The solo travel guide to the best solo experience

Traveling alone, it’s a mind-blowing experience. Especially the first times. Though, it can be a bit overwhelming too. So let’s help you going and experiencing your first solo travel adventure.

If there is anything in this guide that doesn’t answer your question, let me know at info@fredericpaulussen.be!

Why you should solo travel

Generic photo of man planning a solo travel
Generic stockphoto of someone planning

Traveling alone is something many people want to do, but most don’t dare to. I love to motivate the people around me to go on a solo trip at least once, and here’s why.

1. Easier on planning

You don’t have to pick a moment to book and plan your entire trip together. You can plan everything (you want to plan) just by yourself whenever you want. It’s also easy to pick a departure and return date. Planning the trip itself is more comfortable too—no compromises about what you and your friends want to see. And what you don’t want to see.

2. Explore a new place and yourself

Visiting a city you don’t know and where you don’t understand the language is hard. And you are all by yourself. The perfect opportunity to get to know yourself. How do you react in certain situations? Maybe you’re more sociable than you expected. And perhaps you discover how smart you are.

3. Meet new people and friends

Next to ‘finding yourself’ (what is this? the 90s?), you will also discover how easy it is to meet new people. If you stay in a hostel, you will talk to your roomies and even drink with them. Next thing you know: you are talking on messenger to them about all your future travels and even have a free place to stay on them.

4. You gain more traveling experience

You are dependent on your (limited) language skills. So you will have to learn new words and ways to figure out more ways to express yourself. You will also look around more and observe the people better.

5. You won’t fight

There are lots of times it can get heated when planning the trip. While deciding what restaurant to eat at. Maybe your friend wants to bring someone 😏 back to the hotel, and you want to rest. Or the other way around. None of that when traveling alone!

6. Do only what you want

The most significant advantage on the list: Do what you want. You want to go shopping, and your friend wants to visit that retrofuturistic avant-garde art-museum. Of course, you can just split up for the afternoon, but finding each other again for dinner is such a drag.

7. It might be cheaper

As you don’t have to do anything you don’t want, you also don’t have to pay for it. It’s as simple as that.

Solo travel: the pros and cons listed

bright building business cars

Oh, I love solo travel. It’s a big step at first, but you are hooked once you go on that first solo trip. Scheduling solo-trip after solo-trip. If you are still doubting about going: Let this list of pros and cons help you decide!

The cons of solo travel: Why you shouldn’t do it

Let me first start with the negative things about traveling solo. This way, you don’t get all dreamy before I crush your dreams with negative stuff. Also, ending on a positive note is something other bloggers tell me to do. So yeah, that’s also in play.

It can get lonely

This one is pretty obvious. You can get lonely when traveling solo. This, of course, depends on who you are. Some people need other people around them to feel good.

Others, like myself, love to have some time for themselves. So this is a bit of a personal thing. But no matter who you are, if you are traveling alone for a longer time, you will experience lonely moments. And that’s okay!

Solution: Book hostels, so you meet new friends easily. Or fly in a friend once in a while when you are gone for a more extended period.

It can get more dangerous.

Being alone can be more dangerous. It all depends on where you are and what you do. Going by yourself at night in a known lousy neighborhood is asking for trouble. So, research the locations you’re going to.

Solution: text friends where you are going. Or ask the people at the reception what they think of certain places.

You have short friendships (and relationships)

On those solo-trips, you will make new friends. However, it’s sometimes a friendship for a day, a couple of days, or only a week. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s just something that sometimes can become an issue because you don’t have those running jokes that run for a while or more in-depth conversation with someone that knows you.

Solution: Call and text your friends regularly. Or try to open up more easily to people if you are extroverted like that.

No group-discounts

Some activities are cheaper to do in a group. Sometimes it’s possible to join a group as a solo person, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you need to be with a (small) group even to do an experience. For example, you won’t get a helicopter-ride for just yourself.

