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The Solo Traveler Blog

Solo Travel: 42 things I now know.

Me and my cabin mate on a train in China.

Me and my cabin mate, Sunny, on a train in China.

Solo travel has been a big part of my life for five years now.

Yes, Solo Traveler is five years old this week and though this fact is likely insignificant to you, it is important to me.

It causes me to pause and think about what these years have taught me. What I have learned. And what’s important.

With my fifth anniversary priorities straight, I first ran a post on Monday celebrating you. After all, you have contributed so much to this blog and the solo travel community. Please read: Celebrating You! First time solo travel stories.

And now I offer some of the things I have learned about solo travel in these five years. I’m sure that to some of you these may be self-evident. For others they may be new. I hope it is an interesting read for all.

Solo travel: What I have learned about travel these past 5 years.

  1. No one between me and the experience makes for better memories. Traveling solo I am totally aware of every aspect of my travels because I’m responsible for every aspect of my travelers. The result: my memories are more vivid. You may want to read I Was a Lazy Traveler… until I went solo.
  2. Accommodation makes all the difference. Over the last five years I’ve stayed in high-end hotels and some pretty basic hostels and what I’ve learned is that my accommodation can make all the difference. Sometimes I need the former – when I’m looking for a little coddling. But other times I want a hostel because I know that I’ll meet friendly people. Accommodation is so important that we crowdsourced a guide for everyone who travels solo.
  3. The size of a city can make a big difference: Staying in a small city rather than a large one can be less expensive as well as safer and easier to get around. People are often friendlier and you get to experience a local culture rather than that of a cosmopolitan city. For all these reasons I sometimes like to stay outside a major city. Think Girona rather than Barcelona.
  4. The small of a city can make a big difference: When going to a large, iconic city I think of neighborhoods as great points of entry. As places to see the real city live out its day. Think of the many unique arrondissements in Paris.
  5. That I can have an interesting and fun time just about anywhere. Just as I learned that small cities can be a great option to the grand, iconic cities, I’ve also learned that I can have a great time just about anywhere. That’s where I use the Skyscanner “anywhere button” which allows me to put “anywhere” into the destination field and it gives me flights to anywhere from cheapest to most expensive.
  6. Arriving at night is a bad idea. I learned this lesson the hard way. On my very first solo trip, I arrived in Havana late at night.  My hotel was on a pedestrian street so my taxi couldn’t drop me off at the door. On top of that, the hotel had its doors closed and lights off to conserve energy. I walked right past it. If it wasn’t for a security guard I may have been completely lost. Yes, now I always arrive in the daylight.
  7. Being a poor planner is a great weakness to have. I always have some ideas of what I want to do on a trip but I’m not a great planner and I’ve discovered that I like it that way. Planning light let’s me adapt to new opportunities and explore on a more local level.
  8. Check to see if there’s a Greeter programs. I didn’t know about Greeter programs before I started the blog. Now I check to see if there is one before visiting any major city. Being introduced to a city by a local is a wonderful experience. See: 8 Ways to Find a Free Local Travel Guide

    Sasha was my hostess for the dinner I booked in in Paris.

    Sasha was my hostess for the dinner I booked in in Paris.

  9. There are services to connect me with locals. There are other services that connect ravelers to locals such as Meetup.com. More recently I discovered Voulez Vous Diner which is one of a few sites that will help you book a dinner in the home of a local.
  10. Engage people in my safety. I learned this when I was young. If you’re feeling unsafe, look for help. The people you choose are likely okay whereas the people who choose you may not be. You might want to read: Solo Travel Safety: My Kind of Strangers
  11. Slow things down if I’m feeling unsure. It’s easy to get conned when people are asking you to make decisions on unfamiliar ground quickly. If that happens, I slow down and if slow is not good for someone else, I simply walk away.
  12. How to cope in a foreign language. I feel comfortable in countries with Latin languages but when I was in Russia I really found language to be a barrier. When you come across bilingual signs (they were infrequent to be sure) take a photo of them so that you can study the basic words like exit, entrance etc., when you have a moment.
  13. Major cities always have free options. From walking tours to city museums, most major cities have free offerings for tourists. Google your city name, “free” and “tourist” to find out what’s available. Since I travel more now these free and low-cost options are more important to me than ever.
  14. Having an automatic savings account makes for nice surprises. When I started Solo Traveler I also started a monthly auto-withdrawal from my checking account to a dedicated saving account at an online bank. Because it’s at another bank I don’t keep track of it carefully – only when I’m planning a trip that is beyond my normal budget. I often get a very nice surprise.
  15. A good price for airfare is possible. Now in this case I’m lucky to be in Canada. I always check SQM.ca before booking. They are a secret shopper service that pays back 50% of your airfare cost once you have completed the secret shopping questionnaire. For others, sign up for airfare alerts. Many of the flight search engines have them.
  16. Slow is better than fast. It’s tempting to build a lot of travel into a short amount of time but it’s not worth it. I really like basing myself somewhere and exploring from there.
  17. By road or rail, I need at least three nights in any place. I’ve learned that I need at least three nights in a city. With only two nights I only have one full day there which is not enough. I learned the hard way that you can’t count a travel day as a full day in a city.
  18. Seeing the sights is a low priority for me. I’m more interested in the people and culture of a place than the standard sights. Yes I want to see certain iconic buildings, sculptures, etc., but I’d rather go to a small festival and mix with the people instead.

