Solo travellers. Crawling through countless cities, countries, and continents; you’re weather-beaten, street-savvy ramblers of the highest order. You know your Kanpai’s from your Yamas’; you’re not afraid to eat out alone; you’ve got at least 10 different tourist visas plastering the pages of your bruised and battered passport. But, young masters, we all start somewhere.
Rewind back. Waaaay back. The first 24 hours alone. What went down on your first day as a solo traveller? Were you scared? Exhilarated? Did you get scammed by an airport taxi? Who did you meet? What did you do? Aside from sleeping for 12 hours, of course.
It’s time to capture solo travellers at their most vulnerable. We’ve rifled through our contact list to ask as many nomads as we can to speak about their first experience alone. In equal parts awe-inspiring and cringeworthy, here’s what went down on their very first day as solo travellers.
Maya – Koh Tao, Thailand
It’s 2016. 19 year old me is severely sleep-deprived after three back-to-back flights to Koh Samui, Thailand. I’m waiting for a boat to Koh Tao. Clutching a fresh melon smoothie in my hands for dear life while throngs of backpackers mill around me like bees. Our discarded backpacks merge into a haphazard pile of khaki greens and electric blues. I finally begin to feel calm.
I planned my first solo trip during my year off. People at college had hastily split into travel teams, keen to plan the perfect ‘Gap Yah’ adventure with a familiar friendship comfort blanket. As a self-proclaimed lone wolf – a considerably anxious one, at that – I had decided to go solo. I chose the backpacking equivalent to a gateway drug: Thailand.
I reach the island after dark, before being bundled into the back of a pickup truck with 6 other backpackers. There’s something particularly magical about racing through the jungle with the warm night air whipping against your face. Every so often we pass a café or bar nestled into the foliage; the towering trees lit up in beads of electric colour and the warm buzz of music and conversation surrounding the scene in an intoxicating glow. We race around the island for seemingly hours, cheering and laughing like madmen.
I finally reach the concrete cube to be my home to discover, of course, there is no air-con. I don’t exaggerate when I say I now know how it feels to be inside of an oven. A combination of jet lag and sheer impatience drives me to leave my personal furnace at about 1 am. I stumble sleepily down the steps; the sticky night air tempting beads of sweat down the back of my neck. I walk past the wooden huts and precariously stacked mopeds to the beach. A few young people sit outside a bar on the sand, drinking Leo beer and playing cards. It’s almost too easy to join them. So, there I sit. I’d finally done it. Feeling the sand between my toes and watching the lights of distant fishing boats wink across the horizon.
Jo – Bangkok, Thailand
I chose tried and travelled Thailand as my first solo destination, believing that all the backpackers who came before me picked Southeast Asia for a good reason. Standing at London Heathrow airport, waving goodbye to my friends and family, I knew I was saying goodbye to life as I knew it. Trying to lift my far too heavy backpack and wrestle with a heady mix of excitement, anxiety, and sadness, it felt surreal knowing I wouldn’t be back for a year or so. Landing in Bangkok and heading to a budget hotel (rookie error, I hadn’t yet discovered the magic of hostels), I Skyped my family and went to bed. I look back now and see that I’d left my old life but hadn’t started my new one yet – that patch of time was by far the toughest in all my travels.
The next morning, the sun was shining, and Bangkok was buzzing with colourful billboards, beeping taxis, and plenty of smiles. I walked to SAC Gallery and immersed myself in Thai art. Having a purpose on my first day really helped; finding the gallery meant I wasn’t wandering aimlessly, and I could spend as much time as I needed unobserved and acclimatising. That night I met another couple of backpackers while waiting for a street food Pad Thai and they told me about the social joy of hostels. Within a few days, we travelled together on the infamous train to Chiang Mai, and I never looked back.
Reis – Venice, Italy
My first time going abroad as a solo traveller was … a mess, to say the least. It never crossed my mind that trekking with a 50lbs suitcase through the cobblestone streets of Venice would become problematic. I mean, it was fine in the beginning, but once the wheel broke off from the constant friction and I literally had to drag and carry my luggage throughout the city, I knew I had started my solo journey off on the wrong foot. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that you actually might want to have a backpack if you’re gonna say you’re backpacking through Europe for the summer.
On top of that, I couldn’t have picked a more uncomfortable pair of shoes to wear from the airport to the hostel. Dress shoes. And not just any old kind of dress shoe, but the kind that rubs against your sole because you’re not wearing any socks. I literally limped all the way to H&M to buy a pair of sandals.
