People often ask why I travel solo. For a while, I wouldn’t give a straight answer, I was afraid to state the real reason lest I stand out as a selfish social misfit. Nowadays, I say it without trying to protect anyone’s feelings and do not worry about how I might be perceived- I travel solo for the sense of freedom I feel when I step on that plane to do what I want, when I want, without having to plan with, or wait for, others.
Travelling alone will help you discover your strengths and weaknesses. Solo travel allows you to dig deep into your caves of doubt and insecurity to find strength and determination. It opens you up to a world of learning, not solely about where you are, but more importantly, about who you are. Travelling on your own ejects you from your comfort zones.
That being said, I have travelled with friends and family and there have been some amazing experiences and trips that we still talk about; long weekends, all-inclusive girls retreats, cruises, and adventure travel that needs to happen with a group for permits, logistics and safety. I haven’t written these off, nor will I. These moments are integral to spending some kick ass times with amazing people.
Other than the reasons above, the benefits of solo travel includes changing plans on a whim, being flexible, and booking trips according to your schedule.
A colleague once asked if I travelled alone to meet guys. Typical question, for him travelling was meeting up with friends, going out in groups, and having someone to share your time and experiences with. Travelling alone was a foreign idea to him, especially for a woman. It took a while to realize that people’s dismay had more to do with their discomfort of being alone than it had to do with their concern for me. Travelling solo recharges your uniqueness, you can redefine yourself as you see fit, and live a more authentic life because no one knows you; you have a clean slate. There are no preconceived notions of who you are or how people expect you to act. Simply put, travelling alone will set you free.
Travelling solo can be stressful. However, to assuage your fears, scout the city and area before your departure. Create travel routes from where you are landing to where you are staying using Google Maps; use the Pegman icon to zoom in and out for street view perspectives. For example, before selecting the apartment I rented in Paris, I used the street view to examine the apartment’s surrounding area. Quickly, I was able to dismiss apartments and areas that made me feel uncomfortable. Use Map My Run to create walking routes from your hotel to tourist spots and venues, you’ll get a sense of direction and distance. Another noteworthy tip, follow the Instagram feeds of city influencers and get tips on cafés, restaurants, bars, shopping, popular meet-up locations and secret non-touristy spots. Social media and the Internet have made it easier to travel alone. If you are feeling isolated and lonely, use the many travel apps to meet-up and connect with people in the immediate area who have similar interests.
Some practical tips if you are planning a solo trip:
- Before your first solo trip, rent a car, take a train or a bus to a neighbouring city you have never visited. This is an easy way to discover your strengths, concerns, and what makes you feel uncomfortable therefore allowing you to address them before you leave. For example, if feeling lost brought on a sense of panic, figure out what made you feel panicky and troubleshoot solutions.
- Before leaving your hotel:
- Pick up a paper map and situate. Paper maps will give you the lay of the land in a larger view. On the map, locate where you are in relation to tourist sites, waterways, streets and monuments. Grab pens in different colours and mark it up- mark North with an arrow, underline the area where you are staying, and circle major sites near your area; tourist attractions are usually well marked and easy to get to.
- Write down the city’s emergency numbers (they are different from continents, sometimes even countries).
- Learn the names of 2 or three major streets and their cross streets. Yes, GPS is a wonder but it can be unavailable.
- Before leaving your hotel, make sure your phone is fully charged and bring your charger and adapter.
- Have paper money at the ready for small purchases. If you need an ATM, visit one during the day and if possible, find an open bank and use their indoor automatic teller.
- Don’t wear earbuds. For your physical safety and sense of personal space. You need to hear city sounds, especially in a foreign city. Listening to city sounds makes you more aware of your surroundings.
- Don’t wear real jewels or anything that you would hate to lose. The upside, the less you bring, the less you have to worry about. Stay footloose and fancy free.
- Don’t follow anyone, even if they ask politely. Over the years, I have had many people ask if I wanted to see a room they had for rent, or follow them to a restaurant, or a store with an incredible sale etc. Not everyone is dangerous, I get that, but there is no need to follow someone you don’t know. If they hound you, leave immediately. For the less threatening hawkers, ask for a flyer, or business card, and if interested, go on your own terms.
- If a person, or situation makes you feel uncomfortable, it is within your right to walk away. I’ve walked away from awkward situations and yes, there were times where that was not warranted, but my safety always trumped disappointing a stranger.
Have I scared you sufficiently? This was not the intent of this piece, but safe, amazing, and carefree travel is what I’m promoting. On a positive note, being prepared will make a world of difference for the solo traveller, and you’ll have an easier time roaming around and causing you to want to do it again.
- Do leave things behind, if you feel overwhelmed with your belongings. There is always someone who needs what you want to get rid of. Also, the more you give or leave behind, the better you feel. Lighten your load and your mind.
- Do live the experience of self-reliance and adventure. However, if you are feeling lonely, cafés are everywhere- tuck in for a drink, talk with the barista, locals, tourists and use their free WiFi. Once people have coffee, food and free WIFI, they are much easier to approach!
- Be aware of your surroundings. Before taking a picture, do a quick 360 to know who and what is around you, then take the picture in safety.
- People watch, find a patio, sit, read, write postcards, have a drink and watch the world go by. You’ll get a sense of the area, the people, and the groove of a city.
- Do at least one walking tour to get a sense of the city then ask the tour guide all the questions you want.
- Do call your service provider prior to departure to get out- of- country data packages. When you land, you’ll be ready to use it without the worry of roaming fees.
“Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvellous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline Boone
By Caterina Salvatori: https://caterinasparis.wordpress.com
All Photography Reserved by LVC