Home » 25 things I learned in 25 years of solo travel

25 things I learned in 25 years of solo travel

written by Marie-France Roy October 4, 2017
Solo travel Rome

25 years ago, I was landing in Paris on my first solo trip.

After 15 years of dreaming, working hard, and saving, I was finally making it happen, even if nobody else wanted to come with me. People always find excuses, and I was sick and tired of waiting for them to make up their mind.

I had managed to get three weeks of vacation (not easy in North America) and I was going to visit France, Switzerland, and Italy. I knew some people in France and Switzerland, and had booked a tour in Italy, in order to make things less daunting. Still, I was a bit of a wreck when I settled on that plane for my first trip across the Atlantic!

Since then I’ve been on dozens of solo trips, and traveling alone seems just as natural as living alone.

Inca Trail Peru solo travel

In 2004, happy but exhausted on the Inca Trail

Here are 25 things I’ve learned in 25 years of traveling solo:

25. You can communicate a lot more than you think through gestures.

Miming goes a long way, even if it means you have to flap your arms like a chicken, or sign an imaginary credit card slip.

24. The first day of a trip is usually the most expensive (and the worst).

Blame this on fatigue, jet lag, and unfamiliarity with the customs and the lay of the land. It will only get better from here on. Promise!

23. You make friends faster when you’re traveling than at home.
Solo travel hostel

In 2005, meeting loads of new people at a Buenos Aires hostel

It could be the “vacation mood”, or being less afraid of being judged by people you may never see again. Or it could be because you instinctively know that you’re more dependent on others in a foreign environment.

READ MORE: 7 BEST DESTINATIONS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS OVER 50

22. “Do you have hot water?” is not always a strange question.

Many budget or even mid-range hotel rooms in tropical countries don’t have hot water. If you require a steaming shower, make sure to ask before you book.

21. Locals who are “too friendly” can have ulterior motives.

People who approach you on the street and start chatting to you like they’re your best friends are rarely good news. Don’t feel bad if you don’t want to converse. But do be open-minded and aware that most people are kind-hearted and want the same things as you do from life.

20. Sticking to vegetarian food doesn’t mean missing out.
Street food Delhi India

Street food in Delhi, India

If you have a sensitive stomach and are worried that food handling and hygiene are not what you’re used to back home, try going veggie. I ate only vegetarian food in India, had a lot of delicious meals and didn’t get sick – despite everybody’s predictions!

READ MORE: 7 BEST DESTINATIONS FOR VEGETARIANS

19. In the tropics, even one crumb of food left unattended will attract bugs.

I’ve found that it’s best to always eat over a plate. It’s not worth spending your stay fighting off ants or cockroaches. In hot climates, even upscale properties aren’t necessarily sealed tight.

18. Always look where you’re stepping.

Sidewalks in less developed countries are sometimes used as parking space, tree planters, extra floor space, and sleeping pads for dogs. Often they’re also broken, uneven, or have holes big enough to swallow a person.

17. You should jump out of a plane once in your life.
Solo travel skydive

In 2009, falling out of a plane at 15,000 feet

Jumping out of a plane is easy(ish). Making the commitment by handing out your credit card to the tandem skydiving company is harder. I tried it in New Zealand and it was probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done.

READ MORE: OTHER UNIQUE EXPERIENCES YOU CAN HAVE IN NEW ZEALAND

16. The concept of punctuality is unknown in some parts of the world.

In Japan you can set your watch by the arrival time of your train. Elsewhere, not so much. The hotter the climate, the less punctuality seems to be a “thing”. Well, at least in my experience!

15. Organized tours are not all made equal.

On my first trip to Italy, I shared a packaged tour with people of my grandparents’ age, staying in suburban hotels, and eating hospital food. On the other hand, small group tours like Intrepid’s are more akin to traveling with friends, and bring you closer to the local culture. Check out some of Intrepid’s top trips here.

Al Aqsa Mosque Jerusalem Israel

Intrepid tour in Israel

14. Many toilets don’t accept toilet paper.

Many old plumbing systems are not built to accept toilet paper. Always check and heed the signs. I have experienced this in Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Thailand, and even Spain.

13. Always double (or triple) check your information.

You will usually get more accurate information from your accommodation or the tourist office than from someone on the street. But try to also check online and ask more than one person.

