Travel Travel Talk

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Top 10 tips for solo travel - from doorstops to eating alone

From website tips to dreaded meals alone, Nicola Brady shares her go-to tips for solo travel

Solo travel can offer the adventure of a life-time
Solo travel can offer the adventure of a life-time

Nicola Brady

One of the best things about traveling alone? You only have yourself to please.

Whether that means having ice-cream for breakfast, or getting up before dawn to snap the perfect sunrise pic, you don't have to compromise with a soul.

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"When you're solo you're free to listen to your gut about where to go and how to spend your time; you can alter your itinerary to suddenly add on, say, a volcano hike, because people you met in your hostel suggested it," says Dena Levitz (@thatsledes), who lives in Dublin and regularly travels solo.

"You can meet amazing locals and fellow travellers who are eager to chat, help and connect."

While solo travel has never been as popular, particularly for women (a survey by Hostelworld showed a 45pc increase in female solo bookings between 2015 and 2017), many still worry before taking the plunge. Here are our tips to help you have the adventure of a lifetime.

1. Tell someone your itinerary

I know, I know - I couldn't sound more like your mam if I tried. But it's always a good idea for someone to know where you are, particularly if you're travelling solo. You can also register on the Department of Foreign Affairs Citizens' Registration (dfa.ie), to log where you'll be and how to contact you if something goes wrong. Downloading the DFA's Travel Wise app keeps you up to date with travel advice, too.

2. Seek company

Travelling alone doesn't mean you have to spend all your time solo. Book into a group activity like a cookery class or walking tour - you'll meet like-minded people to hang out with for a few hours, and maybe meet again later. Sites like meetup.com and Irish-run girlcrew.com are great for finding folks and hangouts all over the world.

Adventurer Pip Stewart (@pipstewart), who cycled halfway around the world, suggests hooking up with like-minded travellers. "If you're after a solo cycling journey, check out the website warmshowers.org - it's like couch-surfing for cyclists and a great way to meet people on the road."

3. Pack a doorstop

If the thought of sleeping alone makes you skittish, pack a rubber doorstop. It barely takes up any room, but sticking it under your bedroom door makes it more difficult to open from the outside.

4. Eating out

The dreaded meal alone. It's a common apprehension of solo travellers - though increasingly, restaurants and cafés are embracing single customers, from placing more seats or stools at the bar to, in the case of Balthazar in New York, a glass of complimentary champagne for solo diners. My advice? Embrace the experience, and don't listen to people who tell you not to bring a book or your phone - do whatever makes you feel more comfortable.

5. Look up from your phone

That said, try to resist the urge to spend the whole trip with your nose in your phone - it can too easily become a crutch.

"I'm all for researching a destination, but resist the temptation to Google/Instagram the hell out of every waterfall and temple before you visit," says travel writer and photographer Sarah Freeman (@setfreesarah). "Call me nostalgic, but there's a magic about clapping eyes on a place for the first time with no visual reference whatsoever!"

6. Split your money

Got a debit card and a credit card? If you keep both in your purse, and that goes missing, you're stuck. Instead, keep one in your hotel room, so you're not completely scuppered if the other goes missing. Look at the new An Post Currency Card, too - you can top up one card with as many as 10 currencies and, if it's lost or stolen, An Post will send you emergency cash via Western Union (anpost.com).

7. Pack medications

Hopefully, you've never found yourself in a pharmacy in rural Portugal, trying to mime the symptoms of cystitis to a male chemist who speaks no English. But as someone who has, let me implore you to pack any medications you might need. Sure, you can pick up painkillers almost anywhere in the world, but if you wake at 3am in desperate need, you'll be insanely grateful to have them close to hand.

8. Plan your journeys

Things can be a little overwhelming when you're on your own. When you touch down after a long flight, something as simple as knowing your airport transfer is booked can alleviate a lot of initial stress and panic. Even if that means knowing which bus you need to take to get to your accommodation - have your journey figured out.

9. Embrace technology

It has never been easier to travel alone. With just a few clicks, you can take a picture of a menu on your phone and translate the whole lot. You can access maps and plot a route, order a taxi or sign yourself up to join a hike or a dance class in any city in the world.

10. Learn a Cúpla Focal

"Knowing a few phrases in the local language makes me feel safer immediately as a solo traveller, because it means I can forge bonds with people around me," says Belfast-born Anna Hart (@annadothart), author of Departures: A Guide to Letting Go, One Adventure at a Time.

"If I've joked around with the bus driver or bar staff, I know they'll have my back if I need to ask for help. I feel much more vulnerable if I can't communicate, and 20 minutes mastering a few charming one-liners is all it takes."

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