This summer I was with a close friend. Don’t get me wrong, friends are good things. But I realized about halfway through the trip that this particular friend wasn’t adding anything to the experience. In fact I felt more like a babysitter than partner in crime or fellow adventurer. So I promised myself to sing the praises of traveling solo when I got home.
If you haven’t yet, check out my 10 Steps: How to Prioritize as You Plan a Trip. My philosophy when traveling is to book travel and lodgings ahead of time, then be really flexible. As long as you have a place to sleep, and a way to get there, your day can be as relaxing or as adventurous as you feel like that day. However, there are some more specific things I’d like to mention about lodgings if you’re solo.
- Make sure you have a private place to lock your things. If you can afford it, get a private room.
- Try to stay in rooms that are not on the ground floor, they get burglarized more.
- Be aware that a lot of travel deals assume there will be “double occupancy” so don’t buy that groupon until you know it’s priced for one.
- Weigh location options. Right downtown is nice because it’s close to everything but it is probably more expensive for a single person. Outside of downtown is quieter and maybe more serene, but if you have to walk home at night it may be unsafe.
- Check out the neighborhood and reviews to see if anyone had any issues.
If you’ve never traveled alone, let me emphasize this point: you get to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to. If you wake up on day 3 looking for adventure, pop into a local travel agent and book a horse or canoe tour as you please. If you’re tired, sleep in. If you’re hungry, stop for a snack. If you want to spend 3 hours in a local bookstore, go for it.
Remind yourself that no one is judging you. You will not run into someone you know and be ashamed of your tourist t-shirt or jeggings. If a joke lands flat on the snorkel trip, just meet new people tomorrow. If you impress people with your hilarious wit, get their info to meet up later. Then contact them, or don’t. They won’t judge you either way. They get it, because they are in the same situation. You are only invested in these relationships if you want to be and no one will be mad if you never call them back.
I always take a second to glance at myself in a shop window or lake reflection. I’m not checking my make up – if I’m wearing any – I’m trying to see how I appear to all these strangers. They just get an overall look, just a second to size me up. They see a smiling, backpack-wearing, tanned, bad-ass chick. With cool sneakers. I take a moment to appreciate who I really am when I’m set free in the world. And if people I encounter don’t see me this way, who cares? It’s how I would see me if I were one of them. And we just established that I’m awesome.
Here are some more perks and things to try while traveling solo:
- Enjoy the admiration in the eyes of everyone you tell, “I just decided to come by myself.”
- Your position makes it totally acceptable to strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone
- You’ll meet a ton of other solo travelers and feel like you belong to a secret club
- You can learn something new without feeling “stupid” in front of someone else, so
learn a language, learn how to paint, learn how to ride a bike –>
- You could easily get asked out on a date. Make sure you meet them there and stay out in public if you decide to go for it.
- You’ll actually pack LESS because you won’t feel self conscious wearing the same sweater three times or foregoing a hair dryer.
- Try local cuisine and don’t be embarrassed if you hate (or love) it.
- Constantly remind yourself that you are amazing for going on this adventure.
- Take the time to journal all your experiences and reflections.
- Shamelessly take selfies with beautiful art, landscapes, or people.
- Don’t talk to anyone because you’re so over being social and you want quiet time.
- Go see a movie.
- Get another ice cream, no one will know.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Now you might think the aforementioned backpack is lame, and I admit I sometimes opt for a messenger bag or large purse to be a little less obvious when I’m in cities. Whatever you carry, it is essential and protecting it is double essential. I always look up information on public transportation safety for where I’m headed. Generally, don’t walk around with an expensive camera held out in front of you and you’re fine. But in some places, like Quito, Ecuador, theft is a major issue. In cases like those you should absolutely clutch it in front of you. Keep it with you even if someone offers to put it above or below the bus/train. One time one of my acquaintances had their bag cut open and emptied while it was on their back. Similar precautions may be needed for taxis – research before you’re there and ask locals at your lodgings too.
So what should be in that bag? Probably a little umbrella, sunscreen, bug spray, and snacks. Of course it varies depending on your location. Do NOT have all of your money in there, nor your passport. If you can’t leave some cash and your passport in a safe/locked place at your lodgings, they should be as close to your torso as possible. You don’t need one of those nerdy money belts; keeping it in a small purse you can hold close or a carefully watched front pocket should suffice. I usually keep important stuff in my jacket’s breast pocket while I’m wearing it. No one is going to reach toward my chest without my noticing it.
If you’re in between destinations and carrying a few bags, spread out money and valuables. You could even tuck $20 in a shoe or in your underwear just in case if you’re nervous. But I’m assuming you’re traveling to a place that is safe enough to, you know, travel. So don’t be anxious. I like to pack as light as possible so I can stuff a duffel bag under my feet and keep my essentials bag on my lap. No suitcase means less worries and I can easily carry all of my stuff with me to use a restroom or wherever. If you buy something really nice (or big) consider shipping it home – in fact, ask if they’ll ship it for free when you buy it.
Here are a few more street-smart tips in case you are a beginner or nervous about your destination.
- Have a map and know where it’s safe to relax and wander. For example, you can wander in DC around all the Smithsonian museums, monuments, etc. Not only is the area kept clean for tourists, it’s also literally home to America’s president. Trust me, there’s security everywhere. Other neighborhoods, not so much. Life-hack: if you don’t have a map, take a picture whenever you see a tourist map.
- Do actual research, don’t just watch TV shows. The Wire does not represent all of Baltimore.
- Don’t try to fake fitting in, but try not to look hopelessly lost either. If you are lost, hop into a decent looking store, lodging, or cafe and take a moment with your map. Relax, you are safe. If you are still lost, ask someone who works there.
- If you really don’t want to ask anyone for directions, find a place with internet and look up what you need. While in Iceland, I sat at a cafe and used their free wifi to look myself up on google maps. I took screenshots and used them as maps. Then I bought a cookie to be polite (and to have a cookie).
- Don’t wear your most expensive sunglasses or flash a wad of cash around. You’re making yourself a target. That goes for super fancy luggage too.
- Don’t sign up for a tour because someone on the street convinced you to. I confess, I did this in Cuzco. I went on an amazing horse ride that took me all over the countryside and to multiple tourist locations. Then I almost got arrested, because it turns out horse tours are illegal in Cuzco. Gulp.
- Make sure the taxi is legit before you get in and close the door. Don’t get in a car with strangers.
- Don’t get drunk, that makes you an easy target.
- Don’t accept drugs from locals even if it is legal wherever you are. You have no idea what’s really in it or how it will affect you and no one who cares about you is there to protect you.
- Don’t wander down a dark alley at night. I mean, come on.
[Note: All pictures in this post are of me or fellow solo travelers I met along the way.]