What do you think of when you hear “solo travel?” A few years ago, my answer may have been fear, but today, it is freedom! When I tell someone my plans to go to Destination XYZ by myself, they first ask who I am going with and then this follows: “You’re going ALONE?” Like that’s a shocking or horrible thing. Then they think they can do me a favor by pairing me up with someone. Why would I want to travel with someone I don’t know? What if I don’t get along with this person and I’m locked into a week long trip? I don’t think so. Thankfully, with only three solo trips behind me, the pair up conversations are done. Yes, I’m going alone. I want to keep it that way, besides, with how slow I walk, no one would want me slowing them down. Less than a decade ago in 2009, I was traveling to Amsterdam with two other friends. On our same flight was a flight attendant co-worker who decided to take advantage of her flight benefits and head overseas. I was amazed that she was traveling alone. Yes, I knew people did it, but I didn’t think I could be one of them. That was 2009, and my first international solo trip was in 2015 to Paris. Last year I went to Germany, Prague, Vienna and Budapest, and this year, I went to Australia. Loving it!!! Below is a picture of me with my pre-departure champagne on my recent flight home from Sydney, in United’s new Polaris Business Class. That was a nice treat, I ate, drank, napped, watched movies, napped again, you get the idea. Much better than coach and made the long flight so much better!
Fear is a very strong emotion and it can’t be just swept under the rug. So the last thing you need to hear from someone who doesn’t share that feeling is “just get over it” or “just do it”. I hate it when someone who doesn’t understand what I’m going through just dismisses my issues as easily as sweeping dirt under a rug. Well, the dirt is still on the floor, so you didn’t get rid of it, you just covered it up. So they expect you to cover up your fear with a brave face and a plane ticket. Not going to work. It will backfire, your trip will be miserable and you might put yourself into unsafe situations because your trip will be driven by fear.
- Language barriers
- Accidents or illnesses
Safetywould have to be the primary fear for traveling alone or at all for that matter, especially with what is happening in today’s world. I think that you should be just as alert on your travels as you are in your hometown. Criminals are everywhere and it good to stay vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Look around, take notice of the people, activities, and don’t have your head down entranced in your cell phone. Being unaware of who or what is around you will set you up to be a target, and if you don’t see anyone coming, you won’t be able to describe them for the local authorities. I would just recommend to make good choices, research your destination, don’t get drunk and wander around unable to find your own way. There are so many large cities on this planet that have lower crime rates that cities in the US we may visit often, so don’t let fear stop you, just be as knowledgeable as you can about your destination. It is also a good idea to write down the numbers for the local agencies and US Embassy.
Planninga trip can actually turn out to be more fun than traveling because you won’t feel the jet lag, smell the smog or feel the aches and pains of a full day of site seeing. It can be a daunting task if you are trying to plan a trip to a destination you have never been to and you are stuck doing it all alone. But the plus side is, you don’t have to compromise on what you want to see! You can make all of your plans based on what interests you. If you like museums, you can see all of them. Castles, plan the trip around castles in the area. Wineries…of course! I start researching an area and I write down everything I want to see. You will have to prioritize, based on how much time you have. There are only so many places you can wait in line for an hour or more, so pick what you want to see most and arrange everything else after that. I saved all of my items on Google Maps and I could get walking directions spoken to me as I walked along the streets exploring a new city. Once I hit my priority items, the rest was whatever I felt like. Relaxing, liberating, and all yours!
Navigationcan be challenging on your own. You will not be able to read a map while you are driving, so it’s best to have a built in navigation if you rent a car. I don’t know if I would’ve made it to the adorable castle pictured below if I didn’t have navigation. This is Lichtenstein Castle in southwestern Germany, and it is by far my favorite castle. With the gadgets and built in navigation systems in car rentals, this is an easy obstacle to overcome. You are warned of upcoming turns, and you are completely hands free, so you are safe to drive solo.
Language Barriersare becoming less of an issue with phone applications or new gadgets coming on the market. Taking a pocket dictionary and learning some key phrases will help. Learn some of the basics, or have them written down and handy. A lot of menus at high tourist areas are also written in English, if not, use your translator and scan the menu, then point to what you want if you can pronounce it.
Accidents or Illnesses can and do happen every year to travelers. Thankfully, I have not had any issues yet while traveling. You can compare travel insurance and purchase the right plan for you before you travel abroad to cover trip cancellation or medical protection.
- You choose your destination and schedule
- You choose your times, sites and activities
- No compromising!
- You can change your mind and adjust your schedule
All of the above are so freeing and in a way, selfish. Without any compromising, you can plan the trip that you want, when you want, where you want and if you change your mind, you don’t have to ask permission or see if the others in a group are willing to change also. My biggest change my mind moment was in Prague and I had gone to the Old Jewish Cemetery and there was a fee…I was low on cash and I hadn’t paid for a cemetery before. I knew I wanted to go, but the pressure of the line behind me and needing cash (I don’t think they took credit cards) meant I would have to walk to an ATM and come back. Ugh. I moved on, regretfully. Then I went to a delicious lunch at Marina Ristaurante on the water, just a few blocks away from the cemetery. I had Shank Steak of Fallow Deer with potatoes, strawberry cheesecake and five glasses of Chardonnay. Yes, the waiter did ask if I wanted to switch to red when my main entree arrived, but I didn’t want to switch wines, plus the Chardonnay was chilled. I may sound like a complete drunkard when I say I had five glasses of wine with lunch, but they weren’t poured as full as I would have if I was my own bartender, and I was in a little pain from walking around a lot already. This restaurant will be an absolute must EVERY TIME I go back to Prague, which I would honestly love to be once a year, I loved this city. Anyways, as I savored my fabulous meal looking out over the river, I realized that I wanted to go to the cemetery. It was one of making sites I wanted to visit. So I went to an ATM and went back, and I’m so glad I did! I have traveled with friends, and the more people involved, the harder it can be to make plans, be flexible, change plans, etc. Always, there is compromise. We all have to agree on what to see, so inevitably, one or more people won’t get to see what they want. This may be good for your friendship, but not good for filling your camera with images of the sites you had planned.
