10 Mistakes First-Time Solo Travelers Make

Woman admires Tsawwassen, Delta, Canada – solo travel fears

Want to learn the biggest mistakes first-time solo travelers make and how to avoid them?

Then you’re in the right spot!

I made some major mistakes on my first solo travel trips. They’re common slips that I’ve seen travelers make time and time again.

But not you!

I’m here to save you from repeating my travel fails by sharing 10 mistakes first-time solo travelers make. These tips will help you save money, have better experiences, and build your solo travel confidence.

10 Mistakes First-Time Solo Travelers Make (And How To Avoid Them)

1. Letting People Talk You Out of Solo Travel

One of the most impactful mistakes first-time solo travelers make is letting people talk you out of traveling alone.

Family and friends may not understand why you want to travel alone. They may worry that it’s dangerous or anti-social. They’d spread the myth that solo travel is lonely.

For some reason, most of these solo travel naysayers feel that their opinion is vital information to you.

Newsflash: it’s not!

But once they’ve said it, it’s hard to get their negativity out of your head.

I struggled with this for years. My family didn’t always understand my love of travel and thought my love of solo travel was downright dangerous. They seemed intent on looking up murder statistics or asking friends if they’d ever got food poisoning in the country I was visiting (somehow my dad always found someone).

Even when I didn’t believe them, having the people closest to me not support my dream was devastating.

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #1

Thank god for therapy and travel blogs!

I found people who supported my dreams and even encouraged them. On travel blogs, female travelers challenged me to avoid touristy cities and push myself further. My therapist helped me set up coping mechanisms for dealing with solo travel naysayers.

When I finally embraced solo travel, I found an even stronger network of support from other solo travelers. They’re a devoted community ready to welcome newbies in with open arms.

The amazing solo female travelers I met are still some of my best friends because they understand my passion. They’re the ones I call when I’m upset with my family for not understanding my love of solo travel, even years later.

Find your own support network to help you power through the negativity.

Remember: your dreams are valid! And solo travel is awesome.

2. Taking Group Tours

Group tours are a great option for new travelers. I’m not denying their appeal: someone plans your itinerary for you and helps you get through the whole thing.

But there are two major mistakes first-time solo travelers make when using group tours:

  1. They overspend
  2. They never move on from group tours

Unfortunately, having someone do the work for you costs extra! You’ll be tripling the cost of solo traveling on your own by joining most group tours.

I took Contiki tours through Europe as I learned to solo travel. The company is incredible and offers well-planned trips for people ages 18-35. Contiki’s tour from Amsterdam to Barcelona is a great start for first-time solo travelers.

A group of young people sitting in Baleal beach

But you’re spending extra on a tour when you could be getting extra days in Europe.

Be careful that you don’t get caught in the tour group trap (yep, that’s a thing. I’ve just decided).

First-time solo travelers can get caught up in the easiness of group travel. You don’t have to do much work – in fact, companies like Contiki will even help you book your flights. You can make friends on the tour. And there’s no hassle figuring out where to stay.

If you only travel on group tours, you’ll lose out on a lot of incredible experiences.

Group tours have rigid schedules with no flexibility for you to move at your own pace. If you get sick while traveling, you have to keep going. That’s how I missed seeing Barcelona. My stomach bug kept me in the hotel the entire time we visited.

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #2

Luckily, these are easy mistakes first-time solo travelers make. You can solve them by not taking group tours on every trip you take.

Check out my guide on how I travel plan for tips to create your own solo travel itinerary.

Limiting the number of tours you do will free up your budget and your time to try interesting, off-the-beaten-track activities. You may even be able to extend your trip with the money you save!

Try going on a solo adventure without a tour. You’ll learn new things about yourself and get to see if an alternative travel style works for you.

3. Overpacking for Your Trip

Overpacking is a classic mistake first-time solo travelers make.

It’s that old boy scout motto, right? “Always be prepared.”

Well, I think it should be changed to “always be prepared within reason.” Otherwise, things can get out of control fast!

I once tried to pack a parka for a Mexican holiday. I was 13, but it was still ridiculous!

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #3

Once I learned what to pack in a carry-on for a long flight, I saved SO much time and space. Plus I stopped hurting my back lugging around giant suitcases.

