I traveled for work for years before I even considered taking a solo trip for fun. Sure I knew that a lot of people were doing it and it had become a thing. But as a gen xer with a family. Was I really going to do it now?
I was lucky enough to have a job that as long as my work was completed by a certain time, I could do whatever I liked the rest of the time. Sadly, most people aren’t that fortunate and I got tired of trying to find someone to travel with me.
So I planned my first solo non work trip. To Mexico. I had been to Mexico a lot over the years and thought it would be the perfect place to start.
But even after traveling alone for work and going somewhere I was kind of familiar with, there were unique situations that arose on that first trip. Things I had not considered.
I’ve been on several solo trips since then and even recently completed a six thousand mile road trip and camped alone. While I’m not an expert, preparing for the situations that could arise, ahead of time, can make you feel much more confident and make your trip go way smoother and with less surprises.
Here’s a few of the things that no one told me about traveling solo. Good news is, I have some solutions for all of them.
No one told me that I’d be married to my bags…
Me looking at my luggage: I’m not taking much. Only one rolling duffel bag. That’s not too much. And my big carry-on purse. Oh and a small cross body. That’s doable.
It is doable, but only if you are going directly from the airport to the hotel or vice versa. There’s a good chance you will be doing much more than that and maybe even moving around some or seeing more than one city. No one wants to be saddled with too much luggage.
If you are taking a bus, a train or traveling anywhere in between destinations, you will have to think about how you will handle your bags. Who’s going to carry it up the steps and through the stalls at the bus station in Guadalajara? Who’s going to haul all your luggage up three stories of narrow steps in Lisbon? If you by chance go on a tour on a travel day and have your luggage with you, what will you do with it when you can’t take it on the boat?
Southerner Says solution: Pack light or at the very least, lighter, when traveling solo. I know you’ve heard that before but I mean it. Take half of what you think you need. It really does make the traveling so much easier.
Pack smarter. Use packing cubes so that clothing and weight could be redistributed and moved to a different bag if need be. Try smaller bags that could be carried one at a time up steps so that one big bag is not so heavy. Less stuff means less to worry about.
If you travel late in the same day as a hotel check out, most hotels will store your luggage for the day. Most hostels have lockers and even certain bus stations do too.
No one told me I’d get asked a hundred times a day 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 work, your family and the dreaded one: who are you traveling with? This can catch you off guard.
Southerner Says solution: Be prepared. Expect to be asked about this and be ready with an answer. I don’t condone lying but your safety is the top priority. Even if it’s just casual conversation, it’s best not give out too much info.
So, what can you say? One of my favorite things to say is that I’m visiting friends and meeting them later. That way they think someone will be expecting you and were you to not show up would be a bad thing. I’ve told people my husband is fishing/working/busy. I’ve even told people I live there so they won’t think I’m an easy mark as a tourist. There’s a lot of plausible things to say when you have prepared for it.
You should also never tell a stranger where you are staying. If I have to, I will usually just give the general neighborhood. Even late at night, I have been known to give a taxi or Uber a location down the street from where I’m staying. Close enough for me to walk but far enough away if by chance someone came back looking for me or passed info along. You can never be too careful.
No one told me I would be eating every meal, every day alone…
I love to share a good meal with friends but I’m no stranger to solo dining either. Traveling solo obviously I knew I would be eating alone. However, I didn’t expect it to get so boring after awhile. Every meal by yourself and you might begin to question why you are alone to begin with. That’s not a good thing and can add to loneliness.
Southerner Says solution: 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 to customers but they also seem to have a knack of knowing when you don’t want to talk either. And no, you do not have to drink alcohol to sit at a bar.
Another option is to find street food or a food truck. A lot of times this will be near a park or a public area where you can sit and eat and people watch or read. Carry a book with you or at least something to work on. I use this time to catch up on what I’ve been doing on my trip in a notebook I carry around with me.
No one told me I wouldn’t be in any of the photos…
I love landscape photography and I’m okay with selfies but occasionally when traveling to some beautiful places or outstanding landmarks, you’re going to want a photo of yourself in the scenery.
Southerner Says solution: Invest in a tripod and get to know your self timer really well. To be honest, I have tried this and my photos were, well, 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.
Another option is to ask someone to take your photo. This also is a bit awkward at first but it gets easier as well.
You can also just 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 there would be no one to watch my things when I went to the bathroom…
You know that thing you say to your partner right before you go to the bathroom when you are at the airport? “Watch my stuff, I’ll be right back”. Well it’s not happening this time.
As I’ve already mentioned, where you go, your luggage goes. To make it worse, you might have picked the perfect seat somewhere and will have to give it up if you leave. The struggle is real.
At bigger modern airports and places, it’s not really that big of a deal. The stalls are usually big enough for all your luggage to go in with you. But other smaller airports and bus stations are not so luggage friendly.
Southerner Says solution: Remember what I said about packing lighter? Less things mean it’s easier to get your things into a bathroom. In a smaller place it’s best to get comfortable leaving the stall door open some. You could also always ask someone else to watch your things. I’ll admit, this makes me very nervous no matter how honest they look.
