Ten Truths I tell My Friends about Solo Travel

Me in London last year with the Tower Bridge in the background.

I know. I write about and encourage — you could even say that I promote, solo travel. I think it is an important, life enriching experience. But, it is not necessarily easy – even for those of us who travel solo on a regular basis. So, I share with you these ten truths, secrets if you will, about my own anxieties or hesitations when I travel solo.

  1. I’m nervous every time I enter a new city. I’m not scared, just a little anxious as I get the lay of the land and understand how things function.
  2. I’m not a great researcher and I’m definitely not a big planner. While I always know where I will stay (this I plan for at least the first night if not more) I don’t necessarily have a lot of other plans.
  3. Solo travel stretches me. People find it hard to believe that I’m on the shy side because solo travel has built my confidence and helped me shed inhibitions.
  4. My Achilles heal is managing my documents. I’m getting better but at the airport I still check for my tickets, boarding pass and passport over and over again.
  5. I may appear free spirited but I am cautious. I’ll chat with anybody in public but go with just about nobody in private.
  6. I don’t really enjoy flying. I”m not afraid of flying I just find it frustrating to spend so much time waiting. My favorite means of transportation is train. It’s social and relaxing and I get to enjoy the country I’m traveling through.
  7. My favorite accommodation is a small inn or a B&B that operates like one. I enjoy sharing breakfast with people but I like having my own space as well.
  8. I’m not keen on tourist offices. I may go to the tourist office for a map but that’s about it. If I arrive early in the day, my first stop is a cafe where I can likely chat with locals. (See my post on finding were the freelancers work.) If I arrive later in the day I go to a neighborhood bar. My objective is to learn what locals would recommend rather than what the tourist office wants me to do.
  9. I admit that I can get frustrated when I see or experience something amazing but don’t have someone to share it with.
  10. I don’t always travel solo. I travel with friends and family as well.

 

  • Hillary

    I could have written this myself!! Your points are wonderful and honest. I love travelling alone but also with friends and family. Love your writing!

  • http://travellingpenster.com Travelling Penster

    Great to get the discussion going :) I love solo travel and I love meeting new people. There are pluses and minuses to that. Sometimes it’s hard to politely ‘get rid of’ someone you know you won’t travel well with, and other times, it’s sad to say goodbye to someone you’ve had a blast travelling with!

  • Donna Meyer

    Most of these rang true for me too… especially the document anxiety. Probably because I’ve had the experience of losing my ticket/boarding pass, through my own dumb fault. Not fun.
    But at this point in my life, I am a researcher, though not so much a planner. Right now I’m planning a 5-week trip for September, my first big solo trip in several years, and I find I am really enjoying the research. For me, it is part of the fun of the whole process. I’ve made notes in my calendar about festivals and once-a-month flea markets and ballet performances I think I might want to see so I don’t find out about them the day after and feel miffed. I might decide not to indulge, but I least I wont’ miss out from not knowing. Also, my research turned up a one-day class in a subject I adore. I wrote the teacher about it, only to find out she had followed a blog of mine on the subject. Now I will take her class, spend the night with her, and then visit a biennial museum exhibit the next day together–something I am really looking forward to and would have missed out on without that initial research.
    On the other hand, I don’t want to plan in too much detail and very little is ever set in stone. I do know that if I go to that flea market or that festival, I will be open while there to serendipitous encounters and chance conversations that might lead to other adventures and possible friendships. I’ve got a list of some recommended cafes, but will be open to learning about and trying others. I’ll get a map from the tourist office, but will also ask directions of strangers and ask for recommendations. I am enjoying the planning of my trip immensely.
    P.S. – great tip about printing documents on colored paper so they are easier to find. I will try that!

  • Mandie Sanders

    Thanks for this honest post! One of the most important things I am learning while currently on my first long-term solo trip (4 months) is that while I do enjoy taking solo trips, I do NOT enjoy traveling for this long alone. Maybe it would be different if I didn’t have a significant other back at home, but I spend most of my time feeling jealous of other people who have someone to share it with. Other than the flying thing, every one of these points could be describing me. :)

  • Joanne Witt

    Well said.

  • Amy

    If it’s a multi city trip, I use color folders..different color for each city so it’s easy to find pertinent information

  • Sharon

    Great idea!

  • Angela

    Why would you come here and say that?

