Happy New Year!
If one of your resolutions this year is to travel more, I hope you will consider solo travel.
I began traveling alone a few years ago when I wanted to go to Cambodia and no one I knew could or wanted to go with me. If I waited for someone else, I would never end up going, so I went alone. It was probably the greatest trip I have taken thus far (upcoming trip to Cuba may top it).
My friends and family think I am quite courageous for traveling alone, but you might find the same joys as I do, should you give it a try. Below are some of my tips for getting started as a solo traveler. I’ll be sure to post more tips soon as I am going on another solo trip tomorrow to Panama!
1. Choosing Destinations
When you travel alone, where you choose to go is crucial. Safety is a concern for all travelers, but this is especially true if you are a woman traveling alone. I always consult the U.S. Department of State Current Travel Warnings for an updated list of places one should avoid. They are mostly common sense places with civil war and strife: South Sudan, North Korea, Iran, etc., but some places, such as Honduras or Venezuela might not have been on your radar as countries to avoid. Each country has a link you can click on with a full description of the problems and threats seen in that country. Sometimes it may just be a particular region you should avoid.
In addition to the above countries, as a young woman, I also avoid countries where gender equality is as real as unicorns. I prefer to save those trips for when I have a male to accompany me. Though many Southeast Asian women are unfortunately trafficked, I felt very safe in Cambodia. The best thing to do is fully research where you want to go. It is important to follow the news as well.
Other than safety, I also try to consider where it would be fun to travel alone. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t travel around the U.S. alone. Some of the best places for solo travel are Southeast Asia & Central/South America. These countries are usually loaded with other solo travelers backpacking for long periods of time and it is therefore easier to make friends and find things to do.
One of the biggest challenges with traveling solo is saving money on where you stay. As a budget traveler, I prefer not to spend too much money on accommodations, but am also too old (and too light a sleeper) to stay in massive, dorm-style rooms at hostels.
However, hostels are often an excellent choice for private rooms as well. I use Hostel World to search and will only stay at the top-rated places. Hostels are rated on cleanliness, location, safety, and friendliness of the staff, among other things. You can view photos, read reviews, and find out availability for your dates.
Tip: though I use the site to search for hostels, I usually book directly with the hostel via their own website, if they have one. By dealing directly with the hostel you can often avoid booking fees and can ask them for information regarding directions, etc.
In many countries, hostels are scarce or private rooms are expensive because you have to pay double. In these cases, I search Airbnb, where people rent out their rooms, apartments, and entire homes. I used the site for places to stay in Reykjavik and Prague last summer and had good experiences both times. People load pictures, information, maps, etc. on their rentals and those who have stayed there review their experiences on the site. An added safety of Airbnb is that the site holds your payment until 24 hours after you are scheduled to check-in. If the place is not as described, or something seems off, you can contact the company and you will not be charged. However, I have not had any problems thus far.
The hosts are very friendly and usually go out of their way to provide you with directions and other useful information regarding your stay. The only thing with solo travel and Airbnb is, depending on where you choose to stay, the environment may not be as social as at a hostel.
3. Dining Alone
Many people find the prospect of dining alone to be horrifying. While dining with other people is obviously more enjoyable, you should not be embarrassed or afraid to eat alone. By avoiding this, you could be missing out on some great cuisine!
Dining alone can be boring so just make sure you bring something with you to keep you entertained: a book, guidebooks, journal, smartphone, camera, etc. I find that this is an excellent time to plan what I will do next or to reflect on what I have already done. Also, when you are alone, you actually pay more attention to the food itself, to the quality and tastes you are experiencing.
Tip: Eat at a restaurant with bar dining. Depending on the restaurant, sitting at the bar might put you in front of a bartender you could talk to, a television you could watch, and usually, next to other solo diners you can talk to. At the Grill Market in Reykjavik (pictured below), sitting at the bar means a view of the kitchen. Another solo American was sitting nearby and we were able to keep each other company during the dinner. He even gave me the dessert included with his meal that he did not want. (You can read my full review here: Reykjavik Restaurants)
4. Sightseeing & Things to Do
Sightseeing alone can be great. I am an incredibly talkative person, but when I spend an entire day wandering around a city alone, I can really reflect on my surroundings. It brings me a lot of peace. When you travel solo, you can go wherever you want, see what you are interested in, eat when you’re hungry, etc. without having to ask what someone else wants. You have the freedom to be alone or to be with others if you choose.
In some cities, it may not be so easy to travel around alone if the city doesn’t have good public transportation or perhaps the locals do not speak English. One good choice is to join a small tour group.
For example, in Iceland you have to drive to see things, so I did this tour with Bustravel Iceland, which provided the transportation, but also gives you some people to do things with and talk to if you want (I am planning to post another entry entirely on Bustravel Iceland).
In Prague, I spent my days wandering around the castles alone, but at night I wanted to party with other people, so I joined pub crawls. You can always find the pub crawls in Prague at the clock tower. They will be the people in various colored shirts, representing the different groups. The pub crawls can be a bit more expensive than if you just drank on your own, but I went on 3 different ones and had a blast every time! It is worth it if you are a solo traveler.