Once someone becomes a solo traveler, solo travel seems ubiquitous. However, before that point, taking the plunge is terrifying. If you’re terrified, check out my post on the 5 reasons traveling alone makes you a badass. But if you’re ready to take the plunge and just don’t know how to plan your first solo trip, read on to understand my solo travel philosophy.
I’ve been to 13 countries and all but three of them have been solo trips. I’ve done week-long and multi-week long trips, both in higher end accommodations and hostels. Although my adventures are almost exclusively limited to Europe, I’ve had a lot of experiences that have helped firm up my solo travel philosophy.
I’ve written another post on my travel philosophy and both posts go together. My travel philosophy is how I travel, regardless of what company I’m in. Solo travel is a little bit different – it requires a shift in perspective, but with the same philosophical roots. Your best bet is to read both to get a better view of how I travel.
With that said, here’s my philosophy!
Having fun is important, but being safe is paramount.
This perspective is, of course, written as a solo female traveler. In almost all of my adventures I have felt safe, but I’ve had a few run-ins that still give me goosebumps.
In retrospect, I realize a few small changes to habits or my presence would have made me safer. One time, for instance, I took a tour in the Dominican Republic with hotel pickup. I was alone and the first pickup, which normally wouldn’t bother me, but the driver kept stopping to hand me flowers and candy. He even insisted I eat it! I pretended to, and bumbled along with my limited Spanish (“vamos, por favor..”) but I had no protections. No one knew where I was. I didn’t have my cell phone because it was “too expensive.” Carry your cell phone. If you need it to get help, the cost won’t matter.
I also learned how to listen to my gut. Traveling abroad alone helped me really tune into it, and it never left me astray. One time I got on a train that very clearly looked like the train I was supposed to be on – it even said the correct destination on the side! – but some nagging feeling prompted me to ask, “is this train going to Budapest?” They said no, it’s going to Zurich! Surprised, I hopped off the train with my luggage as it departed the correct platform, at the correct time, for the Budapest train… just as the train for Budapest pulled up. If something feels off, something is probably off – trust your gut.
And finally… alcohol. I know solo travelers want to bask in the freedom of singledom in some sexy or exotic location. That is perfectly fine, as long as you make sure to protect yourself first. Don’t get so drunk that you can’t find your way home. Remember, there are new languages and unfamiliar streets. You need to be coherent enough to find your way back. And if you’re going out to meet people, don’t get so drunk that they can take advantage of you. Tipsy is fine, but don’t blackout, and always remember to watch your drinks.
You’ll accomplish more in a day alone than you would in a group.
Now for the fun part!
Traveling alone is much more efficient than traveling in a group. Groups always have that one person who wants to linger at the museum a little longer, or who takes more time to get ready, or who drink their morning coffee a little slower. Over the course of a week, those little delays add up more than you think.
Not to mention, when you’re traveling alone, there’s no compromising. You aren’t forced to do something you’re only marginally interested in, which leaves you more time to do exactly what you want.
Eventually you’ll get a good feel for what you can accomplish in a day but there’s a chance you may even end up bored early on. I always carry my tablet with me so I can read at a bar or on a park bench. I also try to carry around a notebook of the interesting things to check out in a city, so if I end up with a few hours of unexpected downtime, I can check out a restaurant I thought looked interested or a kitchy museum that was otherwise only on my radar.
Be selfish! That’s the whole point.
This builds off of the point above.
Solo travel is inherently selfish… since, ya know, you’re by yourself. Selfish has a negative connotation, but in this context, it doesn’t need to. When you travel solo, you get to do exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it. Sleep in. Wake up early. Linger over breakfast. Spend six hours at the museum, or skip the museum all together. Have cake for lunch and wine for dinner. Check out the quirky museum that has mixed reviews. Circle up with your new friend group, or not.
You’ll make friends when you solo travel, but it doesn’t mean you need to do what they want to. You can spend a full day with them or make plans to meet up later. You shouldn’t feel any guilt about any decision you make – your travels are all about you.
Downtime is ok.
It’s ok to go back to the hostel or your AirBnB and take a nap, or watch Netflix, or chill and read. It’s ok to sit on a park bench and do nothing. It’s ok to sleep in. It’s ok to sit at a bar and place on Facebook or Snapchat or whatever social media you like.
24 hours is a lot of time to fill, especially if you’re alone. Trust me, things move faster when you’re alone, and you may end up needing some time to relax. Don’t feel guilty about it. I know you’re going to end up feeling some #YOLO when you unwind, but traveling is not just about getting things done – it’s about enjoying yourself, too.
Traveling from city to city is the most stressful part, so limit that when possible.
I met travelers who would swoop into the hostel one afternoon only to depart two days later. That means they only had one full day in their destination before having to re-pack everything and haul it to who-knows-where. They did it in the name of #YOLO, or whatever – gotta hit as many cities as possible and go to as many countries as possible. That mentality leads to checklist traveling and it can severely limit how enjoyable an adventure is.
Yes, the European public transit system is amazing. But German efficiency isn’t going to make it any more fun or any more easy to haul your luggage around. It is a pain hauling your luggage through crowds while trying to make sure you catch the right train. Not to mention, once you get there, your room may not even be available! In that case, you’ll have to store your luggage before being able to settle in. Trust me, it isn’t fun.
For these reasons, I recommend at least two FULL days per city, at a minimum.
Nothing is better than reading a book over local beer, some classic appetizers, and people watching.
I visited the Netherlands a few years back and was lucky enough to be able to meet up with a friend from high school who was living there at the time. He showed me around Amsterdam and let me on to a few Dutch secrets, one of the best of them being bitterballen.
Bitterballen is pretty much deep-fried gravy balls that you dip in mustard. It’s delicious and now one of my top-five bar foods. One of my favorite things to do was to sit at an outdoor cafe with a beer in hand while people watching and eating bitterballen. Yum. It’s a great way to relax while still doing something. And if you’re feeling a little social, it’s a great opportunity to strike up a conversation with a local!
With some experience, I’ve been able to shift my perspective and make my solo travels much more enjoying and fulfilling. If you have any questions about adventuring alone, comment below! 🙂