Avoid the dreaded overpacking scenario with these helpful tips:

  • Use a luggage scale at home to check your weight (no one wants to pay airlines more for their trip)
  • Make a packing list and stick to it
  • Remember, there are stores on trips too. You can buy extra items if you need them
  • Pick clothes you can mix and match to get a variety of outfits
  • You don’t need to pack 40 extra pairs of socks and underwear
  • Don’t bring items the hotel or hostel supplies
  • Make sure you can carry your bag

Remember that your trip is more important than the clothes you wear during it. That’s why it’s so important to follow these tips on how to pack light.

If I could survive for 8 months in Europe with 10 shirts, you’ll be fine with 10 tops for your 2-week vacation. Trust me!

4. Not Being Adventurous

Adventure is one of the best parts of travel. You get to explore new cultures, cuisines, and histories.

First-time travelers can be too scared to break out from the familiar.

Please, please, please don’t waste your first solo trip only eating at McDonald’s!

The stress of new places and traveling in a new way can be a lot to handle.

You may turn down opportunities for cool activities in the name of comfort – namely, the comfort of scrolling Facebook in your hostel. Or maybe you’ll claim money issues – but remember, you’ve already saved a bunch by touring on your own!

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #4

Look at the adventures you’d like to take ahead of time. Add them to your itinerary so you don’t have the excuse of budget or not being prepared.

While you’re traveling, take three deep breaths before you turn down an opportunity.

Think to yourself “Is this something I’ll regret not doing?” If the answer is yes, then you know you’re letting your anxieties hold you back.

5. Assuming Everything Will Be Perfect

Ready for another cliche?

Expect the unexpected!

This is true of any trip, but especially on your first solo travel experience. Plan for things to go wrong. They almost always will.

I used to leave for my trips expecting them to be something out of a movie.

Surely I’d fall in love in Paris or eat without gaining weight in Italy, right? I’d have perfect skin and an endless selection of outfits that would make me feel gorgeous every second of my vacation. All my problems from the real world would vanish. I wouldn’t have allergies or anxiety abroad.

Needless to say, that’s not the case.

Trips can be imperfect. I actually love that about them.

That’s why I started Tripping Up – a podcast celebrating the times when travel doesn’t go quite as planned.

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #5

I learned to love the imperfection of solo travel as much as I love the adventure – one often leads to the other.

If you go on a trip expecting everything to be perfect, you’ll leave disappointed every time. Remember that you’re new to this. It’s a learning experience.

I nearly abandoned the idea of solo traveling after getting lost in Amsterdam. Thankfully, I kept at it and now I’m a solo travel pro!

It’s the mistakes that build into who we are. They help us figure out the world and learn more about ourselves. And they make great travel stories when you get home!

Have backup plans if things go awry. Learn how to find a doctor while traveling and get travel insurance just in case.

6. Let Yourself Get Homesick

Homesickness is a common foe of first-time solo travelers.

You’re on this great adventure you were looking forward to for months and then BAM! Homesickness strikes with a vengeance. Suddenly, that couch you were so bored of seemed like the best place in the world. Your worried family are the only people you want to see.

It makes solo travel much harder when you don’t have a person from home to help lessen your homesickness. And it can be hard to talk to people you just met about missing home.

Want to know a secret? Travel pros get homesick, too.

It’s true!

It may not happen as often and we are pretty good at hiding it, but homesickness is an intrinsic part of travel.

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #6

So how do travel pros handle their homesickness?

We don’t bury it down inside ourselves. Instead, we address it.

Take the time to call home. Tell your friends about the trouble you’re having. Go out for something familiar (yes, I’m not allowing you to get McDonald’s).

Often homesickness is rooted in anxiety. Maybe your system is overwhelmed by too much activity. You may need a day off from travel to veg and watch TV or read. Have a movie night abroad like you would at home. Have a snack you’d eat at home. Do some yoga.

Think about what aspect of home you’re missing. If you’re missing the food, go get some. If it’s the people, you’re probably lonely. Make some new solo travel friends. If it’s the routine, find ways to incorporate your at-home routine into your trip.

My homesickness always gets better when I acknowledge it. Then I can take the steps to handle it so I can clear up my mind to focus on my travel.

7. Over-Planning Your Trip

I was so guilty of this critical mistake first-time solo travelers make and I wasn’t even a first-timer!

When I spent 8 months in Europe, I pre-planned 4 months of my route before I even left Canada. I knew exactly when and where I was going to be for 4 months! Sure, I had open days in my itinerary and I was volunteering with strangers. But even so, it was pretty inflexible.

