Have you ever wanted to see a Broadway play in New York City, take a road trip to see the fall foliage, or splurge on a vacation to Paris, but couldn’t find anyone to go with you? Solo travel is the answer!
I can imagine what you’re thinking. You’ll be lonely, isolated, it’s dangerous, and only the young Birkenstock types travel by themselves.
Think again. I’m middle-aged, an empty-nester and petite. If I can travel solo, anyone can.
I’ve never been lonely, bored or felt threatened. Au contraire. I’ve explored three continents, hiked, biked, trekked alone and many travel companions I met along the way became friends with whom I’ve stayed in touch.
I even met my future husband, an American on a solo trip. And traveling solo is not necessarily more dangerous than going to the movies and dinner by yourself in your home town.
Traveling alone makes you more open to others, as well as more approachable to friendly locals and fellow travelers. You’ll meet people more easily and be invited into their lives more readily; you’ll avoid difficult travel companies and enjoy the freedom of making all the decisions. When you are alone you experience the world unfiltered by anyone else’s chatter or perspective.
When I started traveling alone it was not by choice. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I had two options: stay at home, or go alone. Divorce or the death of a spouse or partner can leave an avid traveler faced with the same dilemma I had. Do you choose to stay immobilized? Can you find a new travel companion? Or should you go alone?
My decision to go alone was one of the best choices of my life; I learned to enjoy my own company and reach out for others. Don’t worry about being lonely; starting out alone does not mean staying alone. There are other intrepid and fascinating people out there traveling by themselves, just like you. You’ll be surprised and pleased by how confident and happy you are traveling with your new best friend – yourself.
Over the years I’ve perfect the art of traveling by myself successfully. Let me share my mistakes with you so you won’t make them too. First you’ll need a game plan.
Start Smart. Select your destination carefully.
Certain locales attract couples and other locations attract solo like-minded travelers. For example, if you’re interested in Mexico, avoid Cabo San Lucas or Cancun which cater to families, large groups and students on spring break. On the flip side, a historic colonial town like San Miguel de Allende has an active ex-pat community, many single visitors and is safe. Cosmopolitan cities like Paris, London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Charleston are lively, stimulating and easy destinations for solo travelers.
Buy or download guide books geared to solo travelers.
I’ve found that the guidebooks by Frommers, Fodors or Rick Steves target groups, couples and families. The Lonely Planet guides, used by travelers of all ages, list accommodations and restaurants that will be full of other independent travelers, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to meet a variety of people. They also have a special section with advice to women traveling solo in each specific country. Check out this book written for women travelers; Gutsy Women. Start your research by posting a question, or just read what other travelers say about a destination. Go online to The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Travel Forum http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/index.jspa
Talk to strangers and be curious.
When you travel alone you accept the responsibility to reach out, be extroverted and strike up conversations with strangers. Talk to anyone and everyone who looks friendly. You’ll find that the most travelers are happy to strike up a conversation with you. And being middle-aged or having white hair is an added advantage in foreign countries because mature people are respected and offered assistance in many ways.
Choose friendly accommodations
A five star hotel or chain hotel is not your best choice. I learned the hard way my first time in Rome when I selected a fancy chain hotel based on their band’s reputation, the photo of the doorman, and how nice their linens were. I ended up in an impersonal hotel filled with couples and business people, totally isolated from other solo travelers. I would have been much happier in a family-run pension where I would have eaten breakfast with other independent travelers and had interaction with the Italian staff who could give me a head’s up about local places as well as safety issues. When looking for accommodations, watch for words like “lively”, “friendly”, and “family-owned”. After reading your guidebook, double check the hotel online and filter the reviews by solo traveler.
Sign up for group activities
In Vancouver I joined a group bike tour and we laughed non-stop as we peddled leisurely through Stanley Park and the waterfront area. My fellow bikers and I went out to dinner and a jazz club that evening.
Join a group bike tour, a historic house tour, a garden tour, a cooking class, or a snorkeling expedition. Tours are an easy ways to meet new travel companion. After going to a cooking class in Charleston, I befriended a fellow foodie who accompanied me on a tour of an anti-bellum plantation. We ended up making friends with a local couple who invited us to join them for dinner and told us “Gone With the Wind” type stories of their ancestors surviving the Civil War.
Trust your intuition.
Going alone is not necessarily more dangerous than traveling with a friend—it just requires extra awareness. You will discover how fine-tuned your survival instincts are. Most countries in the world are not as violent or dangerous as our won. Listen to your instincts and they will help keep you safe in the midst of your adventures. If you need help ask for it.
Out and about like the locals
It’s much easier to meet people if you use public transportation and stay in local homes, small inns, or bed-and-breakfasts. Don’t isolate yourself in a rental car or big hotel.
Take advantage of your solo status and be willing to change your plans or trust a stranger.
One of my most memorable experiences in Sri Lanka would not have occurred if I had not been alone and not accepted the kind offer of help from strangers. I was waiting at what I believed to be a bus stop when a man in a battered station wagon filled with cheerful kids topped and offered me a ride. He informed me that where I was standing was not a bus stop. I accepted his offer because of the presence of his four children. His invitation for a ride to my guesthouse led to a dinner with his wife and a school teacher, tours of the island, and a charming friendship.
Solo travel is easier than you think and it’s more rewarding and intense than daily life. Give it a try, it’s better than staying at home.