Where to Go as a Solo Traveller
First, decide where you’re going, unless you’re going to play it totally by ear? Toss a coin. Heads you turn right, tails you turn left. I plan ahead much more than I used to. But now I usually travel in developing countries, where I’m more aware of safety and comfortable accommodation isn’t always available. Flights fill up in advance.
The English Speaking Worlds?
Which countries? There are multitudes of lists of solo traveller friendly country lists available. I’m not sure I agree with most of these lists, as so much depends on the individual. Is it culture shock that worries you, bureaucracy, distance or confidence in your ability to travel independently?
If you can’t speak any other language you might be more comfortable beginning with the English speaking worlds.
The USA has some incredible scenery. Most of the peoples of the Caribbean speak English. The Australians are possibly the friendliest nation in the world and budget travel and accommodation is plentiful.
Malaysia and Singapore are easy, yet beguiling, introductions to Asia. Japan can seem overwhelmingly strange on arrival, but it's actually extremely organised and very easy to navigate once you have got the hang of things. and utterly fascinating. I love the colour and spirituality of India, but the poverty, crowds and endless attention can be difficult. China is hugely diverse, but there can also be language and cultural challenges. Central Asia is more remote and access less easy to arrange. The Middle East is war torn, but incredible.
European cities, perhaps surprisingly, can be more intimidating away from the resorts, the locals less welcoming, their lives are busy. And there may be a language barrier. German Dutch and Scandinavians usually speak good English. In countries like France people are reluctant to do so, though they often can. In remoter parts of eastern Europe you may have to resort to sign language. This is where Google Translate is very useful. If you can't pronounce the words show the text to the person you are trying to communicate with.
Latin America is captivating and IMHO, has the most beautiful mountains and incredible scenery in the world. But it's difficult without a smattering of Spanish. The people are friendly; this may not always get you what you want, though, again, you can always use Google Translate. If you turn the camera on it will even read menus and packet instructions/ingredients for you.
In Africa, English will get you by some of the time. French is the national language in many countries here. It's a continent like no other - but probably the most undeveloped and therefore the most difficult to travel in. And again you can expect endless attention.
Don’t let language deter you. It's the differences that make other countries fascinating. You can always get a guide – or just point.
Consider the distance you are happy to travel. Oceania is indescribably gorgeous, but it's a very long way and involves several flying legs. How much time do you have and are you willing to put up with the discomfort of long journeys? Or do you love being inside an aeroplane? Stopovers can be viewed as a nuisance or used to build in more intriguing sightseeing.
Perhaps most importantly, take into account the bureaucracy involved with visiting your chosen destinations. Some require considerably more paperwork than others. Obtaining visas can be an expensive and lengthy process. Some countries demand your presence in person. And also that you return in person to collect your passport. Some countries have no representation in this country at all and your passport may need to be couriered to France, Ireland or Belgium, adding more time and cost. Travcour is an excellent and helpful company, based in London, but they don't cover the trickier countries (for good reason). Be prepared with vaccination certificates and even in some cases DBS or ACRO reports.
In the end, most places are very happy to have tourists and the accompanying dollar and will welcome you accordingly. A few countries are still totally unfamiliar with the concept of tourism - and that's both a difficulty and an attraction at times.
Your Dreams Are Most Important
Just about anywhere is possible if you are determined enough. Decide what it is about travel that excites you and follow your dreams. For me it’s the natural world and diversity. Stunning scenery, mountains, tropical beaches, animal life and peoples of all cultures. The sense of anticipation for each new experience and vivid scenes to store in my memory. The more you travel the more your confidence and independence will grow. See Why Travel Solo?
Booking Transport as a Solo Traveller
There’s so much to say here I can’t possibly cover it all. Shop around for the best prices - they vary hugely and don’t book with anyone who isn’t giving reasonable cancellation terms. Ideally book in this country using an agent for less well known airlines.
Use Skyscanner to check out what routes are available when, but remember it’s information is not always accurate and up to date – not all airlines are featured. And some of the offers don’t actually exist when you click on the links. Check out deals like Round the World tickets and rail passes - European rail passes are really good value.