- Unable to share costs
- No one to share experiences with
- Planning and navigating are all up to you
- You are on your own for figuring out everything, planning, service differences, opening times, budgets
The downsides can add some stress as far as planning everything, you don’t get a break when you are the only traveler. You don’t get down time to react while someone else drives. You can’t split costs either. I took a fun ride through Prague in an old convertible that would’ve been better if split between several people. It would have also been nice to relive that experience later with the person I shared it with, but alone, I don’t have anyone to chat about it with. Boredom is something I haven’t had a problem with yet. I have activities planned,and I thoroughly enjoy downtime in a hotel without feeling bored. Everyone is different and some people really need to be around others more than I do. Petting a koala!
Tips and Ideas
Plan ahead and book a hotel room for at least your first night. Act confident, even if you’re lost. Go into a shop, restroom, or anywhere to look at a map. Use your phone and earbuds to listen to navigation. Pro and con, people think you can’t hear which may make you vulnerable, however, if you are walking along listening to your music, then you aren’t looking lost. Better yet, act like you are on the phone. With the internet, there really aren’t many surprises. Google Maps shows open hours on websites, menu costs, etc. Last tip, don’t get drunk or go to shady areas after dark. This definitely makes you vulnerable and/or so relaxed that your guard comes down and you don’t make the same choices you would if you were alert and sober.
Are you interested in solo travel? If so, here are some alternatives, or baby steps to getting out there if you are single or with a partner who doesn’t wish to travel. Some people I know barely venture out of the county they live in, and that works for them, but not for me.
My first idea would be a fully organized group trip, your local bank may even have seniors trips or outings if that is your age bracket. Travel agencies, photo trips, star gazing trips, hiking adventures, meetups, travel clubs, northern lights adventures, etc.
Second, travel solo, but mix in some guided tours at your destination. That way you still have some flexibility to do what you would like for part of the trip, and then the comfort of a guided tour for the rest. You can pay a company to work out the itinerary and local fluent guide, and you can enjoy the activities and get to know your fellow travelers.
Third – couchsurfing.com. You still are traveling solo, but have a local who may enjoy showing you some of their favorite spots. In exchange, you could prepare your favorite meal or treat them to a dinner out. You can search for members and email or chat online before your trip, so they aren’t a complete stranger when you arrive and you will both have a plan in mind. People are typically very proud of where they live and don’t mind showing others. I haven’t tried this yet, buy my schedules are usually very thorough already with a pace that works for me. And if my arthritis kicks it into high hear, then I won’t have to disappoint anyone by passing on items they have pre-planned.
Fourth – is a bit more solo, but with some planned activities with a few others. Cooking classes, wine tours, mask making, or any special activity that you would like to try.
Fifth – the solo baby step. If you are comfortable with the first four, I would recommend trying a short trip for your first. Maybe to a location you have been to so you already have your bearings. A country that speaks your language or one that speaks a language you are familiar with. If you took a language in high school or college and are familiar with some of the basics, then you will already feel more comfortable. My first trip like this was Paris for three days, and it was perfect! Sure, I was pretty tired one day and ordered six chicken meals instead of the number six, then proceeded to toss my Metro ticket in the trash, but hey, it was my jet lag day. Some people got a laugh out of the order and the cashier just gave me change instead of a credit on my card, so a bonus I had more cash! Not a faux pas I would like to admit, or that I was in a Burger King in Paris! But I had just gotten done with the Catacombs and it was getting late. Starbucks and Burger King were right there. A little jarring to exit so far from where I entered. A compass would’ve been good too since I had my Metro map, but with all of the buildings around me, I went the wrong way, ended up two Metro stops away instead of the one I needed. Easy fix though, it wasn’t that far to go back. Pick a city that you think is manageable on your own. Do the proper research before you go. Book your hotel, plan your transportation and which sites you want to see, when they are open, how much they cost, etc. This will give you an approximate budget also. List them in priority order. What attraction are a must see? Then map them out and come up with a day by day plan. Then you can fill the rest with restaurants, coffee shops, a walk along the river or through the park, a trip to a bookstore, or whatever interests you!
Each trip can be uniquely yours. They won’t all be flawless, and there will be some obstacles to overcome, but that adds to the memories. Travel, enjoy and repeat!
This post was sponsored by Webjet and I was offered vouchers for my next booking on their website. Webjet is an online travel agency that enable customers to compare, combine and book the best domestic and international flight deals, accommodations, packages, cruises, travel insurance and car hire worldwide.