Solo travel is officially hip. Google searches for ‘solo travel’ and ‘travel alone’ are on the rise, travel companies are building products to accommodate people travelling on their own, and it’s set to be one of the top 10 travel trends for 2018. The Pinterest Travel Trend Report for 2018 notes an extraordinary rise in interest in solo adventures, a good chunk of which comes from baby boomers ready for some “me” time.
Whether a solo trip is by choice or by circumstance, the key is to look at the positives – the main one being that you can (within reason and budget) do exactly what you like. You have total freedom to make your own decisions, set your own schedule and do whatever brings you joy.
All of the usual travel rules still apply – they are universal. The tips that follow, however, cover the things that are especially relevant for solo travellers:
Don’t just think about where you want to go, but what you want to do when you get there. For example, it’s not just about saying “I want to go to Spain”. Are you looking for a walking trip along the Carmino de Santiago, staying in rustic digs along the way? A beach holiday on the island of Mallorca? Or is a luxe hotel and cooking classes in Barcelona more your scene? Be specific and refine your search from there. Make like a boy scout and be prepared, people! We have one word for you: Google.
Look to travel on the shoulder season. The weather should still be decent, but fewer people will be travelling so popular sites won’t be as busy.
Keep an eye out for those three magical words: no solo supplement. There are companies out there offering this holy grail, as well as other options that will match you up with another guest of the same gender, but sadly this option won’t be available on every single trip or tour. There are also various websites that can help you find travel partners/roommates.
The best advice for anyone travelling solo? Travel light. If you carry just one bag (or maybe even a backpack) it means that you can manage your own luggage. It’s safer, you won’t lose too much if your bag is lost or stolen, plus you won’t have to tip anyone for their assistance!
We’ve all heard of Photoshop and know there are unscrupulous operators out there. Use online travel platforms to get honest reviews about destinations, accommodation and specific places and experiences from other travellers who have been there and done that.
Make sure you arrive in a new location during daylight hours. This way you can find your accommodation before it gets dark and, if you’re not satisfied, you’ll have time to sort out an alternative.
If the thought of eating alone fills you with trepidation, follow these rules: 1. Be realistic – if you’re travelling solo, you’re going to have to eat at least a few meals on your own. 2. Be armed: if you think you might need some props, take a book or a journal that you update with the day’s activities. 3. Be smart – if possible, eat at the bar rather than in the restaurant. You’ll be much more approachable. At the very least, you can have a chat with the bartender! 4. Be brave – strike up a conversation with the person next to you, don’t always wait for someone to talk to you first. Asking a local to help order for you is a beautifully simple entree into a conversation. 5. Don’t be self-conscience – remember: no one is judging you. 6. Be content – if no one approaches you and you do end up eating alone, revel in the peace and own your solitude.
If possible, stay at a location for at least a week. Find your ideal coffee shop or restaurant and then go there every day. You’ll get into the local rhythm and learn about a culture by sharing in its day-to-day activities. You’ll also get to know people – and they’ll get to know you. Expect some interesting chats, some great insider tips, and knowledge and opportunities that simply won’t come to you if you’re just passing through a place.
Especially if you’re travelling in a developing country, where power failures can occur frequently. A head-mounted torch that leaves your arms free is a great investment.
If you’re heading off on a day trip or solo tour, leave a note in your hotel room with all the details about the trip and who you’re doing it with – plus contact details back home, in case of an emergency.
Don’t tell people you meet while out and about where you’re staying. Make sure hotel staff don’t say your room number out loud in front of any other people, and avoid posting any information about where you’ll be on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc until after you’ve checked out. Always be aware of your surroundings, exercise caution at all times and trust your instincts. Don’t drink too much, always stay in public places and if you need any help, don’t stand around looking helpless – just walk into a restaurant, shop or hotel and ask. If you feel uncomfortable about anything or if somewhere doesn’t feel look or feel safe, just avoid it… or leave altogether.
Taking a cruise is probably the gentlest way to ease yourself into the world of travelling solo. Yes, you’ll be traveling alone, but you’ll be in the company of the same fellow travellers and crew for your whole trip, so dinner partners, help and company will always be available.
Relish the fact that you can walk to the beat of your own drum. You don’t have to take anyone else’s preferences into account and you don’t have to keep to a schedule (unless, of course, you’re on a tour!). You can do whatever you want, when you want. And be brave – if an opportunity arises and you’ve ascertained it’s (a) safe and (b) physically possible, then say yes! If not now, then when?