Mastering The Art Of Solo Travel

pikes peak It was my senior year of college. My friends and I would soon be giving up math classes and research papers for 9-to-5 jobs and business suits. I knew that before that happened, I wanted to do something memorable; see the world for an extended period of time before entering a world of one-week-per-year vacations.

I had always heard Europe was a fun destination, as well as easy to navigate thanks to their efficient train system. Living with five other girls, I proposed the idea in October, many months before May graduation, so we would have time to prepare. Everyone excitedly said “yes,” shouting out all the cities they wanted to include on the itinerary.

By January, I was down to only two girls who still wanted to go, and come the end of March, I was completely on my own. Inside, I panicked. Do I give up a trip I had been mentally planning for over a year? Or, do I go solo and open myself up to new adventures?

With shaky fingers, I pulled up the Delta website on my laptop, typing in a flight itinerary that would have me flying into Dublin and out of Athens. Without thinking I grabbed my credit card out of my purse, as if a force stronger than myself was moving me. I chose the cheapest flight, entered in my personal details and clicked “pay now.” Oddly, my nervousness vanished completely, and I was left with a sense of pure excitement. I was spending the summer in Europe, solo.After that first trip going to Europe on my own, I realized I actually loved traveling solo. It’s hard for many people to understand, but the trip style has many benefits. Don’t ever let having to travel on your own stop you from going to a destination you really want to see. Instead, master the art of solo travel.

If It’s Your First Time, Create A Detailed Itinerary Before You Go

I am not joking when I say I pre-booked every hostel for an entire summer through Europe before even leaving the United States. While this is something I wouldn’t do now, I do think it can relieve a lot of stress for first time solo travelers. You’ll know you won’t be frantically searching for accommodation in an unknown place, and it ensures you’ll always have a retreat to run back to in case you start feeling nervous. Moreover, if you’re traveling on your own for the first time – or even your 50th – it’s likely your family and friends will have concerns. Creating a detailed itinerary you can type and print out for them will help assuage their fears.

travel Know That Traveling “Solo” Doesn’t Mean You’re Traveling “Alone”

“But, won’t you be lonely?”

This is the most common question I get before an upcoming backpacking trip on which I am going companionless. The truth is, not at all. In fact, I find it almost impossible not to meet other people while traveling. At hostels, money exchanges, on tours, in parks, eating at cafes, sitting alone at bars. When you’re on your own, it makes you approachable, especially if the person who’s thinking of talking to you is also traveling alone. Additionally, you can create situations where you cause yourself to meet new people, like purchasing extra food to share with others in the park or inviting people to do an interesting excursion with you. For a detailed guide on how to make friends when traveling solo, click here.

Choosing A Destination Where People Speak English Can Help Newbie Solo Travelers

If it’s your first time traveling solo, I wouldn’t recommend throwing yourself into a situation where you won’t be able to communicate with locals. It’s better to get used to traveling on your own in an environment where you’ll be able to book hotels and trains, order food at restaurants and ask for directions without having to hurriedly flip through a dictionary. You may also want to stick with more Westernized countries your first time around to limit your culture shock. Western Europe is a popular choice, especially Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Research Each City Before You Arrive

How much research you do will depend on your personal travel style; however, I do recommend getting a sense of a place before arriving. Even after numerous solo trips, I always do a bit of Googleing to check out a map, get a sense of what there is to do and, most importantly, learn about any safety issues. For example, while most people think the tourist area of a city is usually the safest, this isn’t always the case. In Quito, the touristy “La Mariscal” area is actually one of the most dangerous areas in the city. Although my hostel was less than a 10 minute walk from this area, I knew at night it was not walkable if I wanted to make it back with all my belongings. It’s also a good idea to ask your hotel or hostel to give you a map and highlight the safest areas to explore on your own.

rio de janeiro Realize The Perks Of Solo Travel

If you’re going to travel solo, it’s important to keep a positive mindset. Instead of going into it thinking “I wish I had someone to travel with,” you need to realize the perks of traveling solo. First of all, you can choose when you want to be alone, and when you want to be social. Sometimes when I’m traveling, I like to just go to a park or wander a neighborhood on my own, getting lost in thought and just enjoying spending time with myself. If you’re traveling with a friend, they may take this personally; however, since there’s nobody to answer to when traveling on your own, you can do this. On the other hand, you can also invite others along with you if you’re in the mood to be more social.

