You Can, and Should, Travel Alone
Solo Traveling Guide
I frequently find myself encouraging others to travel alone. Usually, I am met with a questionable look. The idea of solo travel is just absurd to them, but I say, they have not looked at all the advantages traveling alone brings with it.
Think back to vacations shared with friends or family. If you are honest, you will have many fond memories, but you have allowed the not-so-pleasant memories to fade into obscurity.
How many struggles have there been when you want to see museums and shows, but your companions’ idea of museums is more of a wax variety, while you long for fine art. Their idea of a show is watching a one-man-band entertain on the corner, while yours is a Broadway show or the ballet.
Trying to agree on an itinerary both are completely happy with is challenging. Choosing a restaurant or hotel room can be just as divisive. I love to sample local cuisine, trying foods I have never seen before. My husband, however, has a different palette. He prefers food he can recognize, and identify. I want a place to lay my head, shower and shine, in a clean environment, such as a hostel. Not everyone is prepared to stay in such meager accommodations. One joy of solo traveling is no negotiations.
Traveling alone allows you complete control. You can see what you want to see and do the things that are important to you. The only person left to argue with is yourself, as you must choose where to go on a particular day. If you are tired, you can sleep in. If you want to hit the road at 4 a.m., when traveling solo there is no one to stop you. Public transportation in most countries is quite safe and often available 24/7. Solo travelers blend into the background, allowing them to absorb the local flavor without standing out.
Travel alone to meet new people. When traveling with a companion, you are far less likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger. I am not suggesting you walk up to just anyone and start talking, but you may find yourself sharing a table over breakfast, a train car or bus seat, or a tour which all provide opportunities for conversation. I have learned you do not need to share a common language. Smiles, eye contact and a form of charades are universal. Once, on an Alaskan cruise, I met a group of Japanese tourists. They spoke no English, and I, no Japanese, yet we passed several hours laughing and sharing as they taught me the art of origami. I would not have had such a magical experience, if I was not traveling alone.
Solo travel saves time. One of my personal pet peeves is when people do not arrive at the appointed “meet-up” time. I resent waiting, and missing things I would rather be seeing or doing. I have walked away from really amazing street entertainers, in order to be on time. When the other party is late, I feel deprived. Solo travelers do not have this concern. I understand that occasionally these things happen, but it seems to happen with some travel companions on a regular basis.
Delays like that may only take 20 minutes, but over a week, it can add up to hours lost. If your friend walks at a different pace than you, you will find yourself in one of two positions. You will either constantly need to stop and start, waiting for them to catch up, or you will be the one struggling to keep up, feeling rushed and frustrated, in addition to having aching feet. Travel alone and pick your pace.
If you miss your bus, the blame game is mute. Another bus will be along shortly, or you might decide to walk. The freedom of solo travel is liberating.
Traveling solo will save money. Depending where your travels take you, many B&B’s offer single rooms, which tend to be less than a standard hotel room. Most hotels assume a double occupancy, and do not lower their rates if there is a solo traveler. Solo travel is not unusual in many places, and those countries cater to singles. You can save on meals, by enjoying places the locals go. The tourist areas cater to tourist tastes, and with you as a captive audience, they can afford to raise prices accordingly. Solo travelers can avoid this trap. Stepping a few blocks down the street can yield a plethora of cheaper, but more succulent meals.
When I travel alone, I believe my stress level is much lower. As much as I enjoy the camaraderie of a friend, I tend to want to please the other traveler, at my own expense. I know this is my issue, but in general, women in particular, are likely to do this to some extent. Traveling solo prevents any conflict of interest.
Many potential travelers are afraid to go alone. They fear kidnap, pickpockets, and muggers. No matter where you travel, there will be areas that are prone to those sorts of activities. Solo travelers should be aware of the surroundings, and avoid such areas. Most tourists never get close to the dodgier parts of town. My rule is the same as when I am at home. Does it look questionable? Then avoid it. Locals will tell you which neighborhoods to avoid. Tourist dollars are the lifeblood of many of these areas, so the patrols and surveillance is superb in the areas most visited.
Solo travelers should be vigilant about their surroundings. Look up as you walk. See the sights, and look at the faces of those passing by. Look for vulnerable places, such as tunnels, deep storefronts, or creepy alleys, and avoid going near them. While it is unlikely you will have trouble of any kind, it never hurts to keep an eye open.
When I travel alone, I keep money, an ATM card, my passport, and ID in a pouch that hangs around my neck. I keep it tucked under my shirt, and I never have to worry. I never carry large amounts of cash! ATM’s are everywhere. If you need a large amount of cash, go to an ATM and withdraw what you need, and pay for whatever you are purchasing immediately. In some countries, the workers are very poor, and if they see you with a wad of bills, the temptation may be too much. Why tempt fate? Credit cards are widely accepted, and are easy to use in places solo travelers do not speak the language.
If you visit a local club, pub or drinking hole, I recommend solo travelers hold on to their drink. It is uncommon, but not inconceivable for a solo traveler to be taken advantage of. Women, in particular, should use caution in any unfamiliar drinking establishment, even at home. It is far too easy to slip something into your drink, when it is sitting on the table as you dance. Take your drink with you, or abandon it. Order a fresh one, to be safe. Even nice people can be up to no good. Have fun, but do not be gullible.
Most local public houses are safe, family friendly and welcoming places for those traveling alone. Nightclubs and dark, crowded venues require extra caution. It really boils down to common sense. If your gut tells you something- pay attention.
