How to travel solo — and why you absolutely should
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Don’t let the lack of a travel companion stop you from maximising your travel experience. For all sorts of reasons, you might be faced with the choice of travelling alone, or not travelling at all. Your partner, friends or family may not be able to take the same time off work that you can, they may not be able to pull the finances together to afford the trip or they may just not be as keen on the destination as you are.
I love travelling alone and have had some fantastic experiences abroad all alone. In fact, sometimes I actually prefer travelling alone to travelling with others.
Here are reasons I love travelling alone, as well as tips to help you plan your first solo trip.
Why you should consider a solo trip
If you haven’t yet considered taking a trip alone, there are several reasons to think about it.
First of all, you can have complete freedom and control to do whatever you want, whenever you want on the trip.
Want to sleep in until noon and then order room service and binge-watch “Real Housewives” to relax? No problem. Want to be up at 6 a.m. to watch the sunrise during a peaceful run to a scenic lookout? You can do that, too. Love museums? Spend all day in one. Hate museums? Skip them completely. Want to take 100 selfies? You can.
You don’t have to do anything you don’t want just because someone you would travel with wants to do it.
Also, there’s a greater chance you will meet new people when travelling alone as you’re more open to talking to strangers rather than being closed off by only talking to the people you are travelling with. I’ve also found that being the lone foreigner at a bar or cafe quickly leads to conversation.
On the practical side, solo trips cost less. Sure, you’re not splitting expenses, but you also have half the expenses in many cases. You may score amazing airfare rates or other travel deals if you only book for one person and have flexible dates. If you’re using points for your flight — especially in a premium cabin — it’s significantly easier to find one award seat than two or more.
Additionally, you may be surprised at your own capabilities after planning and navigating your first solo trip. You’ll naturally become a better decision-maker as you decide what to do each day, rather than relying on a travel companion to make choices for you.
There will be challenges
It won’t always be easy.
Travelling on your own isn’t perfect. You may become lonely if you are travelling for an extended period of time, especially at mealtimes. If you enjoy your own company, it may be easier. However, it might be difficult for someone who likes constantly being around others.
Dinnertime can be the hardest as that is when people are most likely to sit down for a meal rather than grab something on the run. Don’t feel self-conscious if you want to take a book or tablet to entertain you — remember, for business travellers eating dinner alone is a pretty normal part of the job and they manage fine.
It can also become exhausting having to make every single decision yourself and solve every problem from as simple as “Where can I get a coffee from?” through to “My flight is cancelled and no one speaks English, how on earth do I get home?” If you are an indecisive person, you may struggle with this.
Another downside might be if you have an amazing, unique experience, it may not feel so special if you have no one to share it and remember it with. For example, that terrifying theme park roller coaster that made you almost faint may not make as good a story if no one else was there.
Finally, even if you keep busy as a traveller, there’s plenty of downtime while travelling. You may find you have even more free time than you can fill without the natural conversations of travelling with others.
Best places for solo travel
For starters, if you can join a group tour, just about any destination can be suitable for solo travel.
I’m not talking about booking a half-day tour online for the next day and hoping the group will be friendly (or will have other solo travellers). These are multi-day tours where you travel together. I’ve made lifelong friends doing these tours where you are thrown together with complete strangers in an unusual setting.
If you aren’t joining a tour, there are quite a few destinations suited to travelling alone.
Big cities that are easy to navigate with plenty to do
You’ll want to keep yourself busy if travelling alone in a city, so pick one with plenty to do. At the same time, if you have to do all the navigating yourself, aim for those cities where it’s relatively easy to get around. London, Hong Kong, Dubai and New York? Yes.
Relaxing beach destinations to switch off and unwind
If you’re feeling burnt out at home, perhaps been pulling monster hours at work and just want to flop down somewhere sunny and recharge, you might be struggling to find someone that can come with you, especially if it is at short notice. Don’t be afraid to relax alone. You can lose yourself in a book, top up your tan and take an afternoon nap every day if you wish. I love going to Mallorca in Spain in summer to do exactly that. You can return home recharged and ready to dive back into normal life. Even if there’s no beach where you’re looking, if there’s great weather and a fancy resort you can lie by the pool, order a cocktail, fire up a podcast you’ve been meaning to get to and just chill.
Let’s be real: We all need a good self-care trip from time to time.
Destinations with great hostel and backpacker scenes
I feel a bit too old to sleep in a dorm with strangers at my age (late 30s). But many hostels will have private rooms with ensuite bathrooms like a basic hotel room. The benefit is that they will likely be filled with people like you — fun, social travellers who are up for a chat and a laugh. There may be other solo travellers like you, looking to hang out with someone like you. Somewhere like Bali or Berlin is filled with hostels, while somewhere like Kuwait or Canberra is not.
