I’ve Traveled Solo for the Last 50 Years. Here are 44 Important Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way

I’ve spent a lot of years, decades actually, collecting travel experiences to compile this list of my best solo female safety and travel tips. 

I was only 12 years old for my first solo adventure. My dad put me on the old Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad for a three-night train ride from Chicago to Phoenix to visit family.

As I settled into my cozy compartment, I distinctly remember seeing my father hand the Porter (job title back then) a stack of greenbacks and asked him to please keep a watchful eye on his little girl.

I enjoyed every solo minute on the train. Even when the tracks were washed out near Tucumcari, New Mexico. Somewhere I have a photo of the most beautiful rainbow over the New Mexico desert.

Amtrak wasn’t around yet so I was aboard what would become a legendary train. I was hooked on trains but mostly traveling solo. 

On a solo cruise to Alaska, I took a shore tour to this welcome to the Arctic Circle sign.
I recently traveled from Florida to the Arctic Circle without flying, on one of my most memorable solo travel adventures ever.

Right after college I embarked on my first solo cruise. I hopped aboard a short three-night Miami-Bahamas run. While being somewhat cautious and in my “invincible” 20s, solo travel skills weren’t yet in my repertoire.

Traveling Solo – Lessons Learned Along the Way

Why do I choose to continue to explore the world on my own and without ever flying? I travel solo simply to enjoy the freedom and independence to eat, stay and explore wherever and whenever I want.

Plus, I enjoy the sometimes daunting challenge, for example, to figure out how to get from Orlando, Florida to Tunisia, Africa without flying. Or figuring out from the myriad of European trains how to get to Bucharest. to There are a myriad of things to know as a solo female traveler or solo cruiser.

Sherry on a solo trip in Tunisia
I was groggy from cold medicine, but stood still long enough for a passerby to take my photo in Tunisia. Probably not a smart idea.

There are some not-so-obvious safety tips that you learn from experience. Other solo travel tips cover the gamut from dining alone and what to pack to trip planning and itinerary preparation.

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What to Know if You Plan to Travel Solo

As a solo female traveler, safety and security are the most important things to remember. Next is being comfortable on your own.

This includes using transportation, overnights in hotels, interacting with a wide variety of humans and especially dining. Women who travel solo that I’ve spoken with say their biggest concern is dining alone.

Actually, dining should be their least concern. I always advise to start solo dining small, which could even be a food truck and finding outdoor seating. 

Many of these 44 solo travel tips lean towards female travelers. But a lot of these tips could apply to men venturing out on their own, too.

Here is my most concise list of lessons I’ve learned traveling solo; my top 44 solo travel tips. They’re sorted by category for easier reading.

Solo Female Traveler Basics for Train Stations in Europe and USA

  1. At some point, you’ll need to lift your luggage. Start using 5 lb. hand weights two or three months before departure. 
  2. If you’re in Europe, arrive at the station no more than 20 minutes before your train departure time. Amtrak, 45-minutes to 1 hr. 
  3. For European trains, try to go to the train station the day before your departure. The same trains depart every day and from the same platform location. Walk the route from the station entrance to as close to where your train will depart. Especially helpful at crowded major train stations like Amsterdam, Paris and Rome.
  4. If you can do the station walk-through, note where the elevators are located. If you have a lot of luggage, avoid the escalators. You don’t want a nasty pile-up if a suitcase wheel doesn’t roll smoothly off the escalator. It happened to me and was scary.
  5. No matter if Europe or US, I always try to find a hotel or Airbnb within a very short walk of the train station. With an early morning departure, it’s better than taking a taxi.
  6. Avoid train station elevators that aren’t made with see-through glass. Many elevators in Europe and in the US are plexi-glass. 
  7. While you wait at a train station in Europe, situate yourself so you can clearly read the departures board, and keep your hands on your luggage handles at all times.
  8. If ANYONE approaches you at a train station in Europe and asks if you need help, DO NOT make eye contact and loudly say, “NO!” All train stations in Europe have information kiosks marked with a large yellow “i.” This is where you go for any train travel information. You also need to have your Eurail Pass validated there.
  9. Pack as light as possible. Not only to get your luggage up onto the train but also rolling cases across carpet, over ancient cobblestones and metal curb-warning bumps.
  10. Be aware of huge gaps between the station platform and the train entrance. In addition to the gap, there could be three or four steps up to the train. Remember those hand-held weights? You’ll thank me later.
Female solo travelers should find glass elevators at train stations.
Especially for a solo female traveler, these glass elevators at Amsterdam Centraal Station are perfect.