Transport can make or break a holiday – but the golden rule is to be prepared for something to go wrong. It usually does. Flights are often delayed and frequently cancelled. Cars break down. Train and ferry timetables are changed at the last minute, often due to bad weather. Build in flexibility. Stay in the vicinity of the airport the night before any long haul or hard to obtain flights.
Make sure you have enough time at stop overs or build in an extra day or two and explore the city you’re stopping over in. Most, but not all, airlines will look after you when this happens. But delays can have huge knock on effects if your itinerary is too tight. A cancelled flight out of the Falklands because it was too windy (apparently it happens a lot) cost me an extra £1500 in extra fees to get up to Bogota as scheduled. Only business class seats were left on one of the legs I had to rebook. And airlines have no obligation to refund you if you miss a flight, unless all the flights are on the same ticket - for example Star Alliance or OneWorld routings. You might want to make sure delay AND cancellation are included in your insurance.
Be prepared for your bags to get lost when flying. It’s happened to me roughly ten times now. Twice with BA. So far the case has always been found, though BA were very unhelpful and someone from Korean Air found my case instead - long story. Airlines will usually, but not always get your bag to you wherever you are, though tight itineraries again make this difficult.
So the moral of the story – it’s really important to pack anything you won’t be able to replace easily in your hand luggage - medication and camera equipment for example. You might want toiletries and a change of clothing too, if you can fit them in - but those can always be bought. And toiletries are only allowed in small sizes. Airlines are supposed to give you an allowance for these things if they lost your bag for more than a few hours, though they won’t mention this unless asked!
Booking Accommodation as a Solo Traveller
If I’m booking accommodation ahead I look on TripAdvisor for reviews and to check prices. But don't take reviews as gospel. If several say the same thing it's more likely to be a true reflection. And then I book direct or use Booking.com or Airbnb. I have absolutely no affiliation with Booking.com, but I’ve learned the hard way that they are by far the most reliable and easy to communicate with accommodation company out there and they refund instantly, unlike many others, if I have to cancel. Trips suspended due to Covid-19 have taught me a lot about this! Airbnb aren't bad either - their terms are clear, but there is less control over what you might get. Read the reviews extra carefully.
It’s really crucial to check the cancellation terms and usually worth paying a little extra to book something you can cancel at late notice if necessary. Read the terms and conditions carefully and check the facilities and extras like Wi-Fi (no extra charges), room safe (yes, some mean places charge extra) breakfast and parking (if applicable). Look carefully at the photographs and match them to the text, to make sure they are accurate. If it's unclear message and ask before you book.
Decide your style of accommodation. More pampering in a hotel - more freedom in an apartment. Booking.com offer both. Or there are hostels in many large cities - less comfort, more company.
Also check how much extra you’re paying for a single room. Single room supplements are the curse of the solo traveller. Some accommodation has special single rates - some just charge you the same as for a double room.
Don't be afraid to ask for an upgrade when you get there. If the hotel isn't full you may be lucky.
Airbnb rooms may offer more opportunities to be sociable and a host who could help orientate you. Or you might prefer to have a whole place to yourself. But remember, no daily maid service here. Read the house rules carefully and check the cleaning fees. These can add appreciable amounts to short stays.
If terrain or organisation looks overly challenging (or regulations demand it – like North Korea), I might get a tour custom made, or I might join a group tour for a short while, for one leg of a longer trip. Enjoyment of a group tour, I've discovered, is hugely dependent on the quality of the leader. So find out a much as you can about your guide and the other group members before you sign up. There are usually other solo travellers, and the tour company will generally tell you how many. Often, you can a share a room with another tour participant to keep costs down, but consider paying a single supplement – sharing with someone who snores or bounces out of bed at six every morning can be trying.
Taking a tour is a good way to meet people. (though more often than not I come away thinking 'I could easily have done that on my own after all'.
Pay With a Credit Card
Pay for all of the above with a credit card if you can. This will give you extra security in the event that there is a problem or cancellation. Most credit card companies will refund if the service you have paid for does not materialise and you couldn't get your money back.