When it comes to the concept of solo travel, there are two camps of people: those who travel by themselves often and absolutely love it, and those who are intrigued in theory but are a bit too weirded out to actually pack up a suitcase and head off to a new city on their own.
Throughout most of my 20s, I fell into the latter camp. I didn’t travel across the globe growing up as many of my college classmates had, and while I’d studied abroad in the U.K. during my junior year, I didn’t do a ton of solo exploring. Post-college, I contented myself with the yearly girls’ trips and weddings that encouraged me to venture to new cities—with the comfort of having my BFFs by my side, of course.
It wasn’t until 2018 when finally, at age 27, I took my first solo trip. I had long been itching to see Charleston, South Carolina, which was just a brief flight away from my then-home in Washington, D.C. When an affordable, well-timed flight popped up, I decided to try it! I had always loved wandering around my own city alone and consider myself a naturally chatty person, so why not start small with a new-to-me place in a region known for being ultra-friendly?
Source: Unsplash | Cameron Stewart
After that first solo trip, I was hooked. I had such a blast exploring Charleston, trying new restaurants, taking in the local culture, and of course, shopping. While the pandemic put a damper on my travel plans for a couple of years, I have since visited many other cities all on my own: London; Los Angeles; Palm Beach (twice!); Portland, Maine; San Francisco—just to name a few. Some of these trips have been more adventurous than others, but I’ve had such a fun time on them all. Now that I’m fairly well-versed in traveling alone, I wanted to share some of the lessons and solo travel tips I’ve gathered after many adventures on my own. I hope these inspire you to book a ticket!
One of the best parts about traveling alone is that you get to do exactly what you enjoy and don’t have to cater to anyone else’s preferences. Maybe you don’t want to visit that stuffy museum but are dying to check out the nearby antiquing scene. Or perhaps your idea of an ideal afternoon involves lounging by the hotel pool with a cold drink and a stack of magazines. Whatever type of activity you prefer, no one is stopping you!
Even if you’re more of a go-with-the-flow traveler, it’s helpful to create a general list of places you want to see, restaurants you want to try, and neighborhoods you’d like to visit in a given city. Having a loose itinerary will help prevent that, “Oh no, where should I go next?!” feeling. After all, when you’re traveling with a group, someone else may step in with a suggestion on what to do next. With solo travel, it’s all on you!
I like to create a big list of things to do so I have a few possibilities to choose from each day. Even if you really do just plan to spend a whole afternoon sitting on the beach, add it to your schedule! Maybe this is my Type A side talking, but I like to map out said schedule either on my Google calendar or in my Notes app so it’s easy to reference throughout the trip.
Solo meals, for example, generally take half, if not a third, of the time they take when dining with others. This can either be a good or bad thing! If you’re like me (not too much of a foodie but just want to try a couple of noteworthy places), quick meal times can be great. I like that I can partake in the local food scene but be in and out of a restaurant within half an hour, leaving more time for other activities. It’s also easy to get seated at the bar or smaller table without a reservation.
On the other hand, you may find yourself with extra time in your schedule after dining alone, which is where that list of things to do comes in handy. Consider padding your list with places that would be nice to see but aren’t absolutely at the top of your list. If unexpected free time pops up, you’ll immediately have something fun to check out. It also never hurts to keep a lightweight book or e-reader in your bag if you’re left with an awkward amount of time, say, post-dinner and pre-theater show, and don’t want to stray too far.
Source: Sarah Lyon
Some people hesitate to travel by themselves for this very reason, but I truly don’t mind eating solo. If I’m stationed at the bar, I can happily chat with the bartender or others seated near me—I’ve met a lot of really interesting people this way! When seated at a table, I’ll sometimes flip through a book or call a loved one, but oftentimes, I really don’t mind taking a few seconds to unplug and simply enjoy a good meal in peace.
Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in both Washington, D.C. and New York City, where you can spot solo diners all the time, but going to a restaurant by myself doesn’t really phase me. You may feel a bit self-conscious at first, but if you’re in a major tourist city, you certainly won’t be the only person eating alone. And, if for some reason you really are the only table of one, I can guarantee most people are focused on their own dining experience and won’t think much of your situation!
Another great thing about solo travel? You don’t have to cater to anyone’s budget but your own. Maybe you prefer to splurge on a higher-end hotel and save on cheap to-go meals. Or perhaps you’re most excited about the food scene and are less picky about accommodations. Maybe your partner usually likes to walk everywhere, but you’d rather spend a little extra cash on an Uber. You get to decide how you spend your vacation fund, and that can be so liberating. Plus, if cash is running low toward the end of the trip, you don’t have to worry about letting anyone else down by taking it easy. On the other hand, if you’re looking to treat yourself, you can splurge on a full day of shopping or spa treatments without feeling like you’re ditching your crew. The world is your oyster!
Since I’m currently self-employed, I can easily take a vacation from a Monday to a Wednesday, for example—I’ll simply work ahead over the weekend. But even when I worked a traditional 9-5, I found it easier to snag airline deals when traveling alone. Just because my boss was willing to let me take PTO on certain days of the week, that didn’t mean the same would go for nine of my other friends. In fact, a lot of my trips ended up as solo ventures simply because I didn’t want to deal with the back and forth of coordinating schedules with friends—particularly when an amazing, limited-time deal was on the line!
Source: Unsplash | Braden Collum
Some of my solo trips came about simply because I found myself in new-to-me cities for work and wanted to explore a bit more. My former company was pretty flexible with return flights, so long as we were budget-minded, I could occasionally tack on a vacation day without having to pay for a cross-country flight myself. In San Francisco, for example, I moved myself to a cute B&B for a night after finishing up with work and enjoyed a bit of sightseeing before flying home on Saturday. All I had to pay for was the one night’s worth of accommodations and food for that day, which made for a very affordable mini trip!
Feeling a bit more confident about booking a trip on your own? You’ll honestly love it! Just start small, keep these solo travel tips in mind, and remember that you’ll never regret going a bit outside your comfort zone.