I'll be the first to admit that traveling alone for the first time can be scary (in fact, I wrote a blog about it). What happens if you get lost? What if you look like a fool? What if you can't communicate with anyone? Will people think you're a loser if you eat alone? And what do you do if you get lonely?
The reality is this: if you get lost, you will find yourself, and if you look like a fool, there's no one around to make fun of you so who cares? You can easily learn a few words in the language of the country you are in, and most people are kind and will try to understand what you need. Eating alone isn't that bad, but if it really freaks you out, I have some alternatives below. And trust me, you will learn that when traveling solo you will be anything but lonely.
Here are some tips that have come from my many solo adventures:
1. Have a Safe Place to Land
Book your first night, or first few nights, of accommodation after a long flight to make sure you don't have to scramble to find somewhere to stay. Especially if you are arriving late — which leads me to my next tip...
2. Avoid Arriving Once the Sun Has Gone Down
Try to arrive in a new country, town, or city when the sun is still up and local businesses are still open. It's safer, but will also ensure that you can easily find a place to stay, get something to eat, and get directions if you need them.
3. Pack Light
You are the one who will be carrying everything that you bring with you, there will be no one around to help you out. If you are a budget traveler like me, this may require schlepping your gear for long distances. Trust me, you will be cursing those extra three pairs of shoes you threw in "just in case" after the first 10 minutes.
4. Eat Out at Lunch
Concerned about eating alone? Don't be. It's awesome. But, if you are really worried about it, try eating your big meal at lunch instead of dinner. It's common for people to dine alone in the noon hour, plus many restaurants offer smaller portions of their dinner dishes at a much more affordable price during the day. That means your travel budget will stretch longer!
5. Embrace Street Food
The best part of traveling solo is that you are on your own schedule! That means you eat when you want to. So, eat like the locals do and grab a meal from a street cart (watch for the busiest carts, those will have the freshest and most delicious options). This is the perfect way to sample some local flavour and a great excuse to sit on a bench and people watch while you dine!
6. Don't Make Plans
Go where you want, when you want! Did you meet someone that told you about this awesome festival happening in the next town that you had no idea about? If you have nothing booked then you don't have to worry about cancelling reservations!
7. Meet New People
In my experience, traveling solo means meeting more people than when you travel with friends. When you are alone you appear more approachable, and you are probably more willing to reach out to new people. Stay in hostels, B&Bs, or guesthouses with common rooms if you are looking to meet people easily. There are also free or affordable walking tours that you can take in most cities that will help you meet both fellow travelers and some locals in-the-know!
8. Do Things that Scare You (aka do something new every day!)
Now, let me clarify. I am not telling you to put yourself in danger or do something that will risk your (or someone else's) health. I'm talking about things that you would NEVER do at home. Eat alone, hike up an active volcano, go to a full moon party, do non-stop yoga for a week — there is no one around to judge you, do something new!
9. Don't Look Like a Tourist
Walk like you know where you're going (even if you don't), look at your map confidentially, and don't let people approach you on the street (they might be distracting you to pull a scam). Making sure that you have neutral clothing (leave the patriotic t-shirts at home) that will help you blend in with the locals is also a good idea.
10. Leave The Valuables at Home
Don't bring flashy jewellery or expensive technology with you unless you absolutely have to. It will only make you a target.
11. Talk to Locals
Ask the guy at the front desk of your hostel, guesthouse, or hotel where the best places to eat are, the areas of town that should be avoided, and about local hot-spots. Other locals to ask for advice would be your waiter, barista, and the people working at the information desks at art galleries or museums.
12. Learn The Local Lingo
Now, there's no need to become fluent, or even be able to hold an in-depth conversation in a foreign language. But learning a few key words and phrases in the local lingo will endear you to the locals, and will help you greet someone, find the bathroom, and order a beer with ease!