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How to travel solo for the first time: our guide to success!

Solo Travel Beginners Guide - Woman alone walking down the street - Blog - KILROY

Travelling alone for the first time - is it scary, exciting, or both?

Have you ever considered travelling on your own to a new place or country you've never been to? It might seem like a big deal. Hey, it IS a big deal. But with the right preparation and mindset, a solo adventure can be even more fun than travelling with your friends. Any way you spin it, it's an experience you need to try out at least once to find out if it's for you or not. And we're here to help you out!

Expert tips for the unexperienced solo traveller
To help you on your way in the best way possible, we gathered some more easy-to-follow tips from experienced solo traveller Fleur Kok, @floraflies.nl on Instagram. You'll find them in the orange boxes below!

Preparation is everything

A lot of your enjoyment will depend on your preparation, so let's kick off with that. Ask yourself, where do I want to go? And for how long? You also need to think about how to get there and your budget, as is the case with ''regular'' travel. We mentioned you need to try solo travelling before knowing whether it's the right type of trip for you. Just thinking about it might give you anxiety, and you wouldn't want to ruin what should be a perfect journey. But there are plenty of ways you can try it out before flying halfway across the world on your own. We suggest starting small, by taking yourself on a day trip to a museum and restaurant to see how that feels. If that goes well, you're ready for the next step of preparing for your solo trip.

It's good to give the destination some extra thought. You need to feel comfortable and safe where you're going, so do the research on that once you've got a country or city on your mind. Some great countries for a first-time solo traveller are Vietnam, Costa Rica or Japan. These are known as relatively safe, with good public transport networks and great hostels to meet lots of amazing people. You should also ask yourself, what is the reason I'm travelling, and what do I want to experience while I'm away on my own? It's good to have a clear goal for yourself, this will make it easier for you to enjoy yourself as there will be moments when you'll feel a bit lost. Having a set of trip goals help you focus on your next move.

Once you arrive, it's best to start your solo adventure at a slow pace, to adjust yourself to the country you're in. You will probably be out of your comfort zone for the first day, adjusting to travelling alone. What we like to do when arriving at a new destination on our own, is book a day tour. There are several options for this. A group tour might be fun, but another option could be to use a ''greeter''. Greeters are volunteers who give tours of their city for free, to show you around and help you on your way while travelling. It's a great way to get some local info on a place, and you might even make a new friend. Greeters are social and really want to make sure you will have a great time visiting their country and city. They are available in many places and are run by the International Greeter Association. From their website, you can see if there are greeters available at your destination.

Solo Travel Beginners Guide - Women with map sticking legs out of a car window - Blog - KILROY

Solo travel tip #1: Arrive during the day
We're always a little more vulnerable after dark, particularly on our own. During the day it's easier to find your way around, and there might be more people around to ask for directions. If you do arrive in the evening, make sure to be well prepared to find your hostel, or have a taxi booked to take you there. It feels a lot better knowing someone is waiting for you at your destination to take you where you want to be, instead of having to look for transport options by yourself, in the dark.

Travel solo - not lonely: how to meet people when travelling alone

When we started solo travelling, this was the main concern. This topic always comes up whenever we talk to travellers wanting to go on an adventure by themselves. We are absolutely certain that you won't be lonely, as long as you're getting out there yourself, instead of hiding with your book or iPad in a private hotel room.

There are plenty of options to get social, but we think it all kicks off with finding accommodation. There are lots of hostels that put work into organising activities like social events, pub crawls and city tours! If you book your trip with an agency (which we always recommend, but we'll come back to that later on), they will definitely help you with finding the right hostels to stay at in each city. Don't skip the social events and you will meet loads of people. Not only to party with but also to make more plans for the coming days. You'll be surprised how many other solo travellers you'll meet and can tag along with during the days. Just don't forget it's also really nice to take some moments for yourself from time to time, as you really don't need other people around you 24/7.

If you end up at a hostel that won't provide social events or parties, there are still other options. We recommend looking for Facebook groups, as well as the Couchsurfing app. Not to find a place to crash (it's much better to arrange your accommodation well in advance) but the app is widely used to find local people to hang out with and for group meetups. It's a great way to meet both locals and travellers and from our experience it's just a lot of fun, spending the evening with some friendly strangers in a pub, park or at an arcade hall. A similar platform is Meetup.com. Here you can find all sorts of meetups and events, like badminton sessions, hiking, boardgame nights and meditation. Honestly, there's a lot of fun to be found if you look in the right places. We also recommend booking some tours, especially at the beginning of your trip. It's a guaranteed way to meet other travellers and share ideas. Maybe you even run into other solo travellers here!

