So you want to travel solo?
I’m not immune to being wildly uncomfortable. At 12, my family and I moved to Atlanta from a small city in Central Illinois. At 22, I moved to New York City, only knowing my grandma and a couple of acquaintances. Then at 24, I took a cross-country road trip to begin an adventure in Los Angeles. But as much as I live for change, I’m not the best when it comes to being alone. Being around people energizes and inspires me. Which is why I was worried to take my first solo trip to a country (France) I had never traveled to, knew no one and couldn’t speak the language.
Traveling alone was not in the initial plan. I found an airline ticket to Paris from Los Angeles for under $500, and went for it. I’d figure out my travel companion later…because Paris. I was going and that’s what mattered most. But after asking friends and family, and not getting anywhere, I’d realized this trip would be a solo one. And initially, that was scary. And then it became exciting.
If you’re debating taking a trip because you might not have a partner or a friend to go with…do it. Do it now. Even if you’re going across the country, across state lines or traveling an hour away from home. Not all experiences are meant to be in the company of others. Get out of your comfort zone. The following tips helped me get out of mine.
1) Have a Plan
I’ll be honest, I planned the sh*t out of this trip. I’m talking spreadsheets. A spreadsheet containing restaurants and bars I wanted to eat and drink at, museums I wanted to see and shops I wanted to visit, all categorized by Arrondissement (neighborhood). I even mapped out my days. My natural inclination is to plan (solo trip or not), but even if it isn’t yours, I think there’s merit in having a plan of action. What do I want to do? What do I want to see? Where do I want to eat? Answer these questions so you can spend time exploring, and not twirling your thumbs overwhelmed by the amount of activities you could do. Give yourself a free day to take things as they come if you’re worried that planning will kill spontaneity. It won’t. Instead, it will keep you sane.
2) You’re Not Too Old for a Hostel, and Not Too Bourgeois for an Airbnb
First off, kudos if you can afford a couple of nights at a hotel by yourself. However, this is not the time to flex those adult muscles. You’ll want to be around people, and hotels rarely give you that connection. For my trip, I opted to book a room through Airbnb, which was only $10 more than the hostels I looked at. The trick is to book a room, and not an apartment or a house, which gives you the opportunity to interact with your host. The guy who owned the apartment I was staying in, was super engaging and personable, something that I had specifically sought out when reading reviews. Of course, this might not always be the case, depending on your host. Hostels though, will always give you the opportunity to meet new people.
3) Purchase an International Mobile Plan
If you’re traveling abroad, you don’t want to be stuck in a foreign city without cell service. I don’t know how people traveled before cellphones, but since we have this luxury, use it. Having an international plan allowed me to keep in touch with my parents, prevented me from getting lost and overall, gave me some piece of mind. My plan with Verizon cost $10 a day for talk, text and data.
4) Book a Class/Workshop/Tour
One of the peaks of my trip was taking a cooking class at Le Foodist. Four hours of cooking a three course meal, engaging in great conversation with my peers and drinking wine during the course of it. I was the only person not paired up, and I didn’t feel excluded or alone the entire time. Look into booking a class of some sort, a walking tour or a museum tour. You’ll meet people and learn something new along the way.
5) Meet up with Friends of Friends of Friends
As mentioned, I knew no one in Paris – not a long lost second cousin twice removed or an acquaintance from college. But I did know friends who had friends who lived there. One friend, who I had not seen in three years, connected me with a woman who was attending graduate school in Paris. Ditto, a couple of days earlier, when I met another friend of a friend for drinks near the Seine. Friends might not think to connect you with people they know, so be bold and ask around.
6) Be Open
You gotta be open. There’s no way around it. The one thing I was worried about during this trip was eating alone. But when you’re traveling solo, that’s inevitable, so I sucked it up on my first night and went to a restaurant on my list. Waiting in line, I noticed a woman behind me alone and speaking English to someone on her phone. After she hung up, I introduced myself. We made conversation as we waited to be seated, and ended up dining together. It was a great start to my trip, and I wouldn’t have had that experience if I kept to myself. You have to take the initiative and start conversations with people, and most importantly, be open to new experiences.
Have you traveled alone? If so, what was your experience like?