  • Trisha Andrus

    I get that question a lot…people seem amazed that ANYONE would travel on their own. Most people start solo travel because either (1) no one can go or (2) no one wants to go. Fine with me :)

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Now that’s how to do it. I wish I was so organized on some fronts.

    Cheers!

  • Bobbi

    Solo travel started for me with business travel. Once I realized that I could navigate to different cities, hotels and restaurants by myself I thought well why not on a vacation. Now I travel sometimes with friends if they have the time or money or by myself. Along with that nervous checking of my passport I do the same thing with my hotel key. I have copies of all my documentation on my iPad and on Dropbox but I still don’t want the inconvenience of losing anything. I would add that getting sick on the road when solo is my least favorite time but at least you don’t have the worry that you are disturbing anyone else’s plans if you hole up in the hotel for a day to rest and get better.

  • Johanna

    I have only traveled with family or friends 4 of my 31 countries. People always say, “Aren’t you afriad of traveling alone?” I always reply, “The only thing that scares me is not doing what I want and having regrets.” I do miss sharing moments, but I’ve been lucky enough to meet amazing friends along the way to share things with. I love your blog! Thanks!

  • Cindy Van Vreede

    I do research a place before I go. I use a 3 ring binder for my itinerary and and any documents I may need. I also have a pouch in the binder for receipts. Also, at the end of each day I take the time to write down my experiences and observations.

  • hillsidesedona

    Traveling is the greatest experience a person should enjoy, I also enjoy
    reading most of the blog about a persons travel experience,great way to
    share.

  • Belle

    I print my travel documents on colored paper so it is easier to find them in my bag. Blue for air, green for sea, yellow for hotel, etc. Sure helps.

  • Jeff

    I agree with almost all your points – except I am a big planner/researcher but downside is that I get too much information. I find planning the trip is a lot of fun that sustains me during the dreary days of a corporate worker’s life. But the downside is the potential overload of information can lead me to miss some places of interest.
    When traveling solo, even for short periods, I can be prone to loneliness and anxiety with making connections to trains and planes but I love the independence I have travelling without friends and family. Plus as solo travellers all know, it keeps us from insulating ourselves from the local citizens.
    My only regret about solo travelling is not doing it sooner. About a decade or so ago, I came to conclusion that if I waited for other people, I would not go many places or get much done. It still took me a while to travel solo, but I am so glad I did! I find my solo travels are more rewarding and I look back on them with more fondness that my travels with company. Definitely not sad!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=13621803 Annette Samson

    #9 hits home. I love traveling solo, but inevitably hear myself saying ‘I wish my boyfriend/sister were here’

  • Ben

    To your list, I’d add, from my experience, the inevitability of loneliness. The frequency of that obviously depends on the kind of solo travel youre undertaking (an 18 year old Full Mooning Thailand, a retiree b&b-ing her way through Europe, etc.), but it’s bound to come up. Eventually I realized this didn’t say anything about the state of my social relationships, but is just sometimes a result of being in a new place, alone.

    Ben
    http://www.90secondtravel.com

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  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Hi there,

    Yes, many people who have partners still travel solo – for many reasons including having partners who are just not interested. I hope to hear from you again with where you’ve gone and how it went.

  • Cinbadx55

    I agree…..I once met a woman that said that after her divorce she went alone to Ireland.  That it was almost a coming of age trip for her.  She said it was freeing to her.  From that moment on I longed to try it.  I have and it was always good.  That is not to say that I have not had my moments where I wished someone was there to see…..the highlands out my window….or the lovers strolling in Italy.  But I think that I am very much tuned into what is around me alone….and that can be a blessing and not a curse.   I say travel is good either way…..I have never regretted a single trip….be it with a friend or alone.  They certainly both have benefits and drawbacks.

  • Cinbadx55

    I do the document freakout dance too.  I just know that I need that to all be in place.  I remember once I lost my plane ticket home while in Paris.  That was so stressful for me….but having used Yahoo travel I had a new ticket one day later.    But still I check and check and recheck that I have all my documents on every trip!  So great that I am not alone on that one.

  • Cinbadx55

    So good to hear I am not alone.  I love to travel – but don’t love flying.  Often the morning of the flight I think why did I plan this?  But then I am there…..and my curious mind leads me around a new country with the eyes of a child.  No regrets.  I often tell others that if you let your fears  of flying rule – you will never go any where.  I think travel is the single best thing to do to grow, and walk in another persons shoes.  I love to it if only to challenge my reality!!

