Traveling alone: have you tried it yet? As a former Peace Corps volunteer and veteran solo traveler, I urge everyone to try taking a trip by themselves, at least once. Why? Travelling alone offers immense rewards. When you set off solo, you’ll have adventures and make memories that will stick with you. You set the itinerary, you choose the adventure, and you might even make unforgettable new friends. Not only will you have a unique view of your destination, you’ll learn about yourself too.
I’ve traveled by myself in Europe, North America, and all over the Caucasus region. Here are my tried-and-true tips for a safe, and fun, solo journey. You might even discover that flying solo is your favorite way to travel.
Traveling alone isn’t necessarily less safe than traveling with a buddy, but there are a few unique safety considerations. Plus, you’ll have a much more enjoyable trip if you have peace of mind, so take a few steps to protect yourself.
When you set out for the day, let your hotel or hostel receptionist know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Give someone back home your itinerary, and plan to contact them regularly, so they’ll know something’s amiss if they don’t hear from you. This is especially important if you’ll be hiking, or exploring outside of major cities.
Many solo travelers feel nervous about “looking like tourists” when out by themselves. Dress to blend in, and avoid pulling out your map or guidebook on the sidewalk, and most locals will simply assume you’re a regular commuter.
As a solo traveler, it doesn’t hurt to lie a little sometimes. Tell strangers you’re “meeting a friend” at a designated time, or that your travel buddy is back at your hotel. If you’re a single woman, I suggest wearing a wedding band when you’re out (it might not prevent male attention, but I’ve experienced that people tend to respect women more if they think they’re married). One of the joys of solo traveling is honing your powers of observation. Don’t be afraid to be friendly, but try to learn as much as you can about a stranger before you reveal anything to them about yourself.
Of course, staying safe doesn’t mean you should be overly suspicious. In fact, meeting new friends is one of the most exciting things about traveling alone! Solo travelers are much more approachable than pairs or groups, and you’ll find that most people who take an interest in you have only the best intentions.
There are a few ways to maximize your opportunities for meeting people. Many cities have free walking tours, which attract other travelers and can help you orient yourself. Look for places where locals hang out, instead of ex-pat or tourist bars, and you’ll get a first-hand look at how people socialize and unwind in your new home-away-from-home. I recommend picking a cafe near your lodgings and becoming a “regular,” even for just a couple days. Once the waitstaff and local customers see you twice, they’re likely to be curious and want to talk to you.
Opt to stay in hostels or guest houses, instead of impersonal hotels. Hostels, in particular, often have communal breakfasts or cheap lobby bars, where it’s easy to strike up a conversation. And don’t limit yourself to talking to other travelers. Often, the staff are friendly and inquisitive, and more than willing to give you insider tips. One of my fondest memories of solo travel is befriending the cleaning lady at a hostel in Tbilisi, Georgia. She gave me great advice, and at the end of my stay, gifted me a bottle of her homemade sauce (luckily, I had a small gift to give her in return!).
You Do You (and Embrace Eating Alone!)
As a solo traveler, you might feel awkward pampering yourself. Don’t! Learn to embrace dining alone, instead of always grabbing food to-go.
Discovering local cuisine can be one of the most fun parts of travel, and you shouldn’t miss out just because you don’t have someone to eat with. Take yourself out for one or two meals at nice local eateries. If you’re self-conscious, bring reading material, and ask your server for plenty of advice about what to order (speaking of white lies, I like to give the impression that I’m a traveling food blogger).
One of the joys of traveling by yourself is that it’s all about you: you can spend all your time on the stuff you love. If you love haggling, but museums bore you, skip the museum and go straight to the local market. If fancy restaurants aren’t your thing, find a greasy kebab stand that calls to you. I once spent three days by myself in Istanbul, eating kokoreç for every meal: a traditional street dish made of spicy, fire-grilled tripe. It was one of my cheapest—and most fun!—getaways.
Keep a Journal
Even if writing in a journal isn’t usually a habit for you, give it a try when you’re traveling by yourself. Exploring the world on your own can result in sensory overload, and you’ll likely have a lot of thoughts, questions, and observations along the way, so write them down! Journaling doesn’t have to be anything fancy: just pack a regular notebook, and write down whatever comes to mind.
Write about the people you meet, what you do each day, or anything else. A journal can also double as a scrapbook: you can fill it with ticket stubs or receipts for anything especially memorable you did on your trip. You’ll have clearer memories of your adventures later, simply because writing them down will help cement them in your memory. You’ll also be able to go back and reread your journal long after the trip.
Journaling also gives you an opportunity for downtime, a few minutes by yourself to recharge. This is a must when you’re out all day braving the unfamiliar by yourself! So pack a cheap notebook and a couple of pens, and get writing! You’ll be glad you did.
Do you travel alone? Or are you thinking of trying it? Share your tips and questions in the comments!