The Golden Rules of Solo Travel (2024)

The joys of traveling solo are endless. It is freeing to explore new places alone—you can go where you please, eat when you want, and enjoy quality time with yourself uninterrupted. The interest in solo travel has been slowly rising for a while, in tandem with the desire for deeper, slower, more connective travel. For many, solo travel is the perfect way to achieve this—it provides an opportunity to trust your instinct, go with your gut, and get lost in the experience. You rely on yourself rather than on others’ whims or desires.

But, if you’re not a seasoned solo traveler, it can be a daunting prospect. In an age of constant connectivity, the idea of being alone for an extended period of time is stark. Below, we spoke to travelers who frequently book solo trips about their golden rules for traveling alone.

Dining alone isn’t weird

For most people, the thought of dining alone is one of the biggest barriers to traveling solo. But once you get past the conviction that everyone is noticing or judging you, it’s a totally freeing experience. “Dining alone isn’t as uncommon as you might imagine,” says Estée Lalonde, a creative director and influencer with a passion for solo travel. “I personally find it empowering! Sometimes I bring a book with me or watch an episode of my favorite show on Netflix with my headphones on, but other times I just enjoy the atmosphere and end up chatting to the people at the table next to me.”

Book counter dining at restaurants if it's too weird for you

If you are someone who does feel uncomfortable about dining alone, opt for a bar or counter seat. It’s much less intimidating than having a whole table to yourself, and you are more likely to end up chatting to the staff or the person sitting next to you. "The first time I went out for a meal alone, I went to JG Melon on the Upper East Side of New York City,” Sarah James, Condé Nast Traveller’s deputy digital editor, says. “I took a book, and nervously shuffled onto a bar stool for my burger—but ended up chatting away to the charming bartender and the women sat next to me. Now I often opt for a counter seat when eating alone, and no longer take a book with me. Either I end up talking to someone or just enjoy the peace. A general rule I live by—we're all so wrapped up in our own lives, no one is paying much attention to other people."

Consider a hostel

Not only are hostels affordable, but they're also great places to meet fellow travelers—whether they're in the same solo boat as you or not. Many have a cheap bar onsite that allows you to fall into natural conversation with compatriots who may become friends, or at least will have great tips for things to do.

Fake it till you make it

Most people feel nervous about meeting new people, and introverts especially struggle to make the first move when in a new place. But remember that everyone is in the same boat, and most solo travelers will have experienced those same emotions. The first five seconds are the hardest, but once you’ve introduced yourself, you’ll quickly realize it wasn’t as big a deal as you originally thought. You’d kick yourself if you let a bit of shyness ruin your trip, so use that as the motivation you need to approach a fellow traveler. And remember, if you present with confidence, that will show—fake it til you make it is a reliable life rule to follow.

Never consolidate all of your assets

“This is a lesson that I learned the hard way after getting pickpocketed in a crowded Jerusalem marketplace,” says global digital director Arati Menon, “I had stupidly carried all my credit cards and cash with me—luckily no passport!—in a single wallet and as a result, had no way of paying the hotel bill later that day when I checked out. Now, I always split my cards and cash (and IDs) across various places: wallet, purse, luggage—and if possible, store at least one of these in a locked safe back at the hotel.”

Don’t fear loneliness

“Remember that a bit of loneliness can be bracing and character-building,” says Toby Skinner, Condé Nast Traveller’s features director. “My experience traveling is generally that people are decent, kind and interesting—and you found that out most acutely by being alone (whereas everyone leaves couples well alone.) Some of my most memorable travel experiences have been on my own—like when I was stranded in Nanjing at 2 a.m. by a delayed train in 2001, and a local student let me bunk in his dorm room for the night.”

Take the train

“While even the most extroverted of travelers avoid chit chat like the plague on a plane, I have found traveling by train to be a much more social means of transport," says associate editor Hannah Towey. "Last summer, I traveled solo on the Amtrak Coastal Starlight from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and spent the entirety of the 9-hour journey in the communal observation lounge, where fellow travelers rotated in and out, sharing tables and playing cards while admiring the views. As the sun set on the second half of the trip, a few musically-inclined passengers formed an impromptu band complete with an acoustic guitar and mandolin. Word slowly spread and others trickled in from other parts of the train to take turns singing songs in different languages. It might take a few more hours than a flight, but who knows, you might even find the Ethan Hawke to your Julie Delpy and spend a spontaneous evening together in Vienna.”