    I traveled with Penny in India. Here she's learning the art of solo photography.

    I traveled with Penny in India. Here she’s learning the art of solo photography.

  19. Solo travel doesn’t necessarily mean traveling alone. This I experienced in my twenties but I had no idea that it would be so easy in my fifties. I often meet up and travel with others for a period of time. What I didn’t expect is that age wouldn’t matter much. I’ve traveled with people twenty-five years my junior.
  20. Age really doesn’t matter. Through the blog and Solo Travel Society on Facebook I’ve met people traveling solo well into their seventies. Really, age doesn’t matter.
  21. Joining forces makes difficult countries easier. In India I met Penny at an ashram and we decided to travel together. It’s not the we each couldn’t have managed India alone but together we figured things out easily. That made it easier when I took off on my own.
  22. On the road you can recreate who you are. Being on your own, not defined by family and friends who expect you to act in certain ways, you get to see yourself differently and recreate who you are in smaller and larger ways.
  23. It takes time to re-enter home. It’s not always easy to return home and get back to the normal routine. I have changed if only by degrees. I am tired whether due to jet lag or simple travel fatigue. I give myself time to get back into life.
  24. Home is never the same place that you left. It can’t be because in your travels your perspectives have shifted if only slightly by the locals you meet, by other travelers, by seeing how challenges in your country have been resolved elsewhere.
  25. Not every trip is fabulous. You would hope that every trip is fun, amazing, fantastic! But it’s not the case. However, I have learned that with time, even the trips that were not fabulous at the time remain with me in interesting and valuable ways.
  26. The travel industry in changing. Yes, when I first started Solo Traveler there was very little in the way of tours, resorts and cruises for those traveling alone. Now there are more. Not lots, but more. Sign up for the Solo Travel Advisory to get the deals we find into your inbox every month.
Jerash Jordan

Smiling and laughing with some local girls in Jerash, Jordan.

Solo travel: What I have learned about people.

  1. People are the same but different.  This is certainly not an original thought but it is so true and the more I travel the more it’s driven home to me. People all over the world love, laugh, hold love of children as the highest value, work hard to make a good lives for themselves, whatever that means in their context. At the same time, they walk, talk, dance, joke, work, play… differently. So fascinating.
  2. Don’t judge a book or a person by its… When traveling I meet and talk to a wider cross-section of people than I do at home – and I learn. I learn how someone I might assume has little to say has lots of very thoughtful things to say. Slowing life down with travel, enough to meet a wider range of people, I return home knowing that those many people I don’t have the time to engage with and might not expect to find interesting, likely are.
  3. Respect is global currency. Everyone deserves respect and treating everyone with their due makes you a great ambassador for your country and often the recipient of great kindnesses.
  4. People want to help. When people learn that I’m traveling solo they want to make sure that I’m okay, safe, having a good time… and they’ll often go far out of their way to make it happen.
  5. People are hospitable everywhere. Regardless of wealth, I have found people all over the world to be generous and welcoming. From them I have learned to be more generous and welcoming.
This young man was incredibly eager to practice his French with me.

This young man was incredibly eager to practice his French with me.

Solo travel: What I have learned about the world.

  1. The evening news is a bad source of travel information. How a country is presented on the news does not necessarily reflect what is actually happening in that country. Sometimes it does. But most times unrest is much less than described to sell papers or catch viewers. It’s important to be careful but it’s also important to find other sources of information. And even where unrest is reported in a country, it’s quite possible that some parts of that country are quite safe.
  2. Other travelers are a great source of information. As I travel and explore a country I also meet other travelers and  often hang with them for a while. Talking to them about their home country, seeing the country we’re exploring through their eyes and culture, I learn not just about my destination but about the homes of every person I talk to.
  3. Everyone is proud of their homeland. Wealthy or poor, living in an area that is stable or rife with unrest, every person I have ever met is proud of their culture. They may have problems with their country, its politics and history but they are proud of their culture and where they come from.
Top of Mayan Pyramid, Tonino

I made it to the very top of a Mayan Pyramid, Tonino, Mexico.

