I’ve been meaning to do a post about solo travel forever and had a draft from last year but never had the time to do it. Now with COVID-19, I have no excuse, especially because all my trips have been cancelled. Now more than ever, it’s probably most apt since we’re spending a lot more time by ourselves or in circumstances where contact is limited with friends and family.
One of the most common questions I get asked about my trips is who I go with. I would say about 75% of them I go solo and then the other 25% with friends. The reason? – well, there’s several.
Firstly, I often get tempted by a good flight price that sometimes I just book them and forget to ask anyone else. On the flip side, often asking other people you get the “um I’m not sure, I’ll have to let you know” response which is of no use when it’s £9.99 each way and there are 4 seats left at that price. Airfare waits for nobody. That said you can always book and other people can join later if they want. Secondly, not everyone can get the time off. I have a very flexible job that allows for taking leave almost any time whereas teachers, for example, have a fixed time off. Thirdly, I enjoy my own company and the time away from ‘normal life’ teaches you a lot about yourself and gives some recuperation time from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Once my out of office is on, my notifications are turned off and I’m non-contactable for work-related things until I return. It also allows me to be alone with my thoughts and helps me feel closer to my mum as if she were still alive, I always go to places or see things I know she’d like.
Another thing people often tell me is that they’d love to do what I do but have never done it before or are too scared too. Well much like anything new, you don’t know what it’s like until you’ve done it. I realise that several people have reservations around solo travel as an intimidating and daunting activity as well as safety and boredom could be other concerns. Also being a 6’2 white male, I realise I have unintended societal privilege in many circumstances. Despite those circumstances, solo travel is open to everyone, you just need to take the plunge.
First things first is to decide where you are going to go. Look up somewhere you’d like to visit or if you’re like me, choose wherever is cheapest. You might feel more comfortable at first in a capital city or a large tourist city. If you have a few options, start by checking the dates and costs for flights and accommodation. Can you take this amount of leave and also what will the weather be like at that time of year? Accommodation wise I always choose somewhere that is is in or near the city centre and in walking distance of sights as well as transport. Personally, I do not like to share a bedroom so would not book a mixed room in a hostel. That said, many hostels do provide private rooms at reasonable rates which in many countries, offer the same facilities as a hotel. Also if there any day trips, excursions or activities you want to do, I’d advise pre-booking them as it can be often cheaper to do this and also helps when planning out your days if these activities have a set time and date.
Once you have decided on the destination, research the internet and make an itinerary. This part is probably what I spend the most time on and it also helps you get a feel of what there is to see and do. I often use Google Maps to see where the accommodation is located in proximity to the things I want to see. It’ll also make you feel more comfortable knowing you have some bearings on somewhere you’ve never been before. I also use the maps.me app which allows you to download city maps and drop pinpoints on pretty much anything and then provides the route between them. I often encounter other solo travellers on my favourite free activity – the walking tour. Not only do you get your bearings and some information from the guide but also are spending a couple of hours with other travellers. More often than not they spark up a conversation.
Figure out the transport options from the airport to the city centre and your accommodation. Also, walk wherever possible – there is no better way to get to know a city and understand its culture than wandering around. If you are going to a non-English-speaking country and will be using the public transport system, look into how it works before you arrive, ticket fares and passes or special deals for tourists.
The thought of eating alone sounds like some people’s worst nightmare. In reality, it’s not that bad because none of these people are likely to ever see you again. I find I vary on my choice of where I eat depending on the destination. If I have a lot on, I often buy things at the supermarket to keep me going during the day. Additionally, eating at restaurants during the day is often cheaper or have set menus at a fixed price.
Once you’re there, with no one to make the plans for you, you’re in charge. You can make it what you want it to be and if you’re not sure what that is, then you have the time there to take it as it comes. I will admit, after a day too many alone it can get lonely, but there are so many things you can do. If you do get lonely, don’t lose sight of all the things you can be doing;
The thought of being alone for large amounts of time especially in an unfamiliar situation can be daunting, but it’s just what you think it’ll be, rather than what it actually will be. You might learn to love your own company. Be open to new things, but always stay on guard too. I often find I am ignored by the tourist traps because I blend in quite well with locals. That said, it can’t always be guaranteed so use your intuition and don’t be intimidated – the world really isn’t as dangerous as the news makes out. Getting lost is actually also a good thing, more often than not you find something you recognise in the end. Push your comfort zone to where you usually would be and then a little more.
Start early and do it for the gram
Wake up early, have a leisurely breakfast and head out for the daytime-only activities. Even if you’re not like me and like a spot of amateur iPhone photography, take pictures. You’ll want to reminisce after your solo travel adventure and remember what you’ve seen and done.
Learn a little of the local language
Make the effort to learn a few basic phrases. Learning a few words in the local language can go a long way and shows respect for the countries culture. Don’t be the ignorant tourist that assume everyone speaks English.
Your phone is your best friend abroad and there is free wi-fi almost everywhere. It will allow you to research the area, communicate with your accommodation and also help you get around with apps like Google Maps and Uber available nearly everywhere. If you’re feeling lonely you can contact friends, read the news and watch Netflix. It’s ok to spend an evening in watching your favourite shows. That said, sometimes you will need to force yourself to get out there. It can be really easy to stay in. A city or place at night can have a whole other perspective to it, so don’t miss out on that.
Don’t flash your wealth or allow yourself to be taken advantage of, and don’t take advantage of those worse off than you either. The mere fact you’re travelling for leisure makes you among the richest in the world and a privilege not to be abused or flaunted.
The hardest thing about solo travel is making that initial jump to actually do it. With the right amount of preparedness and determination, you won’t look back.