When I decided to move to Europe, one of my biggest unspoken fears was the inevitability of solo travel. I knew it would have to happen if I wanted to check off everywhere on my bucket list. However, my mind would immediately leap to the absolute worst, either getting mugged or eating dinner alone….and while this may be slightly dramatic, I don’t think I’m too far off from many people’s mindsets.
This past summer I had travel plans taking shape: 6 days of beach time with a close girlfriend in Marbella, Spain and a 7-day girls’ trip through Morocco. I decided to go out on a limb and do an entire three days solo in Seville, Spain before jumping back into the comfortable bliss of group travel. However, a wrench was thrown into my plans when Marbella plans fell through. With all of my plane tickets already purchased, I now had 9 days to fill by myself in Spain, and I was low-key freaking out. There was no backing out.
After some research via Pinterest, I settled on making my way through the Andalusía region of Spain: Seville, Córdoba, Granada and Málaga. *Spoiler alert*: this week of solo-travel ended up being my absolute favorite experience of the summer. But how did I go from solo travel hater to lover? I came up with a couple tried and true hacks that give me the confidence to book my next trip alone.
I’ve catered these travel hacks for other hesitant, novice solo travelers who don’t know what to expect on their first solo adventure! I’ve even included a bonus for y’all… my ultimate, super, Krabby-Patty-formula-level secret to solo travel that changed my mindset completely!
1. Hostels over hotels
You’ll see this tip over and over and for a reason! Hostels are basically created for solo travelers who want to meet other solo travelers easily! I made the mistake of choosing a private AirBnB on my first solo trip to Warsaw, and surprise! I met no one. I had a pretty negative experience in this city, but looking back, that was on me. While staying in a dorm with 8 other people won’t be a 5-star luxury hotel experience, how much time are you really spending in your room anyway? I choose to hang out in the common areas, mingle with other guests, or even just read a book/eavesdrop. I choose hostels with high atmosphere ratings, avoid the party hostels since they’re not my scene, and a bar with happy hour doesn’t hurt. They get extra points for free “family dinners” every night! I had tapas in Seville with friends I met at my hostel, and then I ended up seeing them again in Córdoba for más tapas! When you simply put yourself in a social space, you get to cheat because most of the hard work is done for you! Here are my top three personal favorites in Lake Como, Granada & Kraków.
2. Free walking tours are your friend
I enter new cities with a checklist, but not an itinerary, because I like to leave my options open. (Aaaaaaand I’m a terrible procrastinator.) However, my first plan of attack in any city is to go on a free walking tour! (I love the Sandemans walking tours!) It allows you to get acquainted with the city, learn a little history, and I always end up chatting with other travelers while we walk. In Seville, I met 5 wonderful gals from all over Australia and the States, and we ended up hanging out for the rest of our time in the city. One of these girls even visited me in Prague! When I had a 10-hour layover in Barcelona, I did a Gothic Quarter walking tour, saw another girl walking alone, said hey to Lisa, we chatted over ice cream, and I headed back to the airport having made a new friend! (Side note: although they are advertised as free, please be a cool person & tip your guides.)
3. Airplane mode
Imagine you’re sitting alone at a coffee shop. What’s your first instinct? If it’s to scroll through social media or pretend to answer a text, you’re probably barring yourself from meeting people without even knowing it! (Guilty.) I try to make a conscious decision to walk through the city without headphones and without screens. This allows me to truly see the city I’m in, and I find that people-watching is usually more entertaining anyway. You’re also putting out way more approachable vibes. In Berlin, a guy named Trevor asked me to take his picture at Brandenburg Gate, and we ended up chatting and exploring for a good 5 hours together – all because my head wasn’t buried in my phone!
4. You don’t have to talk to everyone, but talk to someone.
Solo travel is a time to put yourself out there. You don’t have have to take huge leaps out of your comfort zone, but you do have to edge out bit by bit. I promise, people are nice. Talk to different people, see if you click, and pursue the friendships that do. In my time abroad, I’ve never turned down someone who wanted to join me for coffee or a drink, and I find that most other travelers are the same. We’re all in the same boat here, so why the heck not? This strategy paid off for me when I was wandering around in Berlin killing time by myself. I happened to run into my favorite band, Johnnyswim, a few hours before their show and promptly freaked out. I took a nervous breath, went up to them, and said howdy. I ended up hanging out with them at the East Side Gallery, and they even bought my dinner! Such a surreal experience that I would have missed out on had I not been solo traveling! Win.
5. Do what you want
Ultimately solo travel is about absolute freedom and choice! I love not having to compromise on what makes me happy – whether that’s spending a ridiculously long time reading in a coffee shop, spending extra cash on a fancy meal, or choosing to spend an early night in eating animal crackers. You have the ability to change your plans at a moment’s notice, pursue your interests and get to know the city in your own way. I’ve made countless friendships in every city I’ve visited, I have connections literally all over the globe, and my self-confidence has skyrocketed.
So finally, are you ready for the ultimate secret? The hack that changed my mindset? Well, here it is:
I know, it’s such a novel idea. But there is something incredibly empowering about traveling somewhere new by yourself, and I’ve come to even prefer it over traveling with friends (most of the time). It’s not because I enjoy walking silently through the streets, eating dinner alone or because I secretly hate my friends. It’s because I love meeting people that I just don’t typically meet when traveling in groups. When I traveled solo, I found a squad of girls to drink wine with while watching my first Spanish sunset. When I traveled solo, I met a group of guys in Vienna who suffered through my terrible karaoke singing. When I traveled solo, I gained more confidence in introducing myself to new people, putting myself out there, and making snap decisions in a bind.
My biggest piece of advice? Travel with your friends, plan trips with people you love, but choose a city or two where the plans just didn’t line up and GO!