Solo travel: What I have learned about myself.

  1. I’m more capable than I thought. This is always my first answer when someone asks me what solo travel does for me.
  2. Age doesn’t matter. In fact my age is an advantage. I can go to hostels and high-end hotels and always feel at home.
  3. Solo travel doesn’t have to mean independent travel. Five years ago I thought it did but in writing the blog I’ve had to give real thought as to what solo travel means. In my mind it means leaving behind those who define you on a daily basis.
  4. I am a patient person. When things go wrong I don’t fret. When I’m struggling with how to connect with a place and its people I relax, take a seat, watch, learn. What I want out of solo travel all comes in time and that’s okay by me.
A Particular Kind of Heaven

About life? We all have a Particular Kind of Heaven

Solo travel: What I have learned about life.

  1. Eleanor Roosevelt was right. “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” What a challenge to offer. What a mantle to wear. But isn’t it wise. By  traveling, by learning, by stretching oneself we grow as individuals and can therefore contribute more.
  2. Enriching oneself enriches others. Travel is an enriching experience. All that is learned, the enthusiasm gained for other cultures, recipes brought home, art on your wall… all that you bring home opens avenues to discussions that continue the enrichment gained on the trip and enriches all those engaged in the conversation as well.
  3. People respect people who travel solo. It’s interesting to me how people respond to the fact that I travel solo. You will find the same. People respect those who travel alone. They seem them as strong and capable.
  4. The meaning of life is still elusive. The number 42 is still as good an answer as any (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

 

 

 

 

 

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  • arleeda

    Well, up to a point age does not matter. But at almost 77, I have most definitely slowed down. I worry more now about having a stroke or heart attack in foreign country than I used to, so I always carry emergency phone numbers and get travel insurance.

  • starrsy

    Hi, thought I would jump in as I traveled in India last year as a solo 57 year old female. I read the news and was concerned as well. Instead, I found warm friendly people on my travels. It is important to be careful and avoid some dangerous situations, but mostly I found it safe. I had more problems being overcharged by Chennai tuk-tuk (auto) drivers. Walk with confidence, smile and look people in the eye. Also, I would hire a car and driver, very cheap, for complex jaunts. I can recommend Kerala area as very relaxed and beautiful. I met some very warm and friendly people there.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks Cecilia!

  • http://cile.home.xs4all.nl Cecilia O

    Hi Janice, I only just discovered your blog and will definitely read much more. I’m an avid traveler myself, and most of my trips are solo but not all. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://cile.home.xs4all.nl Cecilia O

    True in metropoles in countries similar to your own. But I had to laugh so hard at the fellow Dutch girls on a train in Bolivia, who thought they could make my friend and I think that they were locals by speaking (very bad) Spanish (and saying to each other they would act as locals). Somehow lots of Dutchies hate coming across other Dutchies while traveling… I guess it makes them feel less special. But no way could we ever mistake two tall blonde girls in pants for two Bolivian ladies (who wear 5 skirts on top of each other, long black hair in braids and a hat on). LOL

    Also, my somewhat tall height, short hair and green eyes make it impossible to pass for a local in many a country.
    My sister on the other hand has light brown skin, brown eyes, more Asian features than me, is not as tall… and has been mistaken for a local in Mexico, Spain, Greece, Pakistan, Thailand. I am jealous of her! :-)

  • http://cile.home.xs4all.nl Cecile O

    Wow, what a great read and so full of points I recognize! Indeed, age does not matter. People want to help. Having no one to distract you makes you experience everything more indepth. Driving a rental car through Iceland all alone was bliss, the solitude really befitted the stupendously beautiful landscapes.
    And at the same time traveling solo is not ‘alone all the time’. I meet more people when I travel solo than when I travel with a friend. People in pairs tend to cocoon and I am guilty as charged as well.

    And yes, the option to recreate yourself is so true. Obviously it only works if you stay close to your true self but I have explored parts of my personality that don’t (or didn’t) come out at home but that are definitely there. For example I discovered I am better at social talk and chit chatting than I thought. And a lot braver too. :-)

    It’s so nice to see how many other people enjoy traveling solo, sometimes I feel like a bit of a freak if I listen to reactions from colleagues and (farther removed) family. (Luckily my direct family and close friends don’t pass any judgement whatsoever.)

