Where should I travel to for the first time?
If you’ve ever felt that spark of adventure hit, excitement will quickly be followed by the above question. One of the biggest decisions any first time solo traveller has to make is choosing where they would like to go.
The process of choosing your first solo travel destination may seem as random as sticking a pin into a map and booking the first train out of town.
Whilst that’s certainly one strategy, the planners amongst us would probably feel happier about travelling alone for the first time with a bit of a plan.
When I went travelling for the first time in 2011, I remember looking at countries on a map and drawing a blank. But soon I turned my hesitation into action and began eagerly planning my trip.
Below are some questions to ask yourself once you’ve decided to plan your first solo travel experience.
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Picking a first solo destination – what should you consider?
Jetting off into the night sounds romantic, but there needs to be a bit of forethought before any solo trip. So, how will you choose where to travel alone, especially for the first time? What key things should you consider when deciding where to visit?
Here are a few tips to help you to pick the best destination for you:
How much does it cost to travel solo?
The answer to this depends on several factors also included in this list: your travel style, the length of time you want to take for your trip, the country (or countries) you wish to visit.
I believe it’s always a good start to determine how much money you have (or could have after some saving) to put towards your trip. Once you have a figure in mind, it’s time to start researching.
Long haul flights to and from a country may be an expensive outlay, but you will also need to factor in nightly accommodation, transport when you are within / travelling between countries, food, activities and other items such as insurance, vaccinations and visas.
Try to put an average cost against these expenditures – say a night in a hostel dorm in Australia will cost you roughly $25AU a night – and start to build up a budget for your trip.
It’s best to err on the side of caution and over-budget so that you have a cushion to play with for incidentals or emergencies.
Once you have roughly jotted down you figures, you can match this to the budget you had in mind. Or, if it’s proving to be too costly, perhaps it’s worth considering another destination, a low season or cutting costs in areas such as taking the bus instead of the train for a long journey or alternative accommodation options that may work out cheaper.
How long do you have to travel?
This is up there with budget for having the biggest impact on your trip. A long weekend, a fortnight holiday or a six month backpacking trip; the time you have at your disposal will play an important part in shaping your travels.
If you have six months – or even a year or more – to travel, then your travel style may begin to differ. You may find yourself adopting more of a slow travel style where you linger in particular places for months at a time, living with the locals and experiencing what life is truly like in a place.
If you have only two weeks of annual leave for your solo trip, you’ll want to plan more of a focused holiday that takes in some of the key destinations you want to visit.
Time of year
The seasons affect the weather at every destination.
There may be some times of year that you would want to avoid in certain countries as travel is made more difficult by weather, such as in monsoon seasons. Or there may be times when you want to play the weather to its advantage; choosing to head to the southern hemisphere for winter to catch some sunshine in months that are typically winter in the northern hemisphere, for example.
Check out www.thebesttimetovisit.com to investigate your options for the time you are planning on travelling.
I’ve said it before on this blog, but I stand by the belief that solo travel gives you the perfect opportunity to be a little selfish. Planning to travel alone means that you can create, embark and experience something that is totally unique to you, and for you only.
That said, what do you want to get out of your trip? What are your interests and how can these be met (or challenged, questioned or enhanced) by the places you visit and the people and cultures you experience?
If you are an avid scuba diver, chances are you are going to want to include spots in Thailand, Indonesia or Australia for example, where you can work on your PADI or simply enjoy some incredible diving.
Write down a list of the things you want to see, do and learn and see how you can shape your trip to capture some of these elements. Want to eat gelato in Italy? Do it! Want to bungee jump for the first time? Go to New Zealand, the birth place of adrenaline sports!
This is your trip and you get to call the shots. It’s exciting stuff.
Check your safety
It’s important to consider your safety when travelling alone, but don’t let fear of the unknown stop you in your tracks.
It’s absolutely essential to exercise some common sense and educate yourself on the risks of certain parts of the world before you jet off there, but on the whole, most places will be safe for tourists as long as you’re not being daft or reckless with your own safety.
- Check out the Foreign Office or Embassy in the country you want to visit for the latest safety notices:
- And here is a blog post I wrote about smashing your first time solo travel fears for a little fist pumping inspiration.
Practicalities of travel
It goes without saying that not every country is the same. If you expect a regular, air conditioned, easy to navigate bus service just like you are used to at home, then you may be in for a big surprise.
