How to travel alone/como viajar sózinha?

Solo Traveling – How to start

After my first post (Overcoming the fear of flying) where I approached how I overcame my phobia of flying, I got nice reactions from some followers telling me I helped them by giving them tips. I love writing, and I love helping people and seeing that my posts are welcome make a difference.

So today, I am going to write a bit about more about what some strategies to start your solo journey and overcome your insecurities.

Start by traveling in your own country (or surrounding countries you are familiar with)

Starting your solo journey in your own country can have several advantages:

  • You can easily communicate as you speak the language,
  • As you are a national/resident you are well aware of the cultural habits, sensitivities, and peculiarities,
  • You can quickly get back home if getting ill,
  • You know where to go, where it is safe to go
  • You can reach out to family and friends and get help if in need
  • It may be cheaper

I first traveled to other provinces outside Maputo where I live (luckily my job as environmental consultant also helps with that), and then I traveled to neighboring countries such as Swaziland and South Africa, easily reached by car and only a few hours driving from where I live. It helps that I love to drive and could easily drive thousands of kms by myself (it kind of makes me feel safe in my own small and confined space). This way I got used to be in my own company, and to identify my mistakes and correct them.

I started enjoying being with myself a lot more, and feeling at ease eating out alone, going to a movie, driving somewhere to see the surroundings. It gave me such a sense of freedom and confidence in myself, and it was the perfect practice for my intercontinental solo traveling.

Here I am driving to Nelspruit, a city in South Africa 3 hours driving from where I live in Mozambique
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Here I am at Skukuza, a camp inside Kruger National Park in South Africa
Nelspruit to Barbeton Road, amazing landscape
Driving to Barbeton, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Silo close to Malelane, in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

As I live far from my homeland Portugal, when I go on holidays there, I made a point of always traveling to a new place each trip, instead of staying in the comfort of my home town. I started getting better and better at planning and it was the foundation to my next step: traveling solo to a foreign country, and that takes me to my next tip

Here I was at Vila Nova de Foz Coa in Portugal, on a small rural tourism B&B
Small street in uptown Cascais
Walking around the small streerts in Cascais
monastery hotel, Alentejo, Crato, Portugal
Ancient monastery in Alentejo Portugal, now an amazing small hotel – Pousada do Crato

Travel to a country that speaks your language

The advantages are quite intuitive right? So much easier to move around, to communicate, to interact, to plan, to ask for directions, and even to cry for help when in need. My preferred choice was always Brazil. For more than one reason:

  1. I was there for the first time in 2004, with two friends and my son, and fell in love with it
  2. Brazil is part of my imaginary world, as I grew up watching Brazilian soaps and hearing Brazilian music
  3. Brazil is a very welcoming country
  4. Brazil has a huge diversity of landscapes, climates, environments
  5. Hey, did I already say I fell in love with it?
  6. It is rather cheap
  7. It has amazing food

And many more

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São Paulo on one of my multiple trips to Brazil
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The famous Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio
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Salvador da Bahia, during my first ever trip to Brasil
Muro Alto, a beach in Pernambuco, North East Brazil

I go to Brazil often, from 2006 to 2016 almost every year. I always land in São Paulo and establish my base in Rio de Janeiro? Why? Well, just because Rio, is Rio. Its the Marvellous City, its a perfect combination between beach and mountain. Its a fantastic gastronomic hub. For more reasons, check this previous post Why Rio de Janeiro?  

I love Rio so much that I (one day will share this story) even lived there for 9 months. I did write several posts about Rio de Janeiro such as Where to go in Rio – Arpoador, Where to stay in Rio     and How to get to Rio and when

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Sunset at Arpoador

After I was used to Rio I started adding a new place each time I traveled there and each time I felt more and more confident and at ease with traveling solo.

