This post was first published on June 8, 2009, just a week after Solo Traveler was launched. Yes, it’s time for an update.
You get to do what you want when you want. You can connect with people if you wish or avoid them completely if you want to be alone. When you travel alone, you travel on your terms. Here are some tips to help you travel alone and love it with references to more recent posts with detail on specific subjects.
Before you Leave to Travel Alone
- Save up. Isn’t it great to return from a trip and know that it’s fully paid for rather than having to catch up financially after the fact? Save up for your trip before you go. Enjoy the delayed gratification. And be ready to start saving for the next trip as soon as you return. Read How to Save Money for Travel.
- Know your budget. There are a few steps involved in planning your travel budget. Read: How to Plan Your Solo Travel Budget – on Any Budget
- Decide on your destination. Maybe you have a dream destination or maybe you just need to get away and the destination doesn’t matter that much. Here are some sources for your destination planning.
- Check out our Destination section with hundreds of recommendations written by other solo travelers.
- Consider a destination where you can stay put in terms of your accommodation but have a good variety of day excursions. This way you save money and get to know the locals.
- Take a tour. The Solo Travel Deals page has tours specifically for solo travelers.
- Is money an issue? Read How to Save on Shoulder Season Travel: Top Tips and When Travel is the Goal not Destination.
- Buy travel insurance. Think you don’t need it? Think again. Read Do I Need Travel Insurance? Top Bloggers from 6 Countries Respond. In the introduction I point out the many times travel insurance has saved me. This post also lets you know what insurance is recommended by country and what to look for in insurance, including things like your insurance company covering the cost of getting someone to your bedside should you end up in hospital when traveling alone.
- Book solo-friendly accommodation. Book a homestay, hotel, hostel, B&B or small inn that is particularly good for solo travelers. How do you find them? Check out the Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide which has been compiled with the help of readers.
- Pack light. This is one of our most popular posts and one I go to when preparing for every trip: Bare Minimum Packing. If you’re going someplace where you’ll want to be a bit more fashionable, read: Bare Minimum Packing: Urban and Luxury Travel
- Know how you’ll stay in touch. Read Use Your Phone Anywhere in the World: Free and Low-cost Options
- Protect your identity on the road. If you’re going to be using public WiFi on your travels or if you expect you’ll need to do some online banking or use your credit card, it’s advisable to use a VPN. Read VPN for Travel: What, Why and an Easy Setup Guide. Here’s one occasion when my VPN really helped: Eek! I Lost My Credit Card
Adapt to Your Destination
- Be patient. It can be difficult arriving in a new city alone. Take your time. Take a day to relax, watch the city function, and settle in.
- Be proactive. If you’re unsure of yourself, ask for help. Standing around looking dazed will not get you where you want to go and it may get you noticed by the wrong people. It would be a strange occurrence for you to choose to ask the wrong person for information, so go ahead, smile, and ask for help.
- Know which way is up. Study a map of your destination. Get to know it. Get a sense of direction using major landmarks like Central Park in New York City or the CN Tower in Toronto. This will help you explore cities safely.
- Stay low-key. Don’t flash jewellery or expensive cameras and electronics. Be discreet to avoid unwanted attention.
Travel Alone But Not Lonely
- Smile. It means the same things in every language. It means you are happy, friendly, approachable, kind. A smile opens many conversations.
- Learn a few words in the local language. Making an effort to communicate in the local language is always appreciated and often returned with an effort to communicate in your language.
- Go to a local, independent coffee shop. Look for coffee shops with large communal tables or coffee bars along the window and sit near someone. I’ve often had great conversations with locals by positioning myself in this way.
- Stay at places that encourage talking. Choose a hostel or a B&B. Such places have common rooms and are great places to meet people.
- Read a book that makes you laugh out loud. Take a book that makes you laugh out loud and hold it so that people can see that you are reading in English. This often attracts people for a brief chat. In Havana I was reading Happiness by Will Ferguson and it got me into a few conversations.
- Establish a routine. Visit the same café, fruit stall, or restaurant every day. You’ll get to know the people and they’ll start to watch for you.
