I thought I'd do something a little different and it comes in the form of my tips for travelling on your own. A lot of people don't like the idea of travelling solo, they think they'll get lonely or worry about not having anyone they can rely on if something goes wrong in a foreign city. While I love travelling with family or friends, travelling alone is definitely a different experience, especially if you do it for weeks or months at a time. I learned so much from it and can’t recommend it enough, especially if you’re nervous to do it, because it’ll teach you a lot about yourself and will probably improve your confidence too.
1. Trust your Instincts
The number one thing I learned, partly just from spending so much time alone, is to listen to your intuition and trust what it says. Whether that means choosing where to eat lunch or walking away from a situation that's making you uncomfortable, when you only have yourself to rely on you really need to learn to listen to that little voice. Of course you can grow and learn about yourself while at home, but when you're alone in a foreign city where you don't know anyone and no one knows you, perhaps one with a completely different culture and language, you're free of responsibilities and expectations. You don't have to take into account what your friend might want to eat for dinner or if someone you're with is tired and wants to go home early. You can wake up when you like, get ready at your own pace, go wherever you like that day, stop when you're feeling tired and go home when you want to. On one hand, you're free from the need to keep anyone else happy, but on the other, you have to make every single decision yourself and that can take some getting used to, especially if something goes wrong and you have to handle it on your own. In my experience, your gut is usually right and when you don't have anyone else to offer a second opinion, you're going to have to make up your own mind based on your instinct. If you let it, the longer you're alone, the louder that little voice will get.
2. Plan a little, but not too much
There are some things that it definitely pays to plan out, like how you’re getting from the airport or train station to wherever you’re sleeping that night, but I personally don’t like to plan the details of every day. Although sightseeing and exploring is a key part of being in a new place, it’s called a holiday for a reason and you’re meant to be able to relax a bit too. Some of your favourite memories might come from wandering down a street you liked the look of and finding a great place to eat with a really friendly waiter or a nice shop where you bought something special that reminds you of your trip. How much you like to plan does come down to your personality, but I find that the stricter you are with your plans, the more likely something is to go wrong. When you go with the flow you never know what nice surprises might come your way. My personal method is to learn about all the things I might want to do while I'm there and where they all are in relation to each other, and then wake up and decide what I feel like doing each day.
3. Pack light
Although I don’t tend to skimp on my toiletries, I’m definitely a light packer when it comes to clothes. Assuming your holiday is for at least a week, but even if it's for more than a month, I’d suggest packing 2-3 plain, versatile skirts, shorts or pants and then a variety of tops that can go with all three so you can maximise your number of different outfits. I’d also throw in a dress or two, one cardigan or jacket (depending on the weather), something comfy to sleep in and a maximum of 3 pairs of shoes and leave it at that. And remember that what you fly in is included in those numbers. I’m sure that’s all pretty obvious, but especially when you’re going away on a longer trip it can be tempting to add more. But if you like shopping chances are you’ll pick up some things while you’re away and if it’s a short trip you’ll probably come home with clothes unworn. Obviously this applies even when you’re travelling in a group, but I think it’s even more important when you’re on your own and no one is going to help you carry anything. Plus, no one will know you or care if you’re repeating outfits!
A major factor when I choose my accommodation is always proximity to public transport and things I want to do/see. If I can’t afford (or don’t see value in) staying right in the middle of things, I’d rather save some cash and stay a little further out but near public transport. Not only does it help you get a good idea of where everything is and how to get there, but it can save you a lot of money because cabs/Ubers are much more expensive if you’re not splitting it with anyone.
If you’re on your own, I’d also really recommend AirBNB or hostels. I’ve stayed in plenty of both in my time and each is great for their own reasons. Most hostels offer smaller dorm rooms (I've usually stayed in 4-bedders) and you can often pick female or male only if you prefer. If you hate the idea of sharing a room with other people, most also have private rooms available which are probably still going to be cheaper than a hotel.
Obviously this all depends on how you like to travel, but if you’re on a budget a huge advantage of both hostels and AirBNBs is that you have a kitchen available to you. I typically would make my own breakfast and a lot of my own dinners while travelling just because food is going to be one of your biggest expenses. Again, there’s no one to split things with, and you get over seeing so much of your spending money going towards something you could easily cook yourself. Plus sometimes when you've had a long day the last thing you want to do is get dressed, leave wherever you're staying and have to talk to people and wait for your food to arrive, etc.
There’s also the social side of things – chances are if you’re staying in a hotel you’re not going to meet anyone. But if you’re in a hostel you have the opportunity to meet other people who are likely of a similar age, with a similar budget and are there to do and see the same things you are. You can also stay in an AirBNB with the person who lives there and most hosts I’ve met (as well as hostel staff) can give you some great tips for local places to eat or things to do that you won’t find in a guidebook, and they could even wind up becoming your friend.
5. Be open
As I said earlier, when you’re own your own you can do anything you want with your time, so my biggest piece of advice is to be open to everything. Because you don’t have to worry about what anyone else wants to do, you can go into a little shop that catches your eye, or cross the road and walk on the sunny side if you feel like it, and you can stop and take photos without interrupting the conversation you’re having with your friend. You can even wait as long as you need to for people to get out of the way of your perfect shot without feeling like you’re inconveniencing anyone. I find that sometimes once you get the sightseeing out of the way and you can just relax, that’s when holidays become the most enjoyable. It depends on what you like doing, of course, but I keep a daily journal when I travel and I loved the days I spent wandering aimlessly in a new area and finding a nice café to sit and write or edit photos. Obviously these aren't the most life-changing experiences, but you never know what surprises will come your way when you have nothing planned.
I also found, for better or worse, when you’re alone strangers are more likely to talk to you. Obviously sometimes this is unwanted and can make you feel uncomfortable, but when that isn’t the case, stop and be open to these people who cross your path because you never know who you’ll meet or the conversations you’ll have. Talk to that man selling poetry on a street corner in Haight Ashbury about how much you both love Leonard Cohen and the time he met Allen Ginsberg, or the German girl at your hostel in Reykjavik who just finished a horse-back tour and loved her horse so much she bought it and now has to work out how to get it home. Or that man in that café in San Francisco about your favourite writers and why he’s been doing yoga for half his life, or the driver of your tour group in Egypt about the scars on his arm.
Cool encounters with strangers can happen anywhere at any time, but if your daily life at home is going to work Monday to Friday, in my experience it's more likely to happen when you've got 7 days a week to try new things. When you're alone is also when you really need to push yourself to do things that are scary, whether for you that means skydiving or going to a gig on your own or meeting up with friends you made on the internet. You never know where these things will take you and if nothing else, you’ll feel good for knowing you’ve overcome something, no matter how small it is.