Do your research on the scene before booking the flight and don’t be afraid to book a boujee private room in a hostel in the hope of meeting other travellers.
Consider cruising solo
I asked Gene Sloan, TPG’s senior cruise and travel reporter, who has sailed on more than 150 ships about cruising alone. He said:
“A cruise is a wonderful option for a solo traveller. A hallmark of cruising is that it is a very social type of travel, and solo travellers on cruises generally have no trouble mixing and mingling. Cruisers, in general, are very social people. In fact, many people cruise specifically to meet other people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting alone in a corner of a cruise ship lounge, minding my own business, when another passenger (or two, or five) stopped by and struck up a conversation”.
However, Gene notes that solo cruising can be expensive. He shares that the price for most cabins is based on two people occupying a cabin, so solo cruisers will often pay more on a per-person basis than two people occupying that same cabin. A growing number of lines have been adding cabins for one. Also, some higher-end lines offer special deals for solo travellers that bring down this extra cost, according to Gene.
If you can find a good deal, consider taking a solo cruise. Chances are you’ll make new friends and get some much-needed time away from life’s many stressors.
What destinations aren’t suited to solo travellers?
- Super romantic destinations like Paris, the City of Love, or the Maldives, where you are likely to be surrounded by loved-up honeymooners.
- Family-friendly destinations and activities like theme parks and water parks where you’ll likely be standing in line most of the day with no one to talk to. Although not a theme park, Las Vegas isn’t really designed for solo travellers.
- Cities that are difficult to navigate on your own. If you don’t have a great grasp of Spanish, you might find Havana, Cuba, frustratingly difficult on your own. Moscow, Beijing and Cairo are wonderful on an organised tour but may not be easy to do alone.
- A remote resort you can’t leave if you find it difficult to relax alone for extended periods. If you enjoy your own company and love relaxing by doing nothing, then this will be great to do!
Solo travel tips
Once you have picked a destination that is suited to both your preferred travel style and is suitable for solo travel, here are some tips for making your trip alone memorable.
Firstly, try and be more social and approachable. Avoid the temptation of putting on your headphones and glueing your eyes to your phone whenever you have a free moment. If you see someone else on their own, whether it’s while dining, at your accommodation or at an attraction don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with them. They may be in exactly the same situation as you — hoping to talk to someone but not wanting to make the first move.
You can also use apps to meet up with other like-minded people, whether they are travellers or not. You may wish to consider dating apps but specify you are just looking for friends to hang out with while you travel solo, so there are no expectations from either side. Dating app Bumble actually has a friends-finding app option called Bumble BFF to allow you to match up with others in a non-romantic way.
I won’t lie; mealtimes can be difficult when travelling alone, especially dinner/evening meals. You might feel a bit self-conscious rocking up to a fancy degustation restaurant you’ve read rave reviews about online and asking for a table for one. I’ve found I become the most bored when travelling alone during dinner because I have nothing to do. Don’t be afraid to take a book or an iPad with you for company. Alternatively, ask if you can be seated at the bar — bartenders love a good chat especially if the venue isn’t busy — they may be even more bored than you are.
I have enjoyed hotel breakfasts alone, as it’s a good chance to catch up on the daily news and social media from back home and plan the day ahead. For lunch, I usually grab something to take away that is easy to eat alone. Try not to hide away during dinner time and know this is likely to be by far the hardest part of your solo day.
Push yourself outside your comfort zone. If you’ve ever wanted to do an unusual activity but your family or friends didn’t want to do it with you, then here’s your chance. Ever wanted to go to a risque burlesque show? Here’s your chance. Wanted to bungee jump but everyone else is too scared of heights? Go for it alone.
I’ve had some fantastic solo holidays. For me, the freedom and flexibility to do whatever I want, whenever I want, cannot be underestimated. It’s a true holiday when I wake up when I like and think, “What do I feel like doing today?”
If you want to travel but the only thing holding you back is someone to do it with, I would seriously consider going it alone. If you do, recognise there may be some times when you feel a little alone or bored and devoid of conversation.
Treasure the benefits of travelling alone to compensate for the difficulties. Only do what you want to do and don’t worry about what anyone else is going to think. They’re not there to pass judgement. It’s your trip, and you can do and be anything you want.
Now that is a holiday!
Additional reporting by Becky Blaine
Featured photo by INLIGHTOUT / TWENTY20
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