After several flights and many hours, I landed in Sydney safe but exhausted. I am squealing a bit as I think that my round the world trip has started. I’m traveling the world for a year. Eeeeek! It’s terrifying, a tad overwhelming, and so full of possibilities that I am beside myself. The gods saw fit to give me a warm welcome on my first day: A rainbow arched over the sky as I set out to explore on my first official day as a solo traveler.
The rainbow spread fully across the Sydney Harbor and was clear and bright. What a happy start to my solo trip. Many fellow travelers wondered why I chose Australia as my first stop on my RTW trip. That’s an easy answer: Sydney is safe for a solo traveler, and the lack of a language barrier is ideal for newbies.
Is Sydney Safe to Travel Alone?
Australia on the whole is safe for solo travelers, including women backpacking alone. In the dead of night, the streets are emptier than you might find in party destinations like Barcelona, so solo females should be very aware when walking alone at night. Beyond that, Aussies are friendly and helpful, and the huge backpacking culture helps create its own safety net since solo travelers can always find new friends.
That said, your travel choices can make a city more or less safe, whether you’re alone or with a group. On my first trip to Sydney, I booked my hostel through reviews only. Turned out, it was in a trendy but questionable side of town: Potts Point. It’s an area as cute as its name, and located a mere twenty minutes from the Opera House. It feels completely safe on arrival. Sidewalk cafes and little bars fill the neighborhood, so I had no trouble finding a tasty breakfast. The sweet scent of pastries wafts down streets lit with sunshine. Delicious golden quiche dress every window, and there are even meat pies (so British!) for those of the carnivorous sort. Only when I arrived, however, did the other hostel-goers share that it’s the hostel’s proximity to Kings Cross that adds a sketch factor. Kings Cross is not an inherently safe area of Sydney.
For that reason, I was glad to have secured travel insurance for my long-term travels. My World Nomads policy would protect me in case any big physical safety fears manifested, but also for the eventuality that another backpacker would steal something from me in a hostel (totally happened).
What It’s Like to Visit Sydney Solo
Even finding out that I wasn’t in the best area, I knew that I could maintain my safety through awareness and making choices to not walk home solo in the wee morning hours. With that handled, I loved that the hostel’s location “forced” me to walk through sprawling Royal Botanical Gardens anytime I headed toward Sydney Harbor.
After my epic flight and light jet lag, I knew I needed a low-key day of exploring alone, recalibrating myself. There was time to see it all. My first day of this round the world trip, I just wanted to get the lay of the land. To that end, the garden’s cute signs tempted me. I slipped off my sandals and spent the morning hours with my pastry, coffee, and my guidebook. The sunny grass lawns seemed like the ideal spot to plot the Sydney sights I’d visit while in town. It also made for prime people watching!
My guidebook has been a needed and welcomed crutch—Sydney is huge! And, this is my first time navigating a big city alone (well, not counting Los Angeles; I had nary a friend in sight when I moved to LA!).
The view of Sydney Harbor from the Botanical Gardens sparkles against the impossibly blue sky. I sat in view of the Opera House, a jewel in set into the intricate framing of the famed bridge.
I spent my first days in town puttering around the city solo. That first day was great to get out into the sunshine, but acclimating to the significant time change is rough. Up until the point I need to fall into a sleep coma each evening, I’ve been enjoying meeting the other backpackers in my hostel—most backpackers so far seem to be French or German. It’s an interesting dynamic!
The European gap-year backpackers outnumber me. It’s fun because I am making friends with a range of cultures and countries—I hadn’t really considered that aspect before I left! Most nights at dinner, the conversation is entirely in French. If I concentrate extra hard, then I can usually follow some of it since I speak a fair bit of Italian and Spanish. The jokes always go over my head, however, and someone usually translates into English for me.
Visiting Sydney’s Taronga Zoo
Yesterday, I headed to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. To get there, it was a breezy ferry ride out of the Circular Quay. I followed the signs to the far side of the Harbor and booked a ticket for the next ferry. It’s a gorgeous ride; the views from the water give an entirely different perspective on the bridge and Opera House.
And the views aren’t shabby from the zoo either. The zoo has prime real estate on a hill abutting Sydney Harbor. Looking out from the zoo’s walkways, Sydney gleams.
This unique vantage point makes the zoo unique to any I’ve ever visited. The higher you walk throughout the zoo, the becomes only more spectacular. There in the near-distance is downtown Sydney, the Opera House, and the Bridge. I loved the exhibits was in the “Wild Australia” section. They dedicate an entire exhibit is dedicated to native nocturnal animals. It’s dark inside and as you walk through the Spotted-tail Quolls and hopping-mice are all scurrying and darting around their enclosures. I’m not a big proponent of zoos, it’s a tough conundrum to face that we willingly cage wild animals. In this case at the Taronga Zoo, they even get the chance to look out over what was once their open glasslands.
That being said, the zoo is well done. I also loved the reptile exhibit. It showcased all of Australia’s indigenous snakes and spiders. It also highlighted where they live in the country, and where they are on the danger scale. I’m actually supremely grateful that I have seen these animals close up. I am ready now if I meet one in the wild. It’s always good to brush up on your venomous creatures knowledge before heading into the Australian Outback.
Adjusting to a Solo Trip
As for an update on me personally, mentally, emotionally? I’m adjusting. It’s been wonderful to find a travel groove, but a tinge of homesickness creeps in at odd points, too. Whenever I find myself doing mundane or rote tasks, my mind wanders to my friends and family back home. I remember that I am out here traveling alone for the better part of a year, and that solo in Sydney is just the very tip of this grand adventure. It’s thrilling and scary and all things that tell you you’re living your best life.
This is the first time I have traveled truly solo. I had some solo moments on my European trip in college, but for the most part I was with others during that study abroad and the subsequent exploration. This trip is a different experience. It’s that I am both older, and that the vibe at the hostel is decidedly young. I have found a few new friends for sightseeing adventures, but my hostel skews toward the party crowd, which I didn’t realize when I booked it.
But there are new friends. That’s important to note. I have a hostel full of other warm bodies who invite out to do any number of things. For the zoo trip, I visited with a laid-back German guy from the hostel. Having a fellow traveler along made the trip to the Taronga Zoo a bit more fun, and it gave me the companionship I craved.
I would be hard pressed to choose one style of travel over the other—solo or group travel—because they both offer aspects that I enjoy. I loved visiting the zoo with a friend, and it’s for that reason I’ve looked at the many fascinating group day tours (if I pick one, my favorite, I can fit it into the budget!) but I also thoroughly enjoy puttering solo around Sydney. The fun side of solo travel is that it’s so liberating to completely control my itinerary. I can indulge whims (often meaning finding an ice cream cone!), people watch, and absorb the energy from this vibrant city. And it’s a pretty safe city, so I don’t fret much over the safety side of solo travel.
And one thing I am loving is the hostel bookshelf. I was overwhelmed and panicky before I left and I didn’t buy any novels about Australia. Fortunately, I was able to trade the book I read on the plane for two books set in Australia. A local at a coffee shop recommended Harp in the South, and I have long wanted to read Rabbit Proof Fence. Reading a book from every country I visit is a personal goal.
Up Next: I’ve used my months in Australia to create an Australia Travel Guide. Up next in my travels are the Blue Mountains to hike. They’re named that way because the dense concentration of eucalyptus trees cast a blue haze throughout the region. Travelers tell me that koala bears sightings happen in some areas—fingers crossed!