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Here I was at Buzios a small coastal town in Rio de Janeiro state
Here I was in Paraty, a beautiful small town in Rio de Janeiro State
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Another fantastic sunset in Rio
Here I was at Ilhabela, São Paulo state north coast
Paraty, small town, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, sightseeing
Paraty is a charming small town, culturally important, in Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil – my second time there in 2016
Sunset, Búzios, Beach, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro state
Sunset in Buzios, Brazil

Now you may say, wow, if you enjoy traveling solo so much, why you only traveled to a few countries?

Because I am creature of habits. That is something I am fighting hard. When I feel at home in one place, I tend to go there over and over again. But as I said, I am fighting it hard, and although it takes time, I am getting there. Last year, I went to Italy (I have a series of posts about my travel to Italy, check it), and this year I had planned a trip to France and Spain that I had to cancel, but in September will again go to Italy (this time partially solo and partially with friends, for 18 days) and Spain. So, let’s go to the next step

Finally, travel solo confidently in a country strange to you and your language/culture

After getting used to travel alone in your country/countries you feel at ease, here comes the next big step. Traveling everywhere you want to. But this entails some steps, for a good, safe, enjoyable trip.

Decide on the Destination

I mean, the world is huge, full of so many amazing places to go. Selecting one country might be quite a difficult task, so what an you do to make it easier?

  • Ask yourself what is the purpose of your visit (beach, mountain, culture, art, history, wildlife, urban, etc)
  • Make a list of the destinations that fit into your objectives
  • Narrow down the list to destinations you will feel more at ease (e.g. instead of a distant Island that can be far away from your country or in which communications are erratic, choose a country with a good coastline and beaches, where you will feel more confident)
  • Chose the destination(s)

Read all you can

  • I mean READ A LOT about the destination you intend to travel to. Search the internet, check travelling sites, read blogs that have related content, look on pinterest, check official websites, buy a guide, talk to others that have been there. Go to trip advisor and read about other’s experiences.
  • Look for the region/country website and read about it, weather, local customs and culture, dress codes, how to be safe, etc. . 

Plan, Plan and Plan

After having a clear idea on what you want to do at your destination, start planning.

  • If you do not feel you can do it or feel insecure on how to, contact a good travel agent of traveling planner (like me ahah), and design your plan. Make sure you and the travel planner work together to refine the plan and fine tune it to your needs. Don’t rush it, make sure it is complete.
  • If doing it by yourself, make a checklist (I will be giving mine as a freebie soon, stay tuned and make sure you subscribe to get all my updates), that includes everything (accommodation, guides, flights, places to go, where to eat, etc).
  • Always try to arrive at your destinations during the day (morning preferably to enjoy a full day), avoid landing at night in a strange place
  • Book accommodationt at least  for the first night (I plan it all in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises)
  • Investigate local public transport. If not reliable, choose accommodation close to the main attractions you will visit
  • Check visa requirements (as an Europen citizen with free access within the european union I sometimes tend to forget the visas till the last minute. In some countries the visa process can be quite time consuming so, take care of it as soon as you can
  • Check vaccine requirements (e.g. in Brazil you need the yellow fever vaccine) and get the vaccines needed in advance (to avoid reactions and staying in a hotel bed sick instead of enjoying your vacation)
  • Take copies of all your documents and authenticate them. Unless you are going to a place that demans official documents,  keep them in the hotel safe and carry the copy with you
  • Make sure you know the location and telephone contact of your country’s embassy/consulate

Consider a group tour

  • If during your planning you still feel insecure about traveling alone, why not hiring a group tour? It’s safe, fun, and you get to meet all sorts of different people, or, if you are not feeling social, no need to engage with others, keep it cool and just follow the guidelines of the guide/touring company. Book it in advance and make sure it is a reliable company. I did that recently in Italy, hired a 1 day tour to Siena, San Gimignano and Chianti, and enjoyed it a lot. I would not be able to see those 3 places in one day if it wasn’t for the tour, and I was not feeling confident enough to drive by myself, or to take the public transport (as it needed more than one commute)

Hire travel insurance

  • I mean, YES, EVERYTIME. Never travel without travel insurance

Share your plans with family and a couple of friends

  • Make sure you always have family and friends that know where you are going to, when, where you are staying, and that they have all contacts of the accommodation you will be staying in, so they can quickly contact/help you if needed.

