If you need some empowerment to travel solo, three fellow solo travellers share their personal solo travel experience to help inspire you to go it alone
1. My Solo Travel Experience
So far in my life, I've travelled alone to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and China, as well as moving to Singapore on my own for a year studying abroad. At first, it can seem incredibly daunting and even dangerous to opt for a solo trip, but honestly, it's one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences. You learn more about yourself, your limits and your strengths travelling alone for 3 days than you would in a year of your daily life. There is nothing quite like waking up in a foreign place and realising the whole day is yours to fill and yours alone.
Sometimes, solo travel may be your only option but don't be disheartened or afraid of that possibility; embrace it. When I was studying in Singapore, I had a recess week where I planned to go travelling with friends. My friends were desperate to go to Vietnam (somewhere I'd already been) so I made the momentous decision to have my own adventure and booked my first solo trip to Taiwan, followed by a few days in Hong Kong.
I spent my first couple of days in Taiwan hiking in the stunning Taroko Gorge National Park. If you’re going to be taking part in activities such as hiking whilst you travel, you may need to take out additional insurance. You can check the FCO Travel Aware page for more information. I was waiting for the shuttle bus that took you to different trails around the park when I met a friendly couple who were avid travellers.
We hiked to a waterfall together and spent the whole time talking about our travel histories, plans and endless travel dreams. They had both been frequent solo travellers before they met and I felt like I'd joined a special community by taking the plunge with solo travel myself. When I peacefully watched the sunset alone over the Taipei 101 tower a few nights later, I knew I'd crossed a threshold I would never go back on.
On the other hand, mere moments earlier, I was hiking to the viewpoint and had my first unsettling encounter as a solo traveller. It only lasted a few seconds but it reminded me that I was a young woman alone in a foreign country. This is the darker aspect of solo travel that can be a huge factor in why many people don't want to try it. It's such a shame because these experiences are so rare and so long as you stay alert, smart and prepared, you'll have a safe and rewarding trip. The FCO offers plenty of advice on staying safe whilst you’re abroad.
An older, drunk Taiwanese man nearby on the trail got close to me and said, “You look like a nice girl”. I had a moment of panic as I realised I was alone, far along the trail and far away from anybody else. He immediately carried on walking and I didn't see him again so there was nothing to worry about but unfortunately, that feeling of danger is part of the reality of being any solo traveller, and particularly a young female solo traveller.
My advice is to always keep your wits about you, be aware of what's going on around you and any strange characters that you notice. Although he may have meant no harm, if you begin feeling unsettled or sense danger then move towards a crowd or leave the area. If you find yourself in a worse-case scenario then at least ensure you have a basic understanding of self-defence (i.e. hit with the palm of your hand or elbow and aim for vulnerable areas such as the chin, groin or knee).
However, I will tell you that on all my solo travels, I never once encountered any issues and have had the best times of my life whilst travelling alone, all whilst becoming a stronger and better person because of it.
You've got to have the right attitude if you travel alone; being open-minded, brave and adaptable is key. The best thing you can do is be prepared but some of the best experiences I've had whilst travelling have in fact been spontaneous. Don't be afraid to change your mind, make last-minute decisions and alter your plans but always make sure that you are being safe and smart.
I personally like to create a loose itinerary for each day when I'm planning a trip. My main reason for doing this is so I can see everything I want to see in the timeframe I've got. Another massive benefit of daily planning is that it helps you budget. I love researching the places I'm visiting and finding all the hidden gems and exciting opportunities available. When you become passionate about the places you're visiting, your experiences will be so much better and more fulfilling, so do plenty of research beforehand (including checking vaccination and visa requirements!)
Without a doubt, solo traveling can be challenging and it can be tiring and daunting and strange but in my opinion it's the best way to travel. I got so much more out of my trips when I travelled alone and I learnt so much more about the places I was visiting and about myself. I went from being enticed and curious, but completely afraid of solo travel, to not wanting to travel any other way.
If you're even just considering the idea of solo travel, just do it. You won't look back. Trust me.
Author: Chloe Lawson is an avid solo traveller from the UK. She has travelled to over 30 countries and 10 of these solo. Since her first solo trip over a year ago, she has never looked back.
2. My Montpellier Mishaps
This summer I embarked on an interrail trip of Western Europe. Armed with my mum’s twenty five year old backpack, I planned to go from Munich to Barcelona with a handful of stops in between.
Interrailing is fantastic as you can experience completely different cultures and a whole host of interesting people in such a short space of time.
But for this article, I want to talk about my least favourite stop: Montpellier. It’s not so much the city’s fault that I had a negative experience there, it was my series of unfortunate events that made for a difficult time. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.
