To head out alone in the world to find travel adventure is exciting, enriching, empowering and packed with the potential for the best fun you could ever have. But if you are one of those yet to try it and are still unaware of the huge rewards waiting in store for you, it is far more likely that right now you are feeling daunted and bursting with doubts and questions. We hope that the following tips will help you make that leap of faith into the world of solo travel because once you have tried it, there is no looking back. Then you too, like so many before you, will discover that solo is the only way to go.
Balancing Chance & Preparation
One of the great treasures of solo travel is the boundless freedom found in doing exactly what you want when you want; no matter how crazy or erratic that is, everything is possible on a whim because you are answerable to no-one. Spontaneity and serendipity have the capacity to heap incredible adventure after incredible adventure at your feet. Little wonder then that so many people choose to fly solo when travelling.
However, solo travel also means you have to make more taxing choices and decisions all alone too. Arriving somewhere totally unknown can be exhilarating but that high can quickly turn to mild panic when you realise a total lack of planning has left you stranded somewhere without options. When you are going it alone there is much to be said for doing at least a little research on what lies ahead. This might mean booking your first night’s bed somewhere, checking there are ATMs available for cash or assuring yourself that boats departing from that beautiful tropical island you are heading towards run more than once every week.
Being forever open to embrace chance is a beautiful part of solo travel but arm yourself with practical information on your destination too.
Local Lingo Benefits for Solo Travellers
Learning a little of your destination’s local language is of course a basic respect issue for all travellers. However, making an effort here has extra bonuses for those who adventure alone.
Even the most basic of communication skills adds extra potential for connecting with others and in some places in the world any effort produces wonderfully joyous reactions. In this way, with minimal lingual effort you can become an instant local hit and your experiences are enhanced tenfold.
Besides, a little language or mastery of a few key phrases can really help reduce emotions of feeling totally lost and ultimately make you feel way more secure.
The Mealtime Dilemma
If you were to question 100 travellers on things they found most challenging about going solo perhaps the most repeated answer would be the one about mealtimes. Eating alone, often surrounded by groups and couples who (of course!) appear to be having the time of their life, is a situation loaded with the ability to bring on feelings of isolation, exclusion and ultimately loneliness.
Every solo traveller has been through this at some point and each will have different strategies for coping. Come armed with a book, practice any new language skills with a local newspaper or magazine, catch up on your travel journal, doodle in a notebook, send a few Whatsapp messages on your phone or simply seat yourself at a cafe or restaurant where you can gorge yourself silly by observing all the passing colours of the culture in which you’ve found yourself.
Positioning yourself at a counter or bar seat, if there are any, gives you plenty of opportunity of chatting with the workers there and also be alert to the presence of other solo travellers. Don’t be shy – solo flyers rarely turn down an invite to eat with a fellow single traveller.
The Safety Issue
Being aware of any specific safety concerns relevant to your destination and taking responsibility accordingly is of course something common to all travellers. However, as a solo traveller you are a little more vulnerable. When there is no travelling buddy to turn to when you want to discuss confusing options or are too tired to think straight after a long bus journey, there is a greater potential for bad judgement calls.
Be aware of this fact, learn how to identify when these possible scenarios might arise and never arrive anywhere after dark without some clear plan of how you are going to get to where you need to get to.
Know Where to Find Company
Some solo travellers prefer to spend the majority of their time alone, others are constantly seeking out the company of others but probably the majority are happiest with some mix of the two. If you intend to stay in hostels, it is highly likely that any need for companionship will be totally satisfied right there but there are also other ways to find your people.
The Couchsurfing community is a great place to start – even if you have no intention of taking advantage of the ‘free-bed-for-the-night’ part of it. Check out any organised local social events or the messages of other travellers looking for friendly hook ups to share experiences, a meal or even a few days travel together. Additionally, many local hosts are more than happy to act as an informal tour guide for you too or meet for a coffee or drink.
Visiting a local gym, locating a language exchange venue or simply signing up for a tour are also the type of activities widely available and which present plenty of opportunity for company. The Internet is chock full of all kinds of traveller forums and both Facebook and Twitter have facilities for tracking down travelling connections. Additionally, on Facebook, there is the wonderful Solo Travel Society page crammed with support, advice, tips and potential company.
Allow Yourself Comfort Blankets
Quite what constitutes a comfort varies from person to person but whatever this means for you be sure to have something of that with you. Don’t let anyone tell you you are not a proper traveller if you carry an electric toothbrush/inflatable pillow/hair straighteners/whatever. The little comforts of life tend to carry greater significance when you are travelling alone.
Expect a Little Loneliness
Sometimes you can travel for months as a solo traveller and not feel lonely once but typically sooner or later the lonely bug has a little bite. Feeling detached and sad is a natural part of life and most people, no matter what their lifestyle or social surroundings, fall victim sometimes. However, when you are in a strange country and a long way from home feeling lonely has the potential to hit a little harder. There will be days where you have no conversation at all or more prolonged periods of not meeting and making any new friends.
Expect to get lonely sometimes and then bask in the wonderful feeling of empowerment, independence and self-contained strength which comes when you have dusted yourself down, hit another adventure full on and met up with some amazing people.
Hostels Are Home for Solo Travellers
The vast majority of single travellers choose to stay in dorm beds in hostels and not simply because they are typically the best budget choice. The fact is simple – hostels are THE easiest way to meet with other travellers both solo and otherwise. All over the world right now are solo travellers forming friendships with fellow hostel guests which can easily end up being of the meaningful and lasting kind – because that is what happens when you travel.
Making connections with other travellers in hostels is not just easy it is unavoidable. It’s kind of hard not to strike up conversation with some total stranger sleeping in the bunk underneath yours. To make this process even easier, choose small intimate hostels rather than larger ones which can be more impersonal and opt for dorm rooms with eight beds or less for the same reason.
Celebrate the Solo
Travelling alone is jam packed with perks. Some are huge like the total freedom of doing anything you want, taking off anywhere at any time and the luxury of being able to change your mind and plans every five seconds if you want without having to explain yourself to anybody. Some of the bonuses are smaller but no less liberating – you can eat pizza for breakfast every day without having to consider the meal preferences of some-one else or spend days of doing nothing except drinking coffee in a local cafe without worrying that your companions are bored.
Living without compromise of any kind is a rare treasure which few truly get to experience in life so be sure to simply revel in this – even in those times of feeling a little alone.