Adventuring alone sounds exciting, but it's also scary. Like most people, I've done the majority of my travelling with friends and family. That is, until I realised that I had places I wanted to go and no one wanted to go with me. I struck out on my own because my desire to continue travelling was greater than my fear of being alone.
Why I Decided To Go It Alone
Every time I've travelled alone, I had a specific destination in mind. For my most recent solo trip, it took me about a month to realise that I was sitting around, waiting for someone else to go with me, but no one I asked could go when I wanted. My friends all had work commitments or needed more time to save up for the trip. I didn't want to wait anymore because I wanted to get to Hawaii before the busy season started.
Don't wait as long as I did. If you have a place in mind and can't find anyone to go with, take the plunge yourself. Once you make the decision to go it alone, you can get started planning your awesome solo adventure. Think about all the things you normally would to plan a great trip: accommodations, travel arrangements, food, activities, safety. The nice thing though is that you get to pick exactly everything you want. One of the best things about solo travel is that you don't have to compromise with others on what they want from the experience.
Find Solo-Friendly Accommodations And Activities
As you plan your trip, you'll start to get excited. Roll with it! I've found that looking forward to your plans is one of the most effective ways to take the edge off the scariness that solo travel often inspires.
To start, pick a great location. Think of someplace you've always wanted to go. For example, I ended up on a solo trip to Honolulu because I wanted to go back to the oasis that is Hawaii -- and I wanted to do it before the busy season kicked in. After you've got your spot settled, figure out how you'll get there and where you'll stay.
Personally, I recommend trying Airbnb and other similar services because you'll be exposed to local lifestyle and get to meet locals (like your hosts) and other travellers. Since you're travelling alone, accommodations that provide you a chance to interact with others helps you feel like you're not. Unlike when you're travelling with others, I don't recommend you book an entire place to yourself. Look for rentals or hostels that offer shared rooms or will be hosting multiple travellers at once. You lose out on some privacy, but it is worth it for the chance to open up to new people and get to know them a bit. Hosts and other travellers tend to be quite friendly, so you can get recommendations from them on what to do -- last minute itinerary changes can be fun!
Once you've locked in a place to sleep, research activities and events you want to do. You should look for a good mix of activities you can do on your own and ones that are with others (like a tour group or event) so that you get the chance to talk with other travellers. You might be surprised at how many others are also travelling alone. On a recent solo trip, I took a free guided tour of an art museum and a majority of the other people in the group were also on their own, which allowed us to enjoy it together. Of course, you also want some time to yourself, so schedule some activities you can enjoy on your own -- like visiting a flea market, exploring a museum or local historical site, or just going for a walk. You don't necessarily have to make a strict itinerary -- after all you can do whatever you want whenever you want!
Create some financial goals to save up for your trip. The main advantage of travelling solo is that you can be as careful or lavish with your expenses as you want, since you don't have to compromise with anyone on the cost of activities or food. If all you wanted to do was eat peanut butter sandwiches and go on long (free) hikes, you could. On the opposite side, you can spend as much as you can afford without feeling guilty for making others spend, too. If you wanted to go to a museum with a $40 entrance fee, you could. The problem, however, is that unless you join a guided tour, you won't be able to split the cost of tours, activities, travel, food, or housing with anyone else. Since you'll have to cover a majority of the costs on your own, you'll need to save up more than you would for a group trip, or stick to more solo-friendly activities.
Even though you'll be on the actual trip alone, you can still talk to your friends and family about it. Bounce ideas off of others while you plan. They may have great recommendations or suggestions.
Ensure Your Safety As A Lone Traveller
While you shouldn't let safety concerns totally dampen your wanderlust, you should take it into consideration when choosing your destination. Do research before booking your trip to make sure the place you're going is ok for you to travel alone. We've discussed before a few things you can do to stay safe as a solo traveller:
- Learn basic self defence moves. You can check out our guide or see if there are any classes being held at a local women's centre or university campus.
- Familiarise yourself with scams common in your destination.
- Be aware of your surroundings, local customs (so you don't offend anyone), and how you present yourself.
- Let family members and friends know your itinerary. Keep them updated throughout the trip so they know where you are and what you're doing.
- Have the necessities on you at all times in case you need to make a quick escape. This includes enough cash for a taxi, a phone card, your ID, and the contact info for your accommodation.
- Know a few helpful phrases in the local language, such as "help", "hurt", "doctor" and "hospital".
- If you meet up with anyone you trust, make sure to get their contact information in case of an emergency.
- If you're in a foreign country, know where the embassy is and roughly how to get there from areas you'll be spending most of your time.
- Time your arrival and departures for daylight (especially if you'll be lugging a big suitcase with you) so that you can try to avoid anyone wanting to steal your stuff. Also, arriving and navigating to your accommodation when it is light out will make you feel much safer.
Solo adventures offer you a sense of freedom in many ways, but you need to keep yourself safe.
Be Prepared For Homesickness
Even if you enjoy being alone, you'll probably get lonely or homesick at some point during your trip. Embrace those feelings instead of pushing them aside. Prepare yourself mentally to deal with them. Then, focus on the positives of your solo trip. Remember why you wanted to go and how you're empowering yourself. Recognise that you've created an opportunity to enjoy life at your own pace.
Before you leave, know that some parts of your trip are going to feel really weird. One common one is eating out alone. At home, I hardly ever do this, but when travelling solo, you end up eating alone quite a bit. Of course, what parts will feel odd varies from person to person but until I went to Lisbon alone, I never realised how quickly you can eat a meal when you're on your own. Rick Steves has some great advice for solo diners:
If you're going it alone, consider alternatives to formal dining. Try a self-service café, a local-style fast-food restaurant, or a small ethnic eatery. Visit a supermarket deli and get a picnic to eat in the square or a park. Get a slice of pizza from a take-out shop and munch it as you walk along, people watching and window-shopping. Eat in the members' kitchen of a hostel; you'll always have companions. Make it a potluck.
Take time to enjoy those lonely activities -- bring a book to read or journal to write in.
Share Your Trip So You Don't Feel Alone
Even though you're travelling solo, you can still stay connected. Send photos and videos to friends and family members to say hello and show them what you're up to. You can even go the snail mail route and send postcards. Of course, you can always share your trip on social media, but don't be annoying about it. After all, you're on vacation when others are stuck at work or school!
You can also share your experiences by buying souvenirs for everyone back home. Show them that you were thinking about them during your trip. With luck, you'll give a little bit of the travel bug to them. However, remember not everyone will react to your travel tales with the enthusiasm you felt during your trip. They weren't there, so it's difficult for them to connect on your level.
Lastly, document your experience. You'll be able to give recommendations when people ask in the future. One of my favourite things to talk about with other people is where they plan to go, and to share my suggestions. Making someone else's trip a little bit more awesome with insider information always feels great!
Travelling alone isn't for everyone -- but you should at least give it a try. You'll have a chance to completely embrace your interests and engage in some self-reflection. Remember, it's OK to go alone.