When you meet strangers, pay attention to your body language and be open. Open for conversation, open for smiles: it's as easy as that. You'll have to be approachable if you want people to interact with you. Smile at people and if they want to connect, put in the effort. And no, you won't click with everyone, but you're bound to meet a lot of people you get along with.

Solo Travel Beginners Guide - Three women talking, laughing and having fun - Blog - KILROY

Solo travel tip #2: Make sure there's always someone who knows where you are
We understand better than anyone that your solo adventure is a getaway, and you might want to disconnect for a while. While those feelings are totally valid, always remember to update someone on where you are, and where you are going to be, especially if you decide to shut off the Wi-Fi for a little bit. It can't hurt to update them on how long you will be offline, so there won't be any panic if you stop replying to calls or texts.

How to enjoy eating out by yourself

Let's face it, this can be a stressful experience. You might imagine everyone looking at you, feeling out of place and having no idea what to do while you wait. After all, talking to yourself would be weird, right? Well, turns out there is plenty you can do while eating out alone! We like to keep a journal or blog while travelling, and a quiet moment waiting for your meal is a great time to get some writing done. Alternatively, it's also the time to update your loved ones, post some fantastic travel pics on social media and check your texts.

If you are not as invested in writing or the gram, dinnertime is the perfect moment to plan out the next day and the activities you want to do. If you head back to your hostel after getting food, you have a plan for the next day and you can go to a social event or occupy the communal living room at the hostel to find explorers who might want to join you. In case you still think sitting alone for dinner is awkward or embarrassing, try to get dinner for lunch. What we mean by this is to have a bigger meal at lunchtime, so you can take out some street food or something smaller from a 7/11 or supermarket in the evening. Going to a restaurant at lunchtime is generally more accepted and normal, as plenty of people (especially business folk) eat out alone.

Solo Travel Beginners Guide - Crowded food hall in Asia - Blog - KILROY

Solo travel tip #3: make good use of Facebook groups when travelling
There are plenty of helpful people around, my experience is that all travellers are happy to share their tips and knowledge. One place to find these is on Facebook. While it might be the social network of your mom and aunt nowadays, for communities it's the perfect place to thrive. For every country and big city, there are backpacker groups, some even specifically meant for solo travellers. You can arrange meetups in these groups, as well as get info on great hostels, events and more. Don't be afraid to ask for help!

How to enjoy your nights when travelling alone

If you think solo travellers spend their nights with a book in their beds, think again! In many destinations, the nightlife is something you don't want to miss out on. As we already mentioned in this guide, the best hostels organise pub crawls, parties at their in-house bar or something similar. We highly suggest attending at least a few of these, to mingle and meet a lot of awesome people. But in case you want to do something more than just drinking, but not stay in at night, there's plenty to do in every bigger city. What about attending a concert or a local festival? At the accommodation you're staying, they will know what's up in the area and can give you the best tips.

If you want to head out, but not by yourself, you might want to consider taking a tour during the daytime. It's a great excursion to familiarise yourself with your destination. They are also the perfect non-risky way to meet people and make plans together for the evening while you have a fun or learning experience in the process. Seriously, we're all about group tours!

We know it sounds like a lot of effort, with no guaranteed payoff. But if life taught us anything, it's that you can't plan for everything, especially not how social events play out. But trust us when we say you're going to meet a shitload of people on your journey. And hey, if all of this still won't help you out, you can always befriend the bartender. (:

Solo Travel Beginners Guide - Party at night with red neon lights - Blog - KILROY

Solo travel tip #4: Don't get drunk with strangers and stay on your toes
We REALLY don't want to be a buzzkill here, but we all know how easy it is to get carried away. There's no denying that when under the influence of alcohol and on our own, we are vulnerable to others, especially in a foreign environment. We're not saying you shouldn't party (definitely go for it!), just keep your head in the game at all times and trust your gut! There are plenty of well-meaning and friendly locals and fellow travellers, but you don't want to experience something that would ruin your trip. Leave if you're uncomfortable, be rude if you have to and lie if necessary. The location of your hotel is one example. You don't owe anyone an explanation about why you don't want to do or share something.

How to sleep with strangers

No, we're not telling you to hook up and sleep around: we're talking about shared accommodation here! By far the best way to travel on your own is by staying the night in hostels. It's a great way to get social, meet people, and usually the cheapest accommodation you can find. Hostels used to be extremely barebones, but in many cases, they provide a lot of neat extra amenities nowadays. It's easy to find an option that caters to your wishes. Whether you want a pool, included breakfast, rooftop bar or social events, you will find a hostel to suit your tastes. We highly encourage you to use all the available facilities, whether it's gyms, tours, courses or a restaurant with backpacker meal deals. That last one is especially great if you find it awkward to eat out alone since there are always folks around to eat with at your hostel.

