Traveling as a party of one comes with a lot of perks. For example, all the decision making is yours alone. No taking into account other opinions or interests. On the other hand, it also comes with a little bit of responsibility. Because there isn’t someone to have your back, you need to be smart about things like going out at night and blending in as a local. Finally, traveling alone is an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. Eat a meal alone and get up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds. Bottom line, solo travel is an experience. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one is contingent on you but if you follow these “rules,” I think you’ll be in decent shape. After all, they've managed to keep me out of trouble and I come home feeling inspired! Most important is rule #1...have fun.
1 - Have Fun. I’ve read countless posts on solo travel and so many of them are rather ominous in nature. Don’t do this. Be careful of that. As a general rule for anything in life we should always be cautious and smart. Use common sense wherever we go and in whatever we do. Traveling solo is an experience some people may only get once so my #1 tip for you is to have fun. Embrace the time you have! Enjoy every single moment and create as many memories as possible. Don’t let fear keep you from adventure and the experiences the opportunity gives you.
2 - Make A Plan. There are three type of travelers. The ones who plan every minute of the trip, the ones who have a rough itinerary, and the ones who fly by the seat of their pants. I’m right in the middle. This is more of an overall travel rule rather than just for solo travelers. Always have an idea of what you’re going to do but especially if you’re by yourself. I like to research by neighborhood or type of activity. For example, when I went to Washington DC, I had a day just for museum browsing. When I was in Boston, I organized my time by neighborhood to cover more space in less time. If you prefer having a strict plan, that’s 100% fine. If not, I suggest to at least research your destination beforehand and create a rough sketch of an itinerary for each day so that you at least have a guide.
3 - Eating Alone Is Not As Awkward As It Seems. Confession time. I’m more introverted than I am extroverted. I am terribly shy when it comes to meeting new people, talking to strangers and asking questions. I also get super insecure doing things by myself so when I say that I’ve broken the code for comfortable solo dining, I’m not kidding. The first time you eat at a restaurant by yourself will be a little uncomfortable and intimidating but once you get past that first time, it gets better. Start with breakfast or lunch. Most cities, you’ll find a lot of solo diners in the mornings and afternoon because it will be people traveling for work.
Once you’ve had lunch at a corner bistro by yourself, it’s time to go out for dinner! I’ve dined by myself from pizza parlors to swanky Italian restaurants. If you’re not sure what to do with yourself and are afraid you’ll look weird, bring a book or a tablet to occupy your time. Once you begin to feel more comfortable, you won’t even need the book. Some restaurants are great for people watching which is one of my favorite meal time activities. And as far as food photography is concerned, everyone is taking pictures of everything nowadays. It’s hardly a giant flashing sign that says “Look at me! Look at me!.”
4 - Embrace Local Culture. This is more applicable for foreign cities but still something to keep in mind for any destination. The best way to avoid drawing attention to yourself is by pretending to be a local. Follow the general dress code of the culture, try and speak in the native language where you can and embrace common practices of the culture. For example, Italian women dress well every day all day. They do not wear yoga pants to the corner market, they are completely dressed. This doesn’t meant to walk down the street in a formal dress and heels but packing a suitcase with casual sundresses and cute tops to pair with jeans wouldn’t be a bad idea.
In France (notably Paris), women are a bit more modest in their dress. They don’t wear short skirts or low cut tops. They might be dressed casually but it will be simply. They don’t wear bright colors or anything that would draw attention to them. If you wear a dress that’s a little too short or a little too low-cut, you will be noticed. I made that mistake without realizing my dress was too short and I never wore that dress in Paris again. The French are also very conscious of respecting other people around them. In other words, Americans are known as loud and disrespectful because they will laugh loud, talk loud and just be loud. It’s easy to cut your noise contribution as a solo traveler but it’s important to know that even the little things can make a difference between standing out and blending in as a local. A quick Google search will give you plenty of information about the city you’re visiting. Search “what not to do in CITY NAME” and you’ll get plenty of advice.