No one told me I would feel alone…
It’s true. I feel alone sometimes and you will too. How much, depends a lot on you and your personality. As humans, we are inclined to want 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.
Southerner Says solution: If you think you might have a problem with this one, start small. 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 comfortable. 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.
Travel solo but book a group tour to break up the alone time. Stay in a hostel. There is always someone else traveling solo.
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 were “what’s wrong”? Even after traveling solo for work for years, the fact I was traveling solo, for pleasure, was totally foreign to her.
In fact, I was surprised at the amount of people that kept asking me if I was okay, was I traveling for work, where’s your husband, etc. Even people in my GenX age bracket. People are resistant to change and you doing something new can either bring out the support in people or at times unfortunately, people try to discourage/shame/question you.
Southerner Says solution: Again, it’s no one’s business what you do. Be ready. If you want to explain your reasons for traveling solo, then by all means do it. You have to understand that some people have no desire to travel alone and will never get it. Definitely don’t fall into that feeling like you are doing something that isn’t normal bit. You do you. However, if you feel like taking the time to explain what and why you are traveling solo, you might just encourage them to take a solo trip too.
No one told me strangers would try to fix me up…
It’s funny because on some trips it’s like if something happens once then it keeps happening. On one trip, everyone wanted to get me a date. From the Uber driver to a server in a restaurant to a woman I met on the beach who I had felt safe enough to confide that I was traveling alone.
Uber driver: “well maybe you will meet someone here”. Me: rolling my eyes.
Southerner Says solution: 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. That works well too.
No one told me random men would do random things…
The first time that it happened, I was sitting on a park bench, minding my business, waiting for a bus, This man runs over, sits down beside me really close and says will you do me a favor. I immediately said no. He said but you don’t even know what it is. No, I didn’t know but I also didn’t care. He made me really uncomfortable. Especially the way he had run up so quickly. It caught me off guard and I just wanted him to leave.
He finally got the message and walked away, calling me a nasty name in Spanish as he left.
Southerner Says solution: What can you do if something like this happens? First off, I never felt unsafe. There were plenty of police and other people around so I think it just depends on the situation. It’s sad but as a woman traveling alone, you have to go into self protection mode and be aware at all times.
This guy wasn’t dying. He wasn’t hurt. I was not obligated to do anything for him. More importantly, I didn’t let my niceness kick in. Which is hard sometimes because we want to be nice tourists. But you need to learn to listen to your gut. If you are uncomfortable, there’s a reason.
Don’t let this scare you. For this one incident, I’ve had hundreds of wonderful encounters.
Again, you can always pretend you don’t understand what they said.
No one told me I would be in asked to work…
Maybe when you are vacation and alone people assume you’re bored and need something to do. Whatever the case, I’ve had several situations where I was asked to preform a task, fill out papers or keep up with something because I was the solo person in the group.
I even had a woman on a bus ask me to help her take care of her daughter that was sitting next to me. Although I found it a bit presumptuous at the time, it turned out fine and I ended up making a new friend.
On the flip side sometimes you get extra perks. A better seat, a better view or better drinks because you were alone.
Southerner Says solution: Again, I think it depends on the situation. it’s not your responsibility to help anyone. 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 like I did.
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.
Southerner Says solution: Ask for a discount. Some hotels even have smaller rooms for solo travelers.A neat and clean traveler doesn’t need much. Honestly, you probably won’t get anything in return but it never hurts to ask.
No one told me people would feel sorry for me…
You going about your business having a good time and surprise; someone feels sorry for you today. I’ll admit I was totally surprised by this one. Pity on faces of strangers; the hostess, the server, the tour guide, the beach attendant was not what I wanted to see. Although it’s infrequent, it does happen.
Southerner Says solution: You have two choices: ignore it or go with it. You might just get something for free.
On one of my last trips near a wine trail, I saw nearly no solo travelers. I could tell not a lot of people come there alone. While at a 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 taste some wine and do a tour she gave me some great recommendations. She then preceded to let me try six different wines in preparation 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, 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 to be honest, I’ve had some mess ups.
Like jumping on a bus last minute to an unknown city and hating it. Then having to backtrack hours the same way because of bus scheduling conflict.
But what I’ve learned is if something happens most things are fixable. If not immediately, then the next day. For example, in the city I hated, I stayed one night and left. Anyone can do one night somewhere.
The wine tasting in the previous situation was part of a last minute decision too. Sp sometimes you win and sometimes you win less. Let’s face it, a bad travel day is better than being at work.
Southerner Says solution: 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 thing I doubted and turned out bad.
No one told me it would be so much fun…
Even though it might appear that traveling solo could be a negative experience, I promise, the positives things far outweigh the bad things. None of these issues should keep from traveling alone. On the contrary, you are more prepared just knowing a few simple things.
Traveling solo is fun. There is just such an ease about it. There are no expectations to be somewhere at a certain time. Not one disagreement about where to eat. No trying to please anyone but yourself.
But it’s also not just about doing what you want to do when you want to do it. Traveling solo gives you the chance to rely on yourself in a way you might not experience in everyday life and that can be a really good thing.
Southerner Says solution: Just try it already!