Your guide to empowered solo travel
Many of my travels have been alone. Many people have commented on this. Some are worried for my safety, others are curious as to why I choose to go solo. Solo travel isn’t for everyone, but if you can muster up the courage, it is a worthy experience.
“You’re going to be kidnapped!” I was told this when I traveled alone to Romania. And Turkey. And Costa Rica. The exaggerated concerns that people have for my safety are well-meaning. But I often wish I could convey to those same people the thrill, independence, and growth I have experienced as a solo traveler. Although nowadays I travel mostly with my partner, for much of my early travels, I was solo. My path to solo travel was accidental. I wanted to travel, and I was committed to working and saving to make it happen. I could never find friends who seriously wanted to join me. So I went anyways - Alone.
It was often nerve-wracking, sometimes difficult and occasionally lonely. But solo travel was my first real independence from family guidance, and it forced me to learn how to take care of myself, how to plan, problem-solve, communicate, and take responsibility in a way that regular life hadn’t. An introvert, I had to learn to socialize in hostels. No phone (I preferred to spend my money on travel than Iphones), I had to learn to read maps. Often anxious, I learned to grapple with my anxieties on the long bus rides. I learned how to budget, and be resourceful.
Nowadays, I love traveling with my partner. But I am grateful for the many trips I did alone because they helped to shape me into the independent, confident adult I am now. In celebration of the empowering possibilities of solo travel, read on for my solo travel tips and tricks!
1. You do you - solo!
When traveling alone, you have all the benefits of control. You control where, when, budget and how. You decide where to stay, and how long. And you can change your plans. This independence can of course be stressful - you’ve got to do all the planning - but it gives you the freedom to decide exactly how you want to travel.
With all of the planning responsibilities, solo travel can help to foster your organizational skills, will teach you to handle logistical messes, and to cope with an occasional degree of stress. Solo travel requires independence - and if you aren’t confidently independent already, solo travel will teach you to be!
2. Experience the destination solo.
Some of my greatest travel stories originate from my solo travels! Hanging out with others can insulate a person from an experience, because that companion may buffer or distract from surrounding experiences. Without someone to chat to, a solo traveler will occupy themselves with observing the world around them. And, solo travelers are forced to interact with locals more. While in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, I spent an hour chatting with the local attendant of a small, old mosque. I had nowhere else to be, and so I was treated to a lovely conversation that taught me about the history of the mosque and of religion in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
3. Build your solo confidence.
Solo travel built up confidence in myself: I taught myself that I was capable! Capable of being alone, capable of taking care of myself, of planning, and of handling stress. And this confidence has followed me home, where confidence in myself has benefited me in my work and personal life. Solo travel is scary at first. But as they say, facing your fears can absolutely be a good thing.
4. Get to know your solo self.
We rarely spend quality time with ourselves at home. Work, friends, screens and social media keep us constantly engaged. While solo traveling there are entire days spent only with yourself, and long bus rides devoid of Instagram and Netflix. Solo travel can be a self-reflective experience of “unplugging” that allows you to be alone, and at peace, with yourself and your thoughts. While solo traveling you are also in a unique position in that the people you do meet and socialize with don’t know anything about you. Over and over again, you will re-introduce yourself. This exercise of constant re-introduction can help you to navigate your own identity. You might discover what your priorities and goals are, you might realize what is most important to you. While solo traveling you have the opportunity to get to know yourself in a way that we often don’t have time, or the headspace for, at home, and this is a beautiful privilege!
Safety while solo:
While traveling worldwide will carry some risks for all individuals, it’s an unfortunate reality that some travelers are at greater safety risk due to their gender identity, sexual identity, ethnicity, etc. This risk increases if one is traveling solo. Here are some solo travel tricks I have relied on to keep myself safe:
Especially while solo traveling, it is important to know local customs and expectations. Before traveling to a new country, do some Googling! What do people wear, how do they greet each other,what is the socio-cultural status of your identity group in that country? Being aware of local custom, and respecting it, will help you to blend in and avoid cultural mistakes.
It is always good to communicate with friends and family while traveling, especially if you are traveling solo. With so many wifi-based messaging apps available for free, it is super easy to keep in communication! I use WhatsApp to let me family know where I am, and sometimes which hotel I am in.
While traveling solo you’ll want to be attentive to your surroundings, and adjust your travel style according to the culture around you. Without a travel buddy, it is up to you to look out for yourself! For example, in Guatemala I did not go out on the streets late at night, alone. Why? No one else was out on the streets. In India I observed that trains and busses often had women only sections, and so I did as the locals did, riding in those designated sections.
Sound traps, fake phone calls and more.
When staying solo in a hotel room, create a sound trap to keep yourself feeling safe. Use whatever you can find in the room to build a tower that will tumble - making noise! - when a door or window opens. While solo in cabs, if I feel unsafe, I make sure to follow on maps.me (this is a FREE offline mapping app) to ensure we are driving the correct route. Sometimes I’ll even have a fake phone call to create the illusion that someone is expecting me at my destination.