Thinking of traveling alone? While the thought of traveling solo can be daunting, it’s one of the most rewarding ways to travel.
Thinking of traveling alone? While the thought of jetting off to parts unknown on your own can be daunting, solo travel is one of the most rewarding ways to travel of all. Here are some of the good, the bad, and the wonderful reasons to travel solo.
Who likes solo travel? A lot of people, and more and more all the time. From Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, traveling solo has practically become a rite of passage, especially for females. Don’t you think so? Have you traveled alone? Do you want to? I do, and here’s why.
I’m a huge fan of traveling solo. In fact I based my career on it, and for years wrote a column on solo travel for the Toronto Star. That was in my other life. Before I was married. But surprise! You can’t keep a solo traveler down, and I still venture off on my own regularly. Why? Let me count the ways.
When I’m on traveling on my own I love the fact that I answer to no one and I can change my travel plans on a whim. In fact, I’ve taken it to extremes and once landed up at Keleti Train Station in Budapest without having decided if I’d go to Prague or Salzburg. (I went to Vienna.)
One of the beauties of solo travel is that it’s the most liberating feeling in the world. You can run, fly, drive, walk, ride to wherever your budget and time schedule will allow. Nothing beats that.
Of course reality sets in once you arrive in a new destination without a clue of what to do, where to stay or what to see, especially if you arrive after a long flight or train ride and it’s 2 a.m. your time.
Occasionally, just occasionally, I’ve wanted to cry because I’m lost and scared. But (usually) I don’t cry. Instead, I accept that being nervous is part of taking risks. And that fear can be a good thing because it keeps you alert and cautious.
Instead of crying, I book something on the Internet or at the train station, get a map from the tourist office and either walk or take a cab. And things usually look better in the morning. And then it’s liberating again.
And FYI: If you occasionally get irrationally worked up over a travel issue that hasn’t actually happened, like panicking about getting ripped off by a taxi driver when you land at the airport in Istanbul, don’t worry, so have I. Accept your fear and move on.
A date with the great outdoors
This might sound a little weird, but the real reason I’m a fan of solo travel is that when you travel solo you’re never alone. Say what?
Seriously, hear me out. When I’m traveling on my own, I feel like I’m dating a ‘place.’ When I walk through a new destination or even an old favourite I’m much more aware of my surroundings than when I’m distracted by a conversation with a friend/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever.
Traveling alone means it’s just you and your destination, and that makes for a better richer vacation. So even if you’re traveling with someone, you might want to get out by yourself for a stroll.
Clearly, safety is one of the biggest issues a solo traveler faces. There are muggings, thefts and scams. Female travelers can have an additional burden of fearing attacks of a sexual nature, not to mention catcalls and overly-friendly males. Or trying to manoeuvre in a culture that doesn’t approve of women traveling unescorted.
You need to keep your eyes open and always be aware of your surroundings – luckily, we already know solo travelers are more aware of their surroundings than other travellers, right?
Keep an eye on your valuables, be careful where you venture – especially at night – and watch how much you drink. Try to blend in (clearly not always possible, but it helped me in Russia), look confident and appear to know where you’re going even if you don’t.
But don’t we need to do all that at home, too?
It’s you and nature
I’m not sure if anything has shaped me over the years as much as traveling alone. When there is no one else to rely on, you learn to rely on yourself.
Every time you have a small solo triumph, such as successfully navigating the subway in St Petersburg, Russia (no easy feat) or having a meal at the opulent Le Cirque in Vegas by yourself (a very easy and enjoyable feat), you build up your self confidence inch by inch – and that adds up to a more powerful you.
One of the most marvellous things about solo travel is that – hopefully – you learn that the world is a kind place. I can’t count the times I’ve been helped out by strangers, from the Korean woman who insisted I take her umbrella during a downpour in Seoul (literally, she ran away before I could say no) to the doctor in Paris who stopped charging me after I was felled by infected spider bites and needed repeated visits. Knowing how caring our global culture can be makes cultural diversity just that much more wonderful.
Of course this is undermined by the rude desk clerk at the tourism office at the train station in Munich (Yes, it’s 10 years later and I still haven’t forgotten you!) or the bus driver in England who lied and told me I was on the wrong bus, but overall, the good people I’ve met have outweighed the bad by about 400 to 1. Which just goes to show there are more Dumbledores than Voldemorts in this world.
Ah, the joys of meeting new people on the road. What is it about travel that makes people friendlier? I think it makes me friendlier, especially if I’m alone.
While many people list loneliness as being one of their biggest fears about traveling alone, I look at it as opportunity. Think of all of those people around the world just waiting to be your friend. (PS: Use caution, obviously. Not everyone has your best interests at heart.)
There are so many ways to meet solo travelers. Often it just happens by chance, and because you’re more open to it than you might be at home. Once, when I was forced to wait in an (endless) lineup to get into the Grand Palace in Bangkok, I started talking to the woman in front of me, and then the woman behind me, and the woman behind her, and we ended up being a close knit posse that toured every sight in Bangkok over the next five days, including a snake farm. Ick.
If you’re not quite so lucky as to get stuck in a horrendous lineup, then be thankful for technology because there’s an app for that. Seriously. Apps like Tourlina help women find other women travelers as well as female locals. (And no, it’s not a dating site. Those are a whole other kettle of fish. (PS: Why would anyone have a kettle full of fish?)
Other ways of meeting people are by joining tours, striking up a conversation with the person beside you on a train or a bus, or having a drink or a meal at a bar. (A word of advice: Just make sure no one thinks you’re a hooker if you sit at the bar in a fancy hotel, cuz it’s happened to me. That’s what I get for loving luxury hotels and liking to dress up at least once on a solo vacation. Don’t worry, your true self will quickly shine through.) If breakfast is included in your hotel room, and it often is in Europe, that’s an excellent place to start up a conversation.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a nervous beginner, solo travel has its good points and its bad points. Personally, I wouldn’t give it up for the world, because the world – or at least a taste of it – is what I stand to gain.