Ten things to do when you travel alone

keith-lech-zuers-photo

Reconnecting with nature high up in the mountains of Tirol.

Some people love travelling alone and there are some that simply wouldn’t dream of it. I used to belong to the latter group. That all changed when I went on a (predominantly) solo, five-month round-the-world trip. I had the time of my life and rarely experienced a lonely moment! Most of all, I found it to be a very empowering experience. For those of you who still have doubts, well, give it a go, even if it’s just for a week. Based on my own experiences, I compiled ten tips on what to do when you travel solo.

Things to do when you travel alone

1. Travel with an open mind

I consider travel to be the best school there is. It sparks the imagination and creativity and it inspires me to be adaptable, compassionate and understanding. As I travelled around the world, I was exposed to different customs, cuisines, languages and the like, and saw how very ordinary things are done differently in different countries. How we react to such differences can make or break a trip, so my first decision when I embarked on my round-the-world trip was to go with an open mind. I literally told myself out loud to leave my judgements at home, accept the differences and try to learn from them. Travelling with that mindset taught me so much, broadened my horizons and was a constant source of inspiration.

2. Opt for a Homestay

The proliferation of Airbnb and homestay booking platforms has created terrific opportunities to enjoy a truly local experience, whether it’s in a big city or out in the country. Choosing this accommodation type allows you to get to know the locals and experience the local lifestyle first hand, especially if you choose a shared accommodation. Don’t use their home as simply a place to sleep. Use this opportunity to brush up on your social skills, and if you’re in a foreign country, your language (or sign language 🙂 ) skills. Another great thing about homestays: you’ll never have to eat alone. Show your interest and it will be reciprocated multi-fold. At the end of your stay, you might have made a new group of friends for life.

These locals introduced me to poutine in Montréal!

3. Reflect

This is one of the best reasons to travel alone. You’ll finally have all the time to yourself and what better way to use this time than to reflect! See it as a kind of ‘getting to know me’ exercise, a worthy investment in yourself. After all, getting to know yourself better and identifying your talents, strengths and flaws will allow you to apply your talents and strengths more effectively in any situation and help you work on your flaws. Reflect on the past: how you reacted in various situations and why, if your ego has ever clouded your judgement, your relationships with your family, friends and loved ones and how these relationships have evolved and what were the catalysts for change… just to name a few. Reflect on the present and the future: where am I today, how did I get here and where am I heading? What has made me the person I am today? What baggage am I carrying with me and of what use will it be for me tomorrow? Am I passionate about what I do now? Ask yourself some of the following questions: what makes me happy? What makes me angry? What makes me feel secure/insecure? What are my strengths and weaknesses, why are they my strengths and weaknesses, and in which situations do my strengths and weaknesses come into play? What makes me laugh/cry? I’m sure you’ll be able to think up many more interesting questions to tackle.

Keith-Velvet-moment

Make time to reflect.

It’ll probably take several months or perhaps even longer to go through the entire list and it may be difficult to find an answer to some of the questions but it really is worth the effort. Take your time but open your mind to your thoughts and be honest with yourself. Oh, and don’t forget to socialise during your trip. Talking to strangers is a fantastic way to  reflect.

4. Open your senses

Travelling is an opportunity to gain new experiences and broaden your horizons. In order to fully appreciate and exploit this wonderful opportunity, it’s important to be aware of and open to whatever may come down your path. Be aware of the details as well as the bigger context. For instance, the colour of a leaf (detail) as well as the lushness of the forest (bigger context); or the scent of a single fruit as well as the variety of fruit at a market stall. Being in this state of awareness opens doors to a whole new world of sights, sounds and scents, as well as their relations with each other.

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A souk in Amman.

