A Shy Girl’s Guide to Solo Travel

Solo traveller, backpacker, girl

In two years of solo travel, I’ve gone from somebody so shy that ordering food in a restaurant made my heart pound and my head swim, to being somebody that will sing karaoke on a boat in front of a handful of people I’d just met that day*. Sometimes I catch sight of myself and wonder “who is this person and what has she done with the real Emily?”. Travel changes you if you give it the chance. Especially solo travel. It forces you out of your comfort zone, introduces you to a stream of new people, makes you try new things, and slowly buffers you into a new and – potentially – better version of yourself.

But travelling as a shy person is daunting. If you’re shy, socially awkward, or anxious, the idea of solo travel is a nightmare. Trust me, I’ve been there. For the past two years I’ve mostly travelled solo – and this year I’ve taken two long term backpacking trips all by myself. And honestly, these days I feel like a different person. It’s almost unbelievable how much I’ve grown! But that doesn’t mean I’m not still shy. Every time I board a flight on a new adventure, every time I walk into a new hostel or arrive at a press event full of new faces, I feel sick with nerves. Shyness isn’t something that can be cured, but it is something you can learn to live with – and travel can help with that. So these are a few of my tips for coping with shyness as a solo traveller…

*That really happened last week! 

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Solo Travel Tips for Shy Folks…

It Will Get Better

Shy Solo Traveller

On my first solo backpacking trip in Bangkok

If there’s one thing that’s going to help you break out of your shell a little and feel less anxious about talking to people, it’s travel. The more you practice something, the better you get at it, right? So if you’re constantly meeting new people, asking strangers for directions, ordering in restaurants on your own, etc, etc… gradually you’re going to get better at it and feel more comfortable doing it.

Three years ago, I couldn’t go into a shop and ask a question, couldn’t order for myself at a bar, couldn’t walk into a pub or restaurant unless I knew that my friends were already in there and exactly where they were sitting. Now, I can travel completely on my own. I eat in restaurants alone all the time. I can walk into a hostel full of strangers and make friends.

Honestly – I promise you it gets easier. You just have to keep on doing it.

Read More: A Year on My Own – all about my year of solo travel, and how it helped get me over a break-up. 

Create a “Patronus”

If you don’t know what a patronus is, we can’t be friends! In Harry Potter*, it’s a spell that wards off dementors (who feed on fear) by clinging to a happy memory. Without realising it, that’s exactly what I do these days when I feel scared.

September Travel Round Up

I got a silly pterodactyl tattoo in front of a crowd of strangers at a rooftop bar in Lima, which was a surprising act of bravery and confidence for me. So I use it as a reminder. I give it a quick glance, remind myself I can do anything I want to, and then go for it. Even if the “big scary thing” is walking into a hostel dorm for the first time and saying hi to everyone (which still scares me every single time).

Think of a time when you were scared to do something, but managed to do it anyway. No matter how small or insignificant it might seem to others, if it felt like a triumph to you, use it. Just hold on to that memory and use it whenever you feel scared – to tell yourself “I can do this”.

*Yep, I’m a major Potter geek – and proud! 

There will Always be Someone

Shy Solo Traveller

Just remember: for every shy, awkward person in the world, there’s somebody confident to balance them out. Every time I’ve nervously entered a new hostel, I’ve found one. Someone socially dominating enough to introduce themselves, lead a conversation, invite you to dinner. All you need is an open mind and a willingness to say yes. You’ll find someone, and it won’t be at all hard to make friends. Because some people are social enough and confident enough for two!

Read More: A Year in the Life of a Travel Blogger

Ask Questions

I’ve always sucked at making conversations with strangers. If people talked to me, I’d be polite, I’d answer their questions, but the conversations would just fizzle out. It was my ex who pointed out what I was doing wrong. Not asking questions. Being shy and reserved made me awkward, and that’s why conversations usually dissolved when Sam or someone else wasn’t around to carry them for me. So if someone asks where you’re from, don’t just answer. Ask them right back. And when they tell you, ask a question about it.

Shy Girl's Guide to Solo Travel

This might be the most obvious-sounding piece of advice in the world – but I had to be told it! So now I’m telling you. Shy people struggle with making conversation. If you pair us with a really dominant person they’ll probably ask enough questions and talk enough to carry the conversation for us, but with anyone a little more reserved it’s much tougher. Learn to ask questions, even dull ones, and suddenly conversations become much easier – and just like that you have a new friend!

