Be it for adventure or cultural experiences, solo travel can be very liberating
Evolving lifestyles, refusing to compromise, wanting to challenge oneself, making new friends and taking a journey of self-discovery are among the top reasons why people choose to travel solo. Fancy trying it yourself? Our six-point guide will help you make the most of your solo trip.
Tip one: ditch the well-made plans
Wasn’t it Woody Allen who first said that if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans? Travelling solo means you don’t need to have lengthy discussions with someone over financial planning and what to see and do in a destination. You don’t even need to squabble over who gets to sleep on which side of the bed – you can spread out like a starfish and no one would even comment, how liberating is that?
Visiting niche destinations, joining special events, going on a hobby-focused holiday are often preferred by solo travellers. For instance, you may have a strong interest in photography. Your ideal holiday may involve waking up at early hours, walking to a remote lagoon to capture the beauty of tidal flats at sunrise. If your family or friends don’t share the same interest, going solo allows you to please yourself and spare you from heated discussions that could ruin the trip for everyone involved.
Tip two: but stay informed
Not having a rigid plan doesn’t mean you have absolutely no plan whatsoever. To stay safe, you need to be informed about your destination. Top tips to stay safe include:
- Read up common scams at the destination
- Understand local customs and etiquette
- Beware of your surroundings
- Don’t show your valuables
- Avoid poorly-lit areas and unsafe neighbourhoods
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers
- When in danger, draw attention and make people aware that you feel threatened
- Make sure that you have purchased travel insurance that covers all eventualities
Tip three: don’t ditch your family and friends
Travelling solo doesn’t mean you stop communicating with your family members and friends. Keep in touch and share your adventures – sometimes they can even help you gain a new perspective.
Miranda Frost, a seasoned solo traveller, enjoys doing what her family would consider as dangerous activities – anything from skydiving, heliskiing, jumping off a cliff to shark cage-diving. She goes on these trips all by herself because no one will be there to persuade her not to do them otherwise. But before each adventure, she talks to her family and close friends. “Sometimes, having a mindful focus on the people you love will give you the strength to do things that challenge yourself,” she said.
Tip four: make new friends
Spending time with yourself doesn’t have to be a lonesome affair. Loneliness, what psychologists call the absence of connection, can strike when you are in a crowded room surrounded by family and friends or when you are all by yourself in a foreign land.
Making new friends is easier than most people would think, as long as you stay approachable and show you are interested to learn about another person. Start a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the train or say hello to chess players in the park doesn’t require much effort. Hostels and hotel bars are also good places to meet like-minded solo travellers. Apart from that, every major city around the world hosts a myriad of sightseeing tours – join a cultural walking tour or a pub crawl.
Don’t forget that the world is also a well-connected place with many people now moving from one country to another. The place you are visiting may well have a person who is a friend of a friend back home. Tell your friends where you are going and you may be surprised that someone is more than happy to provide assistance when you are there.
Tip five: self-discovery
Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, once told reporters that he had spent days “reflecting” alone in the jungle. He used the opportunities to “meet himself”.
Travelling solo gives you a chance to reflect and reassess yourself, what you like or dislike, how you want to be challenged, and most importantly, practise self-care.
Document your experience in a travel blog even if no one is reading it. In fact, some of the best travel blogs are the ones that the writer keeps to oneself. They tend to be honest and unedited, refusing to only show the glamorous sides of a trip.
Tip six: you’re never too old to travel solo
Don’t assume that only gap year students travel solo. More and more senior travellers are marking milestone birthdays by taking solo trips abroad. Stories about a 60-year-old man making the trip of a lifetime by hiking the Appalachian Trail or a 70-year-old woman scaling Mount Blanc may not light up social media, but they are inspiring nonetheless.
It is ok to be less ambitious too – you can choose to take a relaxing river cruise, drive through New Zealand in a campervan, spend endless hours lounging on a tropical beach. Knowing your limits shows that you are wise beyond your years.
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This article was initially published in February 2017 and was updated on 25 March 2020.