Part 1: Train Trauma
I travelled to Montpellier from Luxembourg. The trip had two changes, but I was held up from the get go as thunderstorms delayed all trains. What’s more, I had to pay extra as reserved seats were mandatory on these trains; no standing allowed. This is most certainly something I should have researched first!
TRAVEL TIP: Print out travel details before starting your journey.
“No matter”, I thought, “Plenty of time.”. I stood for twenty minutes while the kind lady at the ticket office found me seats on a series of trains to France.
I reached the station of Metz, where the first delay hit. Two nervous brioches later, a train finally appeared, and I was en route to Paris D’Est. I sat nervously on the train, knowing that the changeover window was getting shorter and shorter. At Paris D’Est I had to catch the final train from Gare de Lyon, on the other side of the city. I was nervous, and irrationally angry at myself for my bad planning.
TIP: Always leave enough time in between trains and have enough money available for emergencies.
Finally, my train pulled in; I had twenty minutes to reach Gare de Lyon to catch my connecting train.
It's important to note in busy stations to keep a close eye on your belongings. In stations such as Paris, pickpockets can thrive. I reached the metro station and floundered magnificently, hopping between different ticket queues before finally settling on what I believed to be the fastest one. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Finally I bought a metro ticket and confidently strode through the barriers. My ticket was rejected so all I succeeded doing was head-butting the metal bar. The throbbing bruise on my head echoed the aggressive thumping of my heart – I now had less than fifteen minutes until the last train to Montpellier left.
TIP: The world doesn't revolve around you, acknowledge when things go wrong and don’t take it out on others or yourself!
I sped up the stairs to platform 1 from which my metro departed. Eight minutes left to the train. Feeling rather like Keanu Reeves, I contorted my body and backpack in one graceful motion to get through the doors before they shut. I breathed, and sat down…
Only to shoot back up as I realised I was on the metro going the opposite way.
Swearing to myself, and sweating buckets in the Parisian heat, I got off at the next stop and caught the right metro from the opposite side of the platform. Five minutes until the last train to Montpellier.
TIP: Keep a level head so you don’t make stupid mistakes. Less haste, more speed.
At this moment I was convinced I was going to miss the train and be stuck in Paris. Having no idea about hostel availability this late in the day, I was mentally planning the best way to camp out in a 24 hour McDonald's all night.
Suddenly the doors opened. Two minutes.
Channelling my inner Usain Bolt, I ran like I had never run before. Elderly people, small children, dogs on leads – my heavy-footed, ungraceful charge had people darting out the way, possibly fearing for their lives.
Now things were a blur as time trickled down. Thirty seconds. Up the stairs, towards the sign for platform 4. The crowds cleared…
And there was an empty platform. My heart dropped. I dejectedly looked at the departures board, assuming I had misjudged the time by a few minutes….
…Only to find out the train was delayed two hours. I could have saved myself a lot of stress if I had just checked the travel information updates on the train ride from Luxembourg instead of using up my battery to listen to the La La Land soundtrack on repeat.
TIP: Invest in a portable charger.
Part 2: Hostel Hell
I arrived in town at around 11pm, and was initially excited by the busy streets and electric vibe of the city. As the streets got more deserted I eventually found my hostel down an alley. Arriving late meant there was a lot of people loitering near the door and I was clearly struggling to find the entrance so felt rather vulnerable.
I think it is integral as a woman travelling alone to take logical precautions before travelling. Even in somewhere like Europe which often feels quite familiar, it can still feel scary as a lone woman when things seem to be going wrong. There’s some great advice for women travelling alone, so read up before you go!
TIP: Arrive at your hostel early if you can, and try to find as central one as possible.
I found an unlocked door and an unmanned reception. After waiting around I was eventually checked in and given a dorm room. Initially I had to return downstairs as they had forgotten to give me sheets, then I passed out after the day’s adventures.
The next day I went to shower in perhaps one of the foulest rooms I’d ever been in. I stood in a layer of dirt for my shower, and wished I’d invested in flip-flops. There was no gender segregation for bathrooms or bedrooms. The next night four boys were put into my dorm and noisily came back having lost their key at 4am.
TIP: Have the confidence to ask to be moved somewhere difference: it's the hostel’s job to accommodate you!
After being awoken at 6am by someone being violently sick in the bathroom, I decided to sign out early, and catch an early train to Perpignan where I was fortunate enough to have the best hostel experience of my trip.
