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 missing out on an amazing 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 or they may just not be as keen on the destination as you are. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck at home.
I love traveling by myself and have had some fantastic experiences abroad all on my own. In fact, sometimes I actually prefer traveling alone over traveling with others.
Here’s why I love traveling alone, and some tips to help you plan your first solo trip.
Why you should consider a solo trip
If you haven’t yet considered taking a trip alone, there are several reasons to consider it.
First of all, you can have complete freedom and control to do whatever you want, whenever you want the entire time.
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.
Long story short: You don’t have to do anything you don’t want just because someone you would travel with wants to do it.
Further, there’s a good chance you will meet new people when traveling alone. You’re more open to talking to strangers instead of being closed off by only talking to the people you are traveling with. Plus, I’ve found that being the lone foreigner at a bar or cafe quickly leads to conversation.
And on the practical side, solo trips cost less. Sure, you’re not splitting expenses, but you also have half the expenses in many cases. You may score some amazing airfares or other travel deals if you are only booking for one person and have flexible dates. 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.
Plus, you may be surprised at your own capabilities after planning and navigating your first solo trip. You’ll naturally 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
It won’t always be easy.
Traveling on your own isn’t perfect. You may find that you become lonely 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.
Dinnertime can be the hardest as that is the meal of the day where people are most likely to sit down for a meal rather than grab something on the run. Don’t feel self-conscious if you want to take a book or tablet to entertain you — remember, for business travelers eating dinner alone is a pretty normal part of the job and they manage fine.
It can become exhausting having to make every single decision yourself. You have to solve every problem from as simple as “Where can I get a coffee from?” 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 roller coaster 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 almost too much free time, without the natural conversations of traveling with others.
What are some good solo travel destinations?
For starters, 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 will have other solo travelers), I’m talking about multiday tours where you travel together. I’ve made 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.
Relaxing beach destinations to switch off and unwind
Have you been feeling burned out at home, pulling monster hours at work and just want to flop down somewhere sunny and recharge? After a year and a half of the work-from-home grind, you’re not alone.
But you might be struggling to find someone that can come with you, especially at short notice. But 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. You might find that a solo trip is actually more relaxing than a trip with your friends.
Personally, I love going to the beautiful Balearic island of Mallorca in Spain in summer to do exactly that. I return home recharged and ready to dive back into normal life. Even if there’s no beach where you’re looking, you can book a fancy resort with a nice pool, order a cocktail, fire up a podcast and just chill.
And let’s be real: We all need a good self-care trip from time to time.
Destinations with great hostel and backpacker scenes
I personally feel a bit too old to sleep in a dorm with strangers at my age (mid-30s). But many hostels will have private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, which are like a basic hotel room. Some of these are really nice too — for example, the Generator hostel chain in Europe and the U.S. has rooms that look similar to an Aloft or Moxy hotel.
The benefit is that they will likely be filled with people like you — fun, social travelers who are up for a chat and a laugh. There’s a good chance that there will be other solo travelers there, looking for someone to hang out with on their journey.
Places like Bali and Berlin are filled with hostels, while places like Kuwait and Casablanca are not. Do your research on the scene before booking the flight. Don’t be afraid of booking a 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 solo. “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 solo cruising can be expensive. For most cabins, the price “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.”
So if you can find a good deal, consider taking a solo cruise. Chances are you’ll make new friends and get some much-needed time away from life’s many stressors.
What destinations aren’t suited to solo travelers?
Of course, there are some destinations that solo travelers should avoid, including:
- 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 waterparks 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 either.
- Cities that are difficult to navigate on your own. If you don’t have a great grasp of Spanish, you might find Havana 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 your preferred travel style and is suitable for solo travel, here are some tips for making your trip alone memorable.
First, try and be more social and approachable. Avoid the temptation of putting on your headphones and gluing your eyes to your phone whenever you have a free moment. This is when staying at a hostel is beneficial — it’s nearly expected to talk with other travelers at the bar and in common areas. You may also want to search for places popular with travelers where it’s easy to strike up a conversation.
As discussed, mealtimes can be difficult when traveling alone, especially dinner. You might feel a bit self-conscious rocking up to a fancy degustation restaurant 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 beyond eat.
So, 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 — some bartenders love a good chat, especially if the venue isn’t busy. Ask what their favorite drink to make is or for a recommendation for a local beer or cocktail.
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.
Finally, 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? Go for it. Wanted to bungee jump but everyone else is too scared of heights? Now’s the time to go 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’s a holiday!
Featured photo by fotoliza/Shutterstock.com.
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