To help me be more aware, I often do a simple exercise I learned from a martial arts instructor many years ago. Ok, this may sound silly to some but I find that it does help in increasing my awareness of my surroundings. The exercise is as follows: stand anywhere you like, preferably outside. Then bring your hands together to your chest level. Your fingers should be outstretched, and your palms parallel to and facing one another but not touching. Slowly move your hands forward, still parallel to one another, in a lightly (upward) sloping line until your arms are fully stretched. When you do this, keep your eyes focused on your hands and breathe in normally (through your nose). When your arms are fully stretched, exhale slowly through your mouth as you move your hands away from one another in a wide arc until your arms are back at your sides. As you do this, change the focus away from your hands and look ahead and around you. Notice the wide space that is being created as your hands part. The whole movement is similar to a breaststroke but then in slow motion. Repeat this exercise several times. I find that this exercise opens my eyes (quite literally) as the narrow focus changes into a wide focus. The effect is amazing.

5. Try something new

One of the great things about travelling alone is that you can go anywhere you want on a whim and do anything you like. That includes going to places you previously might not have thought of or doing something you’ve never tried before. All in the spirit of broadening your horizons.

Rapelling to challenge my fear of heights!

One of the themes of my RTW trip was challenging myself to confront certain fears. That obviously meant doing stuff I wouldn’t ever have dreamed of doing. Before I knew it, I found myself zip-lining across the forest canopy 20-odd meters above the ground (confronting my fear of heights) and swimming with sharks (confronting my ‘Jaws’ complex!); these were fun, exhilarating experiences with some educational value. I realised that these fears were, well, based on nothing really, and I’ve kept challenging myself constantly since then. One unforgettable challenge was skydiving!

My first and only skydive! At Empurias Bravas in Costa Brava.

Whatever you choose, have fun but keep it safe always! To be sure, get a travel insurance policy that covers your travel and any adventurous activities.

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6. Give yourself a treat

It’s hard work travelling alone 😉 . Lugging your bags across cobble-stone streets or up staircases, planning the trip, researching your destination, arranging transportation, keeping an eye on your budget… you’ll have to do all that on your own. All that hard work has to be rewarded of course and what better way to do it than to treat yourself to something special once in a while. A glass of exquisite wine, a meal at an excellent restaurant, an afternoon at a spa, whatever suits your fancy. Consider it as a pat on the back for saving up all those months to make this trip possible and for a job well done in planning and executing it!

keith-consuegra-photo

Your’s truly enjoying a fab saffron G&T at Café La Antigua in Consuegra, Spain.

7. Beware of scams

Travelling alone makes you more approachable but this factor unfortunately also makes you an easier target for all sorts of scams. Some are quite transparent and can be easily brushed off by a friendly shake of the head and a smile but some scams are downright ingenious. Strangers posing as students who are saving money to study overseas, or children who’ve lost their parents and need money to go to school, or fellow tourists who’ve been robbed of everything they have and have no money to buy a meal, let alone a ticket back home. Their stories may or may not be true but there are other ways of helping instead of giving them money directly. There are a multitude of scams and it may involve a single person or a group. Unknown to you, there may be other co-conspirators waiting to take the scam into the next phase. Be especially wary if you’re invited back to their home after a friendly chat. Some scams involve giving you a helping hand such as with your bags (how many bags have been whisked away at bus terminals?!!) or someone offering to clean the bird poo that’s dropped on your back or shoulder (it’s mustard!) while an accomplice pickpockets you.

It’s a good idea to prepare yourself by checking with the local tourism office or guidebook of your destination for known scams. If approached, listen carefully to your instincts and don’t hesitate to walk away. Keep it friendly, keep calm and never be rude. A (repeated) ‘no thank you’ and keep on walking always works best. Staying stationary only invites persistence. And always keep an eye on your belongings. Travel safe!

8. Stop for a recap

When you’re travelling a lot and seeing and experiencing so much in a relatively short space of time, it’s great to stop for a moment, maybe while you’re having a coffee in a café or a glass of wine on a sunny terrace, and recap what you’ve done and seen so far. Ask yourself what day it is and where you are right at that moment and what you did earlier that day.