If you're new to staying in hostels, let's go over some basic etiquette. It all comes down to treating people how you would want to be treated. If you share a room, be mindful of others. This means staying quiet in the sleeping rooms (party hostels might be an exception though), avoiding using the main lights when others are still sleeping, and keeping the place tidy by using the common rooms to be social and eat. Using the kitchen and common rooms can save you a lot of cash as well, and you can team up with your hostel roomies to make meals together. A fun bonding activity and even cheaper than cooking alone: that's what we call a win-win. Be sure to make friends, ask questions and start conversations with your fellow travellers. Who knows what mighty plans take form during dinner?

Solo travel tip #5: Don't be afraid you'll be lonely
Talking about solo travel, this is often concern number one. Don't forget that being alone and lonely are not the same thing, if anything travelling alone gives you more power and control over your trip, as YOU decide what's going to happen. On my journeys, I often needed to take a break from all the parties and plans with newly made friends and I have had so much fun with people I just met. Once you're at your destination, things start rolling and you'll rarely be alone. Unless you want to of course, which leads me to tip #6.

How to stay safe while travelling solo

Whatever destination you go for, do some proper research on potential risks in the area. Which places to avoid, what scams to be aware of, and what tips travellers are sharing online. Reddit is a great place to ask questions if you have any, and so are destination Facebook groups. In case of doubt we recommend checking these out, but if you book through an agency (which we ALWAYS recommend) that is an excellent source of information as well.

We also like to stress that good travel insurance is invaluable when travelling, especially on your own. Even if you don't need it, it provides some very welcome peace of mind. In case something unexpected happens, you'll be happy to be able to get compensation. There are some safety concerns you can't insure yourself for though, so wherever you are in the world (even your hometown), it's always best to stay on your guard when you're alone. This means not drinking too much, and not getting drunk with strangers, but also avoiding taking long walks alone at night, even in safe areas. Another tip is to keep your accommodation name and location to yourself, it's your safe space while travelling after all.

When booking with a travel agency you get extra safety and support in the form of expert advice, help in case of scheduling changes and much more. Most of the time it's even cheaper than arranging everything yourself. Another added benefit is that by having a set programme, you're bound to meet people on the activities or tours you've booked, so you're guaranteed to not spend your entire trip by yourself. Last but not least, a lot comes down to common sense. Always trust your gut, if something doesn't feel right, there's often a good reason.

Solo travel tip #6: Book yourself a private room from time to time
When travelling alone, it's easy to get a sensory overload from all of the exciting people, experiences and feelings you'll encounter. When that happens, you're going to need some moments to process all of your new impressions and get some piece of mind. It varies from person to person, but I love to book a private room from time to time to regenerate and make new plans. It's so easy to get caught up in the excitement and tag along with others, but a solo adventure is mostly about what YOU want to do. Don't forget that. My motto: do as you like and learn what that is if you're not sure.

What if anxiety gets the best of you

And if against all odds and preparation, you feel like you want to fly home again, we're here for you. As your safety net, but also as part of the travel community. We have been there, and have plenty of tips to share from our first solo adventures. You can overcome anxiety and make the most of your trip, even if it might not feel like it right now. If anxiety hits you, it's usually during the first day or days at your destination. These tips are aimed at getting you through those, while also having a good time.

It's all about taking small steps, don't pressure yourself too much. The first day is ALWAYS the worst, so a great way to get started and find your comfort zone again is by taking a chill day. Just sit at a café, breath, take it all in and look at the people around you. Alternatively, you can book a (walking) tour on your first day, forcing yourself to out and explore in a low-key setting, with some other travellers. You will get to know your new surroundings stress-free since you don't have to figure it all out yourself. Once you get back to your hostel, find some people to talk to and get ideas from. Get to know them and who knows, maybe the plans start making themselves! Our best advice on this is to have no expectations and to keep an open mind.

Continue on the right path, by making daily goals for yourself. It helps you keep your focus on what you are there to see, do and experience. While you want to explore new territory and do new things, save those for later on in your trip. In the beginning, it helps to hang out at places where you would usually hang out, and do things you would usually do. And we just want to say it's okay to stay in and have some ''you-time''. But, also make time for some sightseeing. Visiting those big monuments and famous places you've seen so many times will feel at least a little familiar and cause a feel-good moment. Small wins are wins too!

We'd love to help you plan your first solo trip, and give you some added peace of mind. Our travel experts have plenty of tips to share and will send you on your way well-prepared.

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