I admit it: when I travel alone I truly feel free. It is one of my guilty pleasures. It recharges me, even if I sometimes feel lonely. It gives me space to think, even if the time to do it may be little when packing tens of places to visit in a short week(end). It is refreshing to leave everybody behind once in a while, even if I miss the people I love during the trip.
Travelling alone is a lot of fun if done correctly, but can turn into a miserable experience if not leaving with the right spirit and organized. Good planning is essential when you’re alone, you have only yourself to rely on and you can’t leave too many things to be decided at the last moment, as much fun as it can be. Nobody is gonna save you if you end up into troubles, so attention should be at maximum levels.
Nothing bad ever happened to me, luckily. I’m not smarter than the average Joe but over years travelling alone I’ve learned a few tricks to come back home always safe.
To Travel Alone means challenging yourself
That’s the most important aspect of it and the one that should drive you to try it. If you are not thrilled at the idea of a new challenge, perhaps you should postpone travelling alone for when you will. You’ll end up otherwise feeling either too lonely or scared. Travelling should be fun, better not ruin it by attempting what you aren’t ready for.
With that aside, if you decide to travel alone be prepared to listen to yourself, to look inside yourself to understand what are your actual needs, in the actual moment; forget about what society thinks you should do when you are travelling, you are alone, nobody is going to judge your choices but yourself. Be open to whatever comes up from your brain, any feelings you may have, any desire may arise. Listen, think and act. Never be afraid of what you may encounter, the whole point of travelling alone is to challenge your fears, especially of what is new and yet unknown.
It’s OK to be scared of something when alone in a new place. Totally ok. It’s even desirable to feel scared, it means you’ve broken your comfort bubble and you are in uncharted lands. Good, that’s how you learn. The more time you feel scared during your trip alone, the more you are making good use of it.
Where to go?
Somewhere new, for sure. No point in going back to a known place, a safe one. It will invariably mean comparing the experience you’re having alone with the one you had with company: that’s not what we want. Comparing ruins the fun.
So, foremostly, choose a place that thrills you. That will drive you through any difficulty that may arise. If you need inspiration, open an online map and browse the areas that most intrigue you. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of places that you will want to visit.
Secondly, don’t go to a remote place. Prefer cities or towns with some life. If they are very touristic, fine, you’ll feel some comfort in businesses and infrastructures that are geared towards foreigners and tourists. The thing to avoid is to be in the middle of nowhere, with nobody to speak with and not a chance to meet anybody. That’s a recipe for loneliness. Unless you are aiming of trying the hermit’s way of life.
Where to stay?
Hotels are your best choices. They give you the services to not worry too much if things go wrong, are generally safe places, can be used to meet other guests but at the same time provide plenty of privacy.
Hostels are another choice you may consider. Issue is that they are less safe than hotels, not much for yourself but for your belongings. If your main motivation to travel alone is to meet new people, force yourself to be more sociable, then an hostel should be your first choice.
An alternative may be staying with locals. Depending on where you go, you may use AirBnB, with mixed luck as per the quality of the room and the welcomeness of the hosts, or small B&B that have just a couple of rooms, family-run. You’ll gain an invaluable amount of advises from locals staying like this, and socializing won’t be much of an issue. Privacy instead will be, often. My advice would be to find an accomodation where the hosts are away most of the time but are present every night, so you can feel safer and have company in case you may need but are mostly left to yourself during the day.
Learn a bit of the local language
You don’t need to speak fluently, obviously. But there’s nobody that is gonna translate for you nor somebody that may be better at conveying your thoughts with a foreigner. You’re on your own so learn the basics of communication in the local language before leaving.
I don’t mean just how to say good morning and how much does it cost?. I mean learning to pronounce the numbers, to recognize a bit of the grammar, distinguishing what is a verb from a noun for instance, understanding part of written language. This will be invaluable knowledge when you’re travelling, mobile connection is shaky and you don’t understand if you should go right or left because you don’t know a thing about cyrillic or arabic. You may always ask in english, sure; just be prepared to face a possible total lack of english skills nearby you.
It’s clear you may not really have the time to learn part of a difficult language before your trip. Just make a good attempt given the time you have, the worst that may happen is that you have learnt some words of a new language. You may never know when and if it’ll be useful.
If the idea of spending a few hours to learn a language bores you to death, perhaps you shouldn’t choose a trip in the Gobi desert for your first time travelling alone. Stick with Europe, North America, Australia or a place you know the rudiments of the local language already. It will make everything much easier.
Take lots of pictures
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s not worth taking selfies alone or that given that there’s nobody to comment the pictures with at the moment, it’s not important taking a shot. The memories your are collecting when you travel alone aren’t shared with your friends so it is of tantamount importance that you keep a tangible memory for later.
That means, take a shot whenever you feel like. No shot is too dumb or insignificant. Make a point of capturing whatever fancies you. It will enrich your trip and it will give you a sense of accomplishment that you won’t have without pictures and company otherwise. The latter is out of the question so let’s include the former at least.
