Travelling alone can be quite scary for some, but if all your friends and family are too busy to join you on your adventure or you simply prefer to travel solo, then these top 10 tips could come in useful before you embark on your journey.
1. Eat big
You might be tempted to live on fast food, just to avoid awkward restaurant situations. Don’t. In fact, fancy establishments are fantastic places to dine alone. Waiters are happy to help solo diners who smile and say, “I made a special trip just to eat here. What do you recommend?” Social folks might want to eat at the bar, but there’s no shame in taking a table for two.
2. Get an early start
If the thought of bar-hopping alone makes you die a little inside, just recast your day. Wake up early, enjoy a leisurely breakfast (when all the good stuff is still available on the hotel buffet) and head out for parks, museums and other daytime-only activities. If you pack your day full enough, you’ll be ready for bed by 9pm.
3. Know your strengths
Are you a sociable person who wants to be in the middle of everything? You might go crazy if you can’t communicate, so head for where you speak the language. Or, barring that go somewhere with very few tourists. If you’re more of an introvert and prefer to observe a culture, forget the language barrier and go for passive entertainment. Vibrant cities are perfect for this, especially ones with good café cultures. Paris is classic, but other former French colonies, such as Vietnam, are also great for sitting and people-watching, all for the price of a coffee.
4. Find your people
Use Facebook and Twitter to ask for connections where you’re travelling. Offer to take local friends of friends out for dinner, and you’ll be surprised how many people take you up on it – everyone likes to be tour guide for a night. Also seek out your interests in your destination – the fan club for the local football team, say, or the chess association.
5. Pack a book
A good book, a magazine or even just postcards to write or your travel journal to jot in – are all legitimate activities at a bar or restaurant if you get to feeling a little bored/lonely/exposed, so carry one of them with you at all times. And as a last resort there’s always fiddling with your smartphone.
6. Take photos
Making photography a mission, even if it’s just little odd details you notice about a place, gives a little structure to your day. And you will notice more odd details, because you’ll have the time and attention to look around. Your friends at home will appreciate your perspective and the story that comes with it.
7. Learn a little language
Make the effort to learn a few words and phrases before you go travelling. Just knowing how to introduce yourself, start a basic conversation, order a beer and count from 1–10 makes all the difference. People love to know you’re making an effort and doing your best to interact, even if you’re rubbish.
8. Sleep around
Look for room rentals in an apartment, which gives an automatic connection with residents when you’re travelling alone. Even if your landlord doesn’t take you out on the town, you’ll at least scoop up a few local tips. Try online bulletin boards in your destination, room-rental sites like Airbnb and crash-pad networks like Couchsurfing. Bonus: as a solo traveller, you have tons of options to choose from. Hostels are of course ready-made for solo travellers, but you might wind up spending more time with other tourists than with locals.
9. Embrace technology and terrible films
Remember that it’s OK to spend the occasional night in watching terrible films on your guesthouse’s TV. You wouldn’t be out every night at home, it’d be exhausting, so why would you try and do it for several months abroad? And a smartphone or tablet is a must now that there is free wi-fi almost everywhere. Among many other things it means you can book your accommodation ahead and ensure a safe pick-up at your destination. If you’re feeling lonely you can connect with home, read the news and podcasts are great for passing time on long journeys.
10. Explore the expat hub
Pretty much every major (and sometimes not so major) town and city across the world has some sort of expat or gringo hub. Go there, sit at the bar, nurse a beer and you’re likely to get chatting opportunities. That’s assuming you want company. Or head to backpacker hostel restaurant/bar areas and repeat the same. Sometimes they’re on the look out for non-guests in the evening, but if you go in the afternoon you should be alright.