Pretend Not to be Shy

What’s funny is that whenever I tell people I’m shy, they don’t really believe me. “But you don’t seem shy!” they all exclaim. Which is crazy, given that the first time I met them, my heartbeat was probably thumping in my ears and I have no doubt that internally I was terrified. Here’s a really useful thing to remember, though – your shyness is internal. Even if you’re feeling really nervous, uncomfortable, or awkward – people probably won’t notice.

Solo traveller, backpacker, girl

So you can pretend not to be feeling that way at all. Pretending not to be shy is also quite a good coping mechanism. I don’t really want people to know when I’m nervous or embarrassed, since those tend to be quite embarrassing emotions. So I pretend not to be feeling awkward – and not only do 99% of people seem to believe it, but somehow I start to believe it too.

Being Shy Can be a Great way to travel

Being shy also makes me passive. Unable to stand up for myself or say what I want, I have a tendency to go along with a group. I’ll say yes, or “I don’t mind”, or “you choose” – even when I really do have a preference. Because of that, I’ve gone on some adventures that I never otherwise would have. Saying yes to things I wanted to say no to has led me to discover some amazing things, meet great people, or find myself in the kind of crazy situation that leads to a great story.

solo travel fears

I used to think being passive was a bad thing. But it’s really not. It’s just a different way to travel, and one that comes with real freedom in a way. So don’t ever wish you were less shy or less passive. Own your shyness and be proud of who you are. It might take you places you’d never have made it to otherwise!

Read More: Last year, I set myself the challenge to do one thing a month that scared me. Find out what I learnt from terrifying myself for a year

Don’t Take My Word For It

A lot of my fellow travel bloggers have also mentioned to me that they’re particularly shy or anxious. I think a lot of writers are – it’s why we prefer to sit behind computer screens instead of talking to real-life people. I remembered having this conversation with Samantha Hussey from The Wandering Wanderlusters, so I asked her for a tip to include in this post…

“My tip is just to get out there and bite the bullet, it will be the best thing for your self esteem. I literally cried non stop for hours when the day of my Camino came around last year because I was so nervous. Aside from the physical challenges, I was so worried about meeting people, whether they would judge my brightly coloured hiking clothes (silly I know) or my lack of make up. I was shaking with nerves but I found meeting new people who are like minded so easy. Just remember, the people you meet when you travel already have something in common with you – love for travel. So use that as a conversation starter and go from there!

“I found that forcing myself to eat on communal tables helped a lot with socialising… and hostels always help as well. If your super nervous about travelling alone, join Facebook groups and arrange to meet like minded people… Travelettes is a good one.”

Facebook Groups for Meeting Travellers

Solo travel tips for shy people

Samantha’s suggestion about using Facebook groups to arrange meetups is a fantastic tip. It can be much easier to meet someone for the first time if you’ve already gotten to know them a little in advance. A few of my favourites are below:

Travelettes

Girls vs Globe

Let There Be Travel

Girls LOVE Travel

Another great way to arrange meetups is through sites like CouchSurfing and MeetUp, where people will often advertise social events and meetups which anyone can attend. Just search for your next destination and see what’s coming up!

If you know of any more great websites and Facebook groups for meeting travellers, please scroll right down and leave me a comment. I’ll update the list!

Find a Good Hostel

If you’re not sure about scheduling a meetup, there are still loads of ways to make friends and connect with like-minded people. A lot of good hostels will organise events exactly for that purpose, things like city tours, barbecues, and parties. Signing up to a few of those is a great way to meet fellow travellers and get to know people. Browse a hostel booking site (I like Hostelworld because it tends to have the most trustworthy reviews) and look for hostels that mention social events in the description, or have “tours” marked in their services/facilities section.

Are You a Shy Solo Traveller?

Solo traveller, backpacker, girl

Did travelling alone help with your social anxiety? Have you learnt to manage your shyness better through solo travel? I’d love to include your tips, suggestions, and encouragement here for other shy backpackers and solo travellers. Please scroll down and leave me a comment!

And if you’re a shy or socially anxious person wondering whether to take the plunge and travel solo – please let me be the first to tell you, DO IT. You won’t regret it. It might just be the toughest thing you’ve ever done, and I guarantee that some days will suck. But I promise you that most days will be awesome, you’ll have the best experiences of you’re life, and you might just come back an even stronger person than when you left.

Read More: Need some more inspiration to solo travel? 17 solo travel bloggers to help inspire you to take your first solo trip.

Scroll down to leave me a comment! 

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Shy Girl's Guide to Solo Travel - tips and advice for shy backpackers

About Emily Luxton

An award-winning writer and travel blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural exchanges, food experiences and more as she attempts to get to know the world. Lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, and the odd bit of luxury!

