The 3-4-5 On Solo Travel
Myths, tips and perks for leaping into the unknown – alone.
Solo travel is a polarising force. For some, it’s seen as travel’s version of a trip to the dentist: a little scary, at times uncomfortable, and probably too expensive. For others, it’s the best investment in their personal growth and happiness they’ve ever made.
Despite solo travel’s ability to intimidate, those that go, see and conquer will discover that nothing truly amazing ever comes without its challenges, or without challenging our fears. The absence of familiar faces means you naturally begin saying “yes” more, and saying yes to the unknown is how you begin to cultivate your own personal brand of travel magic. Our social media-driven cosmos sees us perpetually inspired by travellers sharing the wonders of a lone jaunt, so it’s no surprise that more people than ever are taking their very own selfie-sticked leap into the unknown.
Here’s the 3-4-5 on solo travel.
3 Myths About Solo Travel
#1 It is unsafe to travel alone, especially for women
If you’re worried about your lack of a Liam Neeson-type boasting a very particular set of skills to track down your whereabouts should you be kidnapped in Paris, there’s really no need. Deciding to travel alone doesn’t mean you turn into a life-size, walking bull’s-eye, and thinking you are safer in a group can be an ignorant sentiment. Solo travellers blend in more easily than larger groups, and drawing less attention to yourself as a tourist is a key safety tip. There are precautions you should take to maximise your safety when travelling, but these apply to solo, female and group travellers alike.
#2 Alone = Lonely
A big roadblock preventing us from leaving home alone is the idea that things will remain that way: mornings of kicking stones along foreign streets singing ‘All By Myself’ and afternoons spent weeping softly at cafe windows where friends meet for coffee. However, it’s common to misconstrue being alone with feeling lonely, and these are markedly different concepts.
The reality is a much cheerier prospect. People are more inclined to approach single travellers than those in a group, so you rarely wind up at a loss for a friendly face to talk to. The irony is that you meet so many people you can easily wind up seeking solitude. You’ll quickly come to enjoy your own company, and spending time alone naturally shifts from being associated with loneliness. Suddenly everything from long-haul travel to eating alone at a restaurant is no biggie. You so independent!
#3 It is expensive
I’ve never spent less money travelling than when I’ve travelled alone. In terms of accommodation, I’ve found that when I’m flying solo I’m more open to things, saying yes more frequently to spontaneous opportunities that inevitably arise. New friends and connections also seem more likely to include you when they don’t have to accommodate multiple people. For me, this meant that for over 14 months of solo travel my accommodation options broadened, including the likes of camping on the beach, sleeping in jungle huts, staying at friend’s places, care-taking a villa, living in ashrams and watching sunrise from a superyacht.
The single supplement, a fee implemented by tour and cruise companies to prevent a loss of revenue on double occupancy accommodation, needn’t be a worry. You could fill an extra space in a room with friends you’ve made or make potential new ones by researching the tour groups and cruise lines who match singles together in rooms, an increasingly popular trend.
When it comes to meals, markets are full of amazing local foods for a fraction of the cost, and lunch is a great time to experience that nice restaurant you’ve been eyeing off with your new pals; you receive the same calibre of food at a much lower price than the dinner seating.
4 Personal Perks From Travelling Alone
While you’re out doing what you want to do, seeing what you want to see and eating your weight in experience, you’re undergoing some solid inner-work. You may not know it is happening until you return home or are presented with a tough situation, and surprise yourself with how resourceful and empowered you’ve become.
#1 You get to know yourself in a whole new way
Travel makes us more rounded individuals, and solo travel is a super-charged version that develops heightened self-reliance, independence and taps us into the world consciousness at large. When you spend quality you-time away from the familiarity of home, there is guaranteed self-growth via situations outside of your comfort zone. You will come to appreciate who you are and how you feel as a part of the bigger picture.
#2 You redefine wealth beyond the material
You crave adventure and life experience, and see money as a means to achieve these. $50 for a bottle of wine? That’s a week’s worth of tacos in Mexico! $900 for an iPhone? That’s a three-month stay at an ashram in India! Your definition of wealth expands to include how much you learn, the irreplaceable people you meet, and how alive you feel in these moments.
#3 The incredible friends (and a worldwide network of places to stay)
The more you travel alone, the more you notice how certain people are drawn to you like a magnet – people that truly touch your life, who you probably wouldn’t have met had you stayed home or come away with a bunch of mates. The added bonus of making life-long friends is life-long local guides and accommodation in amazing places around the world. This renders it even easier (and cheaper) to travel alone the next time, and there’s always a next time.
#4 You doing you: design your dream trip, your way
Travel is your self-written prescription for adventure. Whether your dream trip entails bottomless margaritas by the infinity pool or months of high altitude trekking, this is the time to tick that experience off your bucket list. You can do and see whatever you want, however you’d like, and the best part is you don’t have to wait around for the ideal travel partner to materialise.
5 Helpful Tips for Solo Travel
Keep an open mind with safety in mind.
#1 Arrive during the day
Plan ahead to arrive during daylight, because more incidents happen at night. When you’re visiting a foreign place, arriving during the day will help you get your bearings while also providing ample time to reach your accommodation with your luggage. If you can’t travel during the day, use trusted transportation or book a private train cabin or seat class that allows you to feel settled.
#2 Be aware, be confident
A surefire way to advertise “tourist” is looking lost or confused in the street, but we don’t all wake up on day one of our solo trip as all-knowing, confident human specimens. These are qualities cultivated over time, but until that naturally happens, faking it until you make it is a great way to fend off the wrong kind of attention. Confidence shouldn’t be confused with cockiness, and walking with purpose to seek help when you’re unsure is a safer way to go about your business. Similarly, awareness of your surroundings and cultural differences is crucial as a solo traveller and can pay dividends in keeping you feeling comfortable, in control and safe.
#3 Knowledge is power: research your destinations (and even your stop-overs)
Experiencing exotic cultures first-hand is one of the major draw cards of travelling, but it is helpful to have an understanding of your destination and its idiosyncrasies in an instance where something goes wrong. Similarly, immersing yourself in a new way of life is more enjoyable (and safer) if you’re clued into important religious or cultural customs. I had a few hours’ layover in Saudi Arabia on my way to India from Europe. Not knowing too much about the country, researching enabled me to dress in modest clothes and pack my hand luggage with items to cover my hair, neck and shoulders on arrival. Even though it was a stop over, as a single female traveller this information was extremely handy, allowing me to blend in by exercising cultural and religious sensitivity to the customs of the country.
#4 Drink responsibly
Being savvy about alcohol consumption is crucial for solo travellers. You’ll make great friends on the road, but the reality is that your wellbeing is no one’s responsibility but your own. The only person you can 100% rely on is yourself and letting your awareness and defence down can be risky business. Keeping your wits about you while still enjoying yourself is fun without consequence.
#5 Trust your gut
Solo travellers experience their intuition or “gut feeling” strengthen the more time they spend on the road. You become adept at reading people and situations, and learn through trial and error that people will talk a lot of talk, but what matters most is whether their words sit well with you. If that familiar uneasiness develops, back yourself and remove yourself from the situation.
Having said all this, nothing can fully prepare you for every wild or weird thing a solo adventure offers, and that is precisely what makes a trip an adventure. The unknown is out there, but you are now the creator of your journey: it all starts and ends with you.
(Lead image: Sonia Taylor)