Jun 28, 2024 5 min read

How to Get the Confidence to Solo Travel

The story of how I went from a timid young-adult to a fully fledged solo traveller, and how you can do it, too.

Solo travel has been all the rage lately. I see it all over Instagram, all over Pinterest. I suppose that this is largely because I’ve travelled a lot lately, and you always meet a lot of other solo travellers along the way. (Usually you swap Instagrams, vow to stay in touch, but in reality just gawk at their Instagram stories and randomly bump into them on an overnight bus three months later and keep chatting like no time has passed.)

But, I digress.

If you’re an aspiring solo traveller, welcome. You’ve come to the right place. 

I was probably about the most anxious teenager you could imagine, and at the age of twenty one I literally GASPED when my friend said was going to Thailand by herself. Thailand? By yourself? But-but-what will you do all day? Won’t you be lonely?

She looked at me confused. No, she said, I’ll just make friends in my hostel.

Here I was, seven years ago, unable to wrap my head around the fact that somebody would willingly sleep in the same room as another person.

And here I am at the age of 28, having spent a total of around eight months of my life so far doing just this: solo travelling in far away countries, living out of a backpack, sharing hostel dorms with strangers and having the time of my life doing it.

So, this leaves us with one question: how did I get here?

Test the Waters First

The first time that I went anywhere by myself, I went to Liverpool for the weekend. It’s two hours away from my hometown in Sheffield, England, by train.

It was just before Christmas and I was desperate to get out of the city. I wanted to take a trip with my boyfriend at the time but he wasn’t sure of his work commitments, so here’s what I said: “Ok, I’ll just book the hotel and train tickets for me, and if you want, you can book tickets to come closer to the time. If not, I’ll go by myself.” Of course, I was fully expecting him to book last-minute tickets to come with me. Of course, he did not.

It sounds silly now, but even this felt like a challenge to me. I didn’t have any plans, other than a couple of museums I wanted to visit.

So, I spent the weekend in Liverpool in a cute hotel by myself, going out for lunch, wandering around museums and catching up on last-minute Christmas shopping. 

It was nice. It wasn’t entirely fun to spend the weekend alone, but it was something. It was a challenge. It was a toe in the waters of doing something just because I wanted to.

Going Abroad Solo For the First Time

I went abroad by myself for the first time when I was twenty-four. I say “by myself”, but I was actually going on a work abroad scheme with fifteen other Brits my age. And, we were only going to Spain. It’s three hours away on the plane and I already had a good grasp of Spanish.

Looking back, it sounds so easy I don’t think I’d even work up a sweat. But at the time it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. It really felt like leaping head-first out of my comfort zone and into an abyss of unknown. 

But, there are some things that made it manageable for me, and that’s where my advice comes in. Here are my top tips for your first time abroad:

Stay Close to Home

I say, if you’ve got the nerve, go for it, but if you’ve not, that’s fine too. Staying close to home not only feels easier, psychologically, but it makes it easier to go home if everything goes wrong. And this is what I told myself when I was preparing for this trip: If I don’t like it, I’ll just book a flight home. And then at least I’ll know that it’s not for me.

Luckily, it was for me, and I had the best time! But that safety net put me at ease.

Take a Short Trip

When I was looking at study abroad programmes, knowing already that I wanted to go to Spain, I found that most placements were nine months or a year long. I decided I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment and found one that was just three months instead. Of course, after three months had passed I started to wish that I’d signed on for a year! But again, having a lower level of commitment put my mind at ease and turned this opportunity into something that I felt was manageable for me.

Try an Organised Event or Scheme

So, as I’ve mentioned, I went on a work abroad scheme and was basically spoon-fed this first experience of going abroad alone. The organisation booked our flights for us, organised our insurance, paid for our accommodation in advance and had work placements lined up. All we had to do was turn up at the airport and follow their instructions. They even had someone to pick us up from the airport, put us all in a Whatsapp group, and show us around our apartments.

This all made the whole experience less scary and less stressful, both that we were together in a group and that so much of it was pre-organised.

If you don’t fancy working abroad, you could plan your first solo trip around an event or festival, and try to find other people making the same trip as you online. You’d be amazed at the experiences that are available to you with a quick Google search!

After this experience in Spain I did another volunteering experience in Greece. This was a little less pre-organised and I booked my own flights, arranged my own accommodation (well, tent…), and felt a lot more independent doing it.

These two experiences were what prepared me for what I did next: book a one-way flight to Mexico.

How to Start Travelling Solo

After slightly more organised experiences in Spain and Greece, I knew it was time for me to take the leap and do something a bit more out of my comfort zone. However, I still didn’t quite have the mind to just turn up in a hostel and hope I’d make friends. That still sounded a bit far-fetched for me, so I arranged to volunteer in a hostel in Mexico in exchange for free accommodation.

This seemed like the ideal compromise to me, and a great way to make friends. I would highly recommend it as a step on the ladder to becoming an independent solo traveller. If you’re feeling almost ready to take the leap but want something to ground you when you arrive at your destination, volunteering in a hostel could be a great option for you.

Unfortunately for me, I think the hostel I went to work in was a drug front. The people who worked there were kind of weird, and the only friends I made were the hostel guests. I left after two weeks, travelled in other hostels for two weeks, and then did a much nicer, much more successful volunteering experience in Oaxaca City for a month before continuing to travel in hostels.

My time in Mexico totalled about three months, with a short detour to Costa Rica thrown in for good measure! Having a couple of volunteer stays thrown in amongst hostel travelling was a great way to ground myself throughout the trip, and have something to look forward to as well as a physical goal when calculating travel plans.

Over the next couple of summers I did a few short stints around hostels in Europe, but finally this year in January I’d saved up enough money to go travelling again. I went solo travelling in Central America and South America, and this time nothing was going to stop me! I had so many things to do and countries to see that volunteering was only going to slow me down.

So, there you have it. How I went from being a timid young adult to a fully-fledged solo traveller. Living proof that if I can do it, so can you.

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