Top 10 tips for solo travel

I’ve done my fair share of solo travel, also group travels and travels with friends. My most epic solo journey was probably 6-7 months through South and Central America, though there were still plenty of solo trips in the UK and Europe.

So, it can seem a little scary going travelling alone, but I never wanted to put things off because I had no one ready to join me. If I had waited I probably never would have visited half of the places that I did! In saying that, I thought I’d put together a list of things to keep in mind to help make that solo journey to places around the world a little less frightening and a little bit more enjoyable and less lonely!

Here we go!

1. Hostels are great for meeting people, but consider the odd private room too

Our Ecolodge in the Pampas

Our Ecolodge in the Pampas

In my 20s hostels were great. It was a fantastic way to meet fellow travellers and keep costs down. However, when you’re backpacking for a long period of time like I was when I travelled solo through South America, it’s nice to have your own space once in a while.

So, if you don’t fancy the costs of a cheap hotel, you can always consider private rooms in a hostel. This still allows you space and a good night sleep (minus the snorers in a dorm), but you may need to share a bathroom and kitchen still. 

A good way to plan for this is plan to allow for a private room in cheaper countries.

For instance, I stayed in dorms all through Argentina and Chile, but by the time I got to Bolivia I let myself have my own room every few weeks when it was more affordable.

2. Mix up eating out with eating at your hostel

Sometimes you just want to eat healthy and visit a supermarket, cooking at your hostel allows this and gives you a chance to chat to fellow travellers if you want to. Often hostels will offer breakfast and sometimes even dinner! Where possible take this option because often it is cheaper than buying your own food and is a great way to meet people without feeling awkward.

Christmas Eve Dinner

Christmas Eve Dinner – shared meal in Bariloche, Argentina

3. Join day trips

Now I don’t like group trips at the best of times, but sometimes when you are low on time and just can’t be bothered finding your own way around a place a day tour if often a great option, especially if its to somewhere out of town that can be difficult to reach. It’s also a good way to meet people if you want to, but you can often keep to yourself if you want to also.

A street in Valparaiso

A street in Valparaiso, walking day trip in Chile

Egypt, 2011

Egypt, 2011 – Day trip to Cairo

Srebrenica, Bosnia

Srebrenica, Bosnia – day trip never to forget

4. Enjoy space and time, don’t feel like you need to fill every moment

It takes some getting used to your own company, but it’s not a bad thing! 

Sometimes it’s worth just putting down the camera or book and appreciating where you are. Do a bit of people or wildlife watching. Enjoy the cool breeze of the ocean or the warmth on your skin from the sun.

Enjoy the precious moments because you never know when or if you’ll ever get to return to this spot and experience such a moment.

Agia Anna beach, Naxos

Agia Anna beach, Naxos, Greece

Ngaire at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

At Iguazu Falls, Argentina

5. Take a book to restaurants

If you really want to eat out and try local cuisine, don’t be scared of eating alone. Take a book or something to do while you wait for your meal if you don’t want to feel awkward. Eating dinner alone is still my most hated thing about solo travel, but you get used to it. Sometimes eating lunch out instead can also feel a little less awkward and allow for you to try local food still.

View of the kitchen in Rafele restaurant

View of the kitchen in Rafele restaurant for 7 course chefs tasting – book not needed

My backpacks pre-Africa/South America journey back to NZ

My backpacks pre-Africa/South America journey back to NZ

6. Pack light (or master the art of asking for help)

Do as I say, not do as I do…

When you don’t end up packing light, master the art of spotting someone friendly on the bus or the bus driver when he unloads your bag to signal a helping hand to get it on your back…

Or find a park bench to load it onto and squat to get it on your back…

Yes I’m a pro at this technique if anyone is asking.

7. Investigate safest and cheapest ways of getting places

In some countries it can be faster and cheaper to actually fly than take another 24 hour bus. Ask fellow travellers for airline recommendations though because some cheap airlines are just not worth the hassle. Same goes for bus companies — particularly in South America.

It can be worth spending a bit more for a safer carrier and a seat that reclines if you have a long journey ahead of you.

8. Try not to pre-plan everything, meeting people can change your plans in good ways

I like to pre-plan, so that I don’t miss out on anything. Sound familiar?

Guidebooks

Yes, me too… However, on longer trips I’ve learnt to be a bit more flexible and plan just a few days ahead in case someone I meet recommends a great spot that they’ve been to. Travellers recommendations will always be so much more valuable than any guidebook.

Keep in mind the types of people you speak to though! Sometimes you could miss out on something awesome just because another traveller said it wasn’t great. We are all different people and experience things in different ways.

9. Relax and tell yourself it’s all part of the experience when things go wrong

Sick in the depths of the Amazon? It’s okay, find help and deal with it… it’ll be a damn good story one day after you’ve dealt with a military hospital in a language you don’t speak.

Day 2 out of your home country, sick as a dog? Go on… go to an international hospital… don’t put it off. It’s all part of the experience…

A Chichico having fun in my hood

A Chichico having fun in my hood – volunteering in Ecuador near the Amazon

10. Travel with travel/health insurance

And with point 9… I end on the point that I never leave the country without travel insurance that covers my health and most important possessions in the countries I’m visiting. Almost every year I’ve had to claim something and often it would have cost a bomb to get the proper healthcare I needed otherwise. Yes, I may be unlucky, but I still can’t recommend it high enough!

Alligator, Pampas, Bolivia

Alligator, Pampas, Bolivia

For 10 Top Tips for Travelling through South America check out this post »

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