After The Year We've Had, It's Time to Get a Little Lost
Solo travel doesn't need to be out of a backpack
It saddens me when people say they could never travel alone. The word "never" implies that there is no possibility, and I always wonder why that is. Why not even consider it?
In my experience, there are three reasons why solo travel is unthinkable.
First, for some, travel in itself is unattainable -- it's expensive and requires being able to take time off work, or time away from those who depend on you. For others, there are feelings of shame surrounding being alone in public. How will it look to others if I'm alone at breakfast, a restaurant, or even at a tourist attraction? What if I run into someone I know? Will people think I have no friends, or that I am too annoying to travel with?
Then there is the third option.
Friends of mine worry that they would get bored. Lonely. Lost. Going weeks, sometimes months, without a companion of any sort does sound depressing. Tackling a new country, new culture, and language barrier alone is certainly a daunting task. There is also an added layer of danger; without someone by your side, you may be more susceptible to thieves or violence, especially if you are female-presenting. If something were to happen to you, would someone notice? Being in a new place is overwhelming enough, how do I cope with that by myself? While these concerns are valid, there are many ways to mitigate these common anxieties. Hordes of travellers before you have posted resources online, some even specific to destination (see below).
The thing is, there is true worth in intentionally getting lost. Alone.
Within this apprehensiveness towards being alone can lie something deeper. There are many of us out there who don't feel confident in their own skin. Many of us, who when left alone, don't like what we find. Truthfully, you can always meet people on your travels. There are always other solo travellers who wouldn't mind swapping stories or advice while sitting in an airport, coffee shop, or on a bus out on a sight-seeing tour. But if embarking on a big solo trip, some solo time is inevitable. In order for the best experience, you do have to be able to have fun with yourself. And no matter how ready or self-aware you are, you must be prepared to learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible.
I'd argue that feeling confident that you can enjoy your own company should be a top item on your pre-trip to-do list.
I'd also argue that feeling confident you can enjoy your own company, and then being able to actually enjoy it of course, should be a top item on your mental wellbeing list. Your "what to do to have a great life" list.
How can I learn to have fun alone?
Travelling is a great way to get to know yourself better. Which activity do you choose when you don't have to please anyone else? How do you spend your days off when you don't have work, chores, or other obligations to schedule your time around? It's all about serving your needs and your needs only (a definite treat after being stuck in various states of lockdown all year).
Then there are the more complex realizations. How do you present yourself to people who know nothing about you? What can you push yourself to do alone? This can be anything from connecting with strangers and building fast friendships to bungee jumping in New Zealand.
While you ponder these questions, know that you don't have to dive right in. No, I'm not saying book a one-way ticket to Indonesia the second borders reopen. In fact, there are things you can do right now from home, even during the pandemic!
(1) Explore a new neighbourhood.
I would bet money on the fact there is an area of your town you don't frequent, especially if you live in a big city. Go grab a coffee from a local café and walk around! Maybe it's a neighbourhood you only drive through to get somewhere else. Or maybe you've never been there at all. For example, I live on the west side of Toronto. In my day to day life, it is rare for me to cross Yonge St. and venture east. There are numerous neighbourhoods I've only been to once or twice. When I first moved here, I made a point to get to know my city. I'd spend Sunday afternoons hopping on a streetcar going east, getting off when it looked interesting, and following my feet wherever they'd take me. Sometimes I'd look up coffee shops on Google first. I'd get coffee from one, a cookie from another, and just enjoy being away from home in an area that still felt familiar.
(2) Take yourself out for dinner.
I'll admit that not all towns have enough size and/or variety to allow for a new neighbourhood to feel different. On your next self-care night, or next time plans get cancelled last minute, choose to go out instead of staying in. Whether it's that new restaurant across town that you haven't gotten to try, or that place you always walk by but never go inside, get out there! You just have to promise me that you will really take yourself OUT. Order a drink before you choose your meal. Order an appetizer, or a dessert. This is not a quick meal on your lunch hour.
And if you someone you know sees you and asks what you're up to, you can tell them you're just treating yourself for once! They may ask to join you! You'll realize no one will think it's weird if you don't. Trust me -- this one took me a few tries to get right. It is so satisfying once you do.
(3) Go to a new city.
My third and final suggestion for getting comfortable alone in public is to check out a new city. If you have access to a car, hop in it and drive a few cities over. It can be as close as you like! I'm sure there are neighbouring towns that you hear people mention all the time, but you have never set foot in. Has someone ever recommended something to you from a city an hour away that's left you thinking, "Man, I've got to check that out!" Well now is the time to go. Take what you've learned from my earlier suggestions. Stay the night. Enjoy the spoils of having a hotel room to yourself. Be luxurious. Be messy!
Eating and sleeping alone are things that will happen here and there along your big solo trip. Make being alone in public feel a little more familiar. It will be a small comfort you'll have when you find yourself immersed in a different part of the world, where nothing feels familiar at all.
It's fun to get lost in somewhere new. It's education for your soul.
This marvellous year-from-hell is coming to a close. International travel will soon be back in our lives. After what you went through this year, you deserve a real break from your routine. Whether going alone or not, the question everyone will be asking is, where to?
If you're not sick of me preaching at you, I will offer one last piece of advice. Do your research. It's not just picking the places and attractions you want to see. Where you stay, how you get from one place to another, how to order certain events or attractions, it all plays a role. Read about other people's experiences, especially if you're on a budget. I'll leave you with a couple of my favourite travel aficionados. They've helped me tons!
The Broke Backpacker << biggest and best resource. Tons of destinations!
The Blonde Abroad << female solo travel advice!
World Nomads << tons of stories to read, and affordable travel insurance!