I never thought I’d be one for solo travel. I remember meeting solo travellers from a very young age - independent, creative people, both male and female and wondering how on earth they did it. Then several years ago I went with a large crew on a work trip to Africa and I realised you can feel totally alone even amongst a crowd.
It turned out that I was made for solo travel. You too probably.
Solo travel is marvellously self indulgent. The best thing about it: you can do what you want 100% of the time. The worst thing: there’s nobody to do it with (though this isn’t necessarily a problem and certainly not one that can’t be helped). Apart from doing the things that truly interest you, you have full control of your finances and can spend as much or little as you want, you can hang wherever and with whoever you like and you can do it all at your own pace.
Travelling alone also encourages you to engage with locals and other travellers in a way that can often be challenging when travelling with others. I remember travelling once with friends who weren’t interested in socialising with other people and were annoyed at me for doing it on “their time”.
Here are some of my tips for solo travel:
Do your research:
Some destinations are better suited for solo travel than others. This generally comes down to two things - safety and money. Research is your best friend when it comes to how safe a destination is for solo travellers. When it comes to finances, solo travel can get expensive without a second party to share costs though this is entirely avoidable if you are using public transport and avoid the traditional hotel. Again research is key.
Ease into it:
If the idea of flying solo intimidates you, start by visiting places where you have vague connections. Crashing with a friend of a friend or seeing a familiar face can be great ways to gently ease into travelling solo and assuage your fears.
Seek out alternative travel:
Confession: Although I've travelled on my own several times, I've never gone backpacking. If hustling between cities isn't your cup of tea either, a good way to travel is to get busy. I will dedicate an entire post to this soon but you could try volunteering, taking an immersive language course, house and petsitting, a work exchange and other alternative ways to travel.
Just because you arrived alone doesn’t mean you are.
If meeting other travellers is your agenda, stay in social places with common spaces such as hostels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. If you want to meet locals use Airbnb (particularly the room in a house option) or couchsurf. Accommodation is a good place to start.
As I wrote previously in my series about how to see a new city, you can also ask your friends to connect you to people they might know, befriend local bloggers online or link up with people through community driven sites like couchsurfing.
I always end up making friends on walking or bicycle tours (which I seek out a lot) or creative workshops (ditto). Shared interests are generally a good reason to get along.
Eating alone can be a drag if it’s all your doing so consider alternatives to formal dining. I reserve eating in for places that have been recommended to me, are terribly quaint or have communal tables, but otherwise I graze all day. Food markets are my mecca, and street food is king, as are outdoor tables for people watching and cute cafes with free wifi. If you have a kitchen at your disposal, buy local and specialty ingredients and cook your own meals.
There are also social initiatives like mealsharing where you can sign up to eat in a strangers home.
Send your itinerary to a close friend or family member and check in with them often.
Blend in. I’m pretty lucky to have one of those faces that can convince anybody that I’m a local almost anywhere but I also don’t dress like a “tourist” (that is to say, horribly. Please no zip-off shorts and bumbags.) Anybody can adapt to the environment and attempt to blend in especially solo travellers who generally attract less attention to themselves than groups.
Always keep your ID handy.
Stick to open, public spaces in safe neighbourhoods, especially at night.
Look confident and walk purposefully - try to map out your routes before hitting the streets. Stay alert of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings.
Being vigilant is good but don't it overwhelm you. Develop your intuition. Learn to trust your good judgement and be to new experiences. Be friendly and open, believe that mankind in general is good, think positive thoughts and all of this will go a long way.
Photo: A selfie on Smith St in Fitzroy, Melbourne.