How I Travel Alone

I realized a long time ago that finding travel buddies is easier said than done. Traveling with others requires a lot of compromise, and I felt like if I waited for everyone else to be ready, I’d never go anywhere. Traveling alone is a wonderful experience, but it should be treated a little differently than traveling with friends or a partner. Here’s what I do to get the most out of my solo vacation.

Grey sky over Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden.

1. Consider location.

Party-driven destinations like Miami and Ibiza are a blast in a group, but for someone on their own, can feel sad and isolating. You must also consider who you are, where you are coming from, and the social/political climate of the place you want to see. I have wanted to see Morocco and Egypt for years, but I personally will wait to have someone to travel with. I don’t like to think of places as off-limits, but some destinations require you to research and prepare more thoroughly to stay safe. And speaking of safe…

2. Get your affairs in order.

Besides keeping your passport and documents safe, be sure to alert your credit card companies and banks, and send someone you know at least a rough itinerary of where you’re staying and when. When you’re alone, you need to be prepared for anything. For me, that includes carrying an extra charged phone battery and Swiss Army knife (packed in checked luggage), printing all essential information just in case, and writing down the location and directions to the embassy. In the case of a lost or stolen phone, you at least have some information to get around and seek help. In the case of solo road trips, always have your oil changed in advance, check fluids and tires, confirm your AAA membership (or get it if you don’t have one!), and pack bottled water, snacks, and a blanket in the trunk.

3. Take group excursions.

When I travel with a friend, I’m fine leaving some things open-ended, but I like my days to be a bit more structured when I’m alone. If I wake up in the morning knowing I have a concert ticket or excursion planned later that day, I feel less lost and have an easier time planning my day. And look into group excursions! You’ll meet fellow travelers, and hearing someone speak your native language will feel like a breath of fresh air. One of my best traveling memories was a 30km bike tour from Paris to Versailles. I got to explore all the chateau grounds, have a group picnic lunch with food and wine we purchased at the village Sunday market, and met some people who I ended up having dinner and drinks with in Paris the next day.

4. Eat out – and sit at the bar!

Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean your dinner needs to be a convenience store sandwich eaten alone in your hostel. Head to real restaurants, and sit at the bar. There will be other solo patrons, and you’ll have the opportunity to chat with the bartender. They are a wellspring of information and recommendations, and can tell you which tourist traps to avoid.

The perfect wooden clogs at a cheese farm in the Netherlands. 

5. Bring a book and a journal.

If you’re feeling insecure about dining out alone, a book is a good security blanket. As for the journal, I have learned a lot about myself and the world around me by traveling, and I tend to forget things I don’t write down. I also write down what I did, where I ate and drank, what the weather was like, and any funny or interesting things that happened each day. I love looking back through these journals to relive those moments. Gliding through the canals of Venice and wondering what those buildings looked like below water level. The rugged older man I kissed on a bench in the Luxembourg Garden. The Dublin locals who adopted me with whiskey and Guinness on my first night in Ireland.

6. Talk to everyone who will talk to you.

Shopkeepers, cab drivers, waiters, the people at the next table… Traveling alone can feel isolated, and these short pleasantries make a big difference in your day. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, the cab drivers were all incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, giving us nightlife pointers and discussing the political climate in the country.

7. Activate your network.

Put it out into the universe where you’re traveling, and you may find a friend of a friend who lives there. Hanging with the locals is obviously the best no matter where you go, but if you have a common connection, you’ll have a starting point for conversation and could create a new friendship. And having friends in many places is always a good thing.

A stormy day on Inishmoor, Ireland. 

8. Allow yourself time in.

Travel is tiring to begin with, and when you’re alone, you tend to be more efficient and move faster, leading to a potential crash at night. If you truly want to stay in for a night, or sleep until noon to recharge, do it. I was once in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival after over a week of solo traveling in England, and my first night in Scotland I had the perfect storm for staying in: sore feet, indigestion, hormone-induced moodiness, and solo traveling fatigue, all after a long, exhausting uphill walk to my hostel. All I wanted was to eat ice cream in bed. So I did that, and went to bed early, cutting my losses. The next day I felt fresh as a thistle, and spent the day at Holyrood Castle, the Royal Tattoo, and hilarious British comedy shows. It was a worthwhile investment of time.

9. Pack wisely.

Bring only comfortable clothing and shoes you feel good in. If you’re comfortable, you will be more at ease with the people around you, and can focus on pursuing adventure. One of the best parts of solo travel is the anonymity, so feel free to take some time off from dressing to impress.

10. If you’re intimidated, start small.

Start with a weekend away in a place nearby that you’ve always wanted to see. Make a plan to visit a friend out of town, and stop somewhere else first on the way. You may even want to consider taking the train, which is relaxing, and eliminates the easy isolation of the car. Once you’ve spent a day or two on your own, a week in a faraway place feels much less daunting.

Traveling by myself has been immensely rewarding. I feel more independent and courageous than ever before, and I’ve gotten to see some amazing places, all on my own terms.

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