42 Comments

  1. Yes! Travel is the perfect way to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s especially difficult when you are shy or introverted. My strategy has been to ‘fake it until you make it’ – that is, pretend your are a confident person even though you’re secretly quaking in your boots. If you pretend to be confident for long enough you’ll soon find it comes easily.

    • Haha that’s exactly what I do! When I’m busy pretending not to be shy, it distracts me and I somehow trick myself into thinking I’m confident. Or at least forgetting about feeling shy! And like I said – whatever you’re feeling inside, no one will actually know about it, so you can keep it internal and fake away!

  2. I totally feel ya! As someone who struggles to strike up conversations with new people, I’m very familiar with the ‘faking it’ method of pretending not to be shy. Works like a charm!

  3. I love your photos, Amazing 🙂
    I’d been a shy girl :). I remembered my feeling of the first time hiking in colorado, cold, fear, tired. But after that, I become stronger and love … explore the world!

    • Thanks Louise. Only a few of them are my own, the rest came from Unsplash!

      I think the more people travel the stronger they become, in a lot of ways. It’s been so so good for me, I can’t even really express it! Glad to hear it’s been good for you too 🙂

  4. ah THIS. you put into words everything i feel sometimes!! i loved reading this and honestly had no idea you were shy from our trip haha! it really is all in our heads I guess 🙂

    Sher
    http://www.shershegoes.com

    • Oh wow thanks Sher!

      You’re right, it’s always internal – no one can usually tell until we tell them. Pretending not to be shy is my secret weapon – the more I do it, the more I believe it 😀

  5. It was so great to read this! I have social anxiety but my fear of not traveling is much bigger, so it’s only a matter of time until I bite the bullet and go on a solo travel adventure. 🙂

    • Thank you Sandra! It’s always a struggle travelling with social anxiety – but it’s so worth it. And in a way it’s even more rewarding. Good luck on your adventure – hope you bite the bullet soon 😀

  6. This post is brilliant! And your 12 months 12 fears series too! I feel the same. I classify as an ambivert but I’m definitely on the shy side too sometimes. There are social situations that intimidate me, like walking into somewhere where a group is already formed and I am afraid I won’t fit. If there’s no group pre-formed I’m super talkative and have no problem starting conversations though. And next year I know I’m up for some solo travel (which I already did twice and had no problem with) and I’m scared I won’t cope but seeing an awesome experience by someone who feel the same way is really encouraging! Thank you so much!

    • Thanks so much Catia. It’s always intimidating trying to join in with a new group of people – and I know what you mean, it’s harder when that group is already formed. You sort of feel like the odd one out, right. But never let feeling intimidated hold you back 🙂 Good luck on your adventures for next year!

  7. Your photo is so nice and I feel the same about the solo travel with shyness and my introvert persona.I have social anxiety when I was in a group setting but I agree it is not an excuse to give up on solo travel because we have met so many kindred souls and it made us grow so much more. Interestingly after several years of on the road myself, I dont have problems to approach strangers on the road, but I have anxiety to approach people in my host city Toronto, cuz people here just cannot start talking for some reason and I dont want be a weirdo talking to them at the first place.

    • Thank you Julie!

      I think it’s always harder to approach people and make friends when you’re in a fixed place. On the road, everyone wants to make new friends and meet new people (most people do anyway), but I suppose people at home already have connections etc so they might be less open to meeting new folks. Always tricky. Have you tried sites like Meetup? You could always see if there’s something going on around Toronto that you could go to 🙂

  8. I love this post Em – packed full of so many great tips! I have to admit that I don’t consider myself as overly shy, however if it came to travelling on my own I imagine that I would be, it takes a lot of guts to walk over and introduce yourself to people but I can imagine that it’s the best feeling! I need to do some solo travelling next year for sure!

    Hayley xo
    http://www.frockmeimfamous.com

    • Aw thanks Hayley 🙂

      It definitely takes guts but it gets easier with practice. Although I think for people who are already shy it can be twice as hard. It’s just one of those things you build up in your head I suppose – I always arrive at a hostel feeling almost sick with nerves!! But it always works out fine in the end 🙂

      Solo travel though – it’s definitely good for the soul. Gives you time to really find out who you are and what you’re capable of etc. Very different to travelling with friends or as a couple, and everyone should try it once!

      XX

  9. Loved reading this! Summed up everything I’ve felt over the past three years of various solo trips and adventures. Thank you for sharing!

