How to Travel Alone: Solo Travel Tips
Considering solo travel? I have traveled all over the world and most of those trips were done alone. I absolutely love traveling alone. It can be very rewarding if you do it right! I am here to help you take the solo travel plunge!
There is probably not much that I love more than packing my bags and heading off on a trip alone. There is nothing quite like the rush I get when landing in a new place and having no encumbrances to diving in and exploring. No friend tagging along with their nose buried in a guidebook, hindering me from doing exactly what I want in this new unknown place that I fully intend on making my own.
For me, my travel time is precious. I am addicted to finding and exploring new places in every town I visit. The idea of anything keeping me from doing just that makes my head explode. When I go to my local pub I want to be among friends to watch a football match or share reviews on the new pizza place. When I land in a new place, my goal is to leave a local, just like I am in my neighborhood.
In order to make a place yours, you must meet and befriend the locals. You have to do a lot of “leg work”, wandering new neighborhoods and observing. There is no better way to do that than alone!
You Are More Approachable Alone
I’ve found that people are far more likely to talk to you if you are alone as opposed to in a group. Once in Salzburg, I was spending my first evening in a pub, writing in my travel journal while having a pint of Guinness. This is something I love doing back home, spending some downtime, reading, writing or watching sports over a Guinness at the local pub. Naturally, I seek out these places when traveling.
That night, I met some locals who invited me to join them as they went to another spot out of the tourist center. That spiraled into me meeting their friends. As a result, I collected a ton of tips on things to see and things to skip in Salzburg from my new friends! I had an insider’s perspective from people I’d met doing things I enjoy. There is no better way to get tips than from locals that share your interests.
I felt very much at home in Salzburg after that first night. I’d go out exploring every day and then at night meet up with my new friends in one of our three preferred “local pubs”. When I had to leave for my next stop, I was a bit melancholy. I had established some favorite bars and restaurants, I had made some local friends and knew my way around. Salzburg had made me feel welcome. Being sad to leave a place is the sign of a wonderful travel experience.
As I was headed to the train with my bag, I passed some of my new friends. One by one, they gave me a huge hug and said they would miss me. I have since been back to Salzburg and seen some of them. The world can truly be a small and wonderful place.
You Never Know What You Will Find…Until You Find It
You simply must be willing to throw that guide book away and wander for a bit. Yes, there are certain things you will want to and should see in any new city. However, truth be told, I’ve been to Rome many times and never been inside the Colosseum. I’ve explored all around the Roman Forum and found it completely fascinating. However, every time I considered buying a ticket and waiting in the long, ever-present line to enter the Colosseum, the pull of exploring the current culture of my surroundings always won over the seeing the ruins of a past one.
One night I made friends with a couple of locals while having dinner at one of my favorite spots in Rome. They invited me to join them after dinner and I spent the evening enjoying the city like they do. We went to two great cafes and pulled a couple of tables together so others could come and go as their evenings allowed. I met many different Romans that all had very interesting stories to share about their city, including both love and hate relationships with the Eternal City.
The next day, I met a couple from Poland that had just landed in Rome with limited time to explore. We got to chatting and I offered to take them around and show them one of my favorite cites. I played tour guide for a couple of hours and shared the sights of Rome with them while they shared stories of Poland with me. We had a great time together and I have since visited Poland and loved it!
Sometimes Solo Travel is REALLY Hard
Is solo travel all sunshine and roses? Not a chance! One of my toughest trips was also one of my best. I spent two weeks in Spain, exploring Madrid and the Andalusian region. The first week was BRUTAL. Everyone was inexplicably rude to me, from waiters to fellow restaurant patrons to hotel workers. When you travel alone, your only human contact is with strangers. Constant negative experiences can beat you up and leave you feeling raw. But this is random, not personal, and it will pass. You just have to keep going.
After the first week, my luck started to turn a bit. I was in Cadiz one evening and had just been yelled at in Spanish for absolutely no reason as I was walking out of a wine bar. This abuse came from a man who looked more like a homeless person than a lover of fine Spanish wine. I was at the end of my rope so I did the only thing I could do, I sat in the middle of a quiet, dark square and cried. It was a release I very much needed. I generally try to power through the negative times, but I’d had my fill in a way I rarely do.
Turning Things Around…
I was very hungry and not in the mood for dealing with a busy local restaurant where I might be treated to more rudeness. Across the empty square, I saw the lights from an unremarkable, almost empty diner that I would normally not give a second glance. There were two jovial looking older men doing everything including cooking, waiting tables, cashing out checks, and they were having a merry old time doing it all.
I followed the lights to the diner and they welcomed me in with big smiles, telling me to sit wherever I liked. They both waited on me, talking and laughing the entire time as there were few other customers to distract them. They improved my fragile mood over some surprisingly good food. I lingered a while there, enjoying the happy feel of the place. Watching the two men who seemed to be great friends and very good at living in the moment is an experience I will never forget.
Back on Track
Solo travel can take a turn when you least expect it. The next week was full of overwhelmingly positive experiences. I met an English bartender in Gibraltar while having lunch alone in an empty pub. He left his post and joined me at my table, listening as I shared stories of my travels in Spain. He was not surprised by my negative experiences, saying “All Andalusians are assholes.” He explained that Andalusians have a bit of a superior attitude similar to the one the French are known for. Immediately, the negativity of the past week began to fade away. We continued chatting while watching an episode of “Two and a Half Men” together. After a lot of laughs, I headed out for Ronda, my next stop, in a much lighter mood.
After an easy drive, I arrived in the beautiful town of Ronda. I was trying to unsuccessfully park my rental car in front of a local man’s house. He got his English-speaking daughter to explain to me that it was fine for me to park there. I needed to go to the end of the tiny one way street (that I was going the wrong way on), turn around, and I’d be able to easily pull into the parking space.
As I was doing this with my less familiar manual transmission, a woman going the right way got impatient. She started yelling and blowing her horn. I got completely frustrated and backed right into the man’s garage door. He can running toward me, seemingly upset. I thought my luck was back to where I’d started and I should leave Spain immediately. He ran past me and started yelling at the woman, gesturing wildly as he did. As he headed back inside, I stopped him and pointed to the dent in his garage door. He looked at it, looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and went in his house, closing the door behind him.
I stayed in Ronda an extra day.
Tips for Successful Solo Travel
To be successful at solo travel, you have to be open to meeting people and you will. Obviously, I am very comfortable eating and going for a drink alone, but whatever your thing is, whether coffee shops, parks or museums, just do it. Just be open to talking to and meeting people. If you are enjoying a painting in a museum beside a fellow admirer, ask them what they think about it. If you are sitting in a local park, sharing a bench with a stranger, ask them for a recommendation to a local coffee shop. You will be surprised at how open most people are and willing to help.
As for the lows? Always remember, the bad times are necessary to help you appreciate the good times. As Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” When you hit those travel lows, you just have to keep going. There is a friendly local or fellow traveler in your future that is going to change your course.