The other reason I absolutely love traveling on my own is I never have to compromise my itinerary. If you’re interested in adventure and outdoors and your companion is more of a museum type person, you’re going to end up missing out on some of the things you really wanted to do. Additionally, there may be certain days when you’re feeling energetic but your partner doesn’t feel like leaving the hotel room. When traveling solo, you have full control of the what, when and where of your trip.

Furthermore, when you travel solo you open yourself up to both external adventures and internal discoveries. You gain a new sense of yourself, and also realize what you’re capable of. It’s rare that people go on solo journeys and don’t learn something new and positive about themselves. So, instead of lying on a therapist’s couch for $80 an hour, get out and explore the world on your own.

Have Travel Goals In Mind

Traveling solo means nobody will be there urging you out of bed and dragging you to every tourist site in the city. For this reason, you need to be on top of yourself. Sit down, and make a list of what exactly you want to get out of the trip. This may mean figuring out what your travel philosophy is so you can pinpoint why it is that you travel. For example, I knew I wanted to backpack through Patagonia in South America in order to immerse myself in some of the world’s most unique landscapes. This entailed researching what some of these were beforehand, and making sure I home-based in cities that would give me access to rare hiking experiences. It also meant there would be a lot of early-to-bed, early-to-rise days, which I kept in mind when being tempted with late night glasses of wine and bar hopping. While it’s OK to change your goals, make sure you do it with a clear head so you get what you want out of your trip.

Utilize New Technological Tools To Help Make Solo Travel Easier

Everyday, new travel apps and tools are being created, making it easier than ever to travel solo. My absolute favorite resource to utilize while traveling solo is CouchSurfing. While you could use it to save money on accommodation and stay with a local, I use it for the group forums. For example, if I’m traveling to Buenos Aires, I’ll join the “Buenos Aires” group and put up a message telling everyone when I’ll be in town. I’ve gotten to attend great meetups and events by doing this, and have also gotten the chance to see the city from a local’s point of view. Moreover, sites like Gomio allow you to search hostels and see who will be there before you book. And for social travel planning, sites like Gogobot and Travelmuse allow you to source information from others.

canyoning Keep Yourself Open To New Adventures (But, Don’t Put Yourself In Danger)

To do this, you’ll have to do what most people find most difficult – let go of fear. Don’t lock yourself in your hotel room and only go on guided tours because you’re terrified of stepping out into the sunlight on your own. Remember how easy-going you are at home, and try to find that inner peace. If someone asks you to grab a bite to eat or go explore together, go for it. Moreover, if you hear about a tour or experience you’ve never heard of, try it. That being said, always trust your gut, and don’t put yourself in dangerous situations. Meeting a local for a burger in a public restaurant is one thing, going back to their house for a drink alone is another.

Make Time For Yourself

“But, isn’t making time to travel already making time for yourself?”

Yes and no. While it’s great you made time away from your everyday schedule to explore a new destination, there’s still the chance of the dreaded travel fatigue setting in. If you’re starting to feel anxious, tired, withdrawn or depressed, stop traveling immediately and remedy the situation. I don’t mean you need to go home, but a bit of pampering, journal writing, calling friends from home and TV time can be beneficial to your health in this situation.

Learn How To Stay Safe

While there are many benefits to traveling solo, you do open yourself up to being a target more easily. Instead of letting this thought scare you into not going on your trip, learn how to keep yourself safe. As mentioned above, always find out where the safe and more seedy areas of a city are. Moreover, don’t carry valuables, take taxis at night, leave your jewelry at home and never make your money visible. I love wearing Clever Travel Companion’s secret-pocket underwear and tank tops, so I can carry my money, credit cards and ID without anyone knowing. If you’re going to carry a bag or backpack, put it in front of you so you can see the pockets at all times. And, number one, always trust your gut. If you’re in a situation or place you don’t feel comfortable in, hop in a cab and get out of there as fast as you can.

