Solo travelers know every journey encompasses a world of emotions, from exhilaration and liberation to fear and loneliness. Being out in the world without companionship allows us to connect more deeply to the type of traveler we want to be, on our own terms and timeline.
More of us than ever are venturing out alone, in the U.S. and internationally. A recent study conducted by accommodation powerhouse Booking.com finds one in five U.S. travelers plan to travel solo for the first time in 2017 and tour operators worldwide are reporting a solo surge. Global leader Intrepid Travel has seen a 40% increase over the past five years, with 50% of clients currently traveling alone.
Over 50% of guests in Hostelling International USA (HI USA) nationwide network are also solo says director of communications Netanya Trimboli. Some choose by default when travel companions can’t be found while others are motivated more by freedom, says Trimboli.
While going solo may not suit everyone, experts agree every avid traveler should try once. “Undertaking a new travel experience for the first-time, whether that’s visiting a new place or traveling solo, can be a fruitful, life enhancing and even life changing experience,” says Booking.com’s chief marketing officer Pepijn Rijvers, citing findings illustrating while traveling solo can be perceived as daunting, two-thirds of those surveyed (66%) feel it is worth it and three in five (61%) believe initial anxiety was unnecessary.
Bottom line: the only way to know is to give it a go. Follow these Tips for Successful Solo Travel.
Embrace the Singular
Daisy Cropper, digital content specialist for Insight Guides says freedom is the reward. “Get up at 6 a.m. to watch the sunrise; spend 4 hours wondering art museums; eat at a street-food shack crammed with locals: the choice is really yours,” she says. “You get to be completely selfish with your plans and see your chosen destination exactly the way you want to.”
For fellow digital nomad Angelina Millare having space to listen to her own voice and needs is key. “Being fully attentive to myself—fully in my skin while living as a local has expanded my understanding of who I am and how I fit in the world,” she says. “Instead of feeling alone, I feel incredibly connected to the world as a whole.”
After a travel companion cancelled last minute, Maz Livingston of Explore! learned to embrace solo travel and it’s become his preferred style. “I’ve found that friends are not always the best traveling companions and they definitely don’t share the same bucket list,” says Livingston. “You can waste a lot of time waiting for them or caretaking while travelling.”
Relish in setting your own agenda and pace. Take as long as you need to capture a shot in perfect light, wander aimlessly, savor experiences without being rushed or distracted.
Be a Student
Optimize opportunities to learn. Without distractions, senses kick into overdrive allowing you to note smells, sounds, and visuals and connect more deeply with a destination and culture. “You will see things that will shock you, shape you, make you laugh and cry,” adds TravelPirates senior editor Jessica Bisesto. “These experiences will make you stronger and more in touch with the world.”
The opportunity for personal growth also attracts blogger Meg Cale. “Aside from being able to control my schedule, solo travel can teach you a lot about personal resilience, decision making, and how well you can adapt to the curveballs that life will inevitably toss your way,” she says.
Marketer and kite-surfer Crystal Veness agrees that without the expectations of others, travelers are open to greater self-discovery. “When you have no one to answer to, who are you? How do you behave? Do you challenge yourself or stay comfortable? Do you appreciate the mystery of the journey or the security of Yelp?” asks Veness. “It’s an interesting way to discover who you are.”
“Solo” and “alone” are not the same. Opt for a hostel designed to bring strangers of all ages and backgrounds together. With common areas for cooking and relaxing and free to low cost activities, hostels breed friendship. “Before you know it, you’re making an impromptu potluck with a mismatch of cultural cuisine or joining a group for a night on the town,” Trimboli says. “When you’re by yourself, you’re open to these opportunities, which makes for an exciting, memorable experience.”
Millare also recommends connecting with meetup groups hosted by Couchsurfing’s project community. “You don’t have to stay on a couch or offer one to reap the benefits of this community!” says Millare. “You can find events and group outings organized by local members and fellow travelers. This allowed me to get great tips on upcoming destinations, and feel like I always have family in any city.”
Independent bookstores and coffee shops can also be fertile ground for connections. Don’t forget to search for Facebook groups and Instagrammers in the area.
Being solo within a group can offer the best of both worlds. Tour companies such as On the Go Tours, Intrepid Travel, Insight Guides, and Explore! are leading the way by creating solo-friendly trips and eliminating single fees.
On the Go’s managing director Carl Cross says tours are a particularly good choice for first-timers. Benefits including sharing experiences with like-minded travelers, a knowledge guide, and built-in safety net. Cross says travelers frequently discover off-the-beaten path spots not easily accessible when alone.
Livingston adds that other benefits include minimizing loneliness and planning time. “There’s time to be alone and a ready group of people to be with when you want company,” he says. “Plus, seasoned professionals and locals will put the itinerary together and make all the arrangements and you simply turn up.”
Follow Solo Footsteps
Booking.com found that 80% of solo adventurers are planning international travel to far-flung destinations, with The Bahamas, Australia, Canada, Austria, and Japan topping the list this year. Cross recommends first-timers opt for a destination that is especially friendly to singles and solos. “Dublin is a good pick since everyone speaks English and the locals are very friendly,” he says. “Iceland is another great pick, especially for adventure travelers. It’s very welcoming and incredibly safe.”
Search travel forums like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree to learn about solo experiences in specific destinations and always consult U.S. State Department country guides.
Regardless of destination, be mindful of surroundings. “When traveling alone, try not to get sucked into the glow of your smartphone,” says Cross. “It’s so easy to just scroll screen after screen through social media. Instead, try to strike up a conversation or at the very least take in your surroundings.”
Leave a trail. “Check in with a family member, friend, or social media platform every few days so that someone knows where you are and that you’re okay,” recommends Bisesto.
When meeting new people, be cautious but don’t go overboard. Connecting with locals and fellow travelers can be the most rewarding part of travel. “Keep your valuables locked away, and trust your instincts,” says Trimboli. “Don’t be afraid to accept invitations to go out with people you just met, but also don’t feel you have to if something doesn’t feel right.’
Cross emphasizes blending in. “Even in the safest countries, you don’t want to make yourself out to look like a tourist. Do not read maps out on the street, not even on your phone,” he says. He advises ducking in a shop to consult a map to re-orient yourself as well as being aware of local customs for dress and behavior.
Never sacrifice safety to save on budget. “When getting around at night, spend extra cash on a safe ride,” advises Cross. Don’t choose out of the way lodging, especially if keeping late hours.
Learn a few key words and phrases in the local language, be cautious about who you tell you are traveling alone, and most importantly, trust yourself. “You are strong, independent, and fully capable of handling anything that comes your way,” says Bisesto. “After all, you’re traveling solo and that takes courage!”
Main photo by George Pauwels/ Flickr CC BY 2.0
Lead photo by George Pauwels/ Flickr CC BY 2.0
Jess Simpson’s Travel Secrets column appears bi-weekly for Paste Travel. She is a full-time digital nomad, grateful and giddy for bylines for Mental Floss, Fodor’s, Bustle, and UAB magazine, among others. Connect: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.