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12. Don’t let motion sickness ruin your trip.
Galapagos solo travel

In 2013, getting over motion sickness in the Galapagos

I’m a lifelong sufferer, so I know that getting motion sick on a bus, boat, or helicopter can be dreadfully unpleasant. Bring your favorite medication from home and make sure to have enough supplies, as you may not find it overseas.

11. Carrying too much stuff will make you miserable.

If you’re solo, carrying more than two bags is unpractical. Having to drag around heavy luggage every time you change destination will get old really quickly (and risk injuring you).

10. Serendipity can be a good thing.

Some of my most interesting travel adventures have happened when plans got re-arranged at the last minute. Sri Lanka (nicknamed the “island of serendipity”) is especially good for this.

READ MORE: 5 REASONS WHY SRI LANKA IS THE UP-AND-COMING DESTINATION TO VISIT

9. Learning a bit of the local language goes a long way.

Learn at least “hello” and “thank you”, to be polite. Download a translation app (Google Translate will do), or even better, take a language class at your destination.

Panama solo travel

In 2010, with my teacher and another student during a Spanish class in Boquete, Panama

8. Have more than one way of getting at your money. Don’t keep all your cards in the same place.

You never know when a bank machine will refuse or even swallow your card. And if all your cards are in the same wallet, and that gets stolen, you’re in mucho trouble.

7. Always use the toilet when you have a chance, and avoid diuretic food/drinks before a long bus journey.

This includes coffee and fruits, especially together! Not all buses have toilets or make bathroom stops. And if they do, the bathroom stop may be a ditch by the side of the road.

6. You can do a lot of things for free in most destinations.
Philippines solo travel

Hiking in beautiful scenery is priceless

Always do a bit of research to find out what you can do for free. Keep your money for those few top attractions you really want to see.

READ MORE: HOW TO VISIT JAPAN ON A BUDGET

5. It’s easier to meet people in small guesthouses and hostels than in expensive hotels.

In my experience, people’s sociability seems to be inversely proportional to the price of the accommodation!

4. Always recharge your devices when you have power. Don’t forget your adapters in the wall outlets. Bring more than one adapter!

In the developing world, power outages are common and random. As well, forgetting your only adapter in a hotel room, when you’re traveling with multiple devices, may induce a panic attack.

3. Develop patience and a sense of humor.

You won’t have a long travel career without both.

Solo travel Rome

In 1992, my first solo trip in Rome

2. You’ll grow more confident and resourceful with every solo trip.

Traveling solo is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. As problems arose, I became more resourceful in order to solve them, which in turn gave my self-confidence a boost.

1. It’s all about the people.

Above all, it’s the people you meet that make a trip memorable. Whether it’s a local who took you to her favorite restaurant, or a new traveling friend who shared part of your journey, the connections are what you’ll remember most.

Ready to take the plunge? Intrepid Travel have a range of trips for solo travelers only. Check them out!

Image credits from top to bottom: Marie-France Roy, Marie-France Roy, Marie-France Roy, Intrepid Travel, Marie-France Roy, Intrepid Travel, Marie-France Roy, Marie-France Roy, Intrepid Travel, Marie-France Roy.

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19 comments

Barbara October 5, 2018 - 3:23 am

I long ago decided to start traveling solo; friends’ vacation time and money we either committed to visiting family living elsewhere or was non-existent (the US and their 2-week vacation allowances!) Nor did I have a boyfriend to travel with. I decided to do my first-ever solo trip locally to avoid language challenges but still expose myself to learning the logistics of how to arrange travel. I chose Yellowstone and Teton Parks and thoroughly enjoyed. Next I joined several walking and hiking trips in Europe and stayed on several days after the group part was done (observing all the time how to navigate travelling in a place where English isn’t the first language). I stayed on several extra days afterwards on my own and have done this several times. I now have no qualms about arranging (thank you Internet!) and traveling solo and have since gone to many countries. You meet people while traveling solo that you otherwise might not; when you travel with another person it can insulate you from interacting with the local community. I highly endorse solo travel; try doing part with a group and part on your own and you will pick up skills and confidence every time. Thanks for the posting and blog and safe travels.

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Anonymous September 10, 2018 - 4:25 pm

Great blog. Canadian hostels are both family and single friendly

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Maida Haltrecht July 22, 2018 - 11:51 pm

I have read this article before but it’s always a good reread. Will be useful for my upcoming trip to SEA in November.

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Melissa Gatlin June 22, 2018 - 10:00 am

Have solo traveled for 40 years, though solo traveling the last 10 with a wheelchair does make it more entertaining.

