If you’ve never traveled solo before, it can be an intimidating prospect. There can be so much to figure out when traveling, and without another person to share the responsibility with, it may seem like all the pressure is on you. More glaringly, the idea of traveling by yourself and trying to make new friends and experience new places on your own can at first seem lonely and overwhelming. And if you’re a traveler who cares as much about their health while traveling as they do about adventure and exploration, you might be worried about both the mental and physical health game that comes along with solo travel.
Being the only person responsible for yourself and your trip can provide confidence-building experiences, lessons in trusting yourself and your interests, and opportunities to yourself how capable you really are. And there are ways to go about it that won’t leave you feeling tired and unhealthy. Read on for the dos and don’ts of making health-focused solo travel a reality for you:
Do walk everywhere
Solo travel gives you a lot to consider. You get to choose the course of your day without any input from a travel partner, which means that if you’re feeling a little tired, you might opt for the easier way of getting around a new city: public transportation. Or, perhaps you’re worried that without a travel companion, you might be more vulnerable to petty crimes or domineering salesmen looking for a tourist to bait. But if there is one tip for making sure you stay active and get the most out of your trip, with or without a travel partner, it is to walk everywhere.
Walking is not only a great physical exercise, but it is also a great way to explore without spending a lot of money. You’ll get a feel for the city, its rhythms and locals, and authentic color in a way that you might not if you only chose public transportation, guided tours, hop-on-hop-off buses or taxis.
Don’t avoid restaurants
When traveling by yourself, you might feel like you’re in the spotlight, as if everyone knows that you’re alone and you’re not a local. Feeling singled out can discourage you from one of the greatest aspects of exploring a new city: dining at restaurants.
Eating at local restaurants is not only one of the best ways to get to know a new culture, it’s also a great way to ensure you’re eating high-quality ingredients. Sticking to takeout, microwave meals and snacks might help alleviate that spotlight feeling, but you’d be missing out on the experience and the quality afforded by a meal at a local restaurant. If you’re self-conscious about eating alone, try sitting at the bar instead of at a table—there’s always a social aspect to eating at the bar, and you might even meet a fellow solo traveler or a local who can show you around.
Do embrace social accommodations
Depending on your usual style of travel, social accommodations like hostels, bed and breakfasts, and shared Airbnbs might not be your first choice of lodging. But one of the most confidence-building, memorable, fun and exciting things you can do is make new friends abroad. And to do this, you’ll want to find yourself in a place where you can easily meet other people who are also traveling.
Choosing social accommodations doesn’t mean you need to compromise on creature comforts or on your health. If you’re staying in a hostel, opt for a private room rather than a shared room to ensure a good night’s sleep, and be sure to read reviews to make sure you’re not choosing a party-all-night hostel. Bed and breakfasts and private rental apartments are often sleep-friendly accommodations that also allow you use of kitchen space, meaning you can keep healthy snacks on hand or expect local breakfast spreads with high-quality food.
Don’t feel pressured to drink all the time
When making new friends while traveling, it can seem like the best way to go about breaking the ice and building shared memories is over a pint of beer or a glass of wine. But when that becomes a nightly habit, it can take a toll on your health. Don’t let yourself fall prey to the pressure of drinking just because you’re traveling. Travelers are along among the most welcoming and open-minded people you can run into, meaning they’ll be perfectly accepting of the idea that you are happy to spend time chatting with them without sharing a round of tequila shots. And while a night out on the town can be fun every once in a while, getting to bed at sunrise cuts into exploring time as much as it leaves you feeling worse for the wear.
It’s also a good idea to keep drinking to a minimum from a safety perspective. Having too many drinks can leave you vulnerable as a single traveler, especially when making your way back to your lodging at the end of the night.
Do pack light
When you’re traveling by yourself, you are the only one carrying your load (literally), so you’ll want to pack light. Whether you’re traveling with just a backpack or have opted for the roomier rolling luggage, you’ll need to be able to carry or push your bags by yourself, so be selective about what you pack in order to keep things light.
Heavy bags, even rolling luggage, can do a number on your body, from lifting it into overhead compartments and taxi trunks, to carrying it upstairs if you happen to find yourself in an accommodation without an elevator, and even hustling across an airport to make a connection. Especially when traveling solo, do yourself a favor and leave the unnecessary additions at home.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
In the moment, solo travel might feel uncomfortable. If that’s the case, don’t beat yourself up. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and having a loud internal critic can be difficult to cope with. Be patient and forgiving with yourself as you flex this new, strange muscle that is the ability to travel solo. Take some time to reflect on how far you’ve come, journal about your experiences and acknowledge gratitude for your ability to travel alone. If you’re really feeling down while you’re abroad, reach out to friends or family back home and share some of your favorite experiences on your trip—hearing a familiar voice may be the perfect remedy for homesickness or anxiety.
Traveling isn’t always easy, and that can be all the more true of solo travel. As much as it can leave you feeling tired and uncomfortable, it can also leave you with memories that last a lifetime and a sense of self-discovery that can be hard to come by when you stay in the comforts of home.
Do travel solo
Like eating healthy, going to the gym, going to school or learning a new skill, the benefits and rewards of solo travel lay just on the other side of your comfort zone. There may be a lot of questions in your mind about your ability to handle a solo trip, and there may be plenty of reasons to stay home. But solo travel can teach you things about yourself that you can’t learn under any other circumstances. And that kind of self-confidence is something you will carry with you for the rest of your life.