Solution: be active in (Facebook-)groups for solo-travelers. Often there are ways to connect with people in the same area to do activities together.

No-one to share experiences with

Doing new activities and seeing new places is a lot of fun. Often it’s even more fun if you can do all that with someone you like. When going alone, it’s lovely and possible to enjoy it by yourself. Sometimes you will feel a bit lonely and would like to share experiences with friends.

Solution: Bring your new friends or just realize it’s wonderful to enjoy these things by yourself too.

Higher costs for hotel rooms

If you’re not staying at a hostel, it’s often more expensive to travel solo. You can’t find a lot of hotels with bedrooms for just one person. Usually, it’s a double room. So you pay for that extra space. Typically you split that price with your friends, but now it’s all on your account.

Solution: Sleep in hostels and share your dorms. Often it’s much cheaper than a hotel. And an extra plus is making new friends more easily.

You have to do all the research.

When going with friends, usually you have your specialty. One is better at picking out restaurants, the other loves researching the museums and when they are free, and that one friend that seems to find all the speakeasies. Now you have to see everything yourself.

Solution: Enjoy your possibility only to pick the things you want to do!

Eating by yourself

Eating by yourself can be daunting for some people. Especially the first time, it isn’t easy. Sitting in a restaurant where everyone is chatting to someone at their table, and you’re there, all by yourself.

Solution: We’ll talk about the solution for this one lower in the blog post. 😉

Some people might think you’re weird.

Or at least, you think people think you’re weird. No-one thinks it. Most people on the street, in restaurants, and at museums aren’t even paying attention to you. They look at what they are doing.

Solution: Try not to care what people think of you. You will never see them again, anyway.

The pros of solo travel: Why you should do it

So, we discussed the cons of traveling alone, so it’s only fair. I now update you with all the pro reasons.

You’re own planning

Going on a trip with friends means you have to take their choices and preferences into consideration too. Traveling alone means you don’t have to do any of that. Just do what you want to do, eat where you want to eat, and go to bed as early or late as you want.

No third-wheeling

It’s not necessary to go on a trip with a couple to be the third wheel. Sometimes, if you go with an uneven amount of friends, you are the odd one out. Or someone is. Walking on the streets with three next to each other is annoying, so one of you has to walk in front or the back.

Technically, you are traveling alone at that moment. So why not do it for the entire trip anyway.

You get time to think (instead of talk)

Going with friends means you’re always chatting. About that day, the trip, or other things that happened in the past. All of that is great, and you should regularly try to do that. However, sometimes it’s a good thing just to walk around and observe. Think about things, and not just say something to keep a conversation going.

You find new ways to solve problems.

Traveling solo means new ‘problems,’ which also means new solutions. You will look at things differently. You don’t have a friend to talk you through something or to confirm your decision (even if it was a bad one).

You make new friends easier.

Being alone makes you want to talk to other people more effortlessly and makes you more approachable. Go to the bar of the hostel, where the other solo travelers hang out. You will notice you will be in a conversation within the hour.

Hostel conversation starters:

Oh, where did you get that souvenir? Have you been into town already? What can you recommend? Where are you going next? Do you know good places to grab some food?

You get more confidence in solving and doing things by yourself.

Being alone means, you will do things you might otherwise let friends do. Acing them will help you build more confidence. And even failing will help you. Next time you see a problem, you will know how to solve it. And you will feel awesome about it!

Knowing you can book a hotel, buy tickets in a foreign country, and do activities all by yourself without anyone else’s help. It’s such a great feeling!

Personal growth by getting to know yourself

You will get to know yourself and how you react in certain situations. What your thoughts are at certain events. If you do a solo-trip on a regular, you will get to know yourself. How you react and what you like to do.

You decide what to spend money on

This is a bit of an extension of the planning point I made earlier. You’re only doing the things you like to do. This means you also only have to spend money on the things you want to spend money on. No admission fees to museums you don’t care about, eating at those restaurants where you pick something off the menu because your friend desperately wants to try a dish there.