Part 3: Weary Wanders
Travelling is fantastic, but the inevitable burn out does happen. Mine happened after an hour walk to Montpellier Zoo; I wasn’t used to the intense heat and the action-packed days had finally caught up with me. Sunstroke had me wasting two and a half hours chugging sparkling water in the shade of the zoo’s giftshop.
TIP: Don’t overestimate yourself.
The next day I wasted a substantial amount of time walking to Parc Edith Piaf. I am a massive fan of the famed French singer, and eager to experience some sort of link to her on my visit. I walked out the touristy centre of Montpellier, and discovered that the grand sounding Parc Edith Piaf was in fact in quite a dodgy area.
Day drinkers greeted me, rather than modern day chanteuses! It was a bit of a let-down as I felt like I’d wasted my short time in the city. There's a nifty Lonely Planet guide to the city, which I wish I’d thought to have read.
TIP: Research before you go to make the most of your time.
On my way back from Parc Edith Piaf, I managed to catch a beautiful view from the Opera House. There’s always a silver lining to each situation, and it's important to see the good wherever you go, even if things aren’t going exactly to plan! I learnt a lot from my mishaps that will certainly help in my future travels.
About the Author
This article is written by Kirsten Robertson. Kirsten is an avid solo traveller and a Student Ambassador for the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office Travel Aware campaign. For more information about how to #TravelAware, visit the Foreign Commonwealth's website.
3. Why I Quit Everything for Solo Travel
Why Quitting Everything and Deciding for a Solo Travellers Life Was the Right Decision…
It took me two years to realise it even though I had always known it. Travel is my life. The road my destination, and here I am now, at the other end of the world. It has not always been easy and I have had some obstacles thrown my way regularly but I also realised I am not a quitter. Not at this.
Be Your Own Comfort Blanket
Where I would have shrouded myself in regret and negativity back home, here where I walk cities with not a soul in it knowing my name, I am the only one who can pull myself back together. It is me who has to walk on. Sure, I could work out the time zone difference, hope for my friends’ presence on Skype or their accessibility on the phone and rant my heart out but that would not help me in the middle of the day on the road when I need support the most. Ultimately, I have to rely on myself and learn to be my own best friend.
Find Your Inner Strength
In turn this means that I also not only need to cheer myself up in the hard times but also congratulate myself in the good ones. Achievements whether big or small need to be celebrated. After all, I did this trip to gain more confidence in myself, and to get there my own mindset needed to change towards that direction. It is a continuous process and a hard one as well, but luckily I am never completely alone even among strangers.
People Can Surprise You
I find that often if I just talk to people, new opportunities and perspectives open up that can totally change my outlook. For instance, in New Zealand I was often offered a lift back to my accommodation just for telling my story of how I got stranded in the first place. I could have made it back myself but the kindness of the people over there was enormous and genuine. In Australia too, I been offered free help that supported me in my travel blogging endeavours, whether it was advice or an actual gift. It as heart-warming.
Stand Up For Yourself
However, there will always be people that put you down and if it’s one thing I have learned before I came here, it was that you have to cut out people that steal your energy and rob you of your happiness – whether intentionally or out a misdirected “meaning well”. There is no use in maintaining such toxic relationships for both parties’ sake of happiness. So when I met people who gave me a really bad feeling, I acted on it. I had my doubts but following my gut was a lesson that I gave myself to learn. So this time around I had the freedom as a backpacker to instantly quit and leave whenever I was treated badly. I still need to practice to say no in the first place, though. I am getting there.
Despite all the obstacles I was facing and the successes I made in overcoming or at least sticking through them, I always lacked the ultimate positive attitude and overflowing gratitude. Hearing my friends tell me how jealous they were of my adventures and eager to hear more of all the amazing things I see every day made me realise that I should stop whining. Sure, I was robbed, left out on the streets at 7pm when most of the city was fully booked or was completely let down by people I thought I could trust, but as one woman said to me: “you are still here. You have made it to where you are now.” She was absolutely right.
Enjoy the Moment
And while I was on my way of getting there, I saw the most amazing things. I raced along the Great Ocean Road, explored the red centre, stood on a salt lake, swam in a volcano, had a peeling on the whitest beach ever, swam in the Great Barrier Reef and cuddled with koalas.
These are things that will stay with me forever and the sad and lonely bits will just remain a fact but the dreariness of them will be gone unless I drown myself in my misery. By saying that I moved on actually means having moved on. It is all about the attitude and solo travel certainly changes it. Just make sure it changes you for the better. It remains your decision in the end.
This article was written by a fellow solo female traveller, Annemarie Strehl. Follow Annemarie's adventures on her blog: Travel on the Brain.
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