There is a list of questions and comments that come up any time people talk about solo travel.
“Is it safe?”
“Won’t you get lonely?”
“You know that people get kidnapped over there!” (Yes, I’m talking about all of my relatives that saw Taken.)
Women have been traveling solo for years and more women should jump on board the Solo Travel Express. One disclaimer is that I always travel alone. I moved to London at 19 by myself and I have been going ever since. With that said, I don’t always understand the negativity that a person encounters when considering solo travel. However, this is an article that has been written a thousand times so I know that these questions and fears are not without merit.
I have not been to a country yet where I felt unsafe or even worried about being alone. (Albeit, my country count is still low and primarily in Western Europe.) Here is how I navigate the unknown terrain of solo traveling.
Flights and Navigation
This may sound obvious but make sure your that flight lands in the daytime! Unless you’ve been to the city before, it’s better not to chance wandering around at night when you are unfamiliar with your surroundings. This will also make it easier to remember things when you are out exploring.
If you feel comfortable enough, use public transportation. Nothing makes me feel like I’m setting myself up like climbing into a taxi when I only know four words in the local language and three of them are greetings. I love using public transportation and in many countries it is plentiful. Being surrounded by other people feels like a natural barrier. Unlike Uber and Lyft, there is no one tracking my ride when I use a taxi. With a train or bus, there are dozens of people that could help me if I were to get into some type of trouble.
If you prefer private transportation, arrange this before you get to your destination. Make sure you know what type of payment they expect and whether your driver will speak English or not. Then, skip the lines at the ticket station and stroll right out of the airport to your vacation chariot.
My favorite place to stay when I travel are hostels. Now, before you write off hostels, let me tell you why. I recognize that hostels often cater to a younger crowd and that many people feel aged out of them, can’t handle sharing rooms, or need the comfort of a standard hotel room. All of these are valid reasons to choose hotel living over a hostel.
I personally feel like hotels are extremely isolating simply because they are not designed for guest interaction. This is also why hostels work. Many of hostels have single room options so that I can have a room and bathroom to myself while still having the opportunity to meet other solo travelers. Every time that I book a solo trip, I head straight to HostelWorld. There are tons of options to meet people and venture to places that you had not considered.
Another avenue is AirBnB. I love AirBnBs for lengthy stays because it feels a bit like temporary relocation. I have used AirBnB to book both entire apartments or single rooms. The difference between the two is a personal preference but I book based on price. I recommend an AirBnB for solo travelers on longer trips because it will give you a chance to explore a local neighborhood when tourist traps lose their appeal. When I rent an apartment I spend more time with the local people than I do when I staying somewhere else. You can also find great places with AirBnB that you may not have had access to by staying in a hotel.
Wherever you stay, as a solo traveler, the best tip that I can offer is to stay at a place with a lively bar. I’ve heard people say that they go in right before the sun sets to avoid any trouble when they are alone. I can’t fault anyone’s attempt to stay safe but the city doesn’t stop going because it’s night time. A good example of that would be Madrid where people don’t even leave their homes until evening because it is so hot during those long Summer days. A bar will allow you to mingle, have fun, and stay “out” late without worrying about translating foreign street signs when you’re tired and have been drinking.
When I’m looking for activities to do by myself, I always head towards the museums. I have yet to venture to a city that doesn’t have a least one and even the smallest museums can keep you entertained for hours. While museums do not honor the ‘silence is golden’ rule that libraries do, this is not a place where silence and keeping to oneself is unusual. There is always interesting stuff to see so you can spend hours there without missing the company of another person.
Outdoor museums and gardens are great, too! Not only do you get to enjoy art, nature, and amazing architecture, many outdoor museums and gardens allow guests to picnic on their properties. How many of your friends will be able to say that they dined in the same gardens as French royalty with the Palace of Versailles as their backdrop?
I’ve met a few people that try their hardest to avoid tourist areas on the principle that they’re not a tourist but a “traveler”. This distinction always strikes me as a little pretentious. While I think that there can be a difference, when traveling solo, tourist places can supply loads of entertainment. There is usually shopping, trinket shops to browse through, the attraction itself, and people watching is always fun.
Whenever I’m traveling alone, I walk everywhere. This fills up time that I would usually be alone in addition to allowing me to see more than the walls of an underground train. I typically don’t use a map and set off from my new abode on foot. Obviously this is better done during the day. Just make sure that you know the address to the place that you’re staying and start exploring. This aimless roaming often leads to great photo opportunities as well as amazing local restaurants.
You can also consider buying a ticket for a big red bus if they are reasonably priced and you are not a fan of walking. I was anti big red bus until I got a two-day ticket that included a winery tour, a boat ride, and access to all of the city buses for 20€. I ended up spending an entire day on the bus. One loop I took photos from the bus and saw all of that the city had to offer. The second time I got off at interesting places and walked around the surrounding area. Then, I did a full loop around sunset for the views. Roaming around the place that you’re visiting leaves room for spontaneity and unusual opportunities.
All Things for Posterity
Last but not least, document your trip and make friends that you can take with you long after the trip is over. I know. Talking to strangers spells trouble, especially the ones in foreign countries. This is so deeply ingrained in us that the thought of seeking them out sounds crazy. When I first started travelling alone, I didn’t talk to anyone and I never took photos of myself. I started my travels with a little guy that my friends and I affectionately refer to as PJ. He was really a way for me to prove (mostly to myself) that I was really exploring the world.
I cut out my little paper doll and took photos of him everywhere that we went. As I became more social and made friends as I traveled, I no longer had to worry about documenting my trips. It happened organically. Taking selfies and asking someone to take a photo for me always felt too awkward. I started by sitting my camera on top of things to get photos of myself surrounded by the beauty of my travels. Then I started making weekend friends in cities that would then invite me to come explore their homes on my next international trip. And now, PJ is getting a lot less shine these days as I get more comfortable precariously balancing my camera on top of rocks and finding people to fill the empty spaces in my photos.
So friends, book your trip, take your photos, and don’t let people without passports put a damper on your wanderlust spirit.