I also learned very quickly to believe the ratings and reviews travellers leave on Hostelworld! Of course, we all have our own individual experiences, and one bad review doesn’t necessarily spoil the bunch, but when you start getting into the 20-30 range of bad reviews, RUN. Don’t overlook a Venetian hostel rated 4 out of 10 stars just because it’s in Venice. I know you’re probably thinking, “But it’s Venice. It can’t be that bad.” Trust me, RUN. Your first hostel experience deserves to be full of love, life and laughter … not bed bugs.
Crystal – Croatia
A year ago, I had this crazy idea to solo travel Europe and the Middle East on a motorcycle for 2 years. 6 months in, I’m braver than I’ve ever been. But let’s rewind to the first 24 hours of this story. I was someone who had never lived by myself or moved out of the house they grew up in – and I’m still scared of the dark. I had done a few solo trips before, but only for a week here and there. I’d never embarked on something on this scale.
After an 11-hour flight from California to Germany, a 6-hour layover and then another 2-hour flight to Croatia, I was scared, excited and exhausted from carrying 100 lbs (55 kgs) of motorcycle gear halfway across the world. I landed in Croatia at night and was immediately scammed by a taxi driver for 800 Kuna ($124 USD) for a ride that should have cost $20. I used the Couchsurfing app to find accommodation initially. Having never used it before, I was sceptical of being in a vulnerable position in a stranger’s house. My host was lovely, however, and I quickly passed out on his couch for a good 18 hours. I didn’t move for so long, he thought I had died. When I (finally) woke up, he proceeded to prepare a home-cooked meal for me. I asked if I could help; he determinedly refused. And that is how my moto-touring journey in Europe began.
Laura – Colombia
I normally prefer to travel with friends, but this time I couldn’t find anyone who could join me to spend a week in Colombia. I was really scared of going alone at first. I am from Brazil, so I know how South America can be a bit tricky for female solo travellers, depending on the situation. I thought my knowledge of my home town, a big South American metropolis, would help me to get by there so I decided to go anyway. When I first arrived at the hostel, I felt completely lost! A day before I was in the freezing cold of London and now I was by myself, in the colourful streets of Cartagena not knowing anyone around. It took me a few hours to adjust, but as soon as I got up to the hostel rooftop, I met people who were very kind and friendly and made me feel more at home.
As I was still a bit scared of going to places by myself, I started booking trips and tours through the hostel and ended up meeting a lot of people there. After a few days, I was feeling more confident and went to cafes and bars by myself where I met a lot of other travellers and some residents who attempted to teach me how to dance salsa. This trip was one of the best experiences of my life and I am glad I left my fear aside and decided to go. I met incredible people with who I am still in contact after years and I hope to meet them again someday in their home country.
Hayley – London, UK
When I stepped off the plane from a 22hr flight for my first ever trip as a solo traveller, I never thought the city of London would be the place I would call home just a few years later. It was the summer of 2016 and Londoners were walking around on a weekday morning with sunglasses and a tinny in hand – without a care in the world. Checking into my hostel – Wombats – full of fellow eager young Aussies, I walked into my dorm and instantly got a nose bleed from the heat and dry sinuses from the flight. Quite the impression I made on my new dorm mates! Sitting down I held my nose, feeling overwhelmed, jetlagged, yet full of excitement.
In a female-only dorm, I met many Aussies and an American and quickly made plans for drinks at the hostel bar. Three drinks later we were all partying at a famous London nightclub! My jetlag woke me up from my limited sleep at 4 am and I was ready to sightsee. I embarked on a wander through London’s historical East End taking in the Tower of London and Tower Bridge in all its historical glory. My day consisted of me getting lost in the city without any phone reception but enjoying my time spontaneously exploring London’s riverside without time restraints. For my first solo travel experience, I thought London was the best place to start! Friendly people, great attractions, and a killer nightlife scene.
Sarah – Kuta, Bali
I don’t get nervous about many things, so I definitely wasn’t expecting the heart palpitations that accompanied me the week leading up to my 3-week solo trip to Bali. Mixed feelings of excitement about the unknown, paired with every horror movie narrative you can think of, were running through my mind. The plane journey for me was probably the most excruciating part of my trip and I had nightmares pretty much throughout most of the 18-hour flight. If there was an audition to play the role of a drama queen, I would have gotten the part.
When I landed at Denpasar airport I distinctly remember the sound of men shouting “taxi taxi taxi” at me, which put a million thoughts in my mind, wondering if I might get abducted by choosing the wrong driver. Luckily for me, I’ve always been in tune with my instincts and went with the driver I gravitated toward… panic over!