Know That Solo Travel Isn’t For Everyone

It takes a certain kind of person to be able to travel solo. While I reccommend everyone try it at least once – even if it’s domestic or nearby – in the end it may not be for you. There’s nothing wrong with not being fit for the solo-travel mentality. Some people just feel better having a companion with them when they’re visiting a new place, and that’s perfectly fine. And, if you can’t find anyone to travel with, you can always consider a group tour.

A Brilliant Look At The Philosophy Of Travel

Caution: If you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep, consider perhaps taking a nap before venturing further. We’re about to go deep.

In today’s constantly modernizing world of travel it seems we find it far too easy to get wrapped up and carried away in the fleeting minutiae of the overall industry. Last-minute fares! Tour specials! Gap-year holidays!

In this fast-paced reality we live in it constantly seems that everyone is hoping to be among the first to take the next step; the first to utilize the newest app, the first to lock into the best fare, even the first to get on the plane.

When, however, was the last time you properly took a step backwards and questioned what you’re even doing in the first place? Why am I downloading apps to find when the next train arrives? Why am I searching for a low hotel fare? Why am I even getting on this plane in the first place?

Why, in fact, am I even traveling?

Seemingly, the foundation for the entire industry, the philosophy of travel, in my opinion, doesn’t get the attention it deserves in today’s modern travel literature or in the industry as a whole.

One of the greatest essays ever written on the subject, Pico Iyer’s “Why Do We Travel,” despite being penned 12 years ago, is still one of the best reads I know of in terms of questioning what is behind, as Robert Louis Stevenson states, “the great affair to move.”Now, however, I’m placing another piece of literature into this category: a recent article from the New York Times, which masterfully delves into not only the historical basis for the great human need to move, but also the degree to which modern tourism has deviated from these pure, original and unadulterated initial urges.

According to the author, Ilan Stavans, professor of Literature at Amherst College, “We have turned travel into something ordinary, deprived it of allegorical grandeur … whatever impels us to travel, it is no longer the oracle, the pilgrimage or the gods. It is the compulsion to be elsewhere, anywhere but here.”

Amongst a multitude of other well-articulated points, Stavans expresses the idea that modern tourists – and the industry as a whole – potentially lack the humility and willingness to lose ourselves, which serve as prerequisites for, as the author puts it, “genuine travel.”

A spectacularly researched and well-thought out piece, I highly encourage those with a passion for travel and exploration to grab a cup of coffee, sit in a comfortable chair, and take ten minutes of your life to reassess the motives behind our intrinsic need for the quest and the escape.

What’s Your Travel Philosophy?

globe “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

What’s your travel philosophy? It’s a question that many seasoned travelers get asked. Your travel philosophy encompasses your beliefs on travel and the process of leaving home. It is like your mission statement for your trips. There are many to choose from, and depending on your travel style and what you want to get out of your trips, yours could be worlds away from the next person’s. Having a travel philosophy is not something you need to have, but more something you intrinsically have without even trying.

Most people travel without much thinking. Not that a certain amount of planning doesn’t go into the trip – booking a flight, researching hotels and looking at reviews; however, many people don’t stop to think about why they are actually traveling.When I travel, I’m usually carrying nothing more than a 20-pound backpack and a pair of sunglasses. I enjoy traveling solo to international destinations and places that give me a bit of culture shock. To me, traveling is about being taken out of your comfort zone and growing from the experience. However, if you asked my best friend what travel meant to her, she would be more likely to answer relaxing on a beach with close friends and a strong daiquiri. Additionally, I know other people who travel to learn about history, fashion, food, and medicine or to volunteer, escape, have an adventure, for inspiration, to become healed, to relax or to become closer with their partner. None of these ways of looking at travel is right or wrong, just different.

That’s one thing that’s so great about travel. Aside from doing illegal activities or being completely inconsiderate, there really is no wrong way to travel. It’s all about what you want to get out of the experience. For example, when living with a host family in Ghana, Africa, my favorite part was seeing the locals cook dinner and also attending events like church or a wedding. Of course, I visited the famous sites in the country like the slave castles, cultural centers and national parks; however, it was learning about everyday life that really made me feel like I was in Ghana.

So the big question is, why do you travel? It sounds like such a simple question, although figuring it out is not so easy.

