There are times when solo travel is just out of the question.
There are a lot of factors that can prevent us from traveling, either for specific periods of time, or more permanently. Financial restraints are a big and very common barrier to travel, but so are mobility challenges, physical or mental health issues, and family or work obligations.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t embrace the spirit of solo travel from where we are.
Without straying far from home, we can learn about other cultures, view new landscapes, hear new sounds, and discover perspectives of people from around the world.
Here are a few inexpensive or free suggestions to illustrate this idea.
- Read. Read books by authors from a country you would like to visit, to get a feel for how they see their homeland. Read books about individual travel experiences. Read books or travel guides, like the Solo Traveler’s Handbook, to help prepare you for your next trip. Check out our Travel Planning page for more suggestions.
- Watch. Watch films that are set in locations you dream of visiting. Check out movies about challenging journeys you might like to undertake, such as Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or The Way, about walking the Camino. Watch documentaries about specific destinations or about the impact of tourism. If you enjoy exploring the world through food, try television series hosted by Anthony Bourdain or Rick Stein. Or try a film festival, to see films created and set in locations around the world
- Attend. Attend cultural festivals in your own city. We are spoiled in this regard in Toronto as we have an incredibly diverse population and many active cultural organizations. If your hometown doesn’t have this advantage, you can often find lectures at libraries or community centres, or artist talks at museums or galleries that will expose you to the art or culture of another country – and they are frequently free. I do this at home, but also seek them out when I travel. I recently attended a talk by Chinese artist Song Dong at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Not only did I get to see his work, but I was able to hear him speak, ask questions, and learn about the hutongs of Beijing, a style of living around communal courtyards. The concept came alive as the artist shared his personal experiences and photos. You can watch the video here.
- Surf. Browse travel-related websites. Google “(country or city name) + tourism” to find the tourism board for a destination. Check out the hundreds of Solo Travel Destination posts we have published, all written by solo travelers, on our Destinations page. Join the Solo Travel Society on Facebook to engage with more than 175,000 solo travelers around the world.
- Meet. A great way to meet people with different life experiences than yours is to volunteer. In my city, we are welcoming a large number of Syrian refugees. I expect that there will be lots of opportunities in the coming days to learn, help out, and share.
- Ride. Does your city or town have a public transportation system? Hop on the bus or subway and get off in a part of town you don’t know well. Some cities have culture-based neighbourhoods where you can try new foods, see different architecture or street art, or walk around and hear a language other than your own being spoken. I once took a streetcar across the city of Toronto, hopping off in Little Italy, Cabbagetown, two different Chinatowns, and Little India, among other areas. Take a bus to the next town over—you may not have to look far to find something new and interesting, practically under your nose!
- Listen. Listen to music created by musicians from around the world. If you have the opportunity to attend a live performance, all the better. But again, the internet is your friend-there is so much music out there, free for the listening. I just googled “music of Africa” and am now listening to traditional music as I work. Check out the World Music Network.
- Speak. Learn a new language, or help someone else learn yours. You can prepare for an upcoming trip by taking a class in the language of a country you’d like to visit, or volunteer to help someone who is trying to learn your first language with their conversational skills. It’s also a great way to meet people from other countries.
- Visit. Museums and art galleries offer incredible opportunities to learn about a culture through art and history. I have a particular interest in contemporary art—I love to see what today’s artists are working on—but you may be more interested in historical pieces. Many galleries have monthly or even weekly periods where admission is reduced or free. Some have made tens of thousands of pieces of their collections available digitally, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and London’s British Museum. Art UK contains images of over 200,000 British paintings. Paris’ Louvre even offers virtual tours of the museum itself.
During those times when physical travel is out of the question, I encourage you to embrace the spirit of solo travel in any way you can. Keep learning, keep discovering, keep exploring. Stay curious. The elements that make you a good traveler will serve you well and make your life more interesting between journeys.