1. Throw Yourself Into the Mix!
One of the scariest elements of solo travel is just that, you are solo, on your own in a place where not a single soul knows who you are. The arrival into the hostel can be a scary thing...you are faced with a group of strangers, who have probably already bonded over the local speciality window cleaner flavoured liquor and who tell tales of wonderful things they have seen that day. See this as an opportunity. Be proactive and get stuck in! Thrust your hand out, say 'Hello! I'm [insert your name here]!' and take it from there. I have ALWAYS had positive experiences from doing this while travelling. Besides, the solo traveller has an advantage thanks to the fact that you are more approachable than a pair or group of travellers; most of whom will comment on how brave you are at venturing off alone.
2. Oh, So Lonely!
First, the bad news...there are going to be lonely moments when you travel. There is no escaping it, I am afraid. You are going to be looking out over a beach in Thailand and your thoughts will suddenly turn to home, family, friends, your pet rabbit Fluffykins and wish you were back on home soil or that all your loved ones were with you, sharing your Pad Thai. You should be congratulated for having taken the big leap to travel alone, but to avoid bouts of loneliness you are going to need to muster up some more courage and more of that proactivity I mentioned above. To make it easier, I highly recommend you follow the established backpacker routes for your first trip. My first solo trip (detailed in my post 'My First Time') took in the well-trodden backpacker trails of the Australian East Coast (from Sydney to Cairns) and both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. I met so many people, it verged on the ridiculous! Some of the people I met on this trip have become firm friends...and provided me with great weekends away in sunny foreign climes such as Ireland and the Netherlands after I returned from my travels! Look at your loneliness as an advantage - a moment of solitude, peace and harmony in what will be a trip where your interaction with people will almost certainly come and go as you progress through your journey. Savour the times you have with the new friends and acquaintances you meet on the road, but also savour those times you get to reflect on the great time you are having travelling.
Choose your bed for the night carefully, solo traveller! I agree with the views of the Thorn Tree folk on this aspect of solo travel, stay in hostels. They offer the easiest way to meet people and allow you to tailor your travel to your backpacker needs and budget. If you are a party animal, definitely book yourself into one of the many party hostels out there. If there is a lairy, drunken, lobster tan Brit in the picture on the hostel's website or Hostelworld/Hostelbooker's page, it is a party hostel. If they recycle the rainwater for showers, knit the yoghurt and offer muesli (aka 'sawdust') for breakfast, you are booking yourself into a more laidback kind of place, that for someone of my age and liver capacity will, I think, provide the solo traveller with a good place to stay and the chance to meet other like-minded folk; unless, of course, your kind of like-minded folk are necking back eleven vodka Red Bulls with a Jagermeister chaser in their luridly painted hostel in quick succession! One other thing...I loved this (very accurate) tip from one poster on the Thorn Tree, "be nice to everyone you meet in hostels as there is a good chance you will bump into them later on." You will be surprised how many people you meet and then see again...and again...and again as you venture on your journey.
4. Embrace the Weird!
Another cast iron guarantee...you are going to meet some seriously 'interesting' people on your travels. Do not be afraid...most do not bite and offer you a whole host of fantastic stories for your new hostel friends and at your welcome home parties back in your motherland! Just make sure you have an exit strategy if it looks to be getting dangerous or emotionally trying. For the latter, I can recommend, "I need the toilet!" - a place you can hide and update your Twitter and Facebook statuses with your scary/weird experience and make your friends back home howl at your travel capers. My Aussie weirdo experiences are to be detailed in a future post...watch this space!
5. Enjoy the Flexibility...
You are a solo traveller. This is a brilliant thing. If you choose to, you do not have to discuss your itinerary for the day with anyone. You can do whatever you please (with reason) and go wherever you want (within reason). That fork in the road...it is up to you! That ice cream or piece of cake...it is up to you...why not have both; after all you are Master/Mistress of your own travelling destiny! Enjoy this positive aspect of your trip!
Overall, rather than see travelling solo as a negative, I always tend to view it in a more positive slant. I figure, that I am here, albeit alone...but I am going to make the most of it. Of course, it would be great to be here with a loved one or friends, but most of all it is important you have a fulfilling travel experience without feeling wracked by loneliness or the feeling that you cannot enjoy what the world lays before you without having someone to share it with.
I'll leave you with one final tip a colleague gave me when I left a job a few years back. It might help you in a hostel situation - "don't sweat the petty things and certainly don't pet the sweaty things!"
Safe travels and Enjoy!