If you’re travelling in a country with a good internet connection and the data packages aren’t extremely costly, do use Instagram, 500px or Flickr (or whatever you like the most) to keep your friends updated with what you’re seeing and doing. Believe me, once you’re back browsing in chronoligical order the pictures will be satisfying.
This is important: every time you eat in your hotel room, by yourself, you are pulling away from society and taking a break for yourself. Problem is, you are not experiencing part of the local life that is related to food. I don’t have to tell you how much food is part of the culture of a place. By choosing to buy food at supermarkets or ordering fast food and eating it on your own, away from strangers’ eyes, means you are simply eating, which is what you do normally at home.
Go out. Experience how the locals eat. Look how they behave when eating out. Eat whatever you prefer that is not to be found back home because you have the rest of the year for that (and probably eating like the locals is cheaper). Force yourself to eat among people, never be afraid of sitting alone at a table. It can be a chance to meet new people, be them locals or travellers like you. Ask the waiters what is recommended, they will happily advice you and you won’t look like somebody who is there just to eat but like a tourist that wants to enjoy the local cuisine. Show interest.
Just don’t sit at a large table alone. Take the 2 chairs table if possible or sit at the bar. But do not take more room than you need.
Be open to change your mind
To travel alone primarily means to be free. You have nobody to take care of but yourself and nobody judging you. Therefore, be open to change your plans whenever you see it fit.
While it is my advice to plan what you want to see, what you want to do and where you want to stay well before you leave, don’t get bogged down in the details; allow yourself the possibility to get bored with what you planned and to change it, even at the very last moment. To travel alone means this too, freedom of choice. So, if on a given day you don’t feel like hitting the beach or partying at night, totally fine, do something else you’re fancying in that moment. That “something” should be on your list that you prepared before leaving (did you prepare a list of things to do, right?). Choose what you feel the most like doing and do it.
Perhaps you’ll change your mind again later during the day. Or even multiple times per day. That’s also fine. Just don’t get sidetracked by your whims and try to stick with your list. There’s nothing worse than coming back home and looking at the things you wanted to experience when travelling alone and notice you did less than 50% of it. It’d feel like a wasted trip. No, avoid it. Be open but also firm with yourself.
Limit entertainment to a minimum
I’m not talking about partying or socializing, I’m referring to watching movies, Netflix, social media and so on. While the latter are ok to share your best moments with friends and followers, don’t spend too much time interacting on those platforms. You can do it when back home, there’s no gain in subtracting hours of your trip just to joke on Twitter or saying hello to your colleagues on Facebook. You’ll have plenty of adventures to tell them when you’re back and it is not vital that you keep updated with world news or the latest meme for 1-2 weeks. All those things can be caught up with when you are returned.
Same with movies and tv series. Skipping 1-2 episodes of your favourite tv show or not being at the premiere of the movie you were waiting for months to show up at the cinemas, won’t kill you. You’ll catch up when back. So no Netflix, no cinemas for the length of your trip please.
Only exception to the above rule if you face a night when you’re truly lonely and no interaction with other people feels like enjoyable. Those gloomy nights when the world seems a dark and sad place. They happens, don’t they? Then, in order to not feel too depressed the day after and not waste more time of your vacation, you’d be allowed to distract yourself with a movie or a tv show. Then it is ok.
If you are into sports and there’s an important match during the period when you’re travelling alone, choose a bar/restaurant that shows the match and have dinner there. Don’t watch it on tv back in your room!
Bring a book with you. It will be of great help in those little moments while you’re waiting for a bus, having breakfast alone, waiting to be served at a restaurant or just out enjoying the coming and going of people in a central square without anything else to do. It will not distract you too much as a movie would but will distract you enough to not feel bored. Win-win.
I’d advise to bring a paper book unless you are travelling to places where you know you’ll have plenty of access to electrical outlets. Then, do bring your Kindle or e-book reader of choice.
Just, as with movies, don’t make reading the primary activity of your vacation. Only if you’re going to spend 1-2 weeks alone on a small island, reading can be used as your main way to spend time. But I already warned you that it is not the perfect location to travel alone to, especially the very first time.
Travel Alone then? Yes
The moment you think you aren’t ready but the idea makes you excited, is the moment when you are ready to travel alone. Go for it. Set a budget, pick a location and get ready for a valuable experience in your life. You’ll learn more while travelling alone than in any other trip in company you may have. It’s scary, at times, challenging, for sure, liberating, hell yes.
I wish I had started before, despite having done more than a dozen trips alone now. Even now that I’m my mid-thirties and in a stable relationship, I crave a trip alone at least once a year. It has become engrained in me the desire to just leave everything behind me for a few days and be only myself, alone with my thoughts and feelings in a new place. It’s kind of like a painter that has been paid to produce art can choose what to paint, without anybody commissioning him anything nor paying him to do so. I guess any artist need such level of liberty from time to time.
Exactly like an artist, travelling alone is a path to express myself in exploring life. If this article has helped even 1 person on the face of the planet to try to travel alone, I am happy 🙂
And you know what would make me even more happy? Buying my book!