Eating alone

I know, this point was also one of the cons. But hear me out! When eating alone, you’re focussing on the food. Not on the conversation you’re having with your friend. You get to experience the taste so much more intensely. You will enjoy your food even more!

You don’t stand out (no vendors speak to you)

If you are walking the streets alone, you stand out less. The street vendors that try to sell power banks, umbrellas, or whatever other crap they have will be less likely to approach you. People walking alone seem like locals to them. And locals don’t get their stuff from scruffy street vendors.

*throws another one of those light helicopters in the air*

9 Tips for first-time solo travelers

Are you excited to go on your first solo adventure? I get that! But first, I would like to give you these tips. So your first trip is a success. And prevent it from being the last one as well. 

1. Talk to people

Traveling alone is not so, well, lonely as people think. It’s even more social. In a hostel, you will make friends quickly with your roommates. Just introduce yourself when you or they arrive in the room and ask some questions:

  • Where are they from?
  • Are they traveling to another city afterward?
  • Do they have any tips for this city?

Just like you, they want to know who they share a room with. So make sure to answer these questions too. Maybe you can grab a beer after. They are also alone, and perhaps they need a chat. And when they leave before you do, you get the chance to get to do this all over again, with another new friend.

2. Go to the bar

Perfect solution if your roommates aren’t as friendly as you (I had this before), or you’re alone in a hotel room. Most hostels have their bar filled with solo-travelers. Fun anecdote: I asked someone if he was waiting for the bartender. We then bonded the entire night and are still talking on Facebook.

3. Use your locker

This one is not only to keep your stuff safe. You’re sharing a room, so clean up after yourself. You don’t want to step into someone’s dirty underpants either.

4. Bring a lock

For your locker, obviously. Most hostels have a lock for you to use. But sometimes you have to pay an additional fee.

5. Bringing someone “home”?

Keep it PG. You’re not alone in the room, and nobody wants to hear or see you bumping uglies.

6. Bring earplugs

Maybe your roommate has to read the previous rule. Or you have the luck to be paired with a snorer (you know who you are). Earplugs might save you some sleep.

7. Afraid to eat alone?

Solomangarephobia, yes, it’s a thing with a scientific name. You can always arrange a ‘date’ with one of your roomies. If you are alone, I suggest eating at a fast-food chain. You have a quick meal, and nobody will see you eat alone. You’ll be less embarrassed, even if you don’t have to.

8. Buy roaming data

Even though you can get free WiFi at every Starbucks or McDonalds, this can help you fight the loneliness. Miss your lovers or friends? Give them a quick Whatsapp-call.

Be careful with using free wifi networks though. Often these are fakes by people trying to steal your information.

9. Learn some phrases in the local language

You will be able to impress some locals and start a conversation.

How To Make Friends in a Hostel

The best way to meet new people while traveling is to stay at a hostel, but it’s not all that easy even then. Some people don’t want to talk; some people do but ask for more effort. So how do you go about it?

1. Read the hostel reviews

Often enough people mention their experiences in the reviews on the booking websites. Also, their experience with their roommates. So if they have a terrible experience, they will share it. The same goes for great experiences. Reading them will help you to pick a hostel where people are social.

2. Stay in the dorms

Staying in a hostel is not a complete solution. They have private rooms too, but they are not useful for meeting people. I admit it can be nice to just get to your room and not have to deal with anyone else. But that’s a blocking factor in meeting people.

(I recently stayed in one of those rooms in the Treck Hostel. But I was there with friends and not in the meeting-new-people-vibe.)

3. Talk with roommates

Talk to them. Don’t wait for them to make a move. Introduce yourself. Tell them your name and where you’re from. Also, ask them for the same information. You will soon pick up more information to feed the conversation. “Oh, Slovenia? How’s the beer there?”

