I traveled for work by myself for years before I even considered taking a solo trip for fun. I knew solo travel was popular, I just didn’t think I would ever do it. My usual fun travel was with family or friends but since my job allowed me more time to travel and often last minute, it got increasingly difficult to find someone to go with me. I decided to take the plunge and that’s when I realized there was a lot to consider about traveling solo.
Even after traveling for work, the first time I traveled solo for fun, I was surprised at some of the things that happened that I hadn’t even thought about. While I’m still not an expert, I am a bit more prepared for what could happen on a solo trip and I’m sharing my tips and solutions.
No one told me that my bags would go everywhere with me…
You know that thing you say to your travel partner right before walk away… “watch my stuff, I’ll be right back”? Well, it’s not happening this time. To make things worse, you may have picked the perfect seat somewhere and now you’ll have to give it up if you leave.
It seems like a no-brainer but honestly, I had not thought about the fact that my bags would constantly be with me. That means up the five flights of stairs when there’s no elevator, the bathroom stall at the airport and the boat tour between destinations. The less you have with you, the easier it will be.
- Pack light when traveling solo. Take half of what you think you need. I know it’s tempting to pack ten pairs of shoes, but shoes are where all the weight is. Try to narrow it down to two or three pair of shoes.
- Pack smarter. Use packing cubes so that clothing and weight could be redistributed and moved to a different bag if need be. Instead of one big heavy bag, try a couple of smaller bags that can be that could be carried separate but then hooked together when needed.
- Consider storing your luggage for the day. Most hotels will store your bags even after you have checked out of the room. Many hostels have lockers. You can even store your things a some bus stations.
No one told me I’d be asked if I was alone…
By nature, humans are curious beings. As you meet people and strike up conversations on your travels, it’s only natural they will ask you about yourself, your family and the dreaded one: are you alone? This can catch you off guard. It’s never a good idea to tell a stranger you are traveling solo. I don’t condone lying but safety is top priority no matter what.
While we are talking safety, it’s also not a good idea to tell a stranger exactly where you are staying. Even in casual conversation. At times, I’ve even given a taxi or an Uber, a location down the street from where I’m staying.
- Be prepared to answer. The more prepared you are, the more natural you will sound. One of my favorite things to tell people is that I’m visiting friends and meeting them later. That way they think there’s someone expecting you later and to not show up, wouldn’t be a good thing at all.
- If it’s reasonable, tell people you live there. This way you’re not an easy mark as a tourist. Tourists come and go but there’s more accountability with someone that actually lives there.
No one told me I would be eating every meal, every day alone…
I’m no stranger to dining alone. Traveling solo, I obviously knew I would be eating by myself. However, I didn’t expect it to get so boring after awhile. Eat every meal by yourself and you might begin to question why you are alone to begin with. That’s not a good thing.
- Choose restaurants with bars or counters and sit there. This gives you an option to talk to a bartenders or other customers. Bartenders are used to talking but they also seem to have a knack of knowing when not to as well. And no, you do not have to drink alcohol to sit at a bar.
- Find street food for takeaway or a food truck. Many tourist destinations have food truck parks where you can sit and eat and people watch.
- Read. Carry a book with you or something to work on. I personally use the time waiting for my food in a restaurant to catch up on what I’ve been doing on my trip and writing in my journal.
No one told me I wouldn’t be in any of the photos…
I love landscape photography without humans and I’m okay with selfies but occasionally you’d like a photo of yourself IN the beautiful scenery.
- Invest in a tripod and get to know your self timer. To be honest, I have tried this and my photos were pretty bad but I have been practicing when I feel comfortable and find an area with fewer people. If they don’t turn out, this will at least give you something to laugh at when you get home.
- Ask someone to take your photo. This also is a bit awkward at first but it gets easier as well.
- Learn to live in the moment. Travel shouldn’t just be about getting the perfect shot. Put down your camera or phone and soak it in.
No one told me I would feel alone…
It’s true. I sometimes feel alone when I travel solo. And you will too at times. How much, depends a lot on you and your personality. Most people are inclined to share things with people. Being in a new or exciting place with no one to share it with can be a totally different experience if you aren’t used to it.
- Start small if you think this will be an issue. Take an overnight or weekend trip first to see how you feel and adjust to be alone before you commit to a longer trip.
- Go somewhere you’ve been before so you feel more comfortable. Something you’ve seen and already experienced will make you more confident in your surroundings than something brand new.
- Travel solo but book a group tour to break up the alone time. Stay in a hostel. There is always someone else traveling solo. You could also choose an active resort or a place with lots of group activities that you could get involved in if you want to.
No one told me my family and friends would think something was wrong with me…
The first time I went out out of the country alone, I didn’t tell my mom until the day I left because I knew she would worry. Her first words to me when I told her where I was were “what’s wrong”? Even after years traveling alone for work, the fact that I was now traveling solo, for fun, was totally foreign to her.
In fact, I was surprised that a lot of my family and friends kept asking me if I was okay, was I traveling for work, where’s your husband, etc. The only thing I can figure is people are resistant to change. You doing something new or something they aren’t used to seeing you do, causes people to question or at times even discourage you and make you feel bad for whatever it is you are doing.