Learn the language

  • You cannot imagine how attitudes change, how people get more friendly and welcome you better if you learn the language. Basic terms go a long way.
  • One common mistake we make, is to assume everyone speaks English. Wherever we go (yes me included, in spite of being Portuguese, I did that for a while). Guess what? No, and it’s not a requirement (unless in hotels, turisty restaurants and places, travel agents, etc etc). Common people, are not obliged to speak English. Often they try, they try hard, as happens in my homeland Portugal, but mainly in cities, if you travel to small towns and villages, then it is different.
  • So, am I saying that we should not try to communicate in English? Hell no! BUT what we should do, is at least try to learn a few basic words in the language of the country we are going to. Guess what? People’s mood towards you instantly change if you at least greet them in their language. It shows interest, it shows you are just not another tourist that is there to enjoy their land and do not give a damn about them. And 99% of people will reply in a friendly and welcoming way.
  • And how can you learn? There are awesome videos online, youtube, sites, free resources, for almost every language. I recently started to learn Italian, not only because I plan to travel there again, but also because I strongly believe that it keeps my brain sharp and active, and it is a very nice way of doing that. I am good with languages, but even if I wasn’t I would still try to at least learn something.


Next post of this series is about most common mistakes, and safety tips, STAY TUNED!! And now I leave you with more beautiful picures of my travelling

Colosseum in Rome Italy
Here I was at the Colosseum in Rome
Florence, Italy, Panoramic view
Sightseeing in Florence
On the top of the Grossa Tower in San Gimignano, Tuscany
Strolling around Bologne
In Venice – Grand Canal
Tasting a Chianti Classico during  one day Tour

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At Piazalle Michelangelo in Florence
Angra dos Reis, Brazil
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In Bologne
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Landing in Bologne
From Sâo Paulo to Búzios by road, Brazil
Flying over Europe
Once a foodie always a foodie, 1st class TAP Lisbon to Bologne



Solo Traveling – overcoming the fear of flying

I have been wanting to write about this for quite some time but for various reasons I always end up posting something else. You might have seen my posts about my travel. With the exception of my last travel to Italy, in which I had the company of a friend for some days, all my traveling is solo. I am starting a series of three posts about flying solo, and in this first one I am opening up my heart to you, hoping to help someone that has gone, or is going through the same as I was.

Why do I travel solo?

Well if I did not travel solo I would not travel, period. I am single, my son is an adult with his own life and plans, and all my friends are married with families and do not have the time or willingness to travel unless if it is with their families.

Since when do I travel solo?

Since 1998. But then it was mostly to South Africa, which is close to where I live, or to my homeland, Portugal. I consider my solo traveling to have started for real in 2009.

Why not before?

Before 1985, I was literally nuts. My best flights would be the difficult ones, the ones with storms, turbulence, difficult landings. I would be fascinated, my eyes shinning, glued to the small windows of the plane trying to see everything. The landing was my favourite part, specially in difficult weather. It was always a rush of adrenalin, an excitement, something I looked for in anticipation each flight.

But then….in 1985 everything changed. I won a FAO award for best student and our group was prized with a visit to Malawi and Zambia. To get there, we had to fly to Zimbabwe – Harare. Boom, two very bad experiences during those flights and my nightmare began. Flying started to be a sacrifice, something to run from like the plague, it scared the shit out of me. From 1985 to 2000 I limited my travel, and only did set foot on a plane if there was no other option, and only when I could not avoid traveling. Traveling by car? No problem, I could travel 2000km’s with no problems whatsoever.

As you can imagine that was extremely limiting, because I would only be basically able to travel to surrounding countries.