On many past posts about my travels, I’ve gotten a lot of comments from people who just can’t relate to what I’m saying. I’ve also gotten many comments from people who think a lot like I do. There’s nothing wrong with either, as each person’s experience differs from another. This is another reason you shouldn’t listen to everything other travelers say, as their experiences are in line with their goals. For example, before going to Gimmelwald, an extremely small mountain town in Switzerland, I was asked by another backpacker, “Why would you go there? There’s nothing to do.” Thankfully I ignored her question, and followed my gut, as the destination is now one of my favorite cities in the world. While some people may find a place that doesn’t have nightclubs, restaurants and shops “boring,” I found it delightful. I went for picturesque hikes, purchased eggs, cheese and sausage from Erica, the town’s “egg and cheese lady” and bonded with new friends over red wine and games of Jenga. It opened my eyes up to a simpler way of life.

That’s why I travel. I’m not saying I had a revelation that I should leave my home city of New York and move to a small town in the mountains; however, I did discover a new way of life. For me, it’s about learning new things, exploring new landscapes and becoming more and more a citizen of the world.

I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, my travel philosophy has changed. When I was younger, even in my teenage years, I was obsessed with amusement parks. Every trip my family planned revolved around what roller coaster looked the scariest and which theme park had the newest rides. As I got older, I started to enjoy cruises and all-inclusive resorts, because I found them relaxing and a way to let loose and have fun without having to worry about money. It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Sydney that I began to view travel as more of a growing experience. When in Australia, I barely ever sat still, but instead used every free moment to explore the country, interact with locals and learn new things. That is the trip that really cemented my backpacker style of trying to travel close to the ground and immerse myself in local cultures.

What’s your travel philosophy?

10 travel excuses not to make in 2012

ghana, africa So, you’ve always wanted to travel, but you just haven’t done it yet. Why not? Do you think you can’t afford it? Or, that you don’t have the time? When it comes down to it, obstacles shouldn’t be getting in the way of you fulfilling your dreams. This year, stop making excuses and travel.

Excuse #1: I can’t afford it

This is one of the most common excuses people make for not traveling. Traveling doesn’t have to mean staying in 5-star hotels and eating at Michelin starred restaurants. In fact, using less-expensive accommodation options, like staying with locals for free through Couchsurfing, volunteering on organic farms in exchange for room and board with WWOOF, or doing a homestay can give you more insight into the local culture of the place you are visiting. Hostels, a simple yet social form of accommodation, can also help you meet fellow travelers while saving you money. And, eating at restaurants that don’t have a big “English Menu Available” sign are not only cheaper, but more authentic.

You can also help yourself before your trip begins by saving up some money. Stop spending money on little things that you don’t really need, like a $4 Starbucks coffee (make it at home) or a $10 sandwich from the eatery near your job (again, make it at home). Also, stop splurging on bigger things, like new clothes, makeup, sneakers, big nights out, etc… Obviously you don’t want to deprive yourself, but cut back a little and look for alternative and cheaper options that can also be satisfying.Excuse #2: I don’t have anyone to go with

You don’t need anyone to go with! I’ve gone on backpacking trips through Europe and South East Asia by myself and have never had a problem meeting people along the way. If you stay in hostels, you will easily meet other travelers. Money exchanges, airports, markets, and walking tours are other prime spots for making friends. If you’re more interested in meeting locals, try a homestay, volunteer, or just seek out the cafes and bars where locals hangout and strike up a conversation. The best thing about traveling alone is you never have to adhere to anyone else’s schedule. Instead, you can wake up when you want, see what you want, and do what you want without having to feel the need to coordinate with someone else.

Excuse #3: I’m too young/old

You are never too young or too old to travel. If you’re young, why not do something abroad to help build your resume, like volunteer, study, or intern abroad. If it’s a matter of your parents being worried and you want to appease them, join a tour group like Intrepid Travel or G Adventures so that you’ll be with an experienced guide as well as other young travelers.

If you think you’re too old, think again. There are plenty of older people out there, not just traveling, but backpacking and trekking their way around the world. In fact, just this past October, 84-year old Richard Byerley broke a new world record and became the oldest person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. And before him, the oldest person to do this same feat was 82-year old George Solt in 2010. If you still feel skeptical, there are tour groups that cater to those in their retirement years, like Road Scholar and Grand Circle Foundation.

airplane Excuse #4: I’m afraid to fly

According to planecrashinfo.com, the chances of you being killed on a plane flown by one of the top 25 airlines is 1 in 9.2 million. And, even if you went with an airline that is deemed to have higher accident rates than the others, the chances are still slim at 1 in 843,744. If logic still doesn’t assuage your fears don’t get dismayed, you can still travel. Fill up your gas tank and take a road trip, pack a bag and travel by bus from city to city, or, for something a little more luxurious, opt for a relaxing cruise.

