1. Be Early. Be earlier than early. Be the earliest.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve missed more trains and buses while traveling alone these past few months than I wish to, well, admit, every time resulting in me feeling like a failed solo traveler and sulking in the nearest McDonalds (the Golden Arches are never too far away from a train station and bring me solace and comfort during my time of need, okay? Don’t judge me).
When you’re traveling alone, you are solely accountable for getting to your next destination in a timely manner, and no one is there to wake you up when that alarm is blaring and you accidentally shut it off in a daze because you’re in ~vacation mode~. Add the fact that you’re in a foreign city and can easily take a wrong turn when sprinting off to the train/bus station and it’s a recipe for disaster.
The solution? Always give yourself ample time to arrive at the bus/train station so that there’s plenty of room for error and that you’re not living in a constant state of panic. I’d say being at least an hour ahead of schedule is sufficient. And always look up directions in advance.
In other words, don’t be like me, friends.
2. Be a “Yes” Person.
One of the greatest advantages of solo travel is that you have the freedom to do what you want when you want to - and a big piece of that is being open to spontaneous adventures with new friends. Take advantage of the possibilities this can open up for you! If someone greets you with a smile and asks if you want to join them at the museum or try that popular tapas spot with them, don’t hesitate to say yes! Sure, maybe you just met them, and maybe you were contemplating doing something different on your own, but why not take advantage of this moment and possibly make a new travel buddy in the process?
While you have become a bit too comfortable doing things alone or making your own plans while traveling solo, taking yourself out of your comfort zone a bit almost always pays off, and will take some of the pressure off making all your own decisions for once.
3. …But don’t be afraid to just chill, either.
Look, there’s a lot of pressure on us solo backpackers to always be doing something new and exciting. I mean, here we are, in a foreign land with little else but a passport and possibilities.
But let’s be real here - that sh** is EXHAUSTING sometimes, not to mention overwhelming. I don’t care if it’s a Saturday night and everyone else in your dorm is headed out on a pub crawl - if you need a night to recharge over Netflix, DO IT. Yeah, you might feel some FOMO, but it’s so important to listen to your body. You’re doing so much, that mind-numbing 10 hour bus ride was exhausting, and maybe you’re feeling some travel sickness come on. Give yourself permission to chill and pace yourself.
4. Sometimes you will get lonely…
Let’s talk about loneliness for a second. It’s very real part of solo travel, and I think even the biggest social butterfly in the hostel is bound to feel it at some point. I find that loneliness tends to hit me the worst right after I make a new friend on the road and one of us, inevitably, has to head out to our next location. Goodbyes suck, and they happen way too often in the backpacking world. But it’s those fleeting moments of human connection that help forge lifelong friendships even after meeting for just a small sliver of time. It’s beautiful, really, how quickly two human beings can bond when separated from everything and everyone they know, while knowing that their time together will be cut short.
While it’s alright to feel lonely once in a while, try not to dwell on it too much. It’s so easy to get caught up in your head and think you’re the worst backpacker ever for not being surrounded by a million new faces every single second of everyday, but it’s that self-defeatist attitude that will keep you from going out and making new friends. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the person sitting across the room alone - there’s a big chance they’re feeling just as overwhelmed as you are.
And if someone starts making small talk with you, try and challenge yourself to let the conversation go a step further. Yeah, asking them about their travels is a nice icebreaker, but why not ask them what inspires them, too? Oh, and while you’re at it, ask if they want to go grab a coffee or explore the city today. You never know where your next backpacker friend will be made!
5. …but always remember, you’re doing something awesome!
Yes, solo travel isn’t easy or simple and you’re going to be dealt some challenges along the way, but that’s part of what makes it so awesome! You’re thrusting yourself into an unknown world without having the crutch of a familiar person’s constant presence. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone on a daily basis and you’re seeing the world. There are many people out there who wish they had the guts to do what you’re doing. Solo travel is a catalyst to personal growth and reflection. You go, wanderer!