There’s a bit of pressure when you tell someone where you’re going.
“Chicago? You have to try this one hot dog place, it’s the best one there.”
So of course, you add it to your list of stops even though you don’t really care about hot dogs, and then someone tells you about some great museum that you just have to check out, so you add it to your list, and then someone tells you about a pizza joint you should try, and then you tell them you’ve tried Chicago pizza and wasn’t a fan, and they respond with “It’s better, trust me.” So you add it to the list.
What happens if you don’t? You either tell them the truth: you just didn’t feel like it. Or you make up excuses: you didn’t have time, it was closed when you went, you couldn’t find it. To which they reply, “Aww, darn. It’s so good, you should’ve gone.”
Once that exchange is over, you tell them about your trip. Maybe how you spent most of your time hanging out with a friend and didn’t do much sightseeing. Then when they throw in a remark saying what a shame it is that you didn’t get to see this or that, you get a little defensive. You hadn’t seen your friend in a while and it was really fun. You got to tour a campus, try some of their popular restaurants, and you did see a few sights along the way.
Or there’s the other end. You did every single thing on your tourist map and you’re pretty proud of yourself for packing in the highlights into a few days. You’re telling your friend about the great people you met or the awesome food you ate when suddenly, “Did you get to try [insert unknown local food item here]?” Um… nope. I think, I don’t know, I just pointed to random things on the menu. What is it? “Oh, it’s this really great dessert you should’ve tried. You’re such a tourist.” Cool, thanks.
There’s also this: “Why…” Why are you going alone? Why are you going there? It’s dangerous, what if there’s an emergency, why would you want to go alone, why don’t you wait until someone’s free to go with you, you’re going to get yourself killed.
Everyone has an opinion of how an vacation should go, what you should do, even where it should be. And this seems especially true if whoever you’re talking to has never thought of solo traveling. I get it, they’ve never tried it so they’re worried. The world can seem scary if you’ve never stepped into it alone. But there’s worried, and then there’s obnoxious. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to try everything. Don’t go on someone else’s vacation.
If you want to spend all day in DC’s free museums, go for it. If you want to drop hundreds on a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, have fun. If you want to take a cooking class in South Africa or take a food tour in Beijing, just do it. If you want to spend the whole trip on the beach, wear sunscreen to protect against skin cancer. The only thing stopping you is your wallet and possibly the color of your passport. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not “legit” for hitting every single tourist spot in Paris or “lame” for not seeing them at all. Do whatever the fuck you want.
See also: Don’t let your wallet stop you. Learn how to get cheap flights.
There isn’t one way to solo travel. You don’t have to be alone the whole time, you don’t have to stick to a group. Do whatever you feel comfortable with and don’t let people judge you for doing otherwise.
So how should you travel solo? Here’s my list. Feel free to add onto it.
You should be respectful at home as well, but abroad, you are a representative of wherever you’re from. Be kind in your interactions with people and mindful of your environment. You are a guest in their country. Just follow the Golden Rule and you should be fine.
You might see something you’re grossed out by. And that’s okay. Your brain doesn’t like it, you can’t help it. And reactions are okay, too. But don’t be rude and try not to overreact. If you see people picking their noses, just turn your head and keep walking. If you’re offered something you just can’t force yourself to try, politely decline. “Ewwww, what is that?” is probably not an appropriate response to seeing someone eat their meal unless you guys are best friends. Don’t assume people are rude for doing something that’s considered improper at home. Every country has it’s own set of cultural and societal rules.
Go prepared with an idea of what behaviors may be considered to be impolite. You might get a free pass for being a foreigner, but you don’t want to accidentally chew gum in the wrong place. !!!
Check the weather, see if there are any holidays you should be aware of, and make sure you have all your required vaccines. My friend’s mom once had issues entering Taiwan because her passport was due to expire in six months, even though she would be in and out before it happened. Since you’re going alone, you need to be doubly prepared.
Bring everything you need with room to spare. You don’t want to have to buy a coat you could’ve brought from home, and then have to wear your new coat home. Need an adapter? It’s hard to look up where to buy adapters when your phone’s dead. But you still want to travel light; it’s easier to move around and keep track of your belongings when all you have is a backpack. Plus, it’s cheaper and faster to bring just a carry-on than to check and pick up your bag. If you have trouble packing light, check out my article Tips for Packing Light.
See also: My Master Travel Packing Checklist
So… you get that it’s important to be prepared, right? 🙂
I like to know key phrases like “Do you speak English?” or “Where’s x?” before I leave. Most people I’ve encountered seem to understand that I’m an American that only speaks a couple shards of a few languages, but it has always helped me to start with their native tongue. More often than not, a local will hear your accent and switch over to English if they’re comfortable with it. And either way, people appreciate the effort.
Not in the “I’m going to walk down any ol’ dark, empty alley at 2 AM in a country where I don’t know the language” kind of way. It doesn’t even have to be a “Hell yeah, I can do anything” kind of way. But face any fears of being somewhere/meeting someone/learning something new and see if you can take a step past them. A trip is a great time and place to try something you might never consider doing at home, especially when you’re going it solo.
You should take the necessary precautions to be safe. You are in a new area, after all. Don’t let the weirdness of live octopus keep you from trying it, but chew very very thoroughly. And meeting new people is great; getting piss drink with strangers in a foreign country is not. Don’t be the horror travel story the rest of us end up reading about in the papers. (Okay, our news feeds.)
I like to explore a city at a relaxing pace, meet fellow travelers, and mingle with the locals. Some people like to go faster, others like to go slower. Some people like to go skydiving. Others go straight to the beach. While there might be a common theme, everyone has a different idea of what’s fun. One of many reasons I like to travel solo. Don’t let someone else’s definition of fun or a vacation define your itinerary. Good luck, have fun.