As a solo traveler, you have more freedom than someone with a companion. You can do what you want, when you want. You can sleep in late or get up very early. Eat what you feel like, when you feel like it. These may seem like small things but such freedom is a rare luxury in modern life.
But there’s more. Solo travel positively affects self-confidence, self-image and, consequently, your life when you return home. The more you travel alone the more capable you will discover yourself to be. Your confidence soars. Without the presence of family and friends on your travels who expect you to act in a certain way, you can be more yourself when you travel solo. Your self-image shifts. And these changes cannot be left behind like that scrumptious meal you had in Penang. They travel home with you and become part of your life.
And yet so many people hesitate to travel solo. They wonder. Will I be safe? Will I feel uncomfortable eating alone? Will I be lonely? These are all possibilities but, by the accounts of the more than 200,000 members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook and many others, they are rare.
People who venture on their first solo trip often leave tentatively, but return victoriously.
The key for your first time is to start small. That may mean traveling to a new destination with a partner but parting ways during the day. Explore the destination on your own, return to your companion in the evening and share experiences.
But you don’t have to start that small if you don’t want to. I think the perfect first solo trip is a three-day weekend. It’s short enough to minimize any worry and long enough to find your personal rhythm. The only danger with this approach is that you’ll get into the groove so well that you won’t want to return home. And then there’s the one-week trip. Similar to the long-weekend but with more conviction.
In addition to considering how long your trip should be, consider where to go on your first solo trip. If you don’t have much experience traveling abroad, I’d recommend staying close to home where you know the language and the culture. However, if you have lots of travel experience, your challenge will be more about enjoying the time alone rather than navigating the world. A more interesting destination may be in order to get your happy hormones pumping.
For solo travel newbies, where to stay is another important consideration. Our survey of more than 1,000 readers of Solo Traveler revealed that most solo travelers are interested in boutique or unique hotels rather than the large chains. They tend to be smaller, more personable and central. All three are important when you’re traveling alone.
As I travel solo I tend to walk as much as I can. It brings me closer to the rhythm of the city and its culture. Not to mention the fact that all that walking helps compensate for a bit of food and drink indulgence beyond what I would normally have at home.
Hopefully I now have you excited by what solo travel has to offer. So let’s take a look at the three main questions first-time solo travelers have.
Will I be safe? There is absolutely no data to suggest that solo travelers are at greater risk than those who travel with others. In fact, depending on who you travel with, you might be more safe. Being responsible for your own safety means you won’t take chances. You’ll take the proper precautions like carrying the card of your hotel with you so that you can show a taxi driver where you’re staying even if you don’t know the language, taking a taxi to your hotel after dark, and carrying your money and credit cards in multiple places.
Will I feel uncomfortable eating alone? There are many ways to eat alone and yet not be alone. Take a cooking class that includes a meal and you’ll be joining the other students for dinner. Take a food tour. Look for restaurants with communal tables. You can plug that query into Google to find one. Eat at coffee shops where single people at a table is normal. If all else fails, read a book.
Will I be lonely? You may, on occasion, feel lonely. However, I find that solo travel is more social than any other. Think about it. When you travel with others, you’re focused on them. When you travel alone you’re open to the world and, in my experience, the world is then open to you. But let’s get into specifics. You can join a day tour or take a course and learn something new. Coffee shops offer a great social buzz during the day. And, of course, learn how to talk to strangers. Often a smile or a comment on the weather can turn into a good conversation and even the start of a friendship
I like to tell solo travelers that they are exotic. Most respond with amusement and bemusement. But you are! Whether you tiptoe into solo travel on a weekend or ramp up to a week or two away, you are adventurous, which is certainly exotic these days. Own and enjoy it!
Janice Waugh is founder, publisher, and contributor to Solo Traveler, the world’s largest resource and community for those who travel alone. The site was conceived based on her own need for better information about traveling solo. Since launching in 2009, its readership has grown to over 120,000 monthly and has a subscriber base of over 34,000. Janice is also the author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook.