Solo travel can be a scary thing, particularly if you’ve never hit the road alone before. Many people would never plan a one week vacation alone much less contemplate a RTW trip without a partner to share it with.
If you are a travel lover who doesn’t have someone close to you who shares your passion, you’re not alone. There are plenty of solo travelers out there who not only hit the road alone for long periods of time, but many have come to prefer it. Since I’m part of a traveling duo who doesn’t get out on his own very often, I’m not the perfect person to give advice for planning a solo trip.
So I reached out to the travel community for some help. What I was able to find out shocked me. The passion with which solo travelers speak about their experiences is amazing. We all travel for different reasons, and taking off on a solo trip seems to be a very powerful experience that will change not only how you view travel, but also impact who you are as a person.
So for you solo travelers out there, it’s important to know that you’re not alone, and there are a multitude of tips and advice for hitting the road alone. Preparing for a trip by yourself is going to be a bit different than going with a partner or a group, but what you can get out of it might have you reconsidering why you didn’t get out of your comfort zone sooner.
How planning is different
Planning a RTW trip as a solo traveler is much different than with a partner or planning as a group. The main advantage when traveling by yourself is that you can afford to be as selfish as you want. The Absolute Travel Addict, April D. Thompson, likes to be able to “focus on the things I enjoy and try new and different things without apprehension, criticism or preferences of someone else. I can be completely selfish!”
Scott Hartbeck of The Shirt Off My Backpack, agrees, saying, “When you travel solo, you rule your wanderlust dreams. Planning a solo trip is exciting because there is absolutely nothing or no one you need to bounce your destinations off for approval. You have absolute carte blanche to throw a dart at a map and as long as where it lands puts a smile on your face, then it makes the cut.”
It’s simply nice to be able to truly do what you want, when you want, and go where you want with no one else to consider other than yourself. Alexis Grant, The Traveling Writer, traveled around Africa by herself for six months in 2008, and says she doesn’t “plan much when I travel, but even when I do, you can throw that all out the window if you decide you don’t like a place or want to go somewhere else sooner than expected. No waiting on anyone else – You can just up and go.”
Going on a RTW trip is all about freedom, and traveling solo provides travelers with the most freedom possible. Aimee Cebulski, who runs the Finding Forty Project, points out the ease of planning your trip when going at it alone. “The planning becomes much more about what you and you alone want to get out of the experience…are you seeking to get back to nature, meet friends in new cities or just try different foods? You don’t have to account for anyone else’s desires when planning your schedule.”
>> Read more about planning your RTW trip
Budgeting becomes easier (but it may be more expensive)
One of the most difficult parts of planning a RTW trip is the budget. Even if you’re traveling with your soul mate or best friend in the world, chances are the one thing you’ll disagree on from time to time is how to spend your money. April D. Thompson has a great take on budgeting as a solo traveler. “Solo budgeting allows you to splurge on the items, adventures and activities most important to you and not sacrifice dollars for someone else’s priorities.”
Some people like splurging on nice meals out while staying in a dorm in a hostel to offset the costs. Some are happy always eating very modestly and cooking their own food if that means staying in a nice hotel sometimes. Still others enjoy spending all their money on activities and entertainment while not caring about where they sleep or what they eat. Everyone has different priorities when traveling, and no matter how compatible you are with your travel partner, you’re never going to find someone who wants to spend money in the same way every single day for a long term trip.
Nearly all the solo travelers I talked to agreed that budgeting for a trip alone is much easier than if a partner or group is in the mix. Dagney McKinley, who is a writer and photographer for Undiscovered Earth, points out that “if I’m starting to go over-budget, I can cut back in ways that a fellow traveler may not enjoy. I always end up spending more when other people are with me.”
While figuring out how and where to spend your money may be easier, solo travelers have to be creative if they want to travel as cheaply as a traveling couple or group. Janice Waugh, founder of Solo Traveler, has been traveling alone since her teens. She has a wealth of advice for those looking to hit the road alone, particularly when it comes to budgeting. “Figuring out the budget is the same for solo travelers as for any traveler. The big upside is that you don’t have to compromise on that budget with anyone.” While many solo travelers say it’s more expensive, Janice says there’s a little give and take. “Hotels have a hidden single supplement and packaged trips have an obvious single supplement. When you work with these options it’s more expensive. However, when you travel independently and are open to B&B’s and hostels, traveling solo can be less expensive as you, alone, decide how to spend your money.”
Amanda Scotese has worked as a tour guide with Rick Steves’ tours in Italy and has also had the opportunity to hit the road solo. She now owns an off the beaten path tour company called Chicago Detours. She claims “it’s much easier to figure out your budget because you don’t have the preferences and whims of a partner, but of course, everything ends up being a little more expensive because you cannot share costs.”
