Travelling solo seems to put people into three camps: love it, hate it, nervous to try it. If you fall into the first category, high five! If you fall into the middle category, well, I don’t get it, but it takes all sorts to make the world go round. If you’re in the third category, this post is for you. I think that everyone should try solo travel at least once in their life, as it is amazing what you learn about yourself and the skills you develop. But I know it can be a scary undertaking so here are some tips to help you take that leap.
Prepare Ahead Of Time
Unless you’re a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ person (something I’m most certainly not), travelling (solo travel in particular) requires a bit of preparation. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Learn a few words and phrases of the local language. Major categories include food, bathroom, directions, greetings, getting help, shopping, and health. If you’re preparing months in advance, check out local classes or invest in Rosetta Stone. If you’re looking for something a little less intensive, the app Duolingo is perfect for studying during quiet moments or when you’re stuck on the bus.
- Research travel apps you can put on your phone, especially ones that you can access offline. Useful apps include Google Translate, XE (currency conversion), Trip Advisor (traveller reviews), and Rio2Rome (local transportation planning, including estimated costs). Also look up GPS My City for a wide variety of self-guided walking tours – check out my articles on there, too!
- Make copies of all your important documents (passport, money cards, insurance, ID cards, health documents, etc) before leaving home. Give someone trusted a copy and keep a copy for yourself – either a paper copy or an e-copy. If anything gets stolen, you have the information to get it replaced!
- Travel light – keep in mind there is no one to keep an eye on your stuff when you go to the bathroom in public spaces.
Sightseeing Solo Is Not Crazy-speak
Generally speaking, sightseeing alone is one of the best things there is. Unless it is a modern art museum and then you’d want a friend along to help make fun of it. So how can one make the most of visiting new sites alone?
- Build on your pre-trip research while you’re in the area. For example, check out tourist offices and be on the lookout for the free pamphlets and maps that lodgings tend to have. An excellent source of information is also the staff at your lodgings or restaurant. Especially if it is during quiet hours, they can point you in the direction of major things and off the beaten track things. Remember – they live there!
- If you’re feeling for some company, check out a group day tour. They can also save you time and money if you’re looking to go to many places within one day or if they are in remote places. If you’re on your own, group day tours are generally cheaper than renting a car or hiring a private guide for the day.
- If you’re an extrovert or are looking to make friends, look for people with whom you can split the cost of a car rental or private tour. Pretty much only feasible if you’re staying in a hostel.
- Sometimes day tours are expensive so look for alternatives – there could be free local walks or a taxi company could be offering low frills tours. There may even be a company that would hook you up with a local in exchange for English conversations.
- If you’re travelling some distance from Point A to B, look for alternatives than the regular bus or flying. Some places have a ‘tourist’ bus and make sightseeing stops along the route.
Even Solo Travellers Get Hungry
Eating alone, for some reason, seems to make many people hyperventilate. Probably because most people generally don’t have much experience in it. Think about it – food is so very intertwined in many of our social interactions; there really isn’t much cause for eating alone unless you deliberately choose to do it. So when faced with dining alone during solo travel, it can be a difficult prospect. Here are some ideas on how to get around that uncomfortable feeling:
- Grab some take-out and eat back at your lodgings or have a picnic in a park: After a long day of sightseeing, you’re not always in the mood for a noisy restaurant or making small talk. There isn’t anything wrong with grabbing a pizza and wandering back to your quiet room. If it is a beautiful day, pull up a bench or a patch of grass, and indulge in some street food and people watching!
- Bite the bullet and eat at a restaurant: You may be put in a corner or you may be put front and centre of the restaurant or patio. If you have a preference, speak up! This could also be the perfect opportunity to plan the rest of your day using your guidebook. If that is your plan, ask for a booth so you have more space to spread out with your food and research material.
- Bring a book, ear buds, or sketch pad: This allows you to keep yourself occupied either because it helps pass the time or prevents others from approaching you if you’re not in the mood to do the social thing.
- If you’re an extrovert or want to meet people, try cooking at your hostel or looking up a food tour.
- Keep your accommodation’s business card on your person – they are perfect for when you get lost or can’t communicate with your taxi driver!
- Keep the “I am a tourist!” look to a minimum – leave your jewels and fanny pack at home. Besides, having many expensive things on your person is just more things you have to worry about.
- Pay attention! Many cities have pickpockets and scam artists. You can even research common scams online and have a grand old time recognizing them as you wander the streets.
- Be confident! If you don’t feel it, fake it!
- Travel with a flashlight or headlamp – keep one in your room and a small one on your person.
- Don’t be ashamed to listen to your gut. If it is telling you that something is hinky, it is better to be safe than sorry.
- If you’re lost, do not pull out the map on a street corner and peer nearsightedly at the street signs. Duck into a store or quiet place and figure out where you need to go.
Enjoy the Freedom!
This is your opportunity to try new things and have new experiences no matter how unusual it is: freedom to do what you want, when you want, how you want. Freedom to do everything or nothing each day. Freedom to remain solo or to make new friends. Free. No one to tap their feet impatiently while you’re doing something they don’t want to do. No compromising necessary. No apologizing required. Guilt free, me, me, me. And while you may miss friends and/or family, don’t dive right back into social media – enjoy the moment, enjoy the separation, enjoy the growth. You may surprise yourself with how much you enjoy this alone time!