Then ask yourself where you were, what you did and experienced exactly a week earlier or two weeks earlier or maybe even a month earlier. Try to conjure a specific moment in your mind and include details like the surroundings, people, colours, scents or sounds; anything that might’ve caught your attention during that moment.

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One of the most colourful shops in the Mercado Central in Belo Horizonte.

It’s easier said than done! But if you can recall a certain experience and the emotions attached to it (i.e. how you felt at that moment, a scent you smelled or a certain song you heard), and couple that with a specific moment in time, you’d be surprised how many details you still remember. I find this recap helps me digest all the information (that comes with all the experiences) more effectively. In addition to being a simple memory exercise, I also find that reliving those experiences in my mind enhances awareness of and appreciation for my trip.

9. Make new friends

One of the great things about travelling alone is that it makes you a lot more approachable. There will be countless opportunities to meet new people. So, take good advantage of these factors and make some new friends along the way. Take the time to have a chat with the locals and/or fellow travellers. Get to know them by listening to what they have to say and add some depth to the conversation by, for instance, asking about their every day lives or telling them something interesting about yourself. Most importantly, keep an open mind and listen without judging. Talking to strangers, telling them something about yourself and acquiring their feedback is also a great way to reflect. You may learn something new about yourself or acquire a fresh perspective. I’ve learned many new perspectives and gained tonnes of inspiration during my travels by approaching people with an open, positive mind. It’s made my travels a lot more enjoyable, meaningful and memorable.

Visiting Renate in her hometown Canberra. I met Renate on one of my earliest travels and we’ve remained friends since.

10. Learn a new language

Travelling alone provides us with a great opportunity to learn new things or pick up a new skill. In the increasingly globalised village we live in nowadays, what skill could be better than languages? During my travels, I’ve often met other fellow tourists who were learning and/or practising a new language.

Language schools geared at tourists are popping up all over the world. A good friend of mine spent a month in Guatemala and Costa Rica learning Spanish, coupled with a homestay, before heading off to South America for five months. She did a beginners course in Antigua, Guatemala and completed an intermediate course in San José, Costa Rica. She opted for homestays as she was able to practise what she learned with the local families she stayed with. Needless to say, the experience was invaluable. She encountered no language problems, made many new friends and when she returned to the Netherlands, she got a job spearheading a Dutch company’s marketing efforts in South America.

If you’re not totally convinced about the benefits of solo travel, read “Ten reasons to travel alone” and “Taking a solo road trip” (a brilliantly written piece on solo travel by my travel blogger pal, TheSoloWriter). For my readers who have travelled alone, I’m interested to know about your experiences or if you have more solo travel tips to share. Please share these in the comments section.

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26 Responses to “Ten things to do when you travel alone”

  1. Nadia 17/10/2011 2:28 pm
    #

    I was an accidental lone traveler. It all started when I realized that I had a 2 weeks holiday and none of my friends are available to travel with me. Also, I just got out of a relationship which left me mentally and emotionally exhausted. So I decided to have a go at it. Never once I regretted my decision. It made me become who I am today, and I’m constantly looking forward to more experiences of traveling. I’ve traveled alone, with a partner and with a group. All of these have its own pros and cons. I agree with your list though. And I am adding a few other options/comments.

    Opt for a homestay
    — or try couchsurfing. (couchsurfing.org)

    Reflect
    — from A-Z of your past, present and perhaps plan your future

    Open your senses
    — exactly, and a lot of endless possibilities

    Try something new
    — and nobody to tell you not to!!

    Treat yourself
    — yes, you are not restricted by other people’s budget

    Beware of scams
    — you will have to learn all the street tips from locals (from couchsurfing hosts too!)

    Take your own picture
    — learn to travel with a very light tripod. I recommend, gorrilapod

    Stop for a recap
    — and its important to keep a journal, also, bring an external hard disk to backup all the photos!