  • Cinbadx55

    I agree not the only way to go…but certainly opens doors to adventure if you let NOTHING stop you from going. 

     I have traveled with friends and enjoyed it….and I have traveled alone and enjoyed it.  In fact one of my dear friends – we met while checking into our hotel in London.  We both had cameras, books, needed dinner,  were women traveling alone and anxious to explore.  We only spend a day together on that trip– then exchanged emails and  went our europe ways.  I know I would have never met her had I gone with a friend.  Now 6 years later –I visit her in Hawaii yearly,  and she visits me on the mainland.   We always talk of a photo trip to Asia…or Europe and I am sure some day we will.  But in the mean time we travel our own path and share the experience via phone and email.  I think she is alone on a trip in Asia now.  I am planning a trip to Italy. 

    I often tell my friends….sometimes I have to wait for me gather the money to go on my trips….if I had to wait for others to that ….I bet there are some trips I would have missed.  I would love for them to go….but more often then not it is not a passion for them and never makes it high on there list of things to do.  For me it is different, I am often planning my next trip on the flight home.  The best part is with each trip I come home a different person.

  • Kevin S Hawley

    A bar where the locals hang out for sure :)

  • Kevin S Hawley

    All ten of these hit home, but # 2, 3, and 4 really stand out for me. 

    2. I love researching a trip, but in the end it turns out to have been a waste of time. I pick up a few ideas or tips.  I end up not making an Itenerary and basically have nonplan at all except waiting for the boarding pass to print.  After arrival at my destination, it’s basically wandering around and asking local’s for advice.

    3. Solo travel used to stretch me.  My first solo was the breaking point.  After a few misfortunes, a friend said let’s go to Cancun and just party.  I agreed, the friend never showed upn at the airport.  I was sweating and near a panic attack :) . He had set me up I found out later. After arriving in Cancun “Solo”, I felt alone.  Within a couple of hours of laying in the sun, a couple of women identifide me as being alone,  I’m not too good at being incognito. Struck up a conversation with me and said to join them. So we hung out, next thing I know, I’m hanging out with everyone…Solo’s attract attention.  I finally had broken out of my cocoon of shyness. My confidence soared and I have been a solo traveler ever since.  I do wonder at times though if the pool side bartender’s generosity with Tequila shots helped out just a bit :) .

    4. Managing my documents, however few there may be and how many times I check and recheck shoots up the anxiety.  After 20 years of solo travel, this to is my Achilles heal. Losing my Passport on my last trip was not exactly reinforcement.  Luckily after backtracking in a dead sweat, I found it at the money exchange booth.  I’m always cool with the docs, except when I hit the airport.  Then it’s freak out time!

  • Widmerpam

    Janice, this describes me too.  I traveled solo in Europe when I was young and loved it, especially staying in hostels and meeting people of all ages and nationalities, but I trusted no-one.  Since then I have traveled with my husband who now finds travel too stressful, especially dealing with air travel.  I’m now thinking of solo travel.. who knows, maybe a cooking or language class would be a good start.
     
           

  • http://www.fangirlconfessions.com Robin Burks

    I agree with almost everything, save for the research. I love doing the planning and researching places and I’ll spend hours on regional TripAdvisor.com forums getting locals tips on things they enjoy and good restaurants. However, that doesn’t mean I give myself a strict itinerary when I arrive at my destination. In fact, the beauty of traveling alone is that you can go off-plan and do what you want when you want without having to run it by others first.

    To the person who finds solo travel sad. It’s really a state of mind. If you’re comfortable in your own company, traveling alone can be a great way to recharge the batteries (especially if you have to return to family and responsibilities). Traveling alone is also a way to get to know yourself better, but also a way to make new friends. I always say I’m never truly traveling alone because I always end up chatting with people on the train or in a cafe or wherever I happen to be. Which is wonderful for me because I also tend to be a very shy person at home.

  • http://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com Spinster’s Compass

    Most of your list describes me also. :-) Solo travel has its costs and benefits. The experiences while travelling solo are priceless.

  • solotraveler

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a comprehensive comment Ted. I agree. Solo travel is not the only way to travel and it may not necessarily be the preferred way to travel. As I mentioned, I travel with others on occasion as well. But I must say that I do end up in some very interesting adventures when I travel solo.

  • http://www.tedsimages.com Ted

    Shannon, I’m not convinced that every solo traveler can get “to a point that indulging in her own company is a fabulous adventure.” Sure, that’s probably a desirable state. But it’s not strictly necessary.

