lifestyle

How to plan your first solo travel trip abroad


This is your sign to take a plunge
(Picture: booking.com / supplied)

I always thought it took a special type of person to travel alone – and I didn’t think that person was me. 

Then I did it, and all of that fear and apprehension went out of the window.

Turns out, anyone can do it and have a wicked time, so long as you plan ahead, know your limits and keep an open mind. 

I decided to take myself away for my birthday, in that classic search for self-love following a breakup.  

I wanted to challenge myself to be alone, on a day that I’d usually spend with them. What better way to do so than soaking in the sights in a hot country far away from home? 

Pro tip: use your phone’s self timer if you are camera shy (Picture: Sian Bradley)

I also wanted to travel to somewhere new, without relying on anyone else to make it happen. 

That’s the beauty of solo travel: you are free to go where you want, for however long you want, and to do whatever you want while you are there. 

The prospect of almost endless choice can be intimidating for decision-phobic people (me included), but travelling alone allows you to be present in a way you can’t really do with other people. 

You don’t have to comprise on how you choose to spend your time either. Want a lie-in? You don’t have to ask for permission. Want to get up early? You don’t need to drag your mate out of bed.

No one was there to tell me we didn’t have time to pop into the bookshop before my tour (Picture: Sian Bradley)

Let’s get this straight too, you don’t need to be some uber-confident-socialite-extraordinaire to make friends. In my experience, people were more likely to strike up conversations with me because I was alone. 

The whole experience showed me I’ve wasted too much time being scared, and I can’t wait to explore more countries alone. 

Sold? Good. Here’s how to plan your first solo trip today. 

Location, location, location 

The first thing you need to decide on is the destination. No idea where to start? Consider the following: your budget, how long you want to go for, whether you want a city or beach break, and whether there is a specific cuisine you want to try, or a language that you’re trying to learn. 

Personally, I think Europe is an ideal place to take your first solo trip if you’re nervous about it. 

Flying to any big European city only takes a few hours, if that, which means it is far enough away to feel like an adventure but close enough to still feel safe and familiar. 

It’s not going to break the bank, either. 

I chose Venice for a few reasons: there’s plenty to do and see, the weather is good, it’s a hotspot for other tourists to meet at hostels, the food is good and I wanted to visit Italy. 

Wandering around Venice, everywhere you turn is a delight (picture: Sian Bradley)

If you’re really stuck on ideas, head to Skyscanner and choos the ‘fly to anywhere’ option and choose some that tickle your fancy from the list. Speaking of…

Flights and accommodation

Once you know where you’re going it’s time to book your flights and a place to stay. 

For flights, choose ones that get you there for a morning or afternoon, ideally. This will make it easier to travel to your accommodation before it gets dark and make the whole experience less intimidating. 

Flying at the crack of dawn meant I had time to hit all the popular spots (picture: Sian Bradley)

Skyscanner is great for comparing budget flights. Once you’ve found the one, it’s worth seeing if it is cheaper to go direct. 

For accommodation, a hostel is the best way to go for a solo trip. It’s the cheapest option, and the easiest way to meet other people. Most hostels put on socials and bar crawls if that’s your bag, and you’ll be able to ask the staff there for recommendations. 

Hostelworld is good for this. 

I chose a hostel on the quiet side of the island (Picture: Sian Bradley)

Whittle the options down by setting a budget, having a think about what you want from it and checking out the reviews from different websites. 

Do your research before you go 

Once you’ve booked your flights and accommodation, it’s time to have a look at what your holiday destination has to offer. 

For a short city break in a European city, it’s easy enough to fill your time. Make a physical list of the hot spots, watch travel vlogs on ‘X days in X’ and ask your social media followers for recommendations.  

A good goal is to get a mix of popular touristy sights and more hidden gems. 

To plan or not to plan 

I’m not an over-planner. I prefer to have a rough schedule in mind but to mostly go with the flow. 

However, to help with the first-time nerves, it’s best to have a plan ​​for when you arrive, and the first day at least. 

I stumbled upon this tower by accident (Picture: Sian Bradley)

When I landed in Venice, it was 9am. I spent the next eight hours walking around the gorgeous cobbled streets, ticking off my list of touristy sights and stumbling upon new ones. 

I was so enthralled by the beauty of the city that I didn’t have time to feel alone, let alone lonely. 

Then I headed back to the hostel and, lying down for a nap, it hit me: I was alone. It was scary, and I suddenly panicked that I wasn’t cut out for it. 

This golden theatre was a maybe on the list, but I was nearby and had time (Picture: Sian Bradley)

This went away when a fellow solo traveller sharing my room started chatting with me. She was heading out for dinner nearby and invited me out with her. 

Turned out it was her birthday the next day and we spent a nice evening together eating pizza and drinking wine. 

Book yourself onto a guided tour 

Guided tours are like dates. They can be awkward, downright bad, or surprisingly good. 

It’s worth booking onto one, though, for a few reasons. 

Firstly, choosing one ran by a local means you’ll get insights that you wouldn’t get just wandering around on your own. 

Secondly, touring with others a great way to meet new people, or to just have some company for a few hours to break up your trip. 

Like a bull in a.. glass shop? (picture: Sian Bradley)

Thirdly, they take the pressure off by planning the route for you. 

That first night in Venice, I searched for some guided tours of the nearby islands of Murano and Burano and booked myself onto one that had great reviews (very important to check these!) and was reasonably priced. 

And guess what? It was a highlight of the trip. The islands were beautiful, I got to watch an expert glass blower and lace maker and the tour guide sang happy birthday to me as we clinked our prosecco glasses. 

Safety first

Travelling alone can make you more vulnerable. There are plenty of places that are safe for solo travellers, but there are a few things to remember.

Your phone is important for getting around, so keep it charged and carry a charged battery pack.

As a backup, carry a physical map – how retro! – and try to get the bearings of your surroundings so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

If your phone dies or you get lost, remember to breathe. Both happened to me, but I made it to my hostel by making a note of the area it was in, and then asking a hotel owner for directions.

Also: keep your passport safe in your room rather than carrying it around, try to walk with confidence, don’t wave your phone around in dark, quiet streets and write down important numbers in a notebook.

Let go 

The problem with rigid expectations is they can lead to disappointment. Your solo trip may not go the way you planned, but that’s part of the excitement. 

Eating alone is a pleasure not to be missed (Picture. Sian Bradley)

Go in with one objective: adventure. Solo trips are the perfect places to push yourself out of your comfort zone and discover what could happen if you say yes to fun experiences that you may usually talk yourself out of, whether that is dining alone or striking up a conversation with a fellow traveller. 

Solo travel is best when you stay playful and flexible. There’s no right way to do it, but having fun is a good place to start.  

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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