4. Ask questions

Taking the previous step a bit further. Ask them questions about their stay. What did they see already? What can they recommend for you? How long are they still staying? Are they going to a different place next? There! That’s already four questions you can ask them.

5. Persist but don’t annoy

Keep the conversation going. Maybe ask them to grab a bite together. But don’t overdo it. A no is a no. Or if they are hesitant, they might not want to.

Always lead up to the questions with a proper conversation. And make sure it’s a socially accepted activity. Don’t ask to shower together!

6. Hang around in the communal areas

If you are like me and have to do some work on your laptop once a day, try to do it somewhere where people pass. Be open and don’t focus too much on your screen. Get work done, obviously, but also observe the people. Doing it in a public spot will help you start conversations.

How to sleep well in a hostel-dorm and stay rested on your trip

Me, while looking on Pexels.com for good photos to add in this guide
Me, while looking on Pexels.com for good photos to add in this guide

Hostels are cheap, it’s easy to make friends there, and you get to hear from other people’s experiences in the city. But how do you make sure you have a good night’s sleep with your roommates walking around and talking to each other.

1. Research the location

Check the reviews on websites like booking.com or hostelworld.com. You can find more information about the kind of hostel you might stay. It may be in the middle of the party-neighborhood of the city. Excellent if you want to go out, not ideal if you are planning on getting plenty of sleep.

2. Consider a mask and earplugs

I don’t like the way they feel, so I try to avoid them as much as possible. I needed my earplugs only once in a hostel so far. Me, I’m an easy sleeper. I don’t get waked easily. But when a roommate brought home a girl, well, let’s say I plugged my ears, and he plugged… yeah.

For the mask, I don’t get bothered by the light. So whenever a roommate decides to keep reading when I want to sleep, it’s no issue for me. But I did wish I brought one when I was near Tromsø for two weeks. During summer, the sun does not set… ever! This fucks with your sleeping-pattern. Heavily!

If you know you are a sensitive sleeper, it might be useful to bring these two items.

3. Introduce yourself to your roommates

Tell your name, make some small talk. I already made a list of tips to make friends in your hostel room higher in this article. How does this help? Well, friends don’t wake friends when walking around in the room. 

Since they know your name and face, they will make more effort to be quiet. Although this might not be full-proof when your roommate is just a dickhead or blatantly in the unknown of their sounds.

4. Avoid alcohol and caffeine

This one is obvious. Caffeine will keep you awake. Alcohol makes you sleep easier, but it’s not the right kind of sleep. You won’t be rested well enough the next day. So try to avoid that. It seems kind of hypocritical to write since I love a local beer in the evening.

5. Go crazy during the day

Tire yourself out by doing a lot of activities during the day. Exhaust yourself mentally in museums and physically by walking everywhere. That should make you go knock out at the end of the day.

6. Use the AC or a fan

What? What a weird solution! Well, the thing is, these things make white noise. White noise is a wide array of frequencies. These frequencies help mask sounds that might irritate you. 

Like a loud breather, whispers, or someone tapping on their smartphone screen. It will, however, not mask the sound of your stuff falling out of the bunk bed. So sorry about that!

7. Check-in early and pick a bed

Try to be the first in a room so that you can choose the bed. Pick the one furthest away from the door so you don’t have them slamming shut next to your ear. That should help you not wake up screaming, thinking WII has unleashed. 

Also, the top bed is usually the best idea. People will not be walking around next to you, throwing around their stuff when they change outfits or try to pack at night.

8. Just ask someone to be quiet

Ask them to carry on the conversation outside. Or just to be a bit more gentle tapping on his laptop. You paid as much like them to be there. And also, if she/he hates you for it, you will never see that person again… probably. Usually, they will understand, so don’t worry too much about speaking up. Don’t shout it at them tho.

