The Joys of Traveling Solo

woman with suitcase
Rob, Flickr

As travel writers, taking solo trips goes with the territory, so to speak. Sometimes, we’re able to take along significant others or friends, but that’s the exception. For my part, I prefer to travel alone, be it work or pleasure (which, given my occupation, generally turns into work in some form).

I just returned from a two-week-long solo assignment in Hawaii; it was my 15th visit, 14 of which have been made solo. In the early and mid-90s, I lived on Maui, and those experiences are what really cemented my love of traveling by myself, even in a place marketed to, and dominated by, couples. Sure, it can be lonely or a bit depressing at times to be a lone nomad, but I prefer to focus on the numerous advantages:

  • You generally get more of a cultural immersion when you’re by yourself. Depending upon where you are, locals may either pity you or find you an object of curiosity. This results in invites to dinner in private homes or to local events, and other experiences not easily had when you’re a twosome or in a group.
  • There’s no one to get pissed off at you when you inevitably get lost.

Salar de Uyuni
Laurel Miller, Gadling
  • You’ll likely get more out of your trip, because you can focus on your interests.
  • Even without someone to watch your luggage while you purchase train tickets or run to the bathroom, it’s usually less stressful to travel alone. Bickering is inevitable, no matter how great your relationship, be it romantic or platonic.
  • Locals are usually happy to show you the sights. Again, this depends upon where you are, but by way of example, on a recent trip to Paraguay, I encountered palpable national pride among every single person I met. Everyone was eager to show me why their country is incredible (and it is).
  • Per the above, you’ll see things “tourists” don’t, like hidden waterfalls, swimming holes, sacred sites, rituals, festivals, etc. As with accepting an invitation to someone’s home, you need to use good judgment so you don’t compromise your safety, but without question, my best travel experiences have come about in this manner.
  • Watching a sunset alone on a deserted beach is highly underrated.
  • You may save money; single rooms can be less expensive and cover charges are often waived for women.
  • While I don’t often go out alone at home, I usually love to grab a drink at a dive bar when I travel. It’s a great way to meet locals as well as like-minded fellow travelers (who are always happy to share tips).
  • I find I push yourself more when I travel by myself. My friends aren’t as adventurous or outdoorsy as I am (they might use the term “dirtbaggy“), so hostels, janky buses and ferries, extreme sports, weird street foods and backpacking are out. I happily partake in these activities on my own, which has also been a big confidence-builder.

The Trick To Surviving Thanksgiving On The Road


I woke up last Thanksgiving with plenty to be thankful for. The sun was shining. The air was fragrant. Outside my guesthouse window, rice paddies extended as far as the eye could see. I was in Bali, for Christ’s sake. There wasn’t much to complain about.

Yet, I felt empty. Thanksgiving is one of the toughest days to travel, especially when you’re alone. For a while, I puttered around my room, checking my email and looking at photos of friends and families on Facebook. It was the seventh Thanksgiving I had spent away from family, and it had yet to get easier.

I do, however, have a strategy for Thanksgivings abroad, and it’s pretty simple. I indulge. If I’ve been on a tight budget, I splurge on a nice guesthouse. If my neck is stiff from a 14-hour bus ride, I spring for a massage. I sleep in. I watch movies. I basically give myself permission to do whatever the heck I want, even if it’s not what you’re “supposed to do” while traveling.

And in the spirit of the holiday, I eat – well, and often.

In 2008, it was a midnight Egyptian feast on a rooftop in Luxor. My friend and I were dirty and dusty from a day spent exploring the temples. We scarfed down specialties like kofta and stuffed pigeon while our waiter played a special iTunes mix of Usher songs for his American guests.

The following year, it was a breakfast of eggs, bacon and sausage in the beachside town of Anjuna in Goa. It was one of the few times I ate meat in my six weeks of backpacking through India. I spent the rest of the day in a food coma on the beach.

And last year in Bali, it was a lunch of crispy duck at Ubud‘s Bebek Bengil, which is famous for the dish. The duck is first steamed in Indonesian spices, then deep fried for a crispy finish and served with rice and Balinese vegetables. It is, quite simply, extraordinary. I savored it slowly and washed it down with a midday beer while reading a collection of short stories from Jhumpa Lahiri. By meal’s end, my self-pity had all but vanished.

It’s not easy being away from home on Thanksgiving. But indulging in the world’s pleasures – particularly its culinary ones – can certainly help.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Solo women’s travel surges in popularity

Despite what the much over-hyped film (not the book) Eat Pray Love would have us think, solo female travelers did exist before Elizabeth Gilbert. The difference, I think, is that now that Julia Roberts is starring in a movie about it, it’s suddenly viewed by mainstream America as “okay.”

And that’s okay. I may be a bit annoyed by the fact that Hollywood is responsible, but at the end of the day, who cares? It’s just great that experienced independent travelers will get less grief, and women who might not otherwise attempt a solo trip are now inspired to do so. The sheer volume of women-oriented travel companies has been steadily rising over the last five or so years, and now it looks like we’re hitting the tipping point.

