If you are like me, you probably don’t mind traveling alone. In fact, you may even prefer doing so in certain circumstances. There’s a certain freedom and sense of adventure that is invigorating to me when I decide to fly solo. Whether it’s a brand new destination or some place I’ve visited many times before, traveling alone allows me to see things with a different lens. I can learn so much more because I am not focused on someone else and can be more observant on whatever is around me at any given moment. I can fall headlong into an activity with all my senses without having to wonder how a travel companion is receiving the experience.
Traveling alone, particularly in an unknown culture, can sometimes appear daunting. But, there are things you can and should do to make your solo travel less intimidating and much more enjoyable. I always do when traveling alone and suggest you try them yourself. Just remember that whatever you do, the more open and flexible you are, the more interesting and enjoyable your solo travel adventures will be.
- Go to a great restaurant
I’m talking about a nice, sit-down place with plenty of ambiance where I can have a wonderful meal. Depending on the type of dining establishment, I may get a table or grab a spot at the bar. Sometimes I take out my book (I always have one handy), other times I just revel in the atmosphere, and enjoy watching the people around me as I dine.
2. Plan to people watch
No matter where I go, I always plan an activity for no other reason than to watch others move about in life. Whether it’s dining alone, or sitting on a beach soaking up the sun, I love, love, love, seeing the way life happens as people pass by. Many times I’ll set up camp near an open window or interesting monument or attraction…that way, my Peeping Thomasina behavior is less obvious, or so I think.
- Mingle with the people
Meeting new people is one of the best things about traveling. But, when you travel alone, connecting with others you don’t know may seem a bit intimidating. I usually don’t travel to a new destination without first finding out what insight and connections family members and friends might have about the place. Do they know someone to whom I can be introduced, or can they tell me about a great place to see that will be easy to navigate alone? If you don’t personally know anyone with connections your travel advisor should be able to steer you in the right direction.
- Try to blend in with the crowd
In keeping with this thought, getting lost in a crowd is a great way to feel less obvious about being on one’s own. I often time my solo travel around regional festivals and other local events where someone taking pictures and being extra wide-eyed and engaged wouldn’t seem so out of the ordinary. Even folks who live in the area come out in full force for these events, so blending into the scenery and energy of a place is easy to do.
- At least try to learn the language.
One of the common criticisms against US tourists is that they think everyone should know English yet they don’t even try to learn other languages. There may be some truth to that, so I always encourage my travel clients to have some familiarity with the official language of their given destinations. Everyone should know how to ask the time, show appreciation, or offer a simple greeting. Solo travelers, particularly, will need to know some basic conversational phrases. If all else fails, have a travel book or app at the ready, I ALWAYS DO. And, I don’t worry too much about poor pronunciation. Anybody who hears me will know I am a stranger in their land. But, the effort made to speak their language is usually very much appreciated. And, it has opened many a door to meeting some very interesting people along the way.
- Be smart and be safe.
Although you may think that the beautiful and exciting place you’ve always wanted to visit is extremely safe, please don’t forget all the safety training you’ve learned at home. There are many destinations that are as safe as any place can be. However, things happen everywhere, even in Mayberry. Being aware of your surroundings and taking extra precautions to keep your body and belongings safe is always advised. So, here are a few things to remember:
- Don’t store all your funds in one place. Keep some money on you but stash it in different places (shoe, bra, chest pocket, etc.) so if a pickpocket gets to you, all is not lost.
- For the same reason, take more than one credit card on your trip. Have one at your ready disposal and store the other one for safe keeping. If you lose one card you will still have another one to access funds as needed.
- Keep photo copies of your passport, license, and other identity papers handy
- I usually only exchange a limited number of U.S. dollars into local currency at any one time, and I always ask for small bills. In doing so I avoid having large sums of money on hand, or pulling out a large note to pay a small bill. I don’t mind exchanging money again if necessary. And, I generally only do so at a regular banking institution or my hotel (if the exchange rate is good).
- I am registered with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and suggest anyone going out of the country do the same. This free service allows US citizens traveling or living abroad to enroll with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and receive safety information about their travel destination. In addition, STEP registration makes it easy for family members to contact you in case of an emergency back home.
- Listen to your gut. You won’t have anyone else’s thoughts or opinions to consider, so go with your instinct. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it and go seek help, if necessary.
- Increase your education
Take a class in something you’ve always had an interest in but never tried. Or find a subject that is already familiar to you. Your class can consist of anything; pasta making in Italy, cigar rolling in Cuba, yoga on Waikiki beach, Tai Chi in China, sailing in the Caribbean, climbing in the Alps, jewelry making in South Africa, medicinal herbs in Australia…the possibilities are endless. Whether you want to refresh your current knowledge or learn something totally new, taking a class in a strange land makes for a great adventure and is a wonderful way to meet local people and get a feel for how they live.
- Take a tour
Every major city and tourist destination has group tours covering a wide range of subjects. There are walking tours, hiking tours, bus tours, bike tours, Segway tours, etc. Joining a tour provides a built in opportunity for a solo traveler to meet new people who share common interests. I really like hop-on hop-off tours in large cities because they provide the transportation needed to explore multiple local destinations at my leisure. They also help familiarize me with the area. Of course, there are tours of other kinds which are more private and concentrate on a specific subject, destination, or attraction. Many tours that offer fabulous experiences may not be marketed in the public domain, though, which may make finding out about them hard to do. This is an area where the expertise of your travel professional will come in handy in devising a tour schedule that works best for you.
- Do what you want to do, especially if it’s something you normally wouldn’t do with others
Traveling alone is a great time to be selfish and do exactly what you want when you want. Think of something you’ve wanted to do but never had the opportunity. Perhaps the other travelers on your last group trip didn’t want to participate and you felt compelled to go along with their flow. Going solo means you don’t have to worry about that. Whatever you want to do, it won’t matter if someone else might not like it. Whether what you do is basic or something grand to tick off your bucket list, revel in the experience of trying something different, just because you can.
- Be flexible, open-minded, and generous of spirit
I think travel should engage, enlighten, empower, and entertain. Wherever your journey takes you, get involved as you learn and share with others, be open to the possibilities before you, embrace the adventure, be confident, and have lots of fun.
The Travel Diva loves helping others experience the world with immersive travel opportunities that engage, empower, enlighten, and entertain. Contact her at (313)808-8018 or email@example.com.