Traveling solo can help build your confidence and teach you more about yourself. Familiar surroundings hold the comforts of established relationships, routines, and culture. Take yourself away from ALL of that and your subconscious thoughts and habits will move into your consciousness. You will learn more about yourself, and you will see that you can stand just fine in this new setting, devoid of all the comforts of familiarity. To take advantage of the immense growth opportunity that solo travel provides, you must remain open and aware. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your solo travel experience:
Do your own planning
When traveling to a new destination, you may ask friends and family who have been there about where to go. That’s totally fine! In fact, I encourage it! BUT don’t let that information ultimately decide your itinerary. Let their suggestions catalyze your brainstorming. Do your own research. Ask yourself what YOU want to do, when YOU want to go, and where YOU want to stay. After all, this is YOUR trip.
Step out of your comfort zone
After you decide what you want to do and where you want to stay, research some different activities that will take you out of your comfort zone. If you feel more comfortable learning about the local history by sitting in museums, look up a bike tour of local areas of historical interest or a guided hike through indigenous tribal lands. Or if you feel more comfortable getting to know the locals by doing physical activities like biking/hiking tours, look up home stays, where a local family will house you and feed you during your stay. Basically, take something that interests you and twist it a little. You’ll still be doing something you wanted to do, but you’ll be doing it in a way that challenges your comfort zone.
Do “couple things” solo
Talking about comfort zones … Once you’ve made it to your destination, you’ll realize that you have to eat at a restaurant, go to a show, and/or walk around town alone. If you’re shy like me, you’ll want to avoid all these things and just eat peanut butter crackers alone in your hotel room. But trust me, you’ll have a lot more fun and will grow a lot more if you do those “couple things” and soak up every moment of them. Take yourself to a nice restaurant and ask the waiter about the cuisine and what he/she recommends. Stop in at the local deli and ask others in line what the best sandwich is that they offer. On a rainy day, go to a play at the local theatre and strike up a conversation with the patrons next to you before the show starts. Take a leisurely stroll around town, taking notice of the buildings, streets, people, landscape, etcetera. Soak. It. All. In.
And if you haven’t gotten the hint yet: Talk to people
Trust your instincts when it comes to the people you encounter. But if you aren’t getting a bad vibe from someone, talk to them! People from other areas have a different view on life. Hearing different viewpoints will challenge your own, which will either strengthen your beliefs or open up your beliefs to a little refinement. I’m not saying to dive straight into politics and religion. Keep the conversation light. I assure you that you don’t need to talk about politics and religion to see a different viewpoint. You will see it in how they talk about their homeland and local traditions, and you’ll see it in their mannerisms, facial expressions, and the topics they emphasize and gravitate to.
Allow your solo trip to bring you out of your shell, challenge you, and boost your confidence and self-awareness. But also, stay safe about it. The fears of traveling solo can keep many people from ever jumping into the experience. However, if you do your research, traveling alone can be just as safe as traveling with a friend. Here are some tips for staying safe while traveling solo:
Keep important documents and money safe
Don’t leave your money and passport in your room when you go out exploring for the day. Always keep it on you and out of plain view. I like to wear my SPIbelt under my shirt, carrying my passport, ID, and extra cash in it. The only thing that goes in my pocket is a dummy wallet that holds the cash I think I’ll need for that day and a cancelled or expired credit card. That way, if someone does demand my wallet, I won’t lose it all and they'll think they've gained it all.
If you’re traveling to a different country, one thing you most definitely don’t want to lose is your passport. Make copies of your important documents and keep a copy in each piece of luggage you have. Also, have an electronic copy saved to a secure cloud server. This way if it gets misplaced or stolen, you’re not screwed.
Avoid drawing attention to yourself
Before packing for your trip, check out how the locals typically dress. Then choose outfits accordingly. Refrain from wearing expensive jewelry and watches, and don’t flaunt an expensive camera or smartphone. Leave the jewelry and watches at home. And keep your camera and smartphone packed away until you are going to take a picture or absolutely need to check GPS. You want to blend in. The more you stand out, the more of a target you are for thievery and trickery.
Having a general idea of where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing each day and sharing those plans with at least two friends back home will help the rescue team find you when you go missing. …just kidding …kind of. Let’s be real: Disappearing is a possibility. Be smart = Be prepared. This doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous! You can plan and still have room for spontaneity. Find that happy middle ground.
Keep to public places
Exploring the unbeaten path is exciting, and personally one of my favorite things, but find an organized group or hire a guide to explore with. If you do go down the unbeaten path solo, do it without earbuds in, with cell service, and with some form of protection (i.e., pepper spray). And tell the concierge at your hotel or a few people at your hostel where you’re heading so others know where you are and when to expect you back.
If you do not have a rental car, try to take public transportation instead of a private cab. And when you go out, have your transportation back to your hotel/hostel set up before the end of the night. That way, if someone tries to insist on giving you a ride back to your room, you don’t have to search for an excuse or alternate option, you can just politely say you already have a ride set up.
Avoid word vomit
It’s easy to give away too much information about yourself when meeting new people while traveling. Before you know it, they’ll know where you’re from, what you do for work, why you’re traveling, where you’re staying, and what you plan on doing while traveling. It happens so quickly! Be vague in your responses and be the one to ask questions. If they ask where you’re staying, you don’t have to say the name of the hotel or hostel, you can simply say “nearby” or just give the name of the town. And it’s also perfectly acceptable to say you’re not comfortable with giving out that information. You don't have to give out all your information to connect with others!
Be aware of cultural taboos
Do your research! Check guidebooks, the government website, and blog posts of others who have visited the same destination. Take note of things to avoid doing, talking about, and wearing. Remember, if you get kicked out of somewhere, you can just go home, but the locals you interacted with have to stay and live with whatever consequences your behavior, dress, or actions caused. And if you’re ever unsure if you’re allowed in an area, or to take a photo, or if your clothing might be offensive, ask someone! Remember, you are a visitor. You can be you, safe, and respectful all at the same time.
Trust your gut
Take the above precautions, but remain spontaneous, curious, and open. Our natural instincts can often be our best line of defense. If a person, place, or situation rubs you the wrong way, trust your gut and move on. But if a person, place, or situation doesn’t send your “spidey sense” into hyperdrive, carry on!
Happy adventuring, my friend!