Many who set out into the world on a nomadic journey alone for the first time are not doing it entirely voluntarily. The idea of going it alone can be overwhelmingly scary when you have never done it and often, it seems, we are forced down such a route because none of our friends can come with us, for any number of reasons. So, it is a choice of solo or not at all.
The first thing to underline here is that solo travel is so wonderful that once you have done it you will almost certainly never again be a reluctant solo traveller.
The second fact is solo travel most definitely does not have to mean lonely travel. We are almost certain you will look back at some later date and wonder how on Earth you could ever have imagined you would be lonely; just as adventure is inevitable as a solo traveller so too, you will find, is company. However, to keep those anxieties at bay, here are 10 (almost) fool-proof ways to guarantee there is no lonely in your solo travel.
1) Understanding the Lonely Myth
There are heaps of preconceptions and myths about solo travel which turn out to be dust in the wind once you actually get on the road. Interestingly, the issues which tend to most worry or preoccupy those who have never travelled, before they set out, very rarely turn out to have any substance in reality and the issue of loneliness is one of those.
It would appear, by some strange ordination of the travel gods, that solo travellers come equipped with some kind of magnetism which seems to draw others to them. Or perhaps it is because there are SO many people out there doing the backpacker circuit who want to find pals and company every bit as much as you.
Anyway – there are LOADS of things you can do to keep the lonely out of solo travel and if you follow some or all of these pointers it is much more likely you’ll be struggling to find time to be by yourself rather than having to combat loneliness and unwanted solitude.
Want to know a secret? The hardest thing about solo travel is making the decision to actually do it. Almost all the rest is blow-your-mind wonderful. But hey – mum’s the word. If everyone realised this they would all be out there doing it and spoiling it for the rest of us!
2) Use Hostels
Hostels are the beating heart of the backpacker’s world and staying in one makes it almost impossible to be alone for long. What’s more, don’t just stay in hostels but also be sure to book a dorm room and opt for dorms which have eight beds or less. Shared rooms are always your cheapest accommodation option and a limited number of beds makes the set-up intimate enough that not saying at least hello to some-one sharing your sleeping space almost verges on weird.
Also make sure you book a hostel with plenty of common spaces such as a garden, roof terrace, TV room, swimming pool, bar and so forth. These are the places where striking up conversations with your fellow travellers is easier. These types of hostels are also a great choice for the solo traveller who really can’t face sharing a dorm because they still give you plenty of opportunities for mingling without compromising on your privacy. Not everyone in a hostel is a solo traveller but the majority of solo travellers use hostels – so you will be in good company.
3) Join Couchsurfing
Just in case you have been living in a cave and have never heard of the wonderful and vast travellers’ utility known as Couchsurfing this is how it works; someone offers a bed/couch/floor space for free in their house to guests travelling in their country, generally with the idea that when they go travelling they will be able to find the same. However, not all hosts ever surf and not all surfers ever host. It is also a cultural exchange concept with a two-way share element.
Besides the wonderful bed-for-a-night concept Couchsurfing is also a huge, supportive and very active community. Through various tools it allows you to hook up with both locals and fellow travellers in a certain area, town or city. Additionally, some local groups will often organise events such as barbeques, language exchanges or such like which are open to local Couchsurfers and any visiting from other places and countries.
So, whether you are looking for a local to have a coffee with or some-one perhaps willing to take you round town as an unofficial tourist guide or you want to find another backpacker who is in town when you are and fancies doing a certain tour or sharing a meal, this is a great resource and solo-traveller’s best friend.
4) Find a Travel Companion
If you really and truly are afraid of feeling alone or you actually find yourself in desperate need of companionship there are tons of resources for finding travel companions. You don’t have to commit yourself forevermore – some want travel buddies just to share a leg of a journey (sometimes to share costs) or for a day or two, while others might indeed be looking for something longer term covering weeks or months.
There are all kinds of places to hunt down a travel companion just by putting a general search into an Internet engine but a few good places to try are –
The very transitory nature of staying in hostels and backpacking means the shyest folk might have a bit more trouble connecting in hostels. No sooner have you set your mind to get chatting to some-one and the entire hostel’s population is replaced by new faces.
Signing up for a spell of voluntary work somewhere is a great way round this; in many set-ups you will be sleeping, eating and working with an unchanging group of people – living together in other words. And the nature of being far from home and facing challenges together in such environments can build friendships which go far deeper than the norm.
Voluntary work placements can be found in just about every nook and cranny of the world and range from hours of commitment to months, offer work for both the skilled and unskilled and will see you working in a vast diversity of genres or conditions.
6) Embrace the Alone Time
If you are not surrounded by stimulating company all the time there can be a tendency to panic and for the more dramatic among us to instantly label ourselves as lonely. We live in a society which tends to categorise those who like to spend a lot of time alone as weirdos, sad, Billy-no-mates and so on…So it is natural for us, if we find ourselves unintentionally alone, to assume we must be lonely and need company.
But hang on a minute…Just stop and ask yourself – are you really lonely? You might be surprised to learn the answer is no when you really soul search. Being alone allows us to settle down with that book we want to read without any interruptions at all; to eat EXACTLY when we want and not in conjunction with another’s timetable even if we do fancy breakfast at 11 at night; to catch up with all those messages and calls with friends and family back home who are desperate to hear how our adventures are going. In short, learn to embrace the alone times and make the absolute most of them.
Also, during these alone times, learn to celebrate your achievement. The planet is packed with would-be solo travellers who are too scared to do what you are out there actually doing. Be proud of that and give yourself some of the huge congratulations it deserves.
7) The Solitary Meals Issue
There is probably no more potentially dangerous moment for the lonelies to creep in that at meal times. We are naturally a sociable species and eating, for many of us, makes up the very core of what epitomises society and civilisation. So, rather than feeling all tender and solo at meal times make sure you use this time to DO something – practise your new language skills, read a book or study, write your journal, play I-spy with the passersby or anything else which distracts you from focusing on your obvious solo status. You are quite likely to find plenty of travel buddies to share meals with along the way and you probably won’t have to face too many meals alone anyway if you don’t want to.
8) Go on Organised Tours
If there are things you want to see and do, sign up for tours and trips rather than going down the DIY route. This way you will be automatically grouped with like-minded souls sharing an interest. You will almost always find other solo travellers on tours because they give access to effortless and instant companionship.
9) Join Facebook’s Solo Travel Society Page
Ah, how did we manage before the days of the Internet and social media! Coming positively to the rescue in 101 ways for us travellers, it also comes up trumps for the solo traveller. Head along to Facebook, like the Solo Travel Society’s page and find yourself with instant access to a wonderful travel resource for support, advice, tips, potential company and so forth.
10) Learn the Local Lingo
Solo or otherwise, getting to grips with some basics of the local lingo is always going to make travel smoother and besides, displays a respectful attitude. However, for the solo traveller it is far more essential. This is your ticket for chewing the fat with the locals and who knows – even finding some real friendships along the way. Those who speak native tongues find themselves getting all sorts of opportunities the non-language speakers wont such as invites to people’s houses and events or even just scoring lower prices in restaurants and guesthouses. A little language mastery will also help you feel more confident and secure – important factors for the traveller flying solo.