For some people, the idea of traveling somewhere solo sounds sad and lonely, while for others of us, it sounds like freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want.
Wherever you fall on the solo travel spectrum, there are facts about it that hold true: Sometimes you’ll have no one to talk to (which also means no one to take your Instagram snaps, unless, of course, you ask strangers like I do). Sometimes (and this is mostly for us girls) you won’t be able to go somewhere simply because it isn’t safe to be roaming on your own. Sometimes you’ll go through that awkward exchange at a restaurant where the back and forth between you and the host goes something like this: Table for one? Yes. Just one? Yep, just me. OK…do you want to sit at the bar or something? No, no, I’d like a regular table like all of the pairs who aren’t being judged for eating together. Thanks.
Regardless of all of those inevitables, there are lots of perks too. Want to spend four hours in that local market uncovering every single pillow cover, handmade necklace or local leather product you can find? Do you. No one will be complaining of tired feet or hunger pangs or boredom or whatever other complaints annoyed/annoying people tend to have. Want to geek out in that museum others might find slightly uninteresting or spend literally the entire day doing absolutely nada on a beach but working on your tan and deciding whether the next drink should be another rum punch or if you should try something else? You. Can. Do. Whatever. You. Want.
(Clearly, I’m one of those on the fan side of solo travel)
But, for those of you who aren’t, or who haven’t tried it yet and aren’t sure, here are some tips for ways to do it and love it.
*NOTE: You’ll see that there’s no mention of hostels in here, and that isn’t because they aren’t also a good way to meet people while traveling solo, they’re just not my particular thing, so I can’t speak on the benefits.
Don’t think of yourself as alone
First and foremost, you are not alone. Alone carries with it that heavy negativity of loneliness or abandonment. No sir, you are not lonely or abandoned—you are bold and brave and doing your own thing on your terms and only your terms. Traveling solo, believe it or not, is something some people envy because they don’t see it as something they themselves could or would do, so they admire it. And frankly, I think it has a great element of badassness about it. You wanted to do something, you went and did it. Period. There was no waiting or asking or convincing or coordinating with anyone else to get you there, because you are independent. Not in the slightest bit alone. Keep that in mind.
When dining for one, befriend the host/hostess
There are several benefits to this one, and it’s something I’ve done quite a few times, since I’ve eaten solo on my travels way more times than I could even think to start counting. It’s simple, when the host or hostess comes to take care of you, be nice to them. Chat with them. And I’m not saying at length, because they may be busy, but make conversation. In doing this you could end up finding out a lot about local life, the best places to visit/sightsee/dance/shop/experience, and also just get a really good feel for the people and the culture there. And, since you’re solo, they tend to feel more inclined to give you extra attention or company. Sometimes even free desserts.
Document your adventures for friends and family to follow
This is an easy one for some of us who happen to have Instagram as a part-time hobby, but for others who go on entire trips and post no photos, it may be more of a challenge. Whichever your social media medium of choice—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, blog—try posting something from your adventures daily. This will do two things: one, give you a good record of all the cool things you did while you were out in the world, and two, make your friends and family envy all the excitement in your life. And it isn’t that we just want to make people envious, but when your loved ones are following along with something you’re doing that’s making you happy, they feel happy for you too, and they’ll likely comment and like and display emoji-littered excitement and you will feel good. It serves as just another reminder that you’re not alone and you’re a badass.
Walk with a book
OK, I’m definitely a proponent of learning to enjoy being solo without any kinds of crutches, but if there were to be one crutch that was worth it, it would be a book. If you still can’t wrap your head around dining for one and wouldn’t know where to look or what to do with your hands if there wasn’t someone across the table from you, take a good book. For one, reading is great. For two, it has a way of making people look interestingly occupied rather than sadly alone. Also, if it’s the right book, you’ll be having an adventure inside your adventure and will be too pleasantly distracted to even notice the people eyeballing the only person eating by them self. Books also work to ward off unwelcome would-be suitors at the beach or save you from the chatter of another solo traveler (if you’re not interested, that is) who hasn’t figured out how to love being on their own and is looking for any ear to chatter to.
Join a tour
Tours aren’t all sneakered khaki-wearing tourists (OK, well most of them are, but anyway), sometimes they are a great way to be solo and accompanied at the same time. When I went to Beijing by myself, I wanted to see the Great Wall, naturally, so I joined a tour (more about that here). The tour itself was great in terms of price and inclusions and it made getting to the Great Wall easy and fun. But what was even better about it was that it was a small group, just four of us total: one guy who was also on his own and two girls around my age who were traveling together. Because it was just the four of us, we bonded. We laughed together, we complained about how steep the steps on the Wall were, we took turns taking pictures of each other, and we had a good time. The girls and I even went shopping and had dinner together post tour. I know tours can be lame, and in some cases you want to go at your own pace and get your own takeaways, but sometimes the right tour in the right place can be completely worth it.
Because you’re solo, you have time to treat yourself. And you should. When you travel accompanied, unless it’s a romantic getaway or something, you’ll hardly make time to go for a massage or have your nails done and whatnot. But unaccompanied, you tend to be more efficient and less pressed for time because you’re not losing precious hours discussing what to do next or waiting for however many other people to get ready. Which means there’s lots of time for massages. In places like Asia especially, massages are good, easy to come by and cheap. When I was in Hong Kong last month, I had one of the best massages of my life for one hour, $24, totally sketchy place. But there’s something extra beautiful about pampering yourself during a trip, which is in itself sort of like a pampering, and it feels great. Consider it a reward for being such a badass-bold-brave-independent solo traveler.