6 Things You Absolutely Must Know About Traveling Solo

If you have ever:

  • Been frustrated by whiny travel companions.
  • Resented being dragged places you don’t want to go.
  • Felt guilty for dragging others places you do want to go.
  • Been rushed when you wanted to linger longer.
  • Struggled to find friends who are ready and eager to travel when you are.
  • Hungered for more time to yourself to discover you

… then it’s time you traveled solo.

I’ve traveled alone down the Blues Highway from Chicago to New Orleans going to as many blues bars as I could fit into my journey. I’ve wandered India, hiked Patagonia, learned to Salsa dance in Havana and RV’d through the national parks of the American southwest. And I’ve done it all solo.

When I tell some people about traveling alone I often see their breathing tighten with concern. I’ve received many emails from people anxiously contemplating their first solo trip. But traveling alone needn’t cause such reactions.

Grand Canyon, North Rim
Grand Canyon, North Rim © Janice Waugh

My purpose here is simple: to break a few myths and offer a few tips about solo travel. With thousands of solo miles under my belt I’ve had plenty of time to explore what works and what doesn’t. With over 800 posts about solo travel on my blog and having written The Solo Traveler’s Handbook I’ve had time to process its meaning and clarify best practices. So, as promised, here’s what you absolutely must know about solo travel.

#1: Safety Is Your Top Priority But It’s Not Really that Difficult

Let’s get the priorities straight first. When you’re traveling what’s important is your person, your documents, your money and your stuff — in that order. Yes, have a padlock for your locker at the hostel, divide your money into multiple places, keep your passport and other important documents safe and hold copies of them in the cloud. There are thousands of tips of this nature but really, the most important thing is you.

To keep yourself safe, stay in public. Don’t go to people’s homes when you don’t know them. Recruit others in your safety. If you’re feeling unsure about a situation, choose whose help you want, don’t let someone else choose you. Stay well rested and sober so that you have your wits about you. Use the same common sense that you use at home. Follow your instincts.

And, be rude if someone is causing you a problem. Draw attention to you and them. I have written oodles on this subject but these basics really do keep you safe.

Wadi Rum, Jordan (Janice Waugh)
Wadi Rum, Jordan © Janice Waugh

#2: You’ll Meet More People — Locals + Other Travelers — Going Solo

When you’re traveling with someone else, you spend a considerable amount of time focused on them. When you’re traveling solo you are open to the world. And, as a result, the world is open to you. Eager to help and ensure that you have a good time, people talk to solo travelers more.

As a solo traveler, tours are also an option, which will mean that you meet new people in the group. In many cases, tours charge what’s called a “single supplement” for those traveling alone. It’s a frustrating surcharge for solo travelers. However, some companies are coming around to the idea that solo travelers are an important market.

I send out a free Solo Traveler Advisory on the third Monday of every month with links to companies who have tours, cruises and travel packages specifically for solo travelers.

#3: Boredom Need Not Be an Issue

When you’re traveling alone you are totally free to pursue what really interests you. Take courses or classes, spend hours in museums, climb mountains, go to the opera ”¦ do whatever you want.

Don’t miss the free greeter programs that are in many cities. When you book, tell them what interests you and they can usually find a greeter to match. Do you like music, architecture, cycling, sports … ? Just ask!

Janice Waugh standing outside the British Museum, London (2012)
Outside the British Museum, London © Janice Waugh

#4: Eating Alone Is a Good Thing

Eating alone is no problem for many and a deal breaker for some. But really, eating alone is a good thing. It’s a time to:

  • Stop moving, narrow your focus, enjoy your food and reflect.
  • Make notes on your day, write post cards or plan your next day’s itinerary.
  • Meet new people by going to a restaurant with a communal table or sitting at the bar in the restaurant or pub.

Reframe dining solo into a good thing. It’s up to you how you do it.

#5: It’s a Time for Personal Development. Go for It!

Whether things are going well or you’re in a transition phase, whether you’re in your twenties and wondering what your career should be or in your fifties and really need to reassess the choices you’ve made, traveling alone gives you the space to gain perspective, evaluate options, reconsider your position and develop personally.

With a Man Selling Leather Books in Udaipur, India
With a Man Selling Leather Books in Udaipur, India © Janice Waugh

#6: You Can Go Anywhere Solo

There is no destination that’s off limits to solo travelers. You can go anywhere in the world that other travelers go, however, you may want to know in advance what the destination is like for solo travelers. The Solo Travel Society on Facebook is a forum of over 12,000 solo travelers who have a wealth of experience. Every Monday and Thursday member questions are posted and other members to answer.

6 Responses

  1. John

    Excellent article and great points. As a frequent solo traveler, I agree with you 100%. Life is so much better when I don’t have to argue about where to eat, where to visit, where to spend my time, what to do, etc. It’s so much more fun to just explore and meet new people along the way.

    Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  2. Natalia

    U’ve brought my solo trips to a whole new level.
    still trying not to feel awkward dining alone, but i’ll get there!
    I believe that traveling with someone, you ll have more memories of the them than of the place u r at. and well, if the person is not that nice, then it’s not worth it.
    Traveling solo is a must if u really want to get to know some place!

    Keep going!
    Thanks for all.
    Natalia, SP-BR

    Reply
  3. Pat Chester

    Inspired by Solo Traveler, and worn out by a cranky travel companion on a 12 day ocean cruise a year or so ago, I booked a river cruise from Paris to Normandy. Later this month, I am flying into Paris two days early to walk around the city, sit at outdoor cafes and watch the world go by. Your tips have given me such important information and confidence. BTW, I booked the river cruise based on your tips on cruises waiving the single supplement.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Ruth Kozak

    Everything you say here is absolutely right. I’m an avid solo traveler (though sometimes I do travel with a friend). Part of my journey is also to visit friends, but most of the time going off to new places I’m alone and love the adventure. You’ve given some perfect suggestions for solo travelers here. Enjoy yourself. And stay safe!

    Reply
  5. Judith Thompson

    I go solo and my family and friends in general think I am brave. I am simply curious. I started traveling in 1963 at age 22. That first trip I went with two companions. From then on it was solo. My tastes are way too eccentric to impose on a travel partner.

    Reply
  6. molly burke kirova

    Loved this, but with one extra warning for women. I once made the mistake of thinking I ‘just looked like’ a typical middle-aged solo female traveler from the developed world, and thus would be immune to sexual harassment of the more dangerous variety. The worst incident was when I traveled the Turkish Black Sea coast alone, at a time when there were many prostitutes from impoverished post-communist countries selling services for a few, and some did not look much unlike me at all– very sad. And sad too that I was so dumb I had to suffer an attempted rape before I wised up. Do your research, gals. Solo men have it much easier this way.

    Reply

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