While traveling alone is never easy for a woman, it’s comparatively a piece of cake now, compared to what women of even my mother’s generation must have endured. Yet, as a 41-year-old American female, I’m often amazed by how concerned other people are about my marital status (or lack thereof), my plans for my uterus (or lack thereof), and how I can afford to travel/who’s going to take care of me when I’m older/when am I going to grow up? I can handle these questions when there are cultural differences involved (sometimes with gritted teeth, like when I was 32, and a young Israeli male told me I’d better “find someone to marry quickly,” before I was “too old and ugly.” Sweet.).

I’ve never been one to give much of a hang about what others think, or else I wouldn’t have been able to put up with the comments denigrating my lifestyle. I hear them less now that I’m somewhat older (read: approaching end of child-bearing years), and because travel writing is now my profession. Unlike countries such as Australia or New Zealand, where a “gap year” of travel before university is a rite of passage, most Americans still tend to be constrained by what they view as adult, or gender-related, responsibilities.

Things are changing, of course. But the release of a book-turned-movie appears to have done more for the advocacy of independent women’s travel in one summer than I’ve experienced in a decade of travel journalism. A recent CNN article citing Eat Pray Love as inspiration profiles two women: a widow taking an early retirement, and a 32-year-old, now-frequent traveler who bit the travel bullet after being laid off in her late twenties.

I should hasten to add that I don’t consider myself a feminist (for a multitude of reasons that have no place on a travel blog), and I’m fond of describing myself as “spiritually bankrupt.” I don’t travel to be a “strong” woman, or find enlightenment. Travel is a highly personal thing, and everyone has their own reasons for doing, or not doing, it. I don’t care why other people travel; I just applaud the fact that they do, as long as they’re respectful of other cultures and the environment. I travel because it’s the thing I love most: it’s what motivates and inspires me, both personally and professionally, and I find it endlessly fascinating, even when things are going awry. I love learning about different cultures, trying new foods, seeing new landscapes. I love riding a bus for 24 hours, because it’s part of the experience. And yes, I prefer to travel alone.

Am I running away from something? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Will I ever settle down and stop traveling? Um, no. Am I ditching adult responsibilities? Nope. I have a home base, pay my bills on time, work a couple of “stationary” jobs, because travel writing isn’t lucrative. I’m in a long-term, committed relationship, I have plants. Sometimes I get burned out on travel, or have a disastrous trip. But within a day or two of arriving home, I’m always ready to plan the next adventure, and get on the road again as soon as possible. I do gain confidence from traveling alone, and thrive on its challenges. It’s a reminder that I can accomplish the goals I set for myself, For some, that might be called self-empowerment. For me, it’s just a lifestyle choice.

Not everyone is programmed to live the life society dictates, and plenty of people living so-called conventional lives, including mothers, find ways to make travel a part of their lives. Here’s to a national cultural shift that supports the exploration of the world outside our own bubble. Whatever set of gonads you happen to possess.

Best hotel for traveling alone in Singapore – Quincy

Quincy HotelThe Quincy Hotel has got to be one of the most surprising hotels I’ve ever visited.

Knowing nothing other than that it was a somewhat modern boutique hotel, I arrived midday on a Sunday to be greeted with a card featuring a hand-drawn picture of myself (they Googled me), and a tour of their small but well-equipped premises. They may be a modest-sized hotel, but they have a totally stacked exercise room, a full wood sauna and a steam room, and their 12th floor pool is totally awesome (underwater windows!).

The guest rooms are somewhat small, but for someone traveling alone, the size is more than adequate. All the rooms are the same price with small variations in color and window style — mine had beautiful charcoal bricks and a large window with a comfortable window seat. The location, while not scenic, is extremely convenient to attractions like the shopping Mecca that is Orchard Road; you can walk there.

The rooms have transparent showers — you can pull down a curtain, but if you don’t, you can see through the shower to the toilet from bed! This is to give the rooms a more spacious feel. The bathrooms are chic and very clean, and have a full supply of Molton Brown products (yum). The rooms also all have 40″ flat screen TVs and exposed hookups for everything from your laptop to a Playstation. There’s a secret wall in the room which contains a very secret ironing board, and a fridge stocked with snacks and drinks — which brings us to one of the reasons this hotel is so great for lone travelers: it’s all-inclusive.

The Quincy Hotel’s all inclusive nightly rates include a limousine from the airport, free breakfast, lunch and dinner, unlimited free alcoholic bevvies from 6-8 PM, Carlsberg Lager all day in your fridge, laundry (!!), coffee, local calls, internet and more. The complimentary meals at designated times give the hotel the feeling of an upscale hostel — all the guests come out of their rooms to dine together, and it’s easy to make friends. Especially during cocktail hour.

Check out the gallery for photos of this fabulous hotel, whose kitschy-cool decor includes silly photos of staff members in the elevators and LOLcats in the lobby. Rates start at $228 per night; additional charges apply for additional guests — just because it’s perfect for traveling alone doesn’t mean you won’t want to bring a friend if you’ve got one handy! Visit the Quincy website for special promotions.
%Gallery-73533%
This trip was paid for by the Singapore Board of Tourism, but the views expressed within the post are 100% my own.