Solo Travel, Not So Solo Anymore…Everyone is doing it.
Tips on how to plan and what to expect when you're traveling on your own.
Solo travel has never been more popular. You see it all over social media. People on their own traveling the globe.
Did you know 1 in 4 millennials is planning to travel solo? 84% of these are women.
At 20 I took my first solo trip. I don’t know if you would even call it solo. It was a school trip, but I didn’t know anyone. It was a week-long visit to London. I was in college and the trip was worth two credits. The final was a paper on a topic of your choice.
I had never traveled abroad before. It was a little scary but I was determined to see London. I was so glad I did. I met interesting people and even made a few new friends. We went to museums, saw shows and had tea at the Savoy. I even bought my mom a tea set from Harrods. She still has it.
What are the benefits of traveling on your own?
Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to travel. Every business trip I would tack on at least a day or two in destination and explore. I took advantage of my good fortune of traveling for work. I consider this solo travel. I spent many nights in hotel rooms on my own, eating at restaurants and exploring new cities, and even visiting a theme park or two.
Each time was a memorable experience. On my last business trip, I went to Disneyland for the day. I walked through the park, went on all my favorite rides, and was able to use the benefit of the single rider line. It was great. I was like a little kid. By the end of the day, I found myself directing people and giving advice on the rides not to miss. I remember standing in line for the Haunted Mansion. I struck up a conversation with the family next to me. I was telling their little girl what a great ride this is. She was only about 10, and at some point, she turned to me and asked “Where’s your family?” I replied. “Oh they're home. I’m on my own here today”. I explained how I was here for work and had the day to myself, so I decided to come to Disney. She looked at me like I had two heads. But I think she was Ok with it, I like to think I inspired her.
There is something empowering about traveling on your own. You have to like being with yourself. I would not suggest taking a solo trip if you suffer from depression or anxiety. I would take it slow one step at a time, before venturing out on a full-scale journey.
Small Steps first:
Begin by going to a sit-down restaurant on your own. Take yourself out on a date. Do not look at your phone unless you’re photographing your plate. Just enjoy the ambiance and the people around you. Test yourself to see how long it takes before you pick up your device and start scrolling.
Go on a half-day tour in a nearby city. One that is within driving distance. Sign up for a walking tour or stroll through a gallery or museum.
Plan to stay a night alone in a ‘nearby town or city. Stay within a few hours’ drive from home. Book a hotel or Bed & Breakfast, plan a short hike, visit a winery, or a botanical garden. Go to an event or fair.
Now you’re ready to take that solo plane ride Book your flight, a rental car, or take an uber. Stay for 3 nights somewhere. Plan out your days, make them full, or perhaps just relax at a spa or wellness retreat.
When you’re ready venture out a little further. There are many tour operators that feature solo travel. These are small group tours, some focus on age if you prefer traveling with people of your generation. But it’s not mandatory
If you start to feel uncomfortable perhaps solo travel is not what you thought it would be, don’t beat yourself up over it. Solo travel is not for everyone.
If you decide to book with a tour operator that specialized in solo travel, it’s a good idea to thoroughly research this option. Read reviews and speak to the organizers directly. Ask questions and get as much information as possible. Get a detailed list of what the rate includes, such as Meals, beverages, gratuity, transfers. You may want to tac on a night two at either end to be on your own. Doesn’t that sound like the perfect combination? A guided tour with a small group and a day or two on your own self-exploring. These are for longer experiences of course.
Number one is the safety factor. Be safe, take precautions, and do your due diligence before traveling on your own. Make sure someone knows where you are at all times. Even if it’s the front desk clerk. Think about leaving on your phone tracker and connecting it to a loved one back home, just in case. They will always know where you are. Do not go out to a nightclub on your own and get inebriated. Play it safe.
As I think back, I have not been the smartest traveler and have had some pretty close calls.
One, in particular, stands out over the rest. My best friend and I backpacked through Europe for a summer after college. At the end of the trip, Jennifer went on to Norway and I went back to Milan to fly home. I took the train from Athens which chugged through a sparse landscape of the former Yugoslavia. I was on my own, which was fine, by then I had mastered the European train system.
That first day rolling along, the train hit a watermelon truck and we were all treated with fresh watermelon on the tracks. It was a 3-day journey to Milan. It was pretty late when I arrived and I had a flight early the next day. So, I thought ok I’ll find a really nice hotel for the night, clean up, have a nice meal, and have a good night's rest. No sooner had I got off the train I was approached by a young man. He was probably around my age. In his broken English, he asked “oh you looking for a place to stay for the night? Nice place. I replied enthusiastically and was almost relieved “Yes”. He said “come with me,” I said “Ok”. My second mistake, The first mistake was acknowledging him. So, I followed him through the dark streets of Milan. We ended up at, what I thought was a Pension. It was an old, walk-up, apartment building. I remember the decorative wrought iron handles on the staircase. With each step I took, I was getting more and more nervous and regretting my decision. Looking around and planned my exit and any defense moves, should he try to attack me. I still walked on thinking, I can run and get out of here. He must have read the fear on my face because all the while he was assuring me it was ok and not to worry. We finally got up to his apartment and I was like “What is this?” He opens the door and there was this old woman sitting on a couch, she starts screaming at him in Italian. That was my queue and I took off. Cursing myself out for my stupidity. I had no idea what was happening. I just knew I had to get out of there. And mind you I had a 40lb pack on my back. I managed to get away and found a street where there was a row of hotels. I stopped at each one, and as each front desk clerk looked at me they said “no room”. It took me about three rejections until I realized it was my appearance that was getting my entry denied. For starters, I hadn’t showered since Athens days earlier. After traveling for an entire summer. I looked the part, worn, and tan. I remembered I was wearing a pair of colorful patterned shorts They looked so cool I had picked them up in Santorini at a local vendor’s shop. I had on a brown tunic. I think I was even wearing a pair of Birkenstocks.
I finally managed to get past the front door of one hotel by waving my Amex card. Provided to me by my dear father for emergencies only. This was an emergency. It closed the deal and they let me in. I got into the room and it was like heaven. I took the longest shower, ordered up room service, and watched a concert on TV, I think it was Madonna. I didn’t care. The next morning I got up, packed up my stuff, and headed for the airport. Best experience of my life. It changed me forever. When I got home I started looking for work in New York City and a few months later I was the Assistant to the Editor for a national magazine. I’ve never stopped traveling.
I know the world has changed a lot since then. Was it less dangerous? Probably not. I mean I didn't even have a cell phone or an ATM card. I went weeks without calling home. All my parents got were some postcards.
If you’re thinking of traveling Solo. I say go for it! It will change you forever. You’ll feel empowered, emboldened, independent and a sense of freedom will surge through you like never before.
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About the author
In April, 2020. I launched ConsciousTraveler.CO. A travel blog focused on sustainable luxury tourism, unique experiences, travel tips and trends. I hope to inspire people to travel again...so much depends on it.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
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