Solo Travel Precautions While en Route

  1. Turn on Find Friends on your phone and make sure to share with someone back home. It’s a solo traveler’s best friend.
  2. Leave a copy of your itinerary and last-minute updates with friends and/or family.
  3. Women might want to wear a faux wedding band. As sexist as this sounds, certain countries view married women differently than someone not wearing a ring.
  4. Be friendly and polite to the front desk staff whether hotel or ship. You never know when they’ll be needed to help.
  5. If walking back to your hotel or apartment in a new city or neighborhood late at night, find a group of women that are heading in your direction and tag along with them.
  6. Don’t walk around while using your mobile phone. Duck into a store to read your walking directions.
  7. Take an up-close screen shot from Google Maps and study it before you leave. It’s easier for a quick glance down in Photos rather than have to walk and follow directions and not be aware of your surroundings.
  8. Carry a note in the local language with the hotel address or ship dockage. In case you get lost, ask a female shopkeeper or restaurant worker for directions. Don’t stop and ask a stranger.
  9. Always confirm the shared-ride’s license plate with what’s on your phone. Don’t just hop in and assume it’s your ride.
  10. If you’re in a taxi after dark, pretend to call someone and say you’re on your way. Mention the location of your taxi and sound like you know where you are and how soon you’ll arrive.
  11. Know exactly how many items you bring with you into a taxi or bus or ride-share. When you go to exit, count them again.
  12. Turn around and look back into the car and make sure you didn’t leave your phone or wallet on the seat.
  13. If you’re approached on the street and asked for money, don’t make eye contact and loudly say, “No”.
  14. I always give a euro or two to a street musician who’s music makes me smile.
  15. Always keep your phone at least half-charged. Buy a power bank phone charger and remember to keep it charged.
  16. Bring local currency with you. That famous gelato stand may not take a credit card.
  17. Avoid walking alone at night – Here’s what I did on my first visit to Rome.

My boutique hotel in Rome sold me a ticket to an evening performance of La Traviata. The small theater was only a four-block walk and it would be just past dusk when I walked there. 

Unfortunately, it would be dark by the time the opera ended. As I waited in line for the doors to open, I spotted two women about my same age nearby in line.

I walked over and asked if they minded if I waited with them. These two women from Ireland were only too happy to have my company. We sat together in the theater and afterwards they walked me back to the hotel.

Don’t hesitate to tag along with a group of women at night, even if the group doesn’t know you’re there. There’s safety in numbers.

Hotel or Apartment Rental Precautions When Traveling Solo

  1. Ask the front desk clerk for a room near an elevator.
  2. Don’t accept a room that is located all the way down a corridor and around a corner. If you find this out when you get to your floor, turn around and head back to the front desk and change it.
  3. If someone knocks on your hotel door, never open it without confirming with the front desk that someone was sent up to fix something.
  4. Have your key card ready as you exit the elevator at your floor.
  5. Carry a door alarm for your hotel room or rental. Who knows if a past renter made a copy of the key or if the Air BnB owner is a nut case. I  use these on ships, too.
  6. Whether on a ship or in a hotel, always make sure the windows and balcony doors are locked.
  7. Check under the bed, behind the curtains, in the closet and shower.

Dining Alone as a Solo Traveler

  1. If the idea of dining alone makes you panicky, start small. Before you leave home, visit a local diner. Stop at nearby food truck or snack shop. Baby steps.
  2. Dining alone can be a great time to sort through the day’s photos on your phone and delete, delete, delete.
  3. When dining, keep your purse/wallet/cross-body bag either on your lap or away from any foot traffic.
  4. Don’t drink too much and then have to try to get back to your hotel.
  5. Old news but don’t ever leave or turn your eyes away from your open drink, if you’re at a bar. It’s so easy to swivel on the bar stool and leave your drink exposed.
  6. Tired? Dark outside in a new neighborhood? There’s always room service. Or stop at a local market before dark and picnic in your room.
  7. If something doesn’t “feel” right, leave! There are creeps in restaurants, too.
  8. Always bring something to watch/read/do. It’s a good dinner companion.
  9. Be ready for strangers to ask you to dine with them. Then it’s up to you to join them. This is especially true on cruises.
  10. Don’t berate yourself if you’re getting burned out on public dining. It’s decompression time. Order room service, whether in a hotel, on a ship or even on Amtrak. Watch a movie, stare out the window and shut out the rest of the world, if only for a few hours.
Sherry at Columbia Ice Field in British Columbia
Scary moment trying to get my phone from my pocket and not get knocked off my feet from the wind and ice.

Tech Tips and Travel Hacks for a Solo Female Traveler

  1. Pack a separate phone charger like a Mophie or Anker  and keep it fully charged and ALWAYS carry it with you.
  2. If you see a touristy couple trying to take a selfie, you could ask if they’d like you to take their photo. They’ll usually then ask if you’d like them to take your photo. Quid pro quo. Be careful and go with your gut on this one.
  3. If someone approaches you to ask if you’d like your photo taken, your internal radar should have screeched and you need to walk away. Immediately.
  4. I shouldn’t have to remind you but leave valuables (jewelry, excess cash, extra credit cards) in your room safe or apartment. Better yet, at home. I absolutely cringe when I see solo women flaunting their jewelry in tourist areas and craft markets.
  5. When you get up to leave a restaurant, bar, café, bookstore and especially at a cashier counter, do a mental checklist of your belongings. Make sure to take your phone. Put everything away before you head out the door. Don’t walk down the street fumbling to put your wallet away.
  6. Have a keychain size bottle of pepper spray nearby and know how to use it. 
  7. Download movies, podcasts and music before you leave home. What you can’t download, store in the cloud to download after you’ve deleted another. In many places, hotel, ship and train wifi isn’t capable to download video. 