    I think the only thing that is necessary is the ability and willingness to go out and travel alone, when that’s the appropriate thing to do. It doesn’t have to be one’s preferred way to go, a spiritual epiphany, or even a special indulgence. For me at least, the main benefit of solo travel is that it lets me go somewhere I want to go rather than staying home to wait for a compatible companion who may never arrive. That’s enough for me.

    Maybe someday I’ll discover what makes some people so enthusiastic about solo travel. But until then, it’s just something I do because it’s the most appropriate option. It may not be my preferred option, and it may not be as enjoyable as going somewhere with a good friend. But it’s still better than staying home, and it’s enjoyable in its own way even without the “indulgence.”

    As for Rane, it’s unfortunate that she is closing herself to the option of solo travel. But perhaps she just doesn’t need that option. It’s more unfortunate that she considers it “sad.” But it’s quite possible that her circumstances will change at some point to make her reconsider solo travel.

  • Gene

    Solo travelers are content with themselves and like their own company. It takes guts to travel solo as you depend on yourself for everything and for this to happen one must know oneself and not have to depend on others to supply one’s needs.
    Rane you are fortunate to have family around with whom you can travel. I love photography and find that in order to keep that family and friends i need to travel solo when i want to take as many photos as i can. In sharing it with them i travel again…but have not to worry about whether they are bored hanging about while i take dozens of photos of the same scene.
    I have just recently discovered this fact – people get bored travelling around with someone who is a photographer so solo travelling is a recent experience for me.
    The Solotraveller has been honest in her evaluation of the process but like all processess it gets better with practice…

  • Shannon

    i’m a little sad for Rane that she hasn’t gotten to a point that indulging in her own company is a fabulous adventure. I have great friends and family who I enjoy spending time with at home or on vacation, but sometimes I take great pleasure in setting my own agenda, with no thought to anyone else’s needs but my own. It forces me to see the place I’m visiting in a different way and I’ve made friends that I probably wouldn’t have if I were relying on familiar companionship.

    Solo travel isn’t sad. It’s brave and it’s fascinating and it’s well-deserved selfish pleasure.

  • Tania in Aus

    thanks for the great post – a lot of it rings true for me.

    Sorry Rane, each to their own and solo travel is more difficult for some than others. I am sorry that you feel it is sad to travel solo but I disagree and you may be making that judgement based on your experiences to date.

    Personally I am at the end of a 6 week solo trip around the US and it has been great – there have been challenges and things I would change with hindsight but it has been a good experience for me. I particularly agree about the good and bad of B&B’s and boutiques, each has a flavour and as long as you know that up front (trip advisor is very helpful with this) you can adapt to the individual style.

    I travel solo and with others and solo travel allows me to do things a little differently.

  • Lynda Fraser

    Every experience in life is a joy if you approach it that way…and that includes Solo travel. I love going it on my own. It means I get to pick what I want to see, when I want to eat and when I want to sleep or read!!! I approach each new city with a sense of awe…I tend to do a lot of internet searching before I go so I don’t miss out on anything that might interest me. I also think some of the tours different cities offer are a good first day thing cause they only touch on what to see and you may want to go back and have a longer look at something later.

  • solotraveler

    Hi Rane, I guess just about anything can be sad if you approach it that way.

    My purpose here is not to suggest that solo travel is the only way to go. I’ve had many fabulous travel experiences with my late husband, family and friends. My purpose is to highlight the merits of traveling solo. To show how solo travel can be the right choice of travel under certain circumstances and the choice that grows a person more than any other form of travel. Please have a read of many posts here, especially in the “Perspectives” section, and sign up for the Solo Traveler newsletter so that you can read the Solo Travel Manifesto. I think you’ll discover just how rich solo travel can be.

  • Rane

    I think traveling solo is very sad. I hate to travel solo. I enjoy more a certain travel when shared with friends especially with family. The last time I travel I was with my husband and it was a pretty amazing experience. For me traveling solo is like a boring adventure.

  • http://thirtysomethingtravels.blogspot.com/ Hema

    What a great post. Much like you I’m not a good researcher and do get nervous entering a new city. For those reasons I’m not a true solo traveller but have opted to do small group tours. There’s comfort for me in knowing that I have a place to sleep every night and the safety net of a local guide should I need help.

