How to travel solo — and why you absolutely should
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Don’t let the lack of a travel companion stop you from maximizing your travel experience. For all sorts of reasons, you might be faced with the choice of traveling alone, or not traveling at all. Your partner, friends or family may not be able to take the same time off work that you can, they may not be able to pull the finances together to afford the trip or they may just not be as keen on the destination as you are.
I love traveling by myself and have had some fantastic experiences abroad all on my own. If you are considering doing so, here is why you should and some tips to help you enjoy it.
Why you should consider a solo trip
If you haven’t yet considered taking a trip alone, there are several reasons to think about it. First of all, you can have complete freedom and control to do whatever you want, whenever you want on the trip. Want to sleep in until noon and then order room service and binge-watch “Real Housewives” to relax? No problem. Want to be up at 6 a.m. to watch the sunrise during a peaceful run up to a scenic lookout? You can do that, too. Love museums? Spend all day in one. Hate museums? Skip them completely. Want to take 100 selfies? You can. Hate photos? Don’t take or stop for any. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want just because someone you would travel with wants to do it.
Also, there’s a greater chance you will meet new people when traveling alone as you’re more open to talking to strangers rather than being closed off by only talking to the people you are traveling with.
Think of the cost, as you may score some amazing airfares or other travel deals if you are only booking for one person. If there’s only one cheap sale fare left on a particular flight, and you are searching for two or more seats, they will offer you all the seats at the higher price. If you’re using points for your flight, especially in a premium cabin, it’s significantly easier to find one award seat than two or more.
Finally, you may be surprised at your own capabilities after solving some of the natural challenges of traveling alone. You may become a better decision-maker as you decide what to do each day, rather than relying on a travel companion to make choices for you.
But there will be some challenges
Traveling on your own isn’t perfect. There are plenty of benefits, but you may find that you can become lonely not having anyone to talk to, especially if you are traveling for an extended period of time, and especially at mealtimes. If you enjoy your own company, you will likely find this easier than someone who likes to constantly be around others.
It can also become exhausting having to make every single decision yourself and solve every problem from as simple as “Where can I get a coffee from?” through to “My flight is canceled and no one speaks English, how on earth do I get home?” If you are an indecisive person, you may struggle with this.
If you have an amazing, unique experience, it may not feel so special if you have no one to share it and remember it with. For example, that terrifying theme park rollercoaster that made you almost faint may not make as good a story if no one else was there.
Finally, even if you keep busy as a traveler, there’s plenty of downtime while traveling. You may find you have even more free time than you can fill without the natural conversations of traveling with others.
What are some good solo travel destinations
For starters, let me say that if you can join a group tour, just about any destination can be suitable for solo travel. I’m not talking about booking a half-day tour online for the next day and hoping the group will be friendly (or may have other solo travelers), I’m talking those multi-day tours where you travel together. I’ve made some lifelong friends doing these sorts of tours where you are thrown together with complete strangers in an unusual setting.
But if you aren’t joining a tour, here are some general destinations suited to traveling alone:
- Big cities that are easy to navigate with plenty to do. You’ll want to keep yourself busy if traveling alone in a city, so pick one where there’s plenty to do. At the same time, if you have to do all the navigating yourself, aim for those cities where it’s relatively easy to get around. London, Hong Kong, Dubai and New York? Yes.
- Relaxing beach destinations to switch off and unwind. If you’re feeling burnt out at home, perhaps been pulling monster hours at work and just want to flop down somewhere sunny and recharge, you might be struggling to find someone that can come with you, especially if it is at short notice. Don’t be afraid to relax alone. You can lose yourself in a book, top up your tan and take an afternoon nap every day if you wish. I love going to Majorca in Spain in summer to do exactly that. You can return home recharged and ready to dive back into normal life. Even if there’s no beach where you’re looking, if there’s great weather and a fancy resort you can lie by the pool, order a cocktail, fire up a podcast you’ve been meaning to get to and just chill.
- Destinations with great hostel and backpacker scenes. I personally feel a bit too old to sleep in a dorm with strangers at my age (36). But many hostels will have private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, which are like a basic hotel room. The benefit is that they will likely be filled with people just like you — fun, social travelers who are up for a chat and a laugh. There may be other solo travelers just like you, looking to hang out with someone just like you. Somewhere like Bali or Berlin is filled with hostels, while somewhere like Kuwait or Canberra is not. Do your research on the scene before booking the flight and don’t be afraid of booking a boujee private room in a hostel purely in the hope of meeting other travelers.