Plan around cultural events

Arriving at a destination just as the locals are gearing up for an important cultural event can be an incredible way to immerse yourself straight away. Look up religious festivals, bank holidays, and street parties to see what time is best to visit and plan accordingly. You’ll get a real flavor of the people, the food, and even the music, and you might end up making friends along the way.

Research solo travel in your destination

As obvious as “do your research” sounds, it’s an important step to remember. Look at online forums and speak to people who have previously visited the destination. What safety precautions should you be taking? Is it safe to walk between locations, or is it better to use taxis? Are taxis easy to find? What is the destination's culture like after dark? For women, in particular, it is best to plan ahead to avoid getting stranded in remote neighborhoods after dark.

Have a rough plan for each day

It can feel daunting waking up in a brand new destination and not knowing where to start, so make sure to create vague itineraries for your trip. What are your non-negotiables in this destination? Any big attractions you want to tick off? Restaurants you’ve been desperate to try? Beaches you’ve always wanted to visit? “I like to have 3-5 little activities in mind for each day, like visiting a particular store or trying the local cuisine,” Estée tells us. “If you have a bit of direction you can leave space in between each activity to be spontaneous and discover the local area.”

Build in group activities

Booking tours and group events is a great way to meet other travelers. Most hostels have a list of activities available for guests to sign up for, and if not, then there are walking tours or live music events at local bars. “Try to see people as opportunities," Toby advises. “I'd build in communal activities to your itinerary and remember that you’ll probably never see these people again, so you have nothing to lose in almost any interaction and possibly a lot to gain—though there might be a touch of male privilege in that.”

Walk as much as you can

“Sometimes when I travel to a new place, I can be nervous to leave my bed as a solo traveler,” Estée admits. “As soon as I get outside and start walking I feel better—like I’m part of the city and that I belong there!” Exploring by foot is a great way to get to know the bones of a destination. You’ll soon create a mental map of the area nearest your accommodation and might stumble upon some hidden gems you wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

Allow yourself to be spontaneous

On that note, try to allow yourself some spontaneity. Having a rough plan is definitely advisable, but don’t stop yourself from following your gut if you have a sudden urge to pop into a shop, follow the sound of the crowds or head for the beach. It’s often the spur-of-the-moment decisions that result in the best experiences.

Bring good books

It’s easy to whip out your phone and rely on scrolling when you’re by yourself, and while that is a great way to decompress if you’re feeling jittery, there are few things more romantic than settling in at a street-side cafe and getting lost in the pages of a good book.

Bring a journal

Journaling has become a popular pastime of late, and keeping a travel journal is a great way to combine the mental health benefits of getting out your thoughts and feelings with the memories and emotions of traveling solo. “I find all of that time alone enables me to clear my head, and journaling is a great way to regulate those emotions,” Estée explains.

Keep a separate copy of your personal details

Sounds old school, but in lieu of printing out paper copies of all your bank details, phone numbers, and accommodations details, try keeping a document of all your information and emailing it to yourself. This way, if you lose your phone, you can ask the reception of your accommodation or staff at a hotel/restaurant/bar to borrow a phone and log into your email account to access anything you need. It’s also worth memorizing your card details and any emergency phone numbers (both personal and local emergency service numbers).

Take other safety precautions

There are plenty of ways to protect yourself when traveling alone. Sharing your location with your friends and family back home is a lovely way to keep in touch without having to actually message them—they can watch your journey from afar and keep track of your whereabouts if you haven’t contacted them for a while. Remember to bring a padlock for your backpack and lockers if you’re staying in hostels, and study basic phrases in the language of your destination, just in case you get lost and need some help.

Don’t forget insurance

There’s always something that doesn’t go to plan on any trip, and as a solo traveler, you’ll want to make sure you mitigate any stress that comes from changing itineraries. Buying travel insurance is the best way to protect yourself from any transport cancellations and unforeseen circ*mstances, and will cover any costs from injuries or thefts. Sounds scary, but it’ll be worth it if the worst happens!

A version of this story originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveller.

The Golden Rules of Solo Travel (2024)


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