When I was 20 years old I walked through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport with tears streaming down my face. As I handed my ticket to the TSA agent I turned around to see my parents anxiously waving goodbye. An hour later I was boarding a flight to Spain for my first solo trip. I spoke minimal Spanish, had never been to Europe, and was sure I’d forgot to pack something important. I remember contradicting thoughts going through my head. Feelings of freedom and independence, fear and uncertainty. But what stands out the most is that I knew my life was about to change. And it did.
That first solo trip would be one of the best things I ever did for myself. Now more than 10 years later, solo trips are one of my favorite ways to travel. I appreciate the sense of adventure, the freedom to explore at my own pace, and the people I meet along the way. I’ve learned that uncertainty is part of the experience and that fear helps me make smarter choices. If you’re afraid of taking your first solo trip, you’re not alone. In fact, one of the most discussed topics in travel forums is solo travel. Here is my best advice for getting over your fear of traveling alone.
1. Join an online travel group or forum.
If you’re thinking about traveling solo, start by joining an online travel group or forum. Facebook is a good place to start and has groups for different niches (i.e. traveling nurses or women who love travel). In these groups, you’ll likely find many other people who have posted their concerns about solo travel. Read through the comments and ask your own questions. These groups are also great for helping you plan a trip. Look for posts about the cities you want to visit and use this to build your itinerary. Once you join these groups, you’re never really alone. It’s a passionate group of travelers who will support you through the process.
2. Start locally.
Solo travel means getting comfortable with being alone. Before committing to a solo trip to another country, start small. Pack up your car for a weekend and go on a mini road trip to a nearby city. If road trips aren’t your thing, book a quick flight to a major city in your region that you’ve wanted to visit. Notice how you feel planning, traveling, exploring, and eating alone. Try to start a conversation with a stranger, sign up for a local excursion, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If the experience leaves you wanting more adventure, you’re ready to plan something bigger.
3. Name and acknowledge fears.
Fear can mean a lot of things to different people. Take a moment to name what you are afraid of. Common fears I see in travel forums are not having enough money, getting lonely, not speaking the language, and getting lost. Figure out what you are afraid of and know that fear is a normal emotion. We all have fears but they do not define us. Take control of your fear by acknowledging it and then use it to make yourself feel safer. For example, if you’re afraid of running out of money, create an emergency fund. If you’re afraid of not speaking the language, take an intro class before you travel. If you board the plane and are still afraid, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself of all the positives.
4. Meet up with a tour group.
One of the benefits of traveling solo is you’ll probably be more open to meeting new people. A great way to connect with other travelers is through local tours. Once you decide where you want to go, sign up for a few excursions or Airbnb experiences. This gives you the opportunity to experience the benefits of solo travel, while still having some human interaction. And you never know, maybe you’ll meet a lifelong friend or at least someone to explore the city with for a few days. If you don’t have an interest in tours, grab coffee or lunch with someone in your travel group who will be in the same city as you.
5. Make rules for yourself.
All travelers, solo and in groups, should set rules to stay safe. Take some time before your trip to decide what boundaries you feel comfortable with. As a solo traveler, I make sure to never walk home alone at night, limit my alcohol consumption, and not take public transportation after 9:00 PM. I also research the neighborhoods I’m staying in and make sure to book accommodations in well-known parts of town. I don’t accept rides from strangers, keep my cell phone charged at all times, and leave my passport in a safe place. Figure out what makes you feel safe and stick to it.
6. Have a plan and share it.
Before every trip, I create a Google doc of my travel plans and share it with my family. The Google Doc includes my flight information, any pre-planned hotel/Airbnb confirmations, tours I’ll be doing, and a general idea of what my cell service will be. Even if you don’t have all the details confirmed, let at least one person know where you’ll be and plan to check in with them. You can also share your itinerary with seasoned travelers to see if they have any watch-outs or advice to share.
7. Don’t overthink it.
If solo travel is something you’ve been dreaming about, go for it. Don’t let fear paralyze you from an experience that will provide so many positive lessons and memories. Wherever you are in the planning process, do something right now to get yourself closer to booking that trip.
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