Planning for your first big backpacking trip can be stressful. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone into foreign lands all by yourself, and you’re not sure what to expect. Anything can happen, anything could go wrong. But what really makes solo travel fun is when you leave yourself open to all kinds of experiences, good or bad, and learning from them. Of course, there’s the nitty gritty stuff, like logistics, transport, and accommodation that you gotta take care of in advance. Don’t know how or where to start? We answer some burning questions you might have.

Q: I’m backpacking through Europe and I’m wondering if I should take the train, coach, or fly?
A: It depends on the distance, the region, and the cost of train tickets vs flight tickets. Despite what you may think, train tickets – especially in Western Europe – can sometimes cost more than a flight on a low-cost carrier such as Ryanair, Easyjet, Vueling, or Norwegian Air. Don’t fly if the journey on land is less than 5 hours. If time is of the essence, then book a flight, but remember to factor in the cost of getting to the airport, the time you have to spend waiting at the airport, going through immigration and security, and flight delays if you’re unlucky. If it all adds up to the same amount of time and money you’ll spend riding on land, a train/coach would make more sense. Eurolines and Flixbus are very cheap and comfortable, with free wifi on board. If you’re minimising your spending, I suggest you take an overnight coach or train ride so you save on accommodation. Train rides between Central European cities, eg. Prague to Krakow, are fairly affordable but be warned that the trains move at a snail’s pace and you can’t lie down or recline your seat. If you’re unlucky, you might have to share a cabin with rowdy travellers who’d talk all night.

Q: I’m travelling for two months. Should I move around and see lots of countries or visit a few countries spend three to four weeks in each one? 
It depends on what you want to get out of it. Moving around too much can be exhausting especially if it’s your first solo trip. Do you want to tick off a bunch of places on your bucket list or are there any cities you particularly want to spend more time in just to get to know the culture and people? There are some small countries/cities in which a few days would be enough. Mix it up if you can. Don’t plan ahead too soon and go with your gut.

Q: I’m a female solo traveller thinking of Couchsurfing. Should I do it?
A: Definitely give it a shot, but have a backup plan just in case your host turns out to be sketchy. Have a list of hostels nearby you can book if you feel like leaving at any point in time. Read through the references on your host’s profile, look at whether you’ll be sleeping on a couch or a bed, and get an understanding of “house rules”. Do you leave the house when they do? How much hang time do you have with them? What are both of your expectations? Trust your instincts and you’ll be fine.

Q: How do I combat the anxiety and loneliness of solo travel if I’m shy?
A: Airbnb is comfy and gives you more privacy but stay in a hostel as much as you can. It’s impossible not to meet anyone if you’re staying in a hostel. Even if you’re too shy to introduce yourself to your room mates, one of them will eventually speak to you first. Hang out in the common room (if there’s one), be open and try to have conversations with other travellers; put in some effort. If they ask you to join them for a drink or a party, do it. You’ll end up with new friends and great experiences. Contrary to popular belief, dating apps Tinder and Bumble are also great for making new friends. Not every date will turn out to be a hookup, especially if you don’t want it to be, and if your date is a decent person who doesn’t mind a new friend.

Q: I’m interested in solo travelling. Can you recommend a good book for a first timer?
Check out our recommended list of books if you’re looking for inspiration to start with.

Cindy Tan

about Cindy

Cindy heads Departure’s Curator section. She is an avid traveller and night owl, known for her contrarian stance on a number of issues. She has criticised such public and generally popular figures as Mother Teresa, Taylor Swift and Pope Benedict XVI.

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