“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher Hershey
Traveling on your own can be one of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer. After all, there is nothing quite like figuring out who you are when stripped not only of everything, but everyone, that makes life (at least somewhat) normal. Epiphanies, taking risks, new friendships and personal breakthroughs can all be on your agenda, but first, consider the following to ensure you stay safe and sane as you navigate the world with a single compass.
Ask for Recommendations
Ask friends, friends of friends and read online reviews to find out about that amazing little pizza place at the end of a dirt road, a hostel more posh that most hotels, or the much-lauded tourist destination that is more rip-off than reward. You may also find that a friend of a friend has, you guessed it, a friend who lives in the very town you plan to visit.
Keep in Touch
Keep in touch with friends and family by starting a travel blog. You can share thoughts and photos from your journey to keep folks at home abreast of your latest adventures. In turn, you can enjoy a bit of connection with loved ones through their comments, but still hold fast to your solo mission.
Find Travel Buddies Along The Way
One of the great benefits of traveling solo is that you’ll meet more new people than if you were traveling with a group or partner. Syncing up with someone else, from someplace else, can be a fun way to explore a new place. If you stay at a hostel or adults-only hotel, you will be more likely to find like-minded people with whom to pal around. Of course, use common sense when making new friends and always have a back-up plan if things don’t go according to plan!
Learn from the Locals
Getting to know your destination through the eyes of a local is another incredible opportunity available to the solo traveler. Through websites like Couchsurfing, you can opt to stay with a local, or just meet for coffee, see a local band, or visit the hidden beach tourists never get to see!
Play it Safe
Give someone at home a copy of your itinerary and plan to check in every few days if you can. You can also register your trip with your local embassy. Arrive at your destination during the day, keep your money belt secured under your clothes and only carry as much money as you need for the day. Walk confidently, as though you know where you are going (even if you don’t!). While it’s best to figure out where you are headed before leaving your hotel, if you do get turned around, head into a restroom to pull out your map rather than in the middle of the street. You may want to cover your guide book as well, so as not to attract any unwanted attention.
Research Local Customs and Learn a bit of the Language
Shaking hands, smiling, and small talk can all mean different things in different countries. Avoid having someone mistake friendship for flirtation or agreeableness for aggression and learn the local customs regarding body language and meeting/greeting. Learn language basics before you go as well – even if you mispronounce your greeting, locals are likely to appreciate the effort!
Although most people don't mind seeing the sites on their own or even catching a plane by themselves, many absolutely dread the thought of eating alone in public. However, dining alone can be a wonderful experience and a great way to really savor the local cuisine, write postcards back home, read a novel, or just enjoy watching the people who come in or walk by. Ask the staff for travel tips, and if you are brave, ask someone else dining alone if you can join! It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
Of course, having the right travel gear and packing well are givens for solo travel, since you can’t borrow a jacket from a friend if you forget to pack yours! But an optimistic, friendly attitude coupled with a heavy dose of common sense and confidence is powerful recipe for an unforgettable adventure with you!