5 - Avoid Drinking & Going Out After Dark. I don’t want to get all ominous with this post but there are a few things that should be addressed for solo travel. It all comes down to being responsible. Do not drink too much while traveling alone. That has bad idea written all over it. Having a drink here and there when they are supposedly fantastic is ok but you don’t want to even get tipsy. Another note, try to stay in after dark. It’s hard to navigate a new city in the daylight, let alone at night when the streets all look the same and the lighting is inconsistent. It’s much easier to look lost at nighttime and it’s much easier to become a target for petty crimes like theft (and the worse ones that I won’t mention). It’s also prime time for everyone else to get wasted which isn’t fun to deal with regardless of where you are in the world.
6 - Go On A Group Tour. This is a great opportunity for first-time solo travelers or those of us who need a little more adjustment time. Book a tour early in your trip. On one hand, it will give you a nice introduction to the destination and allow you to get familiar with it while being led by an expert. On another hand, it could introduce you to other travelers who’ll be there at the same time. It’s a great opportunity to interact with other people who obviously have similar interests and because you’re participating in the same activity, it takes the awkwardness out of the introduction.
7 - Make Copies of Everything. This is another one of those general rules for travel. Make sure before leaving, you have at least one or two copies of your passport or identification card (Driver’s License or State ID), your insurance card(s), tickets for travel (planes, trains, etc.), travel insurance, hotel booking confirmations, any other confirmations for things that you purchased like tours, events or restaurant reservations, and emergency contact information. I know it seems like a lot, especially since that’s a lot of wasted paper but we’ve all learned the hard way at least once that you can’t always count on technology.
8 - Start Early. Avoiding crowds is a specialty of mine. I don’t like them in any type of situation so I’ve learned how to avoid them. Starting earlier is the best option. Get to the places with higher tourist traffic right when they open. Enjoy open landmarks and historical sites before most people have had their breakfast. You’ll get better photos and you won’t waste time fighting crowds that resemble a can of sardines. Besides the perk of avoiding crowds, starting earlier gives you more hours in the day, especially if you’re not planning to be out much after dark.
9 - Know Where You’re Going and Be Confident. This one is a two-part tip. When we arrived in Paris, the program leaders gave us a few tips to make the transition easier. One of them, I still use to this day even in my own city. Don’t give your cab driver and exact address. Instead, tell them the nearest street corner. This is important for two reasons: 1) you sound like you know where you’re going and they’re less likely to take you for a ride; 2) If you get a creep, they won’t know exactly where you’re heading. The second part of all this is to be confident. It sounds like an odd thing to say while giving advice for travel but it’s important. The more vulnerable you make yourself seem, the more likely you are to be targeted.
When I was in Boston, it was the first time I had ever visited the state, let alone the city. My first night there, I managed to navigate myself to a restaurant in a different neighborhood than what I was staying in on the foot and in the rain all while it was dark out. Someone who actually lived there stopped me for directions somewhere. Do you believe that? They stopped little ol’ me for directions! Why? Because I seemed like I knew where I was going. And that wasn’t the last time it happened either. I was stopped for directions almost every day I was in Boston and little did these poor travelers know, I was just as lost as they were. When you pick a destination, note the directions before leaving and get there with confidence. And even if you end up going off course and getting lost (one of my favorite things to do), hold your head high and keep moving forward. Confidence is the best tool you could use.
10 - Enjoy Being The Sole Decision Maker. The #1 reason I love solo travel is having 100% control over the decisions. I choose where to eat, sleep, and explore. I choose if I want to have a doughnut for breakfast. I choose if I want to spend an entire day in a museum. Traveling with other people always includes extra opinions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but when you are traveling for a specific reason or simply because you love visiting new cities, having to take into consideration another opinion can be limiting. What if your friend is a picky eater? What if your boyfriend hates anything that doesn’t involve action-packed activities? Having to please others with different interests than your own always leads to compromising. When you travel alone, the only person you have to compromise with is yourself.