My latest trip to Prague had one key difference to many of my others: it was my first real solo trip. Solo travel is something I’d long been nervous about. But once you get used to it, it’s a lot of fun
If you are talking about travelling on my own, then technically it wasn’t. I’ve had four other trips (Paris, Venice, Luxembourg and Dubai) for business in which I added a day of annual leave to travel solo. But Prague was the first where I had no work to do and consciously chose to have the trip.
Despite often reading from my fellow travel bloggers the benefits of solo travel, I’d never really taken advantage of it. I love the idea of being able to do what I want when I want. But I’m also a socially awkward person who’s thinking “Do I look weird when I’m eating on my own?” and “What if I want to try the local beer?” Most importantly I’m thinking “what if something goes wrong?”
So why start travelling solo now?
I never thought I’d be the type to feel comfortable with solo travel. However, after my flight back from a business trip in Venice got cancelled a few years ago, I suddenly found myself with a weekend on my own. I ended up having a good time; it eased me into the idea because I had no choice.
When the person that was supposed to come with me to Prague had their annual leave denied quite close to the date of the trip, I thought why not go anyway?
I found out that it is easy to learn some tricks and tips to make a first solo trip fun. And in fact, it was perhaps even more fun than travelling with others. Here are my thoughts about solo travel.
Take an engrossing book
And pick a destination with cosy cafes. How often have I gotten to sit in a local cafe and just read my book on past trips? Answer: never. I also used cafe stop-offs as a way to warm up and to get all my thoughts down in my travel journal right away, which I never get to do!
Do things you wouldn’t on a group trip
“Hey let’s get up before sunrise to go look at Charles Bridge” would have probably gotten me a “no thanks” or “do we have to” when travelling with anyone else. Even after I explained we could see it without the crowds/take gorgeous photos. On this trip, I only had myself to battle with.
Charles Bridge at sunrise – worth getting up for
If you want to just spend a day wandering down whichever street you want, it’s completely up to you. Feel like hiking out of your way just to see one thing you want to? No one will complain. Or maybe you just feel like going and taking a nap randomly at 3 pm one day. Absolutely no one cares.
Consider a tour
I’m not talking about spending the whole trip on a tour or a tour that you could get more out of a Wikipedia page. Find something that interests you and see if there’s a group tour you can take.
For example, the Czech Republic’s beer is world famous. But I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy drinking a beer sat on my own in a bar. I wanted something that felt like a night out with like-minded people. As a result, I ended up on a beer tasting tour with a group. In the end, I had a great night chatting and meeting new people.
Even though Matt and I are travelling to Malta in the autumn together, he’s not as much of a fan of water sports as I am. I’m already looking at what paddleboarding and kayaking tours are available that I can take solo.
Start with lunch
Ok my fellow socially awkward people, this one’s for you. You want to eat out and experience all the food but you feel weird sitting alone. First of all, you shouldn’t and no one has noticed that you are. Still feeling awkward? Start with lunch. It is so much more common to see lots of people having lunch alone than dinner and you’ll get more comfortable with dining solo.
Take a book while you wait for your food. Or do what I did: start making notes about your trip and making social media posts on your phone! I think every one of my Instagram posts from Prague was made while I was waiting for my food.
Taking pictures on a solo trip is challenging
I think this is my least favourite thing about solo travel, I end up being in almost none of the pictures from my trip! I especially love the ones that Matt usually takes. He takes tons of photos and often I don’t know he’s taking them, which always end up being my favourite ones of me! I usually do manage to get a few beyond just selfies. Couples or families also often ask me to get a picture of them together and I’ll ask if they can take a few in return.
Picking the right destination
I think the more I travel alone the more comfortable I’ll feel about it, but I do think it helps to pick the right place for your first trip or two.
Prague was a great pick for my solo trip – it’s safe, easy to get around, and the type of place where I just wanted to walk around looking at everything. Everyone spoke English and I felt quite comfortable there. I found Venice and Dubai to be quite easy to travel solo to, and even though I went there with Matt, Copenhagen would make a great first solo travel trip!
I’m a planner when I travel anyway. I don’t map out an itinerary for each day, but I usually have a list of some things I’d like to see at some point during the time I’m visiting a place. Before I leave, I know roughly how to get from A to B, and know where I’m sleeping each night. And there’s another challenge: I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, meaning planning ahead is even more important to make sure I feel comfortable.
Before I left for Prague I knew exactly what route to take from the airport to my Airbnb, where to get a bit of currency before leaving the airport, and all my instructions on checking in to the accommodation. Of course, Europe is an easy one for me because my data works, but I think making sure you’ve arranged a SIM card if you don’t have your data is extra important when travelling solo.
Acting like a local
I kept getting confused for a local person while in Prague – people kept coming up to me to ask directions and I went to more than one place where the staff would speak to most people in English and turn around and start speaking Czech to me. Whether it was because I was on my own or because I’m so used to London (walking quickly, avoiding crowds, acting like I know where I’m going when I definitely do not), I’ve found this useful, even if it’s just because it makes me feel more comfortable.
You might not enjoy it at first
And that’s OK. I have had solo trips I just didn’t enjoy. For example, while in Paris on a business trip about five years ago, I just didn’t feel comfortable enough to go out in the evenings or to stray too far from the area I was staying in for various reasons. And it was my third time in Paris so I did know the city a bit already.
But solo travel is addicting
One month after getting back from Prague and I took an even bigger step – I booked a three week trip to Australia for November. While I won’t be on my own the whole time as I’ll be visiting with friends and family along the way, it still felt like a major step, much more challenging than a short city break! But it will be worth it, my biggest obstacle for visiting the country I’ve most wanted to see since I was about 3 was that I couldn’t find anyone to come along!
It is also proving much easier to plan than last year’s trip to Vietnam with Matt, as much as I’ll miss him while I’m away. I don’t have to take into account anyone’s budget or opinions but my own, or worry that he’s not enjoying it because I’ve tried to pack too much into one trip, no pressure of “can we just sit around and do nothing today”.
Have you done solo trips or would you consider it? What would you be most concerned about?