Things not to do in a hostel (if you want to make friends as a solo traveler)

Some actors acting as if they are staying in a hostel
Some actors acting as if they are staying in a hostel

Staying at a hostel is fantastic. You get to meet so many people, build new friendships, and go on adventures with them. There are a lot of things you can do in hostels. However, there are also a couple of things not to do in a hostel…

A couple of things for your safety

Of course, you want to make friends and look friendly. But there are a couple of things you should do for your safety.

  • Don’t leave your locker open or unlocked when you are not in the room or awake. The people in your space are usually friendly people that want to enjoy themselves just like you do. Unfortunately, there are bad apples too.
  • I learned this one the hard way: Don’t put the keys from your locker in your bed. I had them drop down often and loudly. Mostly at night. So make sure they can’t drop. Maybe hanging a fanny pack on the frame can help you out with that.
  • Don’t show off your valuables. Take your camera out of your locker and put it in your backpack immediately. Don’t let it sit on your bed for an hour first. You don’t want crooks to starts coming up with a plan to rob you.

How to be a friendly roommate

There are things you should do to make friends in your room. There are some things you should avoid if you don’t want to make new enemies.

  • Eat smelly foods or drinks: Don’t do it in your room! Just don’t! Instead, go to the kitchen of the hostel. Even better is just taking your roommates to a restaurant and all share a meal.
  • Leave garbage and laundry wandering. Keep your room and bed tidy. Put your clothes away in your locker if you’re not planning on wearing them. And throw empty bottles or packages in the garbage straight away!
  • Use someone else’s bed, even for a second. Don’t take out your stuff and just put it on someone’s bed. Yes, it might be easier for you and only for a second. But you wouldn’t appreciate someone ‘invading’ your little personal place too.
  • When taking a shower, don’t leave it soaking wet. Usually, there is a squeaky thing to pull the water down the drain. So use it! Oh, and remove your hair, please.
  • Don’t pack at night. The people there might not be your problem anymore, but it’s the friendly thing to do. Pack before you go to bed or in the morning at a reasonable hour. If you need to pack at night, move your stuff to the hallway.
  • Spray deodorant or perfume. Imagine six people doing this, all with their scent. It would not be pleasant to be in that room anymore. Go to the bathroom or outside and spray-away.
  • Are you going out for the night? Great idea! You might even meet someone and want to bump uglies. Go for it! Just don’t take him or her to your room. People want to sleep. Go to their place (if they’re a local or in a hotel)

The story about my First Solo-Travel experiences

It’s been a while since I went on my very first solo travel. It has been five years since I stepped on the airplane all by myself off to Berlin and Copenhagen for a back to back trip.

The first trip was to Berlin. Ryanair had a good deal on tickets to the German capital, so I decided it would be a good start. I had visited the city a couple of years prior. So I more or less knew my way around already.

I had booked five nights in the Generator Hostel near Friedrichstrasse. In one go, I did my first solo-trip and hostel-stay—great adventures for a young traveler.

At the hostel I did my best to be a great roommate. I greeted everyone upon arrival, was quiet during the nighttime, didn’t hog the toilet and bathroom, and kept my corner of the room nice and tidy.

However, my roommates weren’t in the same mind space as I was. Some of them were noisy. Others didn’t like to talk. Others told me their life story, which was sometimes even sad. And another straight-up brought a girl home after partying and made a lot of noise in their love-making. Good thing I had earplugs.

Although the experience in the room wasn’t too great, the hostel was lovely. I loved sitting in the bar with a bartender from my hometown. More importantly, I enjoyed the city.

During my stay, I met up with a friend from back in school. She lives there now, and we had some lunch together. It was nice to break-up the week alone with someone I knew, rather than the people checking in and out of my room.

At the end of the week, it was time to go home really quickly. A weekend at home, doing a concert in Brussels and leaving again.

Off to Copenhagen. I was leaving at Charleroi Airport. Right at that time, the terrorist attack on Brussels Airport happened. I did not know any of this until I arrived in Copenhagen.