Excuse #5: My boyfriend/girlfriend/parents don’t want me to go

While it’s understandable that the people who love you will miss you, they should also try to be happy that you’re doing something that will make you feel fulfilled. There is so much technology available nowadays that keeping in touch is easy. Video chat on Skype, send e-mails, or keep a blog to let your loved ones follow your travels and know that you’re safe.

If it’s a significant other that’s keeping you from traveling, ask them to come along with you. And if they can’t, you still shouldn’t give up going on a trip that will enrich your life. As for your parents, it’s only because they are worried about you, so try to ease their minds as much as possible. Call regularly and send them photos, make it clear how responsible you plan on being, and show them blog posts and articles from other travelers who have been to the same cities. Despite the fact that I’ve backpacked myriad countries alone, my parents still worry, and that’s something that will never change. But, these trips have helped me have experiences I never would have otherwise and have helped shape me into the person I am now.

Excuse #6: Traveling is dangerous

While I hear this one a lot, it’s always amazing to me that people can put such a blanket statement on traveling. Isn’t life in general dangerous? I’ve also heard that driving, smoking cigarettes, playing contact sports, drinking alcohol, and eating fatty foods is dangerous, but I’d say majority of the people I know do most of those things. You need to take risks in order to live a full life. Of course, you should take precautions. Walking back to your accommodation alone and drunk at 3AM in a foreign city (or even your hometown) probably isn’t the best idea. But if you use your brain, you should be more than fine.

One thing I always find, too, is that people perceive other cities as being more dangerous than they often are. On a recent trip to Ghana, Africa, my friends were extremely worried for my safety. On a hike in the Volta Region I asked a local who I had befriended if he would ever come to New York to visit me. His reply? “Isn’t New York one of the most dangerous cities in the world?”

Excuse #7: It’ll ruin my career

Most jobs give you time off (and if they don’t, maybe you should try looking for a new job), so use it. If you get two weeks take two weeks vacation, and try to plan it around holidays and weekends so you can add extra days into your trip. If you’re looking to go for longer, don’t look at it as the end of your employability. Traveling can help build and enhance your skills and also shows how adaptable you are as a person. You may also discover things about yourself along the way that can lead you into a job you didn’t even know you wanted, like teaching abroad, travel journalism, being a tour guide, or working for a nonprofit or travel company.

Excuse #8: I have a family

Take them with you! Just ask Meg Nesterov who writes Gadling’s Knocked Up Abroad, chronicling her travels with a baby. There will be challenges to traveling with a family, but with the right attitude and some planning it isn’t impossible. If your kids are a little older, they will be introduced to unique cultural experiences at a young age, and you can seek out destinations that have opportunities for learning. There are also tons of hotels out there that cater to families, and many homestays and volunteer programs that will accept families with children, as well.

Excuse #9: I’m scared of being culture shocked

Even the most well-traveled individuals can experience culture shock, and it’s completely normal. However, you shouldn’t let the possibility of some discomfort abroad stop you from seeing a foreign land. If it’s your first time traveling, start with a country or countries that are more Westernized and speak English. Once you get more comfortable with being away from home, you can start to branch out little by little. If you get to a place where you really feel uncomfortable, don’t run away but instead face the obstacle head on. Realize the unique experience you’re having and try new things that you never imagined you would. You can always sneak back to your hotel room and write your thoughts in a journal when you need a break.

Excuse #10: I don’t know a foreign language

Obviously, you can solve this problem by traveling to destinations where they do speak your language. However, by only sticking to primarily English-speaking countries you can miss out on a lot of great cities. You’d actually be surprised how many people in non-English speaking countries can, in fact, speak at least some English. And when they can’t, using hand gestures, pointing, and carrying a pen and paper to write down the names of landmarks or draw pictures can be very helpful. And just to be safe, a pocket dictionary never hurts.