If you search #solotravel on Instagram, there are approximately 4.3 million results – among them a picture of someone wandering alone along train tracks in Hanoi, another of a happy traveller doing a handstand on a beach in the Philippines. While, “Who took the photos?” is the first question that comes to mind, the second is: why are so many people choosing to travel alone?
Well, it can be challenging, mind-expanding and empowering in ways a holiday with friends or family may not be. Many of us have travelled with someone who doesn’t share our interests (and ended up spending all day at the beach when we’d rather check out a museum, or touring another cathedral when we’d prefer to explore the flea market). When you travel alone, there’s no one to argue with and no need to compromise.
Thanks to technology (and social media) the world is shrinking. With a smart phone, you can decipher a foreign language, navigate a new city, book hotels and meet like-minded locals. A charged battery, a sim card and a data plan mean we’re never truly alone.
Travel expands the mind – it’s a fact – but it’s often when we venture out on our own that we meet new people, explore our surroundings and get to know ourselves. Follow these tips for a successful solo sojourn and you’ll never look back.
Be honest about why you’re travelling
Some people travel to meet people, others to avoid them. If you’re the latter, a bed in a dorm probably isn’t going to work. If you’re the former, a solo trek along the Camino de Santiago may be a bigger challenge than you bargained for. Be honest about what you need: Are you incapable of sleeping on anything less than 3000-thread-count sheets? Will you require a hot breakfast or would you prefer a pastry on the go? Book accordingly.
There’s an app for that
Make sure you take advantage of all the short cuts a smart phone offers by downloading the right apps. Download Find My Phone, Find My Friends and Google Maps. SoloTraveller is a social app for solo travellers who want to connect with likeminded people, whether it’s to split the cost of a car trip or share a meal. The only problem with having the world at your fingertips? You’ll be totally lost without it.
Keep your loved ones up to date
Even if you’re engaged in a seat-of-your-pants, go-where-the-wind-takes-you style adventure, make sure someone back home knows your whereabouts. A great way to do this is to share a Google doc and update it with each new location.
The selfie was probably invented by a solo traveller but if you’d prefer a collection of travel memories that aren’t just of your own face in front of a famous monument, ask other tourists to take your picture – it’s a great way to capture a moment and chat to people.
Ever tried to haul a large suitcase into an airport or train station toilet cubicle? Travelling alone means there’s no one to mind your stuff when you need to dash to the loo, or when you want to gorge on pain au chocolat at a tiny, standing-room-only café. If you can edit your must-haves down to an ultra-light suitcase (small enough to carry on a plane) and a backpack, you won’t even have to check any baggage. Do a test-run to ensure you can comfortably carry everything on your own.
Avoid the single supplement
For a long time, as far as the travel world was concerned, travellers came in twos. Found yourself a great deal? More than likely the small print specifies that the bargain is based on two people sharing. And if you don’t come as part of a pair, many holiday providers will charge a levy to make up for the shortfall. Attempt to avoid the charge by contacting the hotel directly and negotiating the best price. It also helps to travel off-season or go all-out and book with a company dedicated to those going it alone (see below).
Consider a package tour
Still not convinced? The combination of alone time, while in the company others, could be for you. Solo travel is a burgeoning sector and companies are listening, abolishing the single supplement on a growing number of cruises, tours and package holidays.
Riviera Travel has introduced solo cabins across its European river cruise program as well as several itineraries for people travelling sans partner.
Intrepid Tours has introduced Women’s Tours, designed especially for solo women travellers to destinations that have traditionally been seen as unsafe or difficult for women such as Morocco, Jordan and Iran. Women guide the tours and introduce travellers to the local culture.
And let’s not forget the rather controversial SuperShe Island. It’s a private island off the coast of Finland for solo female travellers. There is: yoga, meditation, fitness, cooking, Finnish-style sauna and spa facilities and, if you so choose, naked swimming.
Remember: alone doesn’t mean lonely
Travelling alone gives you the opportunity to meet and engage with people in a way that you often won’t if you’re travelling with a mate. Free city walking tours are a great way to share experiences while travelling alone. So is establishing a routine: head to the same café each morning and you’ll quickly become known to staff and other customers. Smile, be open, learn a few words of the local language and ask questions.
Trust your instincts
As a solitary traveller, you’re going to meet people. A lot of people. You’ll likely cross paths with fellow travellers and friendly locals – and you’ll need to decide whether they’re people you should trust. In the majority of cases, they will be but until you’re sure, always be a bit coy: don’t divulge too much about where you’re staying or whether there’s anyone waiting for you. And plan ahead: there are a plethora of Facebook communities that provide insider information about the safest places to stay, how to get around and where to meet people.
Do your homework
Read up on your destinations so you can understand the culture you’re about to enter. Familiarise yourself with local customs and take precautions where necessary.
Take a seat at the table (or bar)
There’s no shame in sitting alone sipping a glass of wine at a bar, or requesting a table for one. If you’re apprehensive, ask for a seat at the bar. You’ll likely be among other solo diners and if you make friends with the bartender you may swing a free drink, too. However, if you’d rather a quiet table for one, go for it. No one is looking at you, we promise.
Take a first-aid kit
If you get sick, trying to communicate your symptoms to a bemused pharmacist in a foreign country is the last thing you need. Put together a pack including oral rehydration salts, Immodium, cold and flu medication and painkillers in case you catch a lurgy.