    Make new friends
    — and keep in touch! facebook has helped me to connect with all the travelers I’ve crossed paths with. who knows one day you’ll meet each other again! i once met an american guy in new zealand, then when i was in new york, he happened to be doing an internship there, and then, he came to Kuala Lumpur! all within 3 years! thank you facebook!

    Learn a new language
    — or at least important ones, like, Thank You, and phrases for directions in case you got yourself lost!

    🙂
    Kuala Lumpur Lass.

  2. velvet 10/10/2011 9:47 am
    #

    Hello Lari,
    Thanks so much for your beautiful comment. I’ve had the same experience: I never felt lonely for a second, I guess because I feel comfortable with myself and I can easily keep myself entertained. Thanks for the great advice in your comment.

    Best regards,
    Keith

  3. lari 09/10/2011 10:35 pm
    #

    have had the pleasure to travel alone and with family and friends – and must say travel alone is most enjoyable – just be prepared to pay more for a single room and meet the costs of a tour on ur own. australia is a great place for lone travellers – the distances are amazing 🙂 europe and asia too have their joys, perils and compensation. life is a journey in itself – sometimes u are with family , friends and sometimes u travel on ur own – be comfortable with ur self and u will not be lonely. as a now older female traveller i would reccommend that u do not let the thoughts and fears of others stop u on ur lifes journey – the world is there for the looking -:) the alternative is staying at home by urself it is not scary once u take the first few steps 🙂

  4. myla 28/02/2011 7:27 am
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    it’s my first time to travel alone and this article is very helpful… thanks 🙂

  5. velvet 26/02/2011 10:17 pm
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    Thanks for your comment. I truly admire your spirit. Travel safe.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  6. Provi 26/02/2011 10:03 pm
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    Nice article. Yes I am a single traveler. Senior age. Since I retired I understood they were 2 choices either stay home or travel alone. choose the second. My friends think that it is strange’ that I am able to do this. (not normal) I love it. So far I went in a transatlantic cruise, Thailand, Egypt, Machu-Pichu. Mostly cruises. I do not eat in the ship cafeteria, everyday I get well dress, go to all captain activities, ask to be placed on different tables during dinner. Meet the most interested people, some of them gave me the e-mail site I keep in touch. These are people that travel with others. nice conversation. I listen a lot instead of overwhelming the conversations. Smile to others and I am polit. Very important.

    Yes I am shy. but I learned to overcome this. I do have an accent right away they know that although I live in CA I am not american. That is interesting during conversation.
    To other give a try specially if you area Senior, healthy and able to do it. The room is your no waiting for decision maker, is up to you. Just protect yourself, be safe, dress well, head up; look good. YOU WILL ENJOY YOURSELF. OTHER WILLS ENVY YOU. IF A PARTNER COME INTO YOUR LIFE NEVER SAY NO GIVE A TRY. My next trip Valencia,Spain

  7. stefanie 09/09/2010 1:08 am
    #

    I loved your article. I have traveled alone at least twice a year since my divorce. It sounds odd to my friends who travel with their families, but I really love it. As you said, it is so empowering. And while one day I might find a travel partner, it feels good knowing that I do not have to depend on others to see the world..

  8. velvet 21/04/2010 1:17 pm
    #

    Thank you Laurie for your wonderful comment!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  9. Laurie 21/04/2010 12:34 pm
    #

    This is a great article, thanks. I took my first solo trip last year and to Morocco. I was nervous at first, but as you say being open to trying new things and meeting people really opened up a world of possibilities unlike any other trip I’d taken before.

    It is empowering and enriching — for the experiences others introduce you to and for the friendships that extend beyond the travel. LOL about taking a picture of yourself, you’re so right, I did it and felt so silly at first but it’s another way to meet people and it’s strangely liberating at the same time, everyone should try it!