My rigid schedule meant that I couldn’t go on a last-minute girls’ trip with my new friends from Spain or extend my stay in Munich when the museum I wanted to visit was closed on weekends.

Although some planning is good for first-timers, try to keep your schedule flexible.

You’ll miss out on so many opportunities if you’re focused on checking off countries or following a strict itinerary.

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #7

It’s best to have a plan. I’m always one to plan and make itineraries for every city I plan to visit.

That’s fine if you’re like that too, but hold off on booking things.

I recommend planning 2 weeks ahead for your first solo travel experience. If you’re going on a short holiday, plan your whole trip but leave gaps in your daily schedules. Then you can change your schedule if someone at the hostel tells you about a great new cafe or that your history tour is canceled.

If you’re planning a long-term solo trip like a study abroad or gap year,  plan the first 1 month before you leave.

Have a vague idea of places that interest you and a path you might follow, but don’t book specific dates ahead of time. Unless you’re visiting somewhere during a crazy busy time, it’s best to leave yourself the freedom to move with the people you meet.

8. Comparing Yourself to Instagram

This is something most solo female travelers are guilty of. We use Instagram to inspire us to travel, then get upset when real life doesn’t match up.

One of the common mistakes first-time solo travelers make with Instagram is expecting their photos to be as perfect as professional content creators. Then they judge themselves for not looking as perfect or having the best photo to share later.

It took me a long time to learn the secrets to get great Instagram shots when you’re solo traveling. But you know what, it’s more fun when you don’t focus on Instagram.

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #8

Much like Solo Travel Mistake #5, you have to remember that the world isn’t perfect.

All those gorgeous shots of girls in dresses on top of Ben Nevis in New Zealand? They lined up for hours to get that shot and had to change in front of a dozen strangers.

Sure the photo is cool, but was that worth the effort?

9. Not Engaging With Local Culture

Solo travelers are often warned of the dangers of locals. Sure, there are some pickpockets and scammers in every country. For the most part, though, local culture is the best part of every trip.

Step away from Starbucks and check out local cafes. Engage with local cultural opportunities.

If you avoid local culture, you’ll get a limited experience of the culture you’re visiting.

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #9

Learn a few words in the language of the place you’re visiting. This will help you speak with locals as you travel. It’s a great way to find undiscovered places and local hot spots.

Find local activities, like cultural events, that allow tourists to participate.

Visit museums to learn about local history.

Be open to the local culture so you can truly learn about the place you’re visiting. Ask for tips, help, and other information from residents at your hostel or during your daily explorations.

10. Not Booking a Solo Trip Sooner

The #1 mistake first-time solo travelers make is not booking a solo trip sooner.

Unfortunately, solo travel is scary. It’s hard to take the plunge to go on your first solo travel experience.

I got lucky: I didn’t even know I had been solo traveling for years. But that didn’t mean that those other trips were easy. It took me ages to commit to a trip to Amsterdam after living in Scotland for 3 months. Even getting to Scotland or Italy took an insane amount of courage – and a lot of tears over suitcases on my bedroom floor.

But you know what? Solo traveling was the best decision I ever made. (And getting on some anxiety meds to stop the pre-travel breakdowns).

How to Solve Solo Travel Mistake #10

Silhouettes at sunset in Praia Velha

It’s easy really: book a solo travel trip!

Due to current travel restrictions, you may not be able to book your dream trip right away. But that’s ok! Plan a solo weekend trip to somewhere close by.

While you’re dipping your toe in, start planning that dream solo trip.

Make Your Own Solo Travel Mistakes

Now that you’ve learned the 10 most significant mistakes first-time solo travelers make, you’ll be able to go out and make your own!

Travel is all about making mistakes, tripping up, and learning from your adventures. Avoiding these common mistakes will help you discover the more unique ones experienced travelers still struggle with, like not eating so much pizza you feel physically ill or learning how to balance budget and luxury.

Remember to appreciate the mistakes instead of letting them hold you back from your solo travel dreams.

The mistakes you make along the way will become some of your fondest solo travel memories.

Nina Clapperton is the founder of Nina Out and About. She has lived in 12 countries in the past 10 years, explored more than 30 countries, and has done most of it solo. A Canadian native, she also shares her favorite things to do in the True North.

Read more: Relocating to Portugal

Surfers at sunset in Praia de Dunas, Baleal