Rail and Transit Passes
If Great Britain or the Continent are in your plans, I highly recommend purchasing a rail pass before you go. English roads are designed for right hand drive. Road signs and traffic can be difficult for solo travelers to get around. There is no reason to drive. Trains still carry passengers from one country to another and from city to city along the way. Solo travelers can get anywhere they wish, using trains and public transport. You can purchase a rail pass that covers all of Britain, except southern Ireland.
On my first solo trip, I had a 30-day Brit-Rail pass, and I came and went as I pleased. On a journey to York, I met some delightful “Jordies” from the northern most region of England. They invited me to dinner in Newcastle, and so I stayed on, making new friends. Having the pass, allowed me the freedom to hop on or off at will. I have been on my way and spotted something intriguing out the window, which prompted me to hop off, investigate, and then journey on. Traveling alone provides you such freedom. Many of my travel gems have been found in those diversions.
Europe has several passes from which solo travelers may choose. Each covers a different region, and can be purchased alone or as bundles, based upon your individual travel needs.
Rail passes allow solo travelers to choose the number of days the service is available. I find this a great money saver, and I never have to worry about ticketing, money exchange for fares, etc. If you are a planner, and want to know where each day will land you, train passes can be purchased according to your itinerary. They are advantageous for any American traveler, but they must be purchased before you arrive in country. The same passes are not sold abroad.
The rail system abroad is fantastic for solo travel. I have found that I can work around a “hub” city to explore a particular region or regions without hefting my luggage. The larger train stations offer lockers rented by the day.
There is a large station in Bristol, England. I disembarked the train from Liverpool, and found a locker to hold my luggage. (I travel light but even a rolling case gets annoying.) I used a small carry-on to pack a change of clothes, and some necessities, left the big bag in lock-up, and had only one small case to deal with when I arrived in Bath, Plymouth, Somerset and Devon. I simply returned to the station in Bristol, exchanged clothes, and locked up the bags again. This benefit is ideal for single travelers, but is unwieldy for a group.
Lockers vary in size, and are readily available at most main stations. They are not expensive, and are quite secure. I was able to spend the night in several locations and never had to pull my suitcase over cobblestone streets or brick walkways. Solo travelers who want to spend a day in a city or town, can also take advantage, to sight-see hands free.
Larger cities generally offer a similar pass- often intended for commuters that will give you full access to buses, subways, and ferry services. Solo travelers can purchase one for a day visit, or week long stay. Most major cities have highly efficient transit systems to take you anywhere you want to go. Riding local transit also provides an opportunity to see the local color, and perhaps a character or two. Traveling alone is easier than you think, and locals will be happy to help you find your way.
When you travel solo, there is no one available to “hold this a minute,” while you juggle luggage into a manageable load. Do not expect train conductors or drivers to help you with your bags. I personally prefer to travel with a single suitcase, and a small overnight bag, which is packed in the big one. If I am only going away for a week or two, I can fit it all into a carry-on.
I hear the groans. Yes, you can fit everything and still look good. I promise. Traveling alone, there is no one who will recognize the same outfit two days within the same week. Thisis how I do it.
I bring wash and wear clothes. Rayon and polyester blends can be rumpled in a ball and still look perfect when you put it on. The last thing you want to do on vacation is ironing. Jeans and tee shirts can be worn several days between washing. Jeans need a Laundromat so they will dry properly. You do not want to pack damp jeans. Mildew is a problem if you do.
Other fabrics, and garment essentials can be hand washed in the sink in your room. Even small B & B’s and pensions, where the bathroom is down the hall, to be shared, each room will have its own sink. Traveling alone means you can wash your delicates without exposing them to a roommate.
Wring things out well and they will dry overnight while you sleep. Some people bring a short cord to provide a drying rack. I have used radiators, windowsills and sink counters. Do not dry clothes on a wood surface! Many of the older European furnishings are original antiques, deserving of care and respect. Don’t risk a water stain. You might pay for the refurbishment. Note I have washed jeans in a sink, but I stayed in the same room for four days, while they dried.
I would pack :
2 pair of slacks; one light/one dark (Wear one)
2 mix and match tops to go with slacks
7 pair panties
2 bras (wear one)
1 tee shirt to sleep in
8 pair of socks or three sets of nylons
1 light jacket or cardigan to coordinate
2 pairs walking shoes (wear one)
Make-up, toiletries, hair product
Warm coat (seasonal- wear on plane)
I recommend two pair of shoes only because your feet will hate you if you wear the same pair for a week of trodding and trekking. Change shoes every other day if you are doing a lot of walking. Your feet may be tired by the end of the day, but they will be ready to go again, the next morning.
If I were traveling for several weeks, my basics would remain the same, but I might add a skirt or dress, for a fancy dinner or night out. I usually end up purchasing a shirt or something cultural, to wear and remember my trip by. That adds choices for mixing and matching.
Every traveler is uniquely different. For me, I plan my travels around the sights I most want to see or experience. I spend hours reading, and learning about the area, so I can decide what I think is worth seeking out. I make a list of goals, but that is about where the planning ends.
I usually book the first and last night of my trip, at a place close to the airport or transportation center.
On the continent, solo travelers will find a kiosk or small stand set up at every depot or town that will find you accommodation based upon your budget. These are reputable establishments nearby, and the vendor will help you find your way. Remember many of the older establishments may not have an elevator, and the first floor is what most Americans would call, the second story. Ground level is the term we would understand as first floor. Let the vendor know of any physical limitations you may have.
I realize my devil may care attitude towards travel is not for everyone. You can plan every detail of your solo travel, if you prefer. This is YOUR vacation. You can do it anyway you would like to. If you give folks at home a copy of your itinerary, they can even forward things to hotels on your route. Business correspondence or emergency messaging is easy, if you know where you will be.