When I talk about the practicalities of travel I mean things such as:
- Transportation within the country: Is there a bus / train system, how developed is the road network, what are the distances between the places you’d like to visit?
- Language: Will it be necessary to know a little of the local language to get by, or is English widely spoken? Knowing the basic phrases when you travel shows respect and definitely gets you a smile from the locals as you communicate with simple words in their language.
- Food: If you have particular dietary requirements, food may be high on your list of considerations.
- Proximity: If you’re short on time, you’ll want to consider the proximity of the places you’d like to visit and your travel style to maximise your time abroad.
All of these elements play a big part in creating your overall travel experience.
If you know you will be downright miserable in certain situations, then just don’t put yourself through them. Listen to your gut and pick destinations that excite you for all the right reasons. There may be a few elements that bring about feelings of trepidation, but remember, travel should push you gently outside your comfort zones from time to time.
Where to go on your first time travelling alone
Now those practical elements are out of the way, the fun can start!
Taking what you have considered about your budget, time available and interests you can start to research the kinds of places you want to visit.
It might sound simplistic, but I find looking at a map of the world can help wonders to spark your curiosity (as well as giving you a greater understanding of where places are in the world in relation to one another).
Either grab a fresh sheet of paper or fire up an online version and start jotting down ideas, names, dates, places, festivals, tourist attractions – anything and everything you’ve heard of in conversation, through the blogs you read and the programmes on TV about travel.
Head into your local travel agent and pick up the brochures. Flick through their wondrous pages of exotic destinations and feel the excitement start to build.
However and wherever you find inspiration, save it, bookmark it or cut it out and stick it in a scrapbook until you start to build up your wish list of solo travel destinations.
Best first solo travel destinations
When you are in planning mode, it can be really handy to have a few recommendations on the best first time solo travel destinations from people who have already been there.
- Happiest countries for solo travel – a round up of the friendliest destinations on the planet
- Safest countries for solo travel – these countries top the list as the safest places to visit
- Rough Guides – their round up of the best solo travel destinations in the world.
How do I prepare for solo travel?
Picking your solo travel destination is only part of the puzzle when preparing to travel alone for the first time. There are several elements you will need to consider, such as:
- What clothing and equipment to bring with you
- Booking flights, accommodation and tours.
My advice is to sharpen up your list making skills!
Whether you grab a pen and paper or use your favourite to-do list app, I’ve found jotting down everything on one big list keeps your thoughts together and means I’m less likely to miss important aspects.
Here are a few additional blogs to help you organise your upcoming adventure:
Help planning your first time trip
- Packing essentials for first time travellers – this blog covers what you need to pack (and what you can leave behind!)
- Booking your first solo trip – a step by step guide on things to consider when planning your first solo journey
- Easy aeroplane travel – if you’ve never flown before, this blog will help answer some questions.
My recommended reading for first time solo travellers
I love books and do like guide books for the source of inspiration they offer when planning a trip. I read The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World from cover to cover before I went travelling for the first time and I found it to be filled with useful and inspiring anecdotes and titbits.
If you’re looking for something that’s written by a backpacker for a backpacker, then I would recommend Amy Day’s The Essential Guide to First Time Backpacking. She even includes a chapter for us over 30s travellers, so you can be assured that backpacking is not just reserved for gap years. If you’ve not spotted it on my site, I’m a huge advocate of travelling in your 30s – or at any age of course!
Final word on how to choose your first solo travel destination
I hope this guide has given you some food for thought and fired up the wanderlust within you. If it’s all sounding a little bit too scary, then my parting piece of advice is: don’t let the details bog you down!
Not that I recommend you completely wing it on your first solo travels, but as soon as you get on the road and find your stride, you will realise that you are a lot more capable at going with the flow than you realised.
Before I went travelling for the first time, I wanted to plan each and every last detail of my trip, as my nerves threatened to eat me alive. Once I’d settled into my backpacking trip, I realised that it was a lot less intimidating than I’d built it up to be in my head. I found that where ever I was I could make the best out of it, and the destination became only one element of my solo adventure – the biggest journey was within me.
Over to you! Any hints and tips for planning your first solo trip? Where did you go travelling along for the first time? Share your favourite solo traveller destinations in the comments – I’d love to hear about your experience.
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