Taking your first solo trip can be absolutely terrifying. But it can also be life-changing. You can gain confidence and social skills, improve your self-esteem, and learn just how much you're capable of.
Here's how you can make sure your first solo travel experience is an amazing one.
Go to the Destinations That Interest You the Most
When you start planning out your first solo travel trip, it can be tempting to start out by researching destinations that are good for first-time travelers. You'll most likely come across an article mentioning Southeast Asia at some point, as it's one of the most popular spots for new travelers. But you know what? Just because lots of people head to Southeast Asia doesn't mean that you should, too.
Rather than going where you think you should go, think about where you've always dreamed of visiting. For example, Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unconventional? Yes, but if it interests you, you'll love it.
Maybe Southeast Asia has always been calling your name, in which case you should definitely go. But if you feel the urge to go somewhere else, don't be afraid to book your flight there. You'll most likely enjoy your travels far more if you're visiting the places that most interest you.
Stay in a Dorm Room Every Now and Then
Hostels don't have the greatest of reputations but have lots of advantages over hotels beyond just the price.
Hostels are fantastic for solo travelers because they make it so easy for you to make friends. Rock up to a dorm room in any hostel around the world, sit on your bed, and I guarantee that within an hour, you'll have made plenty of friends from around the world.
Even if you think hostels sound disgusting or you value your sleep, give dorms a go. As long as you check the ratings before you arrive and stay in the highest-rated hostel, you'll likely have an amazing stay!
Join Tours in the Places You Visit
Taking tours as a solo traveler can help you gain a better understanding of the place you're in while allowing you to make friends at the same time.
Tours don't have to be expensive, either. In practically every city around the world, you'll find a free walking tour leaving every day, where you can turn up, spend a couple of hours walking around, and then tipping whatever you think the tour was worth. If you're budget-conscious, this is a great way to meet people while saving some cash.
Ask at your hostel for any recommendations for tour companies, too. You may find that the hostel runs their own tours or that they can recommend affordable and awesome companies you could go with instead. Checking out a nearby attraction as part of a group is nearly always more fun than going there alone.
One of the biggest mistakes first-time travelers make is to overpack.
It's tricky to know exactly how much stuff you'll need on your travels, and you'd rather have too much than too little, so overpacking is an easy trap to fall into.
So, how can you make sure you don't make this mistake?
The easiest way is to buy a small backpack and to devour packing lists written by long-term travelers. The Osprey Farpoint 55l or 40l packs are both tried and true favorites.
One last point: it's actually better to travel with too little than too much. You'll be able to find anything you've left behind in the places you'll be traveling through.
Build Flexibility Into Your Plans
One of the easiest ways to ensure you have a successful solo trip is to build flexibility into your travel plans. As tempting as it is to have the safety net of a fully-booked trip, once you're on the road, you'll find it far more enjoyable to have greater flexibility.
What happens if you show up in a place and meet some amazing people, but the very next day, you're due to fly somewhere else? Or what happens if the same thing happens, but they're moving on the following day while you're staying in that hostel for the next five?
Meeting friends is the best part of solo travel, and that's because you can change your plans and travel with some new people for a while.
If you only book your travels a week in advance, it leaves room for you to change your plans every so often.
Attempt to Fit in as You Travel
How can you tell if someone's a tourist in Southeast Asia? They're wearing a baggy pair of hippie pants, a beer-branded singlet, and an armful of friendship bracelets.
You can spot most tourists a mile off in popular tourist destinations around the world, and that means so can the scammers. If you look as if you've just turned up on the first trip of your life, the locals will see a person they can take advantage of. You'll be more likely to be scammed, more likely to be taken advantage of, and less likely to be able to bargain for a fair price for anything.
This doesn't mean that you need to jump headfirst into cultural appropriation and come up looking like you're trying to pass as a local -- unless, of course, you're of Southeast Asian descent -- but what it does mean is taking a look at what the expats wear in the country and attempting to fit in with them. You'll most likely find they get by wearing the same clothes that you do when you're back home.
In places where you can pass for the locals, aim to look more like they do. In places where you can't, attempt to pass for an expat.
Above all, holding your head high, marching with purpose, and looking as though you know exactly where you're going will help give the impression that you're not a vulnerable tourist.