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Ann March 6, 2018 - 8:20 pm

Yes, love to travel by myself if no ones available n my travel time , so far twice by myself , d most memorable one was just last yr . on my pilgrimage attending centennial celebration for our Lady of Fatima Apparition, met beautiful & real people , one s my cousin Luke,,, looking forward for another pilgrimage ….

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Lynda December 18, 2017 - 9:47 am

I have been a mainly solo, independent traveller for over 50 years, staring off by hitch-hiking around Europe in my teens (without my mother’s knowledge!). This year I’m back-packing around Rajastan for a month with a friend…I won’t be able to be as “selfish” as I usually am, but hopefully we should have fun. I visited India on my own back in the late 1990’s, had culture shock (the only time in my life!) and felt it had defeated me as I ran back to Goa…it won’t happen again!

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Kathy November 18, 2017 - 5:05 am

Love traveling by myself, but hate single supplements on cruises and tours. I would add to the above staying at AirBnB lodging where the owner is in residence. Have made many friends this way, and the owner is nearly always very ready to give you tips on local attractions, places to eat, and transportation. Just be sure to use an AirBnB host who has many reviews and a high rating.

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Anonymous November 25, 2017 - 4:41 am

Love travelling solo also! Your advices are good for those who are going solo for the first time
Danielle from brazil

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Jeanette Elwood, young fit 71 November 16, 2017 - 6:30 am

Love to travel! Have been in European and Middle East countries. Hope to explore the Nordic countries in a few years ( already booked up til then) – any suggestions?

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Margaret Webster October 25, 2017 - 1:34 am

Great Blog! I have been solo traveling for years and this really resonates with me. I shared on my I Love Travel Facebook group.
Safe Travels!
Margaret
http://www.lessonsfromtheroadus.com

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Jeannine October 17, 2017 - 1:02 am

Hi. I like to go snorkling and do other water events while on vacation. When I am alone I avoid those activities because I cant take my room key, money, phone, etc with me in the water. Does anyone have a solution for this?
thanks

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Michele October 16, 2017 - 10:30 am

I’m 65 and have been traveling solo for years. Originally it was due to my job and my husbands dislike of travel. Now that he’s passed on i still prefer solo travel. Perhaps it’s just me, but I love making my own decisions, and going where and when I want. Many friends have offered to travel with me, but I really love to go on my own. I still work full time and this year I’ve been to Paris, Madrid, Milan, Key West and later this year will be in Cancun then Lisbon.

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Katrina April 2, 2018 - 11:38 pm

How did you travel to Key West? What time of year and any tips?

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Gail Ober August 12, 2018 - 7:52 pm

I went in November and learned that nearly all pools get refurbished in Key West during this month. In reality, it is to prepare for the upcoming season. The hotels will NOT tell you this before arrival.

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Kathy October 12, 2017 - 3:37 am

I love solo travel and have made good friends of all ages through the years. I highly recommend it.. I have been to New Zealand, Africa (2x) and India, all with no problems 🙂

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Ajit Ramlal October 10, 2017 - 6:51 am

Interesting… Would like to learn more about your various budget packages .

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Margaret Young October 9, 2017 - 7:03 pm

Thankyou for sending this article I am a young 72 woman fit and active I am an avid traveller and have enjoyed numerous travel adventures. Mostly with small adventure groups. Many of my friends think I am brave or stupid for traveling on my own to far away countries but I have had some amazing experiences and seen awesome places. Next year I will be going to Canada travelling totally solo and looking forward to an adventure. I will be staying in hostels and small hotels can’t wait.
At the beginning of November I am visiting India (2 nd) time with Intrepid looking forward to meeting my fellow travellers.
Mags !

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Rebecca Shapiro October 11, 2017 - 12:40 am

Hi Mags! Lovely to hear from you. There’s nothing like solo travel, is there? Your adventures sound really fantastic – good on you! So glad you’re heading to India again with Intrepid. Hope you have the most wonderful trip 🙂

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Rachel October 13, 2017 - 6:18 pm

Hi Mags…great places you’ve been to. I also love India. When you are coming through Canada, please look me up. I’m located in an amzing area of Ontario and if you are driving you will definately be passing through. The city is called Thunder Bay. Small but very known for lots of reasons. I can even put you up depending when you come as I also am travelling for a good chunk of time. Cheers to your ventures. Rachel

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