A friend of mine texted me: ‘Are you okay?

I found it a bit of a weird question to ask so randomly. She sent it by text message, which at that time was still expensive to do cross borders. I looked for a Starbucks to get some free Wi-Fi to respond to her question.

Once I got online, the notifications started flowing in. Tweets, DMs, and texts. Soon I learned about the attack on the airport. All my friends knew I was flying that day. They just did not know from which airport.

Luckily I was safe. The first couple of hours in Copenhagen were weird, though. I didn’t know how to compose myself. I was on a trip, on holiday so I should be happy. At the same time, I felt kind of guilty for what happened.

It was all so weird. It was time for me to check-in at the hostel. In front of me in the queue, the girl told the receptionist she was planning on going to Belgium next. I felt like I should say to her not too, but at the same time, I felt that’s what the terrorists would’ve wanted. So I didn’t.

I arrived at an empty room later. I sat down on my bed and browsed on my laptop. I was going through all the news sites. An American girl then walked into the room. We introduced ourselves and talked about Copenhagen. Later another American girl came in—same story as with the previous one.

During the days of that trip, we would all go around the city by ourselves. Usually, it happened that we would arrive back at the room at the same time. So all three of us decided to hang in the bar downstairs together. There we met a lot of other travelers. Soon we were with groups of ten people. We were talking, drinking, and having a good time. 

Some nights we would go out to different bars, others we would ‘stay in.’ I forgot all about the attacks and enjoyed my visit to Copenhagen so much. It’s a city with so much culture and art to discover.

At the end of the two weeks of traveling by myself, I knew that traveling solo was a great thing. I started the trip after a big failure in my life. So I had low self-esteem at that moment. Traveling solo built it all back up. 

Six tips for surviving eating by yourself in public

Ramen-noodles-photography

If you like traveling alone, you know how liberating it can be—doing what you want—seeing what you like. And eating what you like. But, err, where do you go and eat by yourself without people staring?

First of all: people don’t stare. Let me be frank; you’re not that special. Chances are, not that many people will notice you eating alone in a restaurant. I know that knowledge won’t help you have a comfortable experience. I’ll admit, I also still have the awkward feeling when eating alone. I just try to ignore it.

1. Read while eating

Make use of the time you feel awkward. You will also feel less awkward if you’re busy. So why not bring that book you wanted to finish all that time. Or even better: read the travel guide for the city you are in and plan your next move.

2. Pick the right restaurant

Choosing the right place to eat will help. If it’s your first time eating alone and you are not sure if you’re going to feel awkward: don’t go to a fancy restaurant. I suggest eating something quick and straightforward, like fast food or at a food stand.

3. Focus on the food

Just focus on the food. If it’s something exquisite you haven’t eaten before, the taste should keep you busy. Eat the local dishes with thought, and don’t just jam it down your throat.

4. Eat at the bar or a shared table

Some places have the option of eating at the bar. It’s less awkward to sit there and just enjoy your meal. Often other solo-travelers are eating there. You might even make new friends! Just ask them what they think you should see in the city.

Other restaurants have long tables where you sit with people you don’t know… yet. Make use of the opportunity to ask a local for recommendations. Or convince them why they should visit your hometown.

5. Participate in a cooking workshop

Although I’ve never done this myself, and I’m not interested in cooking, this might be a fun idea, especially if you are learning more dishes to make at home. The workshop will also help you make new friends and connect with locals.

6. Don’t mind about the others

Have you ever seen someone eat alone in your hometown? Exactly! You have never noticed them.

Just don’t worry about it. After a while, this has become my main focus. I sometimes (more than I’ll admit) still go to fast-food restaurants and food markets, so it’s only a quick experience.

Just think the other people in the restaurant think you are a business-person on a trip for work. They often have to eat alone, so it’s not that weird.

I’m curious where your next solo adventure leads too. Let me know in the comments!

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