  10. Runaway Juno 21/04/2010 4:35 am
    #

    Yes I am a fan of solo travel. I do all the 10 things! 🙂 haha how wonderful. Sometimes having some company from your world is great, but make a company on the road is better ( for me, just yet). Not many of my Korean friends are open for travel or meet strangers. yes they discribe as ‘strangers’.
    I can BE myself is the best thing.

    I sure take a lot of picture of me! haha
    Nice article Keith! 🙂

    Juno.

  11. JFK 19/12/2009 12:10 pm
    #

    Thanks for these tips, but I think I still wouldn’t like traveling alone.
    Mostly because I am a bit shy and if there is no one with me to push me a bit, I would not really get myself to try out something new.
    Also if you discover something interesting it’s just half the fun if you cannot share it with anyone. I want to say “wow, look at this!”

  12. herry 01/11/2009 1:13 pm
    #

    i am living in china.i like traveling here and there alone.in this way ,i can release myself from traditional life and orthdox belief.
    these tips are useful.
    i like cycling.

  13. Kaden 23/07/2009 6:55 am
    #

    Traveling solo is the most pleasurable ways to experience the world. Nothing and no one to really hold you back, whatever you feel like doing you can do it. I’m 24 and just recently started traveling on my own, I hve such an adventurous spirit. This past weekend I booked a last minute vacation to NYC (I live in Florida). Explored Brooklyn and Manhattan on my own and learned how to use the subway system. I had the time of my life! Met other solo travelers too, people I normally wouldn’t meet if I were with a group. Traveling Alone is very empowering.. Came back from the trip with a
    confidence I never had before. 🙂 already planning my next solo trip to either Tokyo, Hawaii or London. Hmmmmmmmm

  14. jim 22/07/2009 10:39 pm
    #

    Liberating, empowering, etc. are not words that have ever come to mind. I’ve traveled alone my entire life (well, since I was 12 anyway) and wouldn’t want it any other way. On the times I have had to travel with others, I’ve found it boring, frustrating and stressful.

    If you want to see what you want to see, just do it. Get off the beaten path and don’t make plans unless it’s required. I don’t know what to say about the dangers, I’ve walked through the middle of them. In my opinion if you can communicate with people despite any language barriers and have a sense of humor (ie make them laugh), there are no real dangers.

  15. velvet 20/06/2009 6:27 pm
    #

    Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. Keeping safe is paramount when travelling alone but a good dose of adventurous spirits is important too. I’ll definitely be checking out your site.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  16. Lisa at Wanderlust Women 20/06/2009 2:45 am
    #

    Keith – “Have passport and solo travel” has been my mantra for more than two decades. I found your post through Tammie at http://www.soloroadtrip.com

    Women have to keep safety in mind but you also need an adventurous spirit.

    Next week I’m talking about why I do what I do, drop by and let me know what you think.

    Happy travels.

  17. velvet 28/04/2009 10:55 pm
    #

    Thank you for your comments!

    “Psychological sofa” – love that term. A solo trip IS the “psychological sofa” and that is so true!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  18. jen laceda 28/04/2009 9:11 pm
    #

    Keith, I wish I had done a solo world tour before I got married / had family. Nowadays, I’m just cooking up ways on how to convince the hubby to go on a roun-the-world journey (with our daughter). But he has a great (aka busy) hospital job and wouldn’t think of taking a sabbatical. What’s a girl going to do? Heeheehee. These tips are great. It didn’t even cross my mind to do a ‘home stay’. That’s a good tip!

  19. Solo Road Trip 28/04/2009 5:31 pm
    #

    Thank you Velvet Escape for the mention! Solo road trips (and solo travel in general) are something I’m passionate about. Few things in life are as liberating, empowering, and rejuvenating. And this applies to both men and women. I have as many men email me with trepidations about going it alone as I do have women. The rewards are not delineated by gender. I liken solo trip to a “psychological sofa”. LOL — Tammie Dooley

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