  • solotraveler

    Yes, I’ve been stuck with the chatty hosts before as well. Usually they’re sharing good information like the history of the house or insider views of the town but, on occasion, it is a bit of a pain. :)

  • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie

    A fun and honest post.

    Agree with trains vs planes. Flying often feels like cheating; like it’s too easy. I love arriving by train in a new city, drifting past the countryside, then the outskirts appear, then the city. The only fun thing about flying is hovering over beautiful or unusual landscapes when landing.

    I’m forever ambivalent about B&Bs. I like their individuality, and many are so lovely. But overly chatty hosts at breakfast, where it’s difficult to leave the table without being impolite – that’s one of my travelling nightmares.

  • http://www.theplanetd.com Dave and Deb

    Wonderful post Janice. Number four made me laugh. I am always double checking my travel documents as well. I am sure that I have lost them all the time and have panic attacks and have to check regularly. It is weird I know.
    I get frustrated with all the waits flying too. It drives me crazy being at the airport. It is getting worse with every flight. The waits and lines seem to be getting longer and longer.

  • solotraveler

    There’s truth to that! I’ve had similar experiences..

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca ayngelina

    My truth, people are nicer to solo travelers. I don’t know why but I talk to couples and duos in Latin America and they seem to get ripped off more whereas I’ve had so many locals go out of their way to help me when they see I’m alone.

  • http://www.firepiperpat.blogspot.com Pat

    Wow! With the exception of #10, I’d swear you were writing about me! I actually prefer to travel alone, just because I don’t have to negotiate with anyone (even if it’s a loved one) about what to do or where to go.

  • http://www.examiner.com/adventure-travel-in-chicago/ted-nelson Ted Nelson

    I am the same way with tourist offices. They can be useful, but I would rather get information from other travelers or at a bar.

  • solotraveler

    Thanks Marcelle. I definitely could benefit from more research but then I might miss some of the great happenstance discoveries. Who knows. We each have our own style. I should also mention that I research some destinations better than others.

  • marcelle korah

    although it’s true what you said, but I am an experienced solo-traveller, I’ve been travelling for so long on my own and I’ve learned that before you arrive at your destination, check it out on the internet, and write down important info that you need for your trip, or you could ask tourist info of that location on the web, even you could get road maps for that place or other transport info and of course depending on what you like to do on your vacation, you can plan places to visit and how much it costs, or better yet any travel agent has lots of brochures that you could also check out. being prepared also gives you confidence and less fear or anxiety…

  • http://www.joeicarlton.com Joei Carlton Hossack

    I totally agree with everything you said but I’m a “fly (or drive to be more precise) by the seat of my pants” kind of person. Because when I travel North America I do it in a camper I can stay anywhere – and which city, town, country-place doesn’t have a campground, Wal Mart or truck stop. I just go and stop when I feel like it. Joei

  • solotraveler

    Thanks so much Ruth. Lots of great tips here. You’re obviously a very experienced solo traveler.

  • http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com Ruth Kozak

    I’ve been mostly a solo traveller for over 30 years now and I love it, but the tips you gave are very realistic. I generally research the place before I go so I know what I want to see and where I might possibly stay, but lots of times I just go ‘cold’ and hope for the best. These days there is a lot more crime than there used to be (I travel lots in Greece) and you really have to be aware of your surroundings and belongings and keep your valuables (money, credit cards etc) in a body pack or out of sight safely tucked away. I have done lots of solo camping in Greece and never had a problem as they are supervised camp sites and well operated. (I was just camping in Naxos for 5 days this summer). But I’d never go to an unregistered place. And when I go out to eat a lone I take my journal to write in or some music to listen to while I sit and observe. Or sometimes I get chatting to people at other tables. My favorite thing to do is to have a special sunset picnic by myself with food, wine, music and of course in a spectacular spot.

  • http://officementors.com Elizabeth

    Hey – I always check in at the library in a new city…to ask the locals where to have lunch, etc. Never fails to net solid information about the area…

  • http://thecornytravelerschronicles.wordpress.com/ Abhi

    This is SO true! You totally mirrored my thoughts! Thanks!

  • http://turkishtravelblog.com Natalie – Turkish Travel Blog.

    I am glad you mentioned six and eight. I don’t like flying either and people always laugh when i say I like to travel. There are other ways to travel.

    Eight is a no no for me as well. Overpriced excursions and incorrect information. Prefer to surf the net for any travel information I need.