>> Find out how much money you need to travel
Taking extra safety precautions
When loved ones hear of a solo RTW trip, they tend to get nervous and think the worst. It’s just natural, and when you travel alone, there are certain safety precautions one must take that may not be necessary if you’re traveling with a partner. When with someone else, you always have someone to watch your back and look after your things while you go to the bathroom or purchase train and bus tickets. If you’re alone, you simply don’t have that luxury, so you have to employ some different tactics. Janice Waugh has an entire section on her site about solo travel safety. She points out, “With no back-up, the solo traveler has to be more aware of their surroundings, who they chat with, where they keep important documents and money, how much they drink.”
Creativity is key when you are traveling alone, and solo travelers have plenty of it when it comes to safety. There are many different ways to make sure you aren’t left high and dry if something bad does happen. Laura George puts “a little bit of cash in a bunch of different places. Enough money for a cab ride is usually good enough. I place that amount in not only my wallet, but also a front pocket, tucked in my sock or bra, and in a seemingly empty suitcase pocket, purse pocket, or bookbag pocket. That way if I’m robbed, I still have a little cash to use.”
Technology and social media can also help when it comes to remaining as safe as possible on the road. Aimee Cebulski says, “A recent technique I have started using is to take a picture of any license plate of a taxi I am in for transport between cities and emailing the photo to family back home.” This is a great tactic for remaining safe when taking cabs late at night or in dangerous areas. You’ll have to be on top of things to make it work, but it’s a great idea.
Sara Nakash is a freelance travel planner, and she uses social media to “let the people at home know where I am. My Facebook status updates increase significantly when I’m traveling. If no one hears from me in a few days, they know something’s up.”
For women, it’s important to remain on top of your game at all times and take a few extra precautions. Alexis Grant tries “not to walk alone by myself after dark. I’m careful about the places I stay. I try extra hard to befriend locals, particularly women, because then they’ll watch out for me…I’m super cautious about men in foreign countries, never giving them the benefit of the doubt.”
If you love the outdoors but also traveling by yourself, it’s still possible to hit the trails and remain safe. It is important to plan ahead and have a plan though. Dagney McKinley is an avid hiker who often heads to the outdoors with nothing but her gear and her dog. She lets “people know where I’m going to be and when I expect to be out. I also have a rescue plan in place if something happens. If my dad doesn’t hear from me within a certain time period, he calls for help.”
Dealing with loneliness and joining forces with another traveler
Even the most hardcore solo traveler usually has to deal with loneliness at some point during a long term trip. Each person handles it differently. Aimee Cebulski tries “to find a location where I can be around other potentially solo travelers, like a museum, coffee shop, or on an organized tour. Sometimes, I find actually calling or Skyping home can make me a little lonelier since I see the people I am missing.”
Scott Hartbeck agrees with turning the technology off. “The best way to deal with loneliness is to shut off the computer, the IPODs, and the cell phones, and just talk to people. I know everyone bemoans the infamous ‘five questions,’ but they are essential. I love finding out where people are from and where they have been.”
The one constant when talking to solo travelers is that it is not difficult to meet others on the road when loneliness sets in. While solo travelers do enjoy their alone time, “the interaction with others, especially locals, really makes the trip memorable. I am however cautious that I align myself with people that I can reasonably trust and have some sort of connection with,” says April D. Thompson.
Alexis Grant says, “This is the best part about traveling solo – You’re often not really alone. I find I meet more people and am open to more friendships when I’m traveling by myself.” Whether it’s in hostels, at bars or restaurants, or in parks, meeting other travelers is quite easy.
“You’re never really alone when you travel,” agrees Mike Schibel, who runs My Grateful Journey after a 7 month solo journey through Australia, New ZealandSoutheast Asia, and . “By simply saying hello, you never know what door that will open.” Mike tried to embrace his loneliness when he was on the road, and he changed things up quite a bit to make sure loneliness and travel burnout didn’t set in. Since he rented his own transportation in Australia, he thought it would be a good idea to change it up in New Zealand and travel by bus. Like many other solo travelers, Mike talked about the fact that social media made traveling alone much easier, with the opportunity to chat with friends and family from home and hook up with other travelers he met along the way.
>> Learn how to make friends on your trip
What solo travel can teach you
Any type of travel, whether it’s a weekend away or a year-long trip, can teach a person so much about both the world around them and themselves. But traveling solo is a different animal all together. By hitting the road alone, you are forced to learn certain skills that you may be able to pawn off on someone else if you had a partner to travel with. Those skills will not only help you in your travels, but also in your daily life when travel is not a part of it. Janice Waugh says that “it’s unbelievable how much confidence I’ve gained as a solo traveler and that spills over into every aspect of my life.”