    I’ve included it on my blog, wanted other traveling friends to read as well!
    http://www.stacyhannings.com/writing/

    Thank you thank you!
    -Stacy

    • Thank you Stacy! Your comment, and you blog post, have genuinely made my day. Travelling has been so helpful to me and I wanted to show people how and maybe inspire them to get out there and do it to. So glad to hear that this resonated with you.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

      Emily

  10. I am soooo glad I stumbled upon this!!! I’m taking my first solo adventure in about a month and I am so nervous!!! My family and friends aren’t really helping- they’re all negative about the situation. Since I’m super shy and I have social anxiety it constantly makes me question my choice. Your blog has given me hope that I won’t be all by myself and stuck in my shy head the entire time. So thank you.

    • Hi Caitlin! I’m so glad you found this helpful. I know what friends and family can be like – especially the first time you go away. They’re worried about you and so that’s all they’ll focus on. But I promise you it’s going to be amazing. There might be some really tough times, I’m, not gonna lie, and there will probably be some days when you feel totally lost and alone. But the bad days only serve to make the good days feel even more amazing – and there will definitely be more good days than bad! And I’m sure you’ll find, like I did, that you slowly start to get more of a handle on your anxieties and shyness. Mine never went away, it’s just a part of who I am, but I’m more accepting of it and it’s certainly easier to manage and ignore. And I can be a whole lot braver when I need to be – because I never want to miss out on anything fun. If you’re feeling shy or nervous ask yourself, what’s the alternative? Usually, opting out is a lot less fun, so you just need to push yourself to choose the more interesting option!

      Really hope you have an amazing time on your trip! Where are you headed?

      • Tentatively I’m going to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Although I’ve made some wiggle room if I decide to stay in places longer or skip a country entirely. I leave in 3 weeks. Super excited! Any advice on those places?

        • I’ve only been to Thailand out of those three. If you have time, head up to Chiang Mai and Pai in the north – those two are my favourites. Very chilled out and easy to travel. In Bangkok the Lub D hostels are awesome, great places to meet people but not noisy like party hostels.

          Hmmmmm… more advice. Depends where you’re going I suppose. Do a food tour or a cooking class because the food is amazing. Throw yourself in to everything, say yes to any opportunity, and have an amazing time 🙂

          I have a few posts on Thailand I think so check them out! Although not that many, so if you have any questions please feel free to ask.

          • I have been to Cambodia and Laos, but it was over 4 years ago … let me know if you need to know anything vague though that might still be valid!

          • I’m set to leave in a few days and I’m feeling a little nervous as this is my first time solo traveling. Any words of wisdom?! This is really intense!

          • Don’t stress – it’s going to be amazing. It just feels intense because it’s the first time you’re doing this, but pretty soon it’s just going to feel easy and awesome and you’ll wonder why you were ever worried! Have your first few days planned out if you can, in terms of where you’ll stay and what’s nearby, but try not to do too much.

            If you’re hostel is running anything like a party, tour, bbq, anything, say yes to it. It’s seems so scary at first to walk into a group of people and start hanging out but you have to take the plunge, and as soon as you do it’ll feel better. Like ripping off a plaster (band-aid if you’re in the US!). The worst bit is the first “hi” – after that it’s just talking to people. If you can talk to people at work, or at home, you can talk to people in a hostel. Remember, everyone is in the same boat and most people out there are nice, friendly, and not going to judge you. And the best part about travelling is that if you do really embarrass yourself somehow (which you won’t but it’s always my biggest fear), you can just leave that town, go somewhere new, and never see any of those people again!!!

            Good luck! Let me know how the trip goes 🙂 You’re going to have an amazing time!

  11. Wowswers! You sound very similar to me! My work colleagues can’t quite come to grips with the fact that someone who travels solo to some rather odd places can possibly be an Introvert, let alone shy, but for me, that’s kind of the point – being a relatively shy loner with a particular hatred of the phone (seriously, I can’t even phone up a takeaway; I have to do it online!), solo travel suits me perfectly, as it means I don’t need to be around people all the time – I can just go off and hike up that hill, or wander aimlessly around a city taking pics of all the street art!

    But.
    No matter how often I travel, every time my plane is about to land in a new destination my stomach starts to churn and I get the worries: what if no-one can speak my language? What if I can’t understand the signs? What if I can’t get any money out the cash machine? What if it’s not obvious how to leave the airport? What if I end up having to speak to someone and have them laugh at me for being a stupid foreigner? Sometimes I feel like crying in frustration when I’m stuck between being lost and having to speak to someone. Doubly so if there’s a strong chance we speak different languages and/or use different alphabets.

    Party hostels leave me cold. I just end up cowering in the corner not speaking to anyone. I’m much more comfortable in quiet backpacker hangouts where people lurk around in the common area on social media, where there’s no pressure to socialise or ‘have fun’. A quick ‘hi’ is often followed by the usual questions of ‘who are you, where you going’, but at least then the ice may be broken; we can choose to continue or to sidle back into our own space.