Some of these suggestions may seem really obvious or downright idiotic. But when you travel solo, no one has your back except you.

My MOST Important Lesson Learned From Traveling Solo

Expect a new sense of self. Yes, you probably stepped a little or a lot out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t take bravery (you’ll hear that a lot) or the lack of a travel companion to travel solo.

Just the unswerving will to go where you want, when you want and however you choose to go. When all is said and done, traveling solo builds confidence and character, independence and innovation.

Looking back on some of my solo travel adventures, I wonder how in the world I managed alone. Yet, if given a reset option, I wouldn’t change a thing.

You can do it, too.

What solo travel tips do you have to share? Please leave your comments below. 

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14 Comments

  1. Hi Kathy,
    Thanks for reading my article! Yes, back to the wall…I never have my back facing the door (I’m half Italian, lol) and also sit near a service area when in a busy restaurant in Europe.

    Surprisingly enough, I don’t use a GPS on my luggage. If I flew, then I probably would. My luggage is almost always with me or checked on Amtrak. On a ship, I just cross my fingers that my luggage will arrive before sailaway!

    Have a great time in Spain! Thanks again for your question and if you find a GPS that you like, please let me know!

    Sherry

  2. Hi, Sherry
    Lot of good information for beginner solo travelers.
    I always sit with my back to the wall and close to the service area in a restaurant, especially international trips.
    Which GPS tag do you use on your luggage? I am looking for one before my trip to Spain in September,2023.
    Still studying the different kinds.
    Always a pleasure to read your blogs.
    Regards,
    Kathy

  3. Hi Patty, thank you for reading my article and taking the time to comment. I hope you eventually learn to enjoy dining solo, make new friends and love the solo cruise and travel experience. Thanks again! Happy Travels.

  4. Hi Sherry,
    CDC Moves Cruises to Level 4 and Advises Against Cruise Ship Travel
    December 30, 2021

    #ViralKindness❤️

    Next week I’m cruising solo for the first time. I guess it was an expression of my empty nest independence and the desire for a change of pace I’m going with a mask on! If fully vaccinated healthcare professionals can get through a shift without being intubated, I can too, and the cruise industry has recent low positivity statistics. Your website was informative and entertaining, inspirational too. I was trying to imagine how the whole mealtime dilemma would unfold. Mealtime with my family was always one of the most enjoyable moments, but I think this crisis makes things a little tricky for me. Your suggestions are great. I’ll remember to smile under that mask and look for some cooking classes. Have a great 2022! Godspeed!

  5. Hi Maryanne,
    Thank you so much for your email and listening to Cruise Radio podcasts. I’m glad my solo article is helpful to you. Yes, I also choose hotels near cruise ports in the U.S. In Europe, I stay farther from the ocean cruise ports as many also are industrial ports. On river cruises in Europe, staying near a river cruise port is easy.

    I have had a few roommates over the years, but more recently, when someone said that they wanted to go along, I insisted on separate rooms. It’s nice to have a built-in friend onboard, but not when they rely on you to be the tour guide onboard and ashore. I’ve made a handful of really good friends on my solo travels that I’m sure I would not have known if I was with someone.

    Sorry that your husband is losing interest in travel but that’s not uncommon. I hope you continue to venture out and enjoy the world. Thank you again for reading my article. Please get in touch again if you have any more questions. Happy travels!
    Sherry

  6. Thanks, Sherry. I enjoy your podcast visits with cruise radio and your articles. This one is particularly helpful for me. I am not currently a solo traveler but my husband has indicated he doesn’t enjoy travel as much as I do and would prefer if he does not have to go on every trip. You said you choose a hotel near the train station, I assume you do the same for the cruise ship terminal? How about roommates for cruises, have you ever tried that and do you have recommendations, or is it just better to sail alone? Thanks again. Maryanne

  7. Hi Ioana,
    Thank you for taking the time to read my article and send your email. I’ve found that using the weights to prepare for hauling luggage is helpful to me. Please check with your doctor or other healthcare provider before beginning any exercise regiment. What works for me may not apply to everyone. Thank you again and happy cruising!
    Sherry

  8. These are such amazing tips! Thanks for putting this post together. I do some of these already, but I will adopt some others, such as using the 5lb weights before! Genius..!

  9. Hi Kelly,
    Thank you so much for your comment! I think your idea of using your Apple watch for a street map is wonderful! Thank you for sharing and happy travels!
    Sherry

  10. AWESOME article! My Apple Watch (I do have the latest model-4 I think, and I have Sprint service with the booster-worked perfectly!) provided turn by turn directions in Europe and is so much more discrete. There are other features as well on the Apple Watch and it’s always improving. Way better than holding out the big phone.

  11. Hi,
    Find Friends is an app for smart phones that’s used to virtually “find” where your friends or family are at any given moment, after both parties approve the link between each other. Parents use it to track their kids, friends use it to know where to meet other friends etc.
    Hope this helps.
    Sherry

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