- Consider cruising solo. I asked Gene Sloan, TPG’s Senior Cruise and Travel reporter, who has sailed on more than 150 ships about cruising alone. “A cruise is a wonderful option for a solo traveler,” he said. “A hallmark of cruising is that it is a very social type of travel, and solo travelers on cruises generally have no trouble mixing and mingling. Cruisers, in general, are very social people. In fact, many people cruise specifically to meet other people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting alone in a corner of a cruise ship lounge, minding my own business, when another passenger (or two, or five) stopped by and struck up a conversation.” However, Gene notes that when it comes to the pricing structure, unlike for hotels, for most cabins “it is based on two people occupying a cabin. If you’ll be occupying a cruise cabin as a singleton, you often will pay more on a per-person basis than two people occupying that same cabin. In a nod to solo travelers, a growing number of lines have been adding cabins for one. And some higher end lines offer special deals for solo travelers that bring down this extra cost.”
What destinations aren’t suited to solo travelers?
- Super romantic destinations like Paris, the City of Love, or the Maldives, where you are likely to be surrounded by loved-up honeymooners.
- Family-friendly destinations and activities like theme parks and water parks where you’re likely to be standing in line most of the day with no one to talk to. Although not a theme park, Las Vegas isn’t really designed for solo travelers.
- Cities that are difficult to navigate on your own. If you don’t have a great grasp of Spanish, you might find Havana, Cuba, frustratingly difficult on your own. Moscow, Beijing and Cairo are wonderful on an organized tour but may not be easy to do alone.
- A remote resort you can’t really leave if you find it difficult to relax alone for extended periods of time. If you enjoy your own company and love relaxing by doing nothing, then this will actually be great to do!
Solo travel tips
Once you have picked a destination that is suited to both your preferred travel style and is suitable for solo travel, here are some tips for making your trip alone memorable.
Firstly, try and be more social and approachable. Avoid the temptation of putting on your headphones and glueing your eyes to your phone whenever you have a free moment. If you see someone else on their own, whether it’s while dining, at your accommodation or at an attraction don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with them. They may be in exactly the same situation as you — hoping to talk to someone but not wanting to make the first move.
You can also use apps to meet up with other like-minded people, whether they are travelers or not. You may wish to consider dating apps but specify you are just looking for friends to hang out with while you travel solo, so there are no expectations from either side. Dating app Bumble actually has a friends-finding app option called Bumble BFF to allow you to match up with others in a non-romantic way.
I won’t lie, mealtimes can be difficult when traveling alone, especially dinner/evening meals. You might feel a bit self-conscious rocking up to a fancy degustation restaurant you’ve read rave reviews about online and asking for a table for one. I’ve found I become the most bored when traveling alone during dinner because I have nothing to do. Don’t be afraid to take a book or an iPad with you for company. Alternatively, ask if you can be seated at the bar — bartenders love a good chat especially if the venue isn’t busy — they may be even more bored than you are.
I have enjoyed hotel breakfasts alone, as it’s a good chance to catch up on the daily news and social media from back home, as well as plan the day ahead. For lunch, I usually grab something to take away that is easy to eat alone. Try not to hide away during dinner time and know this is likely to be by far the hardest part of your solo day.
Push yourself outside your comfort zone. If you’ve ever wanted to do an unusual activity but your family or friends didn’t want to do it with you, then here’s your chance. Ever wanted to go to a risque burlesque show? Here’s your chance. Wanted to bungee jump but everyone else is too scared of heights? Go for it alone.
I’ve had some fantastic solo holidays. For me, the freedom and flexibility to do whatever I want, whenever I want, cannot be underestimated. It’s a true holiday when I wake up when I like and think “What do I feel like doing today?”
If you want to travel but the only thing holding you back is someone to do it with, I would seriously consider going it alone. If you do, recognize there may be some times when you feel a little alone or bored and devoid of conversation. Treasure the benefits of traveling alone to compensate for the difficulties. Only do what you want to do and don’t worry what anyone else is going to think. They’re not there to pass judgment. It’s your trip and you can do and be anything you want.
Now that is a holiday!
Featured photo by @InLightOut via Twenty20
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