Jeff Jung of Career Break Secrets, agrees with Janice, saying, “by having to figure out the basic things like where to eat, where to sleep on an ongoing basis, your problem-solving skills and confidence goes through the roof.” Sometimes when you find yourself in a completely foreign place with local people who don’t speak the language and no partner to help you out, so you simply have to go into survival mode and figure it out.
Patience is another key that all long term travelers must learn and embrace, but when you’re all by yourself, this virtue is even more important. It’s much easier to lose your patience from time to time when you have a partner to back you up, but when you don’t have anyone else, you’re all on your own. Diana Edelman from The Adventures of D, says, “I have learned the art of patience. You have to be patient when traveling solo. And, you have to learn how to be nice. Things go wrong. Often. And it is one of those things you have to accept.”
Confidence and patience are good traits for any traveler to learn, but solo travelers seem to learn a lot about themselves because of the situations they are thrown into. “One learns to be one’s own best friend, not constantly seeking validation from the approval of others,” says Janet Groene of Solo Woman RV.
Laura George is a huge advocate of traveling solo, saying that “traveling alone is really about reaching within yourself and heading on your own journey. Self-discovery isn’t just hippie mumbo jumbo. It actually happens when you take time away from your world.” Turning off the television, closing the laptop, and ignoring the cell phone is something we should all do in this technological age we live in. There’s also something to be said for spending some time alone with oneself, and what better way than to get out on the road?
Solo travel advice
There may be those of you out there who still don’t think it’s possible, who still don’t believe, who are still afraid to take that plunge and head off into the unknown without anyone having your back. That’s all right; it’s a scary thing to do, which is why the vast majority of people wouldn’t even consider a solo trip around the world.
But the fact remains that many people can and do travel the world alone, and they all feel they’re better people because of it. I asked all of our solo travelers to give one final piece of advice to someone who may still be on the fence about a trip like this. The advice they give is invaluable for any traveler looking to take off on their own.
“Go for it! It is such a rewarding experience and if you find it’s not for you, you can always change your plans to visit friends or even head back home. My dad has always given me a good piece of advice when contemplating a big decision or adventure: ‘Go for it – if it doesn’t work out, you can always do something else.’” – Aimee Cebulski, The Finding Forty Project
“Do it. There is a whole community and sub-culture that you will easily integrate into. Traveling solo does not mean being lonely. You will be surprised how comfortable you feel traveling solo after a short period of time…The travel experience is so intense that you can’t help but meet people and be inspired by the people you meet.” - Jeff Jung, Career Break Secrets
“Don’t over-extend yourself. Pacing is key to long term travel success. Meet people. Explore. Enjoy!” -Janice Waugh, Solo Traveler
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. Have trust. Embrace the community.” - Mike Schibel, My Grateful Journey
“While challenging at times, its a precious opportunity for growth that will uncover many truths about yourself, the culture around you, and the universality of the human experience.“ - Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours
“Traveling the world alone is something that many dream of, but very few will actually do it. I can truly say that solo travel has really helped me to epitomize a quote by Maya Angelou that I love so much: ‘A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination, prepared to be herself and only herself.’ In everything that I do, that confidence and self awareness follows and has made for such a vast improvement in my happiness and quality of life.” – April D. Thompson, The Absolute Travel Addict
“I do think it takes a certain type of person to enjoy solo travel – it’s not for everyone. There are plenty of ways to find travel buddies if you really feel like you need one. To try it out, take a short trip by yourself and see how you adjust. Also remember that when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, that’s when you’ll have the most rewarding experiences.” – Alexis Grant, The Traveling Writer
“Do it. Now. It is an experience of a lifetime. And worth every worry and risk to see the world and learn about it, and who you are. You will come back stronger, wiser and with a completely different perspective on life.” - Diana Edelman, The Adventures of D
“Have you ever wanted to be in a movie? Well, traveling full time is the closest thing you can get to being in one. Magical memories will be the norm and you will yearn to relive them the rest of your days. There are thousands of people out there right now, we all have your back. Just do it.” - Scott Hartbeck, The Shirt Off My Backpack
Are you a solo traveler? Any advice you can give to those on the fence about a solo trip? What advice can you give to solo travelers currently planning a long term adventure? Comment below or read more about solo travel:
- Read Glad You’re Not Here: The Solo Traveler’s Manifesto
- Seven Solo Female Travel Myths Debunked
- Solo Travel: The Pros and Cons
- 12 Ways to Combat the Solo Traveler Blues
- 19 Resources for Solo Travel
- If I Knew Then… 5 Things I Would Do Differently
- Why Travel Is Better Done Solo
Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it. So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold. In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.
Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” we’ll share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.