    I like your list so much I might make one for/about myself, just for fun. :-)

    Happy travels everyone!

  • Timothy

    Hi Janice, thank you for the wonderful insights on solo travelling. I have always wanted to go for a solo trip to have a true out-of-your-comfort-zone experience. Hearing many stories for friends who have solo-travelled make me want to go on a solo trip myself! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • sonali

    I agree with you Sue that going local like is really helpful, and one more thing I want to add, is my love for photography. Every place I visit, I capture whatever good I come across, To brush up my knowledge on photography, I often read blogs like http://resized.com/ that offer great tips, inspirations on photography.

  • joannova

    Great article and one I’ll bookmark to read again. Thanks!

  • freddychef

    great thoughts as usual on solo traveling….could not agree more on arriving at night!!!But then I have set up to be met at airports or train/bus stations in many cases(Australia, Singapore, Vietnam) and I have been lost, dropped in the middle of no where or at a seedier place in( Australia, Vietnam, Scotland), so organizing a bit ahead is a great thing–and so much easier these days

  • Sue Jones

    Excellent list!! I’d like to add one thing. I’ve been a solo traveller for many times. I’ve noticed it’s really helpful to make people believe you are a local – as a first impression. They sort of respect you for that as well. Also, it’s a great way to dodge many types of ill-intended individuals. I avoid tourist clothing as much as possible, especially when visiting a metropolis or such.http://susan-jones.co.uk

  • Leemur

    Hi Janice, I am almost 50 and am planning an extended almost round the world trip. I am very interested in visiting India but am a little concerned about going alone and some things I have heard about women alone over there. What has your experience been there and what cities did you feel comfortable in? LOVE your blog BTW!!

  • mbkirova

    Don’t arrive at night- gosh is that true! I couldn’t read the name of the hotel I wanted in a dark taxi and ended up in a much seedier one, with a negative adventure that lasted a few years!

  • Jules Burnett

    Hi Janice – I am 59, selling my home and “stuff” and planning on travelling for a few years so gleaning what I can from your articles-really helpful. Signed up to Workaway.com which is a great way to have fun/adventure and connect with people. Impatient to get going!!

  • http://machworld.co MACH

    Great, great, informative stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to know all of the bases to cover in preparation. This really helps! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks Bruce. It was a pleasure reflecting back on these past years and writing this post. Thanks so much for reading.

    j

  • Bruce

    Thanks for a great article and some wonderful insights. All of my travel is not solo. But some (most) of my most cherished experiences have come from my solo outings.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks so much Trisha. It’s hearing from readers like you that keep me motivated.

    Cheers!
    Janice

  • Trisha Andrus

    Janice- This was a GREAT post! I (for one) am thankful that U started Solo Traveler 5 years ago. That it is still going strong is a testament to your commitment and talent with words. Thanks!

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks for commenting. It’s always good to hear from readers and Yes! The I love the Skyscanner anywhere button.

  • http://www.inafarawayland.com/ Marta Kulesza

    Wow! I did not know that skyscanner offers that feature of going anywhere. What a great way to book the flights. Thanks for sharing
    I also totally agree with you about the evenning news. It is such a shame that Media create such a bad picture of our World. Travelling is definitely fatal to all prejudice in this world, especially the one created by the Media!

  • http://www.traveldo.it Travel Do It

    It’s great that you’ve shared with us all of the things that you’ve learned about yourself and the world during your travels, not just because of the great things you’ve done, but also because of the great example it sets to others to step out the door and travel solo for themselves.

  • http://www.rockytravel.net/ Rocky Travel Blog

    Nice wrap-up! I cannot agree more, travelling alone means making more vivid memories that enrich your life :-)

About Janice Waugh and Tracey Nesbitt

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 8.52.44 PMI'm an author, blogger, speaker and traveler. I became a widow and empty-nester at about the same time. And then, I became Solo Traveler... Here's the full story. >>
Tracey NesbittI’m a writer, editor, food and wine fanatic, and traveler. On my very first trip abroad I learned that solo travel was for me. Here's the full story. >>

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The content of Solo Traveler and any resources published by Solo Traveler are meant for entertainment and inspiration only. Every person and every travel situation is different. Your safety, satisfaction and fun traveling solo are your responsibility alone and not that of Solo Traveler, its publisher, editor and/or writers.
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