- If and when this happens, realize that this is their issue. Not yours. Some people will even go as far to make you feel like it’s something you shouldn’t be doing. Don’t fall into that trap. Solo travel is perfectly normal. It’s just not for everyone and not everyone wants to do it.
No one told me strangers would try to fix me up…
It’s funny because on some trips, if something happens once then it seems to keep happening. I had one trip where everyone wanted to fix me up. Even an Uber driver said “well maybe you’ll meet someone here”. Me: rolling eyes emoji.
- This one is easy. Just say you are married/in a relationship/going through a divorce or all of the above. You can always just laugh or pretend you didn’t understand. I find that works well when you don’t know what to say.
No one told me I would feel like a target…
So I had a couple of times where I felt I was targeted because I was a female alone in another country. The first time it happened, I was sitting on a park bench waiting for a bus. A man, literally came running up and sat down real close beside me. He asked if I would do him a favor. Immediately, I said no. He replied but you don’t even know what it is.
And he was right. I didn’t know. But I also knew there was no way I was going to do anything for this random stranger who felt so bold to single me out and come into my space, making me feel uncomfortable. After I said no, he continued to sit there, just looking at me. Kind of in disbelief. He finally walked away but not before calling me a nasty name in Spanish as he left.
I never felt unsafe. There were plenty of police and other people around if I had needed help. It’s sad but as a woman traveling alone, you have to be in self protection mode at all times and not let your guard down.
- Be aware of your surroundings when traveling alone. While you are a guest in a foreign country, you aren’t obligated to do anything for anyone. More importantly, don’t let your niceness kick in. It was way easier for me to say no right away than after he told me whatever it was he wanted.
- Wear sunglasses as much as possible. It’s much easier to play the don’t mess with me person when your eyes are covered.
- Listen to your gut. If you are uncomfortable, there’s a reason. If you feel unsafe, get help immediately.
No one told me I would be in asked to perform tasks…
I guess when people see you alone they must think you’re bored or are in need of something to do. Whatever the case, I’ve had several situations where I was asked to perform a task, fill out papers, babysit or keep up with something because I was the solo person in the group.
I had a woman on a bus ask me to help her take care of her daughter that was sitting next to me. Even though she had an empty seat next to her! Although I found it a bit presumptuous at the time, it turned out fine and I ended up making a new friend.
- You always have the prerogative to say no but if you find yourself in a helpful mood and want something to do, you might just end up making a friend or getting extra perks. I’ve gotten better seats, better views and made friends because I agreed to help someone out.
No one told me it would be more expensive…
It’s true. It doesn’t matter that one person is easier to take care of or easier to clean up after, most places will charge more for a solo traveler of a single room. Sometimes they will just go ahead and charge you for a double anyway. Like you won’t notice.
- Ask for a discount. Some hotels even have smaller rooms for solo travelers. A neat and clean traveler doesn’t need much. You probably won’t get much in return but it never hurts to ask.
No one told me people would feel sorry for me…
You’re going about your business having a good time and surprise; you see pity on the face of the person you are interacting with. I’ll admit I was totally surprised by this one. Pity on face of strangers; the hostess, the server, the tour guide, the beach attendant, when I, in no way am deserving of those feelings. On the contrary, I’m happy to be there alone!
- You have two choices: ignore it or use it to your advantage. You might just get something for free. On one of my last trips near a wine trail, I saw nearly no solo travelers. While at a nearby restaurant, seated at a small bar where the staff prepared drinks, I sensed one of the female servers felt sorry for me. She started talking to me and once she knew I was there to tour wineries, she gave me some great recommendations. Then she let me try six different wines to “prep” for the next day. Not a bad night!
No one told me I would doubt myself…
Even though one of the easiest things about traveling solo is making all the decisions yourself, I can’t tell you how many times I doubted what I was doing when it came time to make those decisions. Especially in a new place. Where to go, where to stay, where to eat, what to do, and on and on.
And to be honest, I’ve had some mess ups.
Like jumping on a bus last minute to an unknown city and not enjoying it at all. Then having to backtrack hours the same way because of bus scheduling conflict. The wine tasting win from before was a last minute decision too. Sometimes you win and sometimes you win less but let’s face it, a bad or a semi bad travel day is better than no travel day at all.
- Travel more. The more you get used to traveling solo, the more comfortable you will get. Leave your quicker decisions for when it can be undone and changed fairly easily. There were plenty more things I doubted that turned out okay, than things I doubted and turned out bad.
- If you mess up, most things are fixable. If not immediately, then at least the next day. In the city I didn’t like, I stayed one night, explored some the next day and then left. In the end, I felt so much better about my situation the the next day and now, looking back, I’m really glad that I went.
No one told me it would be so rewarding…
After reading about some of the negative things that could potentially happen on a solo trip, you might think why would anyone want to put themselves in that position? I promise, the positives and what you get out of it, far outweigh the negatives. There’s just such an ease to it. There are no expectations. No disagreements and no one to please except yourself.
But it’s also not just about doing what you want to do when you want to do it. Traveling solo gives you an opportunity to rely on yourself in a way you might not experience in everyday life and at home. That can be a really good thing for your mental health and confidence.
- So what are you waiting for? Just do it already!
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