How to Make the Most of Your First Solo Vacation

More and more people are choosing to travel solo, and for good reason: You can travel on your schedule, choose your own itinerary and explore a new place at your speed. I’ve been taking solo trips for nearly seven years, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

I caught the travel bug early. My dad was stationed in Italy for three years when I was a kid, and we traveled often. As I grew up, I continued to travel with school groups, and with friends and boyfriends in college and as an adult. While I enjoyed traveling with others, eventually I got tired of waiting for friends to pull the trigger on vacations. So I decided to take the plunge and go it alone.

My first solo trip was to New Zealand and Australia. I found a good round-trip airfare and booked it before I could change my mind. For almost two months, I traveled around Oceania alone. And while I didn’t do everything right, I learned a lot — and have continued to learn since. Here are my tips for conquering your first solo trip:

1. Choose your destination carefully.

For your first go-round, take some pressure off yourself and visit a country where the native language is the same as your own. I chose Australia and New Zealand — I still got to experience new cultures, but navigating transportation, ordering in restaurants and conversing with locals was easier without a language barrier.

Quick Tip:

When deciding where to go, I’ve found that talking to friends is most helpful. I reach out to people who have similar travel styles to me — including new acquaintances I meet on the road — and ask them what destinations they’ve enjoyed visiting alone.

2. Make a plan.

Traveling solo means that you have the freedom to do whatever you want, but it’s still important to make a plan. I map out where I want to go and what I want to see in advance. I can change my mind later, of course, but having some structure keeps me from feeling overwhelmed once I arrive. It’s also a good safety measure; I can share my itinerary with family and friends at home, so they’re in the loop in case they need to reach me.

Quick Tip:

I really love using TripIt, an app that imports my reservations and keeps all my details in one place. Plus, I can share my vacation information with other people — my dad loves researching where I’ll be. He even gets alerts when I add plans.

3. Meet other travelers.

Although I planned my trip to New Zealand and Australia as a solo venture, it didn’t entirely turn out that way. One of my friends ended up being on New Zealand’s South Island at the same time, so we met up there and traveled together for a bit. I was able to do some independent travel prior to that, but had a familiar face to look forward to.

While I was there, I also booked a guided group tour. I knew I wanted to see as much of the South Island as possible, and figured I should let the professionals help me do so. It was a great decision. Not only did I hike, bike, kayak and explore a glacier — I also met some lovely people in a group that was a mix of couples and solo travelers. Joining a tour was a great way to experience the region and let someone else take care of the major planning elements after I’d been making all the decisions on my own for a while.

Quick Tip:

Many people tell me they’re apprehensive about eating solo. I like to sit at the bar — not only can I chat with the bartender, but I can also talk to the folks next to me (if I want to). Or I take a notebook and catch up on my journaling.

4. Take precautions.

I’ll admit it: Even though I’m a grown up, my mom still gets that look in her eye when I tell her I’m planning a trip alone. It’s the flash of fear that says, “Oh lord, my baby is leaving again. How am I going to make sure she’s safe?”

No matter how often I travel, I always keep these tips top of mind:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Even when I’m among the most stunning landscapes and landmarks, I make sure not to get so swept away that I lose track of where I am or who is near me.
  • Ask questions. Before I explore a new city, I take a map to the front desk of my hotel and ask, “Where should I go? Where should I not go?” Locals know which areas are best for wandering and which should be avoided, so I listen to them. When I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, the manager of my hotel told me I could walk the length of the street we were on, but that I should take a cab if I wanted to go elsewhere. I took his advice and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
  • Keep in touch. On my first solo trip, I had to buy a phone card and find a payphone to call my mom and let her know I was safe. Now, I can text her when I land, and we use apps like WhatsApp or FaceTime to stay in touch while I’m gone. Whether or not you have a worrier like my mom on your hands, though, it’s always a good idea to share your plans — especially if you’re going to venture far from your hotel.
5. Ignore the naysayers.

I still take trips with friends, but I like the freedom and adventure that comes with traveling solo. Even so, people still look at me askance when I tell them I’m going it alone. I simply smile in return. What they don’t understand is that I’m rarely truly alone. I meet people along the way, which leads to more trips down the road. And when I am solo, I get the chance for a bit of introspection, which is a welcome opportunity.

If you’re considering a solo vacation, don’t put it off any longer! Book that flight; plan that road trip. There are plenty of places to explore, and if you go solo, the only person you have to wait for is yourself.


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Katie C. is a freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado.