13 Tips for First-Time Solo Travelers

I planned my first solo trip to California a few months ago, excited to explore the other side of the U.S. At first, I was nervous to go alone for the majority of the trip (nearly a week by myself). I was reading through blog posts about first-time solo travel and specifically, solo travel in San Diego. I was afraid I was going to get lonely or something would happen or it wouldn’t be a good time. I over planned, and tried to figure out ways to make sure I could meet new people and not be completely on my own. I think that was my biggest concern – making sure I didn’t go crazy by being alone. However, little did I know, I would have the best time by myself and that was the beauty of it all.

If you are considering solo travel, that’s the first step – to just go. Deciding to go and booking your ticket is the biggest hurdle. After you take that step, it’s time to plan your dream trip. Here are some tips that enabled me to embrace uncertainty and have a successful first solo trip that I would love to relive over and over again.

Advice for the First-Time Solo Traveler: Where to Stay, What to Do, How to Pack & How to Combat Loneliness

Tips for First-Time Solo Travelers

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Where to Stay:

Choose to stay in Airbnb’s.

Airbnb’s are usually more cost effective, plus you can opt for a private room in a house, so you can get to know the owners or other guests. This really helps get some local insight.

Opt for a location with grocery stores and restaurants nearby.

Buying your own food can help you avoid the awkward sitting at a restaurant by yourself experience. I did that my first night on my solo trip, because I thought I needed to get over the fear of eating in restaurants alone. I sat at a booth in a vegan Thai restaurant, and I think it was a little awkward for the waiter that I was all by myself. Note to self – I could have just ordered carry out and ate at my Airbnb, silly me. Also there are so many ways to make eating alone not awkward. These days, there is takeout, you can sit in coffee shops or cafes by yourself, at the bar, etc.

One of the main reasons I loved my Airbnb in San Diego was because it was right across the street—350 feet away—from Whole Foods. I got breakfast there, and sometimes lunch and dinner. Also: buying your food at grocery stores is normally cheaper than eating out. Budgeting is a real thing.

What to Do:

Understand your travel style.

Do you like to go, go, go everyday? Or would you rather rest in between site seeing? Do you like to stay active or would you prefer laying on the beach? Understand how much rest you need and make sure to not overdo yourself. This will help plan your days. I opted to leave in the morning, and come home either before or after dinner, and then have the evenings to rest. It was a schedule that worked for me and took advantage of the daylight.

Use Trip Advisor or Airbnb Experiences.

I loved my Airbnb experiences! It was a great way to meet other people and do something different in the city. Also, you can sign up for various experiences that have photoshoots with them as well. If you’d like photos of yourself at touristy places, this will be easier with another set of hands. I signed up for a yoga experience, too, and met some nice ladies there as well.

Do the touristy things.

Especially if it’s your first time as a solo travel, don’t be afraid to stick with tourist attractions. I think travel should be a mix of both tourist spots and local spots, but I felt very comfortable in the tourist parts of town when I was by myself. I think it was because there were many other out-of-towners, making it easy to strike up a conversation about where they were from, if they were on vacation, etc.

Take your time and go back to spots you loved.

One thing I loved about staying in San Diego for 6 days was being able to go back to the places I enjoyed. I went to Balboa Park, their massive city park, twice and I went to La Jolla, a beautiful beachside area of San Diego, twice as well. It made me appreciate the places more, and also made me feel like I was finding the parts of the city where I felt at home.

Solo Travel in San Diego

How to Pack:

Do yourself a favor: always pack in a carry on.

(I think the only exception may be if it’s wintertime and beyond freezing – in that case, pack all the warm clothes!) I fit everything I needed into a carry on for 12 days; the only exception was that I bought some denim shorts when I was there. It may be hard to consolidate everything, but it is possible, trust me! Especially if you are constantly going from place to place, it is much easier to pack light! Also, realize that many places, especially Airbnb’s, offer laundry, which is a lifesaver! I ended up doing 2.5 loads of laundry during my trip, but I could have easily stretched that out. There’s also fabric fresheners!

Carry a backpack to explore cities during the day.

In San Diego, I was exploring for the entire day, so it was easy to throw everything into a huge backpack and be ready for anything. I was walking city parks, exploring downtown and then laying on the beach in the afternoon. In my backpack, I carried water, a pair of sandals (to change from my sneakers), a scarf for the chillier mornings and nights, a towel for the beach, a comb for beachy hair, and the usual wallet/sunglasses/sunscreen essentials. Even though it seemed like a lot to carry around, it was so worth it to be able to have everything you need right there with you!

Don’t forget to pack sunscreen.

(I made this mistake and got sunburned badly on a cloudy day.) Just thought I would throw this one in here.

Bring Dr. Bronner’s Soap – great for multiple uses.

I bought travel sizes of this soap to use as body wash and laundry detergent, and shampoo if I ran out of mine. It was good knowing that I could do a bunch of different things with it – very convenient!

Related Post: Why I Love Traveling on my Own

How to Combat Loneliness:

Strike up conversations with your Uber/Lyft drivers and passengers.

This was the best way for me to have conversations with locals or people traveling in the city. They were always really friendly and would give me advice about what to do while I was there. I realized I explained my story about a thousand times every day because I would talk about why I was exploring California with the drivers and passengers. I had it queued up – “I’m here on vacation by myself. I’m from D.C. and always wanted to travel to California, so here I am! I’m going to San Diego, then LA for a couple days, then headed up to San Francisco….”

Use apps and Facebook groups to meet up with people while you’re there.

I almost had luck with meeting people in San Diego through a couple Facebook groups. I’m sure if it’s the right timing that this would be a great way to meet people. I’ve used the Girls Love Travel subgroups, and I’m going to be meeting some people in my hometown through The Sassy Club group. Also, apps like Bumble BFF could be useful too. But I learned that it’s hard to be attached to your phone all the time when you’re out site seeing, so prioritize enjoying the moment instead of stressing over the feeling of “having to make plans” or finding meet-ups.

It’s all about your personality.

I didn’t mind being on my own for the majority of my time in San Diego, since I am introverted and I like doing my own thing. But make sure to do what feels right for you! Know that it may be hard, or it may be the best time of your life — or in most circumstances, a little bit of both. Soak it all in and enjoy!