve been in very few sketchy situations because I stayed aware and followed my best instincts. Trust yourself, you’ll never regret it!

Hit the road solo

Man sitting with his feet up on a suitcase while a plane takes off in the background.

Traveling alone can seem scary if you’ve never done it, but in reality, it’s a beautiful experience. Your confidence will soar as you meet the incredible people this world is home to. With proper planning and preparation, your solo trip will likely be a defining moment in your life. If you’ve ever considered solo travel, don’t hesitate to get out there and make it happen!

Ready to make moves? Check out gap year programs and start planning today.