My first night in Kuta was an opportunity to reset my mind: how you think can dictate the experience you have. The next day, those feelings of fear of the unknown completely disappeared and I felt in sync with what was to come. I met a driver called Dharma on my first day, again by instinct, and his name means “right direction” and “your purpose in life” in spirituality, which reaffirmed to me that all was well. Especially as I hadn’t booked any accommodation other than my first 2 nights, which was the most exhilarating feeling and the beginning of an unforgettable and wholesome experience.
Bao – Brighton, UK
The main thing I remember about the first day of my first ever solo trip was the feeling of relief… not that I ventured into a particularly dangerous city, I was just glad that I made it and that I didn’t want to cancel my trip right then and there. Did I have deep conversations with fellow travellers or enjoy a fun night out with my roommates? No. But all that and more came later the more confident and comfortable I grew.
Before I booked my first ever solo trip, I always thought I’d need to suddenly become this super sociable person or learn how to deal with the awkwardness of doing certain things alone. But in reality, my solo trips have always been a mix of both allowing myself to grow in both directions and finding enjoyment in them.
In the first 24 hours of my first ever solo trip, I introduced myself to one of my roommates, had a short chat with her before venturing out and browsing through the Lanes in Brighton and sitting down on the beach by the Brighton pier alone. And you know, what? For my first day, that was enough for me. I had a lovely chat with someone and found enjoyment in exploring a city without being distracted by friends or a partner. I can’t wait to do all of this and more on my next trip – maybe see you in Madeira, soon?
Peter – Bangkok, Thailand
I was ready for solo travel. I was going to be Lancashire’s answer to Sal Paradise from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, but with less chaos and more sleep.
Then two days before I left, my untouchable euphoria was washed away by tears and dulled by a constant lump in my throat. The one-way ticket to Thailand abruptly represented heartache.
I went to the airport alone.
Things can shake you on the first day. Like realising your insurance doesn’t cover your phone or camera, like the pilot mic-dropping the plane onto the runway, like a taxi driver threatening to drop you off halfway into your journey because you asked to be charged by the meter.
I checked into Yim hostel in Huai Khwang, Bangkok, and said: ‘oo, lovely’ a lot.
This first day was brutal. You wouldn’t think I was fulfilling and living a dream. But my word, the bed was comfy. A good place to miss home and hide from everything and everyone.
Apart from Daniel from Germany and Barbara from Brazil. They told me to fight the jet lag and get lunch instead.
We had an eye-openingly delicious, eye-wateringly spicy papaya salad.
I felt better.
Day two, we had papaya salad again. I felt guilty about leaving my family again, but I started to explore, wander, get lost.
The day after that, the hostel staff cooked a fresh meal for me and some other guests, we drank beer, talked about the world and laughed.
It wasn’t day one, but that’s when the real solo adventure began.
Cathy – Berlin, Germany
Picture the scene; a young 18-year-old Irish girl roaming the streets of Berlin, Germany…. alone. I remember arriving in the city, without a shiny phone to navigate my way to the hostel. I eventually found my accommodation (Meininger) after asking many locals to steer me right. Let’s just say I’d wished I went to the gym the day before as dragging around luggage challenged my cardio abilities. Once settled, I threw my belongings in my locker and delved into the city. It took a little time but soon my trepidation evolved into sheer desire and excitement as I caught a glimpse of the Berlin Wall, I stood in awe of the columns at Brandenburg Gate and admired the sunlight as it glistened off the Reichstag building. My history teacher would’ve been so impressed!
It’s not actually hard to travel by oneself, in many ways, it’s easier. Deciding where to eat, choosing the next activity, picking the pace that suits nobody else but yourself. Stop for a water break (or beer)? No problem. Stop to go to the toilet five times? No problem. Stop to gaze at the locals as you try to figure out the different ‘ways of life’? No problem.
My interpretation of solo travel is to explore new and fascinating places, to meet new people, to experience different cultures, but most of all, to learn more about myself. Some years ago, I did exactly that and it has arguably shaped me into the person I am today… fierce, confident, independent, and decisive!
The Solo System
Solo travel never needs to be lonely. And yet, even the most seasoned solo travellers get pre-trip jitters. Our new sociable app will fill every traveller with confidence; no matter how many times they’ve been out there. The Solo System is your social travel toolkit, a set of new features in our app, designed to make your travelling life more sociable. Intrigued? All you need to do is update your Hostelworld app.
Download or update the Hostelworld app and you’ll have access to The Solo System.
iOS launched on April 5, 2022
Android launching May 11, 2022