- Take day tours. In Paris I met a woman on a free walking tour. It started to rain so we cut out and went for lunch together. Yes, meet people on tours and you might end up with a friend to enjoy a meal with or another day of exploring. Check out Global Greeters Network.
- Be curious. Ask questions and conversations begin.
- Go far off the beaten path. Travelers who find each other where there are few tourists are more inclined to talk to each other. Meet someone on a hike or in a specific museum and you already know that you have an interest in common.
Eat Alone and Enjoy It
Dinner can be one of the most difficult times for the solo traveler. Here’s how to enjoy eating alone.
- Become a regular. Dine in the same place regularly so that you become friendly with the staff.
- Take your restaurant meal at noon. If you want to dine at a fine restaurant, do so at noon. It’s the same executive chef and quality of food but the prices are lower, the lights are higher, and the crowd less romantic.
- Eat at the bar or a communal table. A table for two or four leaves no opportunity for a solo traveler to be social. Eat at the bar or in a restaurant with communal tables and you could be mixing with the locals in no time.
- Be obvious. Place your camera, travel guide, or map on the table, making it obvious that you’re a tourist. Some people are concerned about looking like a tourist and therefore looking like a mark. In a restaurant there is a certain amount of safety. Yes, you should still be discerning in who you talk with but in most cases the person will be not only safe but also interesting.
- Take a book. It will not only occupy you but also signal to other solos that you travel alone.
- Read Eating Alone is Easy When You Know How.
- Get oriented. A Hop On, Hop Off tour is great if you’re short on time or want to get an overview of the city before you dig into its specifics. Book your Hop On, Hop Off Bus ticket here – enter 10OFFGL at checkout and get 10% off.
- Walk! There is no better way to get to know a city and understand its culture than walking. It slows you down so that you can see the nuances of the society and understand how the city is designed.
- Take local transit. If you are going to a non-English speaking country, research how the system works before you get there or ask at your hotel before you head out. Also, look for passes and special deals for tourists.
- Travel between destinations. Whether you choose the train, bus, or plane, live within the limits of a carry-on bag or backpack. You’ll be happy you did as you manage to move around from destination to destination with greater ease.
- Tips for plane travel.
- Board early so you have no trouble putting your carry-on luggage in an overhead compartment.
- Always confirm that your flight is on schedule before leaving for the airport.
- At check-in, ask if the flight is ‘full’ or ‘light.’ If it’s light, you may be able to jockey for a better seat.
- If you have a connecting flight, get all the information you need before boarding your first flight to make the connection easily.
- Bring light snacks with you. If there’s turbulence there won’t be service during the flight. Ginger snaps are a good snack and they settle the stomach.
- Tips for a road trip.
Travel Alone and Go Out at Night
Some people are concerned about going out at night alone. It’s such a shame as it can be a great time. Before getting on to what to do at night, I want to mention a few safety tips on how to go out at night.
- Plan your transportation wisely. If it’s light out when you go you likely won’t need a taxi to get there but traveling by taxi back when it’s dark is advisable.
- Confirm that it’s safe. Before leaving, ask your concierge or the desk clerk whether the place you’re planning to go to is fun and safe.
- Stay sober. Drink very responsibly so that you have your wits about you.
- Leave a note. In your hotel room leave a note as to where you’ve gone and when you expect to be back.
- Connect with the staff. Chat with the bartender or your server. They’ll have your back.
- Be a bit coy. If a conversation starts, introduce yourself with your first name only. Leave by yourself and by taxi and don’t tell people where you’re staying.
- Keep your valuables safe. Know where your purse is – or better yet, don’t carry one.
- Consider a dinner/show. Cabarets and dinner shows usually have seating plans. You’ll know you’ll be seated with other people.
- Arrive early. If you’re going to a small club, arrive early to ensure that you get a seat at the bar.
- Read: How to Crash the Club Scene Solo
- Read: Night Safety for Solo Travelers: 15 tips
- Read: What to Do at Night When Traveling Alone – 7 Tips
What If You Don’t Love Solo Travel?