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What is solo travel really like?

What can solo travel teach you? 12 years a nomad, an independent wanderer shares her expertise and insights on what solo travel is really like and what lessons it can teach you about yourself along the way.

The idea of travelling alone doesn’t have to be as daunting as you think. This post goes through the basics of planning a successful adventure and how solo travel can change you in the best ways possible.

What do some people mean when they say solo travel?

Young tourist in bright hat, black trousers with a backpack sit on cliff's edge and looking at the misty mountain village and glacier at sunrise, Stepantsminda, Georgia
The art of travelling alone

When you hear the term “solo travel”, images of a lonely backpacker at the top of a mountain or sitting on a train typically come to mind. While these scenes are often accurate, solo travel can be done in all kinds of ways.

For some, solo travel means escaping into the unknown and learning as you go when arriving in a completely new destination. Sometimes it means taking a vacation as a single person and joining other single travellers on a guided group tour. Other travellers on a solo trip can spend most days in party hostels on the very beaten track in places like Europe or Southeast Asia.

Another example is when a traveller sets off on a journey alone to heal from a toxic relationship, job, or any type of situation, as travel can heal us in so many ways. All of these can be true, and all of these scenarios can happen on the same trip.

Solo travel can mean something different for everyone. But no matter where you visit and whoever you encounter along the way – at the end of the day, it’s your trip, and that is essentially what solo travel means.

Don’t overplan your solo trip (but have a mantra)

solo traveller holding a wheelie suitcase at the airport, shot of legs, feet and hand on suitcase only. person wearing black pants, black loafers, and a white t-shirt.
Don’t overplan your solo trip

When mapping out your solo trip, you may find yourself overplanning to compensate for the unknown – those inevitable hurdles you’ll have to jump over at some point during your travels. While it’s important to research things like basic phrases and any cultural sensitivities before heading to a new destination, planning every part of your itinerary beforehand is not a good idea, especially if you’re travelling solo.

What if you book your accommodation for an entire week and don’t end up liking it once you arrive? What if you feel unsafe in a destination but don’t have a flight out for another three days? Many seasoned travellers will tell you that a rigid itinerary can be very limiting. The best travel moments are usually the little events that happen on a whim, but if you already have that moment planned, you’ll miss out.

Instead, make sure you have the essentials that will help keep you safe and informed while travelling alone. Download maps that you can use offline to your phone in case you find yourself lost. Google Maps can be used offline, and another helpful travel app is Maps.me.

If you’re travelling internationally, make sure to join the Registration of Canadians Abroad so that your local embassy will know how to contact you in case of an emergency. It’s also a good idea to mark down the phone number and address of the Canadian embassy or consulate nearest you.

Write down a mantra

While you can never have all of the little details planned before your solo adventure, it’s important to take some time and think about the big picture. Why are you going on the trip? How are you hoping to grow? Write down a mantra for your solo trip and refer to your notes throughout your travels. They will connect you to your purpose, and remind you of why you were inspired to set out on this beautiful journey.

Stay in hostels

group of travellers walking up a mountain in Temecula, US.
Some days, solo travel means not spending one waking minute by yourself.

Especially if it’s your first solo trip, hostels are a great place to start.

A well-managed backpackers hostel will usually have flyers at the reception that advertise any local events happening in the city, so you’ll know what’s going on without having to endlessly Google search or message on an expat or travellers group page. Try choosing a hostel with a common room so that you can easily connect with other travellers. Before you know it, you’ll be out to dinner or exploring the city with a group of new friends.

Other hostels will host daily events, like an afternoon hike or a karaoke night. If you’re not one of those people who can just approach someone new and strike up a conversation, pick a hostel that hosts events because it will be easier to engage in conversation with fellow travellers.

Over the past decade or so, the term “party hostel” has grown in popularity. Some first-time solo travellers tend to book these hostels because it’s the easiest way to meet people. But, relying on party hostels for your whole trip (where you end up meeting the same people) might not get you to dive a little deeper and connect with your mantra. So, try balancing your stays with smaller hostels and local guesthouses. If you really want to disconnect, book an eco hotel away from the noise and spend a few days immersed in the natural world.

To find your perfect accommodation, read the reviews and see what resonates with you. And if you discover a hostel on your trip that you really loved, make sure to leave a helpful review after your stay to help out other solo travellers!

Carry a book and a journal with you all the time

book, sunglasses, and flip flop on a dock next to a lake, mountains in the background
Packing essentials for a solo adventure: travel journal

For those moments on your trip when you find yourself completely alone, use the opportunity to take out your travel journal (you packed one, right?) to document your experiences – thoughts, feelings, benign details, whatever. This can be especially useful if you’re eating at a restaurant or just want to relax at a local café.

If you didn’t pack any books, find a secondhand bookstore (your hostel might even have a collection, too) and pick up a new old book for those times when you find yourself sitting alone. Whether it be at the top of a mountain on a hike or at Saturday breakfast in your favourite new city, lose yourself in a story for an hour or so and you’ll be refuelled for the rest of your day.

These moments alone also provide the opportunity to reconnect with your mind and body. If you’re finding yourself struggling at any time during your trip, sit with that. Ask yourself, why? What does that mean? It can be extremely helpful in acknowledging and working with your nervous system and you’ll come out of it a stronger, more confident person. Don’t turn away from an uncomfortable moment like this – you may surprise yourself with what you’re capable of when travelling alone.

Find the best flight prices from Canada to destinations across the globe. Your adventure starts with a search for flights going anywhere.

Solo travel tips

solo traveller wearing a hat and sunglasses sitting on a bench at Torrey Pines National Park in San Diego, California
Let solo travel take you to places you’ve never dreamed of before

To wrap things up, here’s a list of solo travel essentials to help guide you for your next trip:

  • Download maps to use offline like Maps.me
  • Carry a book and journal
  • Have the address and contact info of your closest embassy/consulate
  • Don’t overplan or spend too much time on message boards
  • Book a hostel for your first few nights on the road to help you get settled
  • Pick a mantra for your solo trip
  • Enjoy the ride!

Travel restrictions for Canadians

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Where can I travel to now?

Coronavirus travel advice and the latest restrictions for Canadian travellers: map
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