What did you feel when flying?

When getting into a plane I would cry and shake in fear, every time the sound of the plane engine changed, every time a bit of turbulence started, every time I thought the crew was acting strange, every time my mind saw something that in fact didn’t exist, but that triggered my deepest fears, every time I decided the plane was going to fall, and that every time was every minute, every hour, every flight.

It was literally a phobia. It was excruciating, limiting, painful, I would cry days before the flight, my holidays would be a nightmare because I could not stop thinking about the return flight, that the plane was going to crash, that I would die. My flights were limited to Portugal, very occasionally. Days before the flight I would not sleep. I would be terrified, wanting to cancel the flight and stay home safe.

So, what changed?

Well, in all my life, I never did let anything control me. My fears, my dogmas, my addictions (I used to smoke and also be addicted to sweets), my mood, anything. I have to be in control of myself and everything that happens to me. And my fear of flying was in fact controlling me, limiting me, being in charge of myself. And that is something that I could not let happen. It did last for a long time, until I decided it was enough and I would never again be limited by it. It was time to be in command of me and my emotions again.

What did you do?

One day I looked at myself in the mirror (literally) and asked: Dalila, where are you? Where is that brave, adventurous woman you used to be? The woman that survived a civil war in spite of traveling on roads that were attacked everyday? The woman that faced discrimination for being a woman, blonde, in a work environment where men ruled (I was a vet on a state dairy farm run by an ex-soldier, that looked at me on my first day of work and asked: what is a white, blonde, woman be able to do here?)? Where was that brave woman that survived the difficult times after independence when there was no food? That had to walk sometimes 10km to faculty because there was no public transport? That spend nights and nights on food cues, and in the morning with only 1 or 2 hours of sleep would go straight to faculty? ENOUGH Dalila.

I decided I would travel again, I would fly again. So, I talked with a friend that was a doctor, and started to use a strategy. I would take a mild relaxing pill before embarking, and (as my flights are usually around 11 hours) I would take a sleeping pill soon after dinner. This way I would sleep most of the time and be able to bear the flight. It worked. Slowly I started enjoying flying again, slowly I started seeing how free I was, slowly everything changed. And my solo traveling started.

Two things that are for me essential to help is to BE COMFY and especially on long flights, SLEEP. Long flights can be a nightmare to the ones that are afraid to fly. Long hours with nothing to do, hearing every single noise, feeling every bit of turbulence, stressing over and over again. Being able to sleep for most of the flight was key in my struggle to overcome my fear of flying. To help being comfy and to sleep, this is what I usually do:

  • Check-in online, go early to the airport, dispatch my luggage, and relax before the flight. Lately I also add fast track to my flight, so I can avoid being on long cues and have enough time to sit, and relax
  • I always travel on the window seat so I do not need to spend the night standing up and sitting again, to let my neighbor go to the toilet (and oh boy, how many times some people go, ouch). Even when the window seats are “fully booked” if you let the crew know you are afraid of flying, and they see its real, they always try to get you a window seat if you want it
  • I wear compression socks, they help a lot with feet swelling and comfort
  • I use a good traveling pillow,
  • I wear a sleeping mask
  • I put on wax earplugs
  • I wear comfortable clothes and a good pair of socks that keep my feet warm (over the compression ones)
  • I limit my liquid intake so I will not wake up many times to go to the toilet (but still keep hydrated)
  • I take melatonin, 1 hour before sleeping
  • I meditate for 5 to 10 minutes before sleeping or do just some deep breath exercises, and remind myself that turbulence is just like a bumpy road, the car shakes and jumps but nothing  bad happens
  • I never drink alcohol during my flights

I now travel once or twice a year to distant countries, and several times, by car, to South Africa and Swaziland.

I hope this somehow helped one of you, and please leave a comment if you have questions, or just a testimony of what you do to overcome your fear.

Alla proxima, buona serata (yeah, I am learning Italian)

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