    There’s so much I could write about your post, but most of it could be summarised by ‘yep’, ‘god yes’, ‘oh, i know’, or variations on the theme! Fab posting, thank you 🙂

    • Oh thanks so much for your comment! I know exactly what you mean about being on the plane and all the travel doubt. I still get it too. All those stupid doubts and the silly questions you start asking yourself – gets me every time. I always over pack because I worry that people will judge me on what I’m wearing in some way, so I pack for every eventuality! In case someone judges me because my hiking clothes aren’t outdoorsy enough or something! It’s so stupid – but I do just get so hung up on stupid things when I’m nervous.

      Again, thanks so much for commenting. I loved writing this post and I’m really hoping it helps others who might find themselves in a similar position to me!

  12. This reminds me so much of when I starting traveling solo. Awesome read! And you are 10x more awesome because you also love Harry Potter (:

    • Haha your comment put a smile on my face this morning! I do LOVE Harry Potter 😉 Thanks for commenting too – starting solo travel is really daunting, and I wanted to share with people that it does get easier and is worth taking the plunge!

  13. I love this article, it’s such a relief to know I’m not the only one!
    although I do feel that there’s a difference between being shy and introverted – I think I’m growing out of my shyness but I still need to spend more time alone then an average person. Sometimes this makes it difficult to travel in a group – if your company is more energetic and wants to talk all the time it can be a bit exhausting :/
    I still sometimes feel shy, but it’s getting better, I just try to remember all the previous experiences when I met new people and nothing went wrong, nobody hated me or thought I was weird 😀
    I guess as I started being OK with myself, accepting introversion as a character trait and not a flaw I also stopped being so worried about what others will think of it and as a consequence it became easier to approach and meet people. There can be a lot of pressure to have fun, act crazy and whatnot, but if you’re not like that it doesn’t mean you’re not enjoying yourself, it took me a long time to realize that..

    • Thanks for commenting, I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post and could relate to it!

      I think you’re right, introverted and shy are probably two separate things, although they tend to come hand in hand. I’m definitely a massive introvert and always will be, but shyness is something I can manage and work at over time.

      Love what you said about accepting yourself as an introvert. That’s where it all became much easier for me. As soon as I realised that this huge part of my personality is a) not going anywhere, and b) not actually a flaw (but often a blessing in disguise) I began to feel a lot better about things. and funnily enough I also started feeling more confident!

      Thanks so much for your comment 🙂 xx

  14. I’m not a shy person per say, I mean, I am shy regarding a few things but now when meeting strangers if I know they are in the same mindset as I am. Like when I travel. But one thing I learnt with my trips is to just to do it.

    I also get really anxious when I think before taking action. Before I book a flight and I start thinking where to go. What to do. Etc. I always get anxious. So my trick now is just to decide about a destination, book the flight and it’s done. Then I think about all the details, what to visit, etc. I helped me a lot with that anxiety. Though, I still get anxious before the trip, but if it is booked, I just can’t give up. The same applies to other activities, like my sky diving jump 😀

    Just do it! Overthink later 😛

    • Yep, just do it! Great motto – and always helps me when I’m about to do something that terrifies me like jump off a bridge 😀

      I think a lot of people get anxious about a trip, whether its because of meeting people or whatever. So yeah – just do it 🙂

  15. Inspiring! I had a semi-solo trip in Amsterdam, as I toured the city while my husband was working. At first, I was completely nervous, especially during the group sight-seeing tours. However, after a few days, I learned to own the idea of being by myself. I enjoyed knowing that I could spend as little or as much time wherever I wanted, not rushed in restaurants or museums (except when with the tour group). It also helped that I always have a book, so if I started getting nervous, I could plunge into a story, a place where I’m always happy.

  16. wow! This is a very timely and wonderful blog I have read. You gave more confidence. 🙂

    • Hi Mhau, thanks for commenting! That’s so awesome to hear – I hope this post helped even if it’s just a little bit. Are you off travelling solo soon?

  17. Hi Emily,
    How are you? Nice to meet you at Traverse the other day. Your first picture was used in this French website: https://blog.u2guide.com/fr/pourquoi-voyager-seul
    I’m not sure if you know so there you are.
    Have a great day,
    Lucie

    • Thanks Lucie! It’s just a freebie stock image (from Unsplash I think) so I don’t own the pic unfortunately – it’s probably in tons of blog posts!

      Hope you’re good! It was lovely to meet you 🙂
      Emily

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