10 Things You Should Know About Solo Travel
Updated: Nov 3
From a writer who's called three different continents home, there are a few things you might want to know about solo travel.
1. You're There for Yourself, 100% of the Time
Having a travel buddy has its obvious benefits, one, in particular, being a shoulder to lean on. If your phone dies or your data isn't working, someone else has a perfectly good phone ready to search maps, make a reservation, or take photos. If you get lost, two heads are better than one at figuring out the right way.
When you solo travel, you have to plan for total self-reliance. This means having a backup plan for the backup plan. Carrying two phone chargers instead of one. Having cash but distributing it between two different holding places so you don't lose it.
2. It Gets Lonely
Solo travel is packaged as preset-filtered Instagram glamour. The unseen reality is the nights you lose motivation to do anything besides sit in your apartment with the windows open. On the street below, you can hear people conversing in a language you can't engage in, in a city you don't know a single soul.
3. You'll Miss Friends and Family
Have you ever heard the term 'opportunity cost'? It's the idea that, in order to achieve one thing, you have to give up another. In the case of traveling (in general), you'll see a new place and gain amazing life experience as a modern-day nomad. However, in order to achieve this, you will miss out on what's happening back home.
This is absolutely the core of solo travel, which has the double agony of loneliness because you're traveling on your own. Until we can figure out how to be in two places at one time, this is just the way solo travel is.
4. ...But You'll Make New Friends, Too
One of the greatest gifts of solo travel is breaking out of your comfort zone, and this can apply to networking and connecting with others. There are only so many times you can dine alone before you start looking around at nearby tables for a conversation opportunity.
You'll meet new people and have friends dotted all over the globe. You'll always have someone to visit or reconnect with upon your return.
5. You'll Miss Important Events Back Home
This one goes hand-in-hand with the last point. Depending on how long you're away, you could be missing holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, births, and sometimes, unfortunately, deaths. While at home full-time, I took these milestones for granted, in fact sometimes wished I had a separation between myself and all the various responsibilities I felt towards the people in my life.
Life surely does keep on moving, whether you're around to witness it or not. You'll come back home and see your niece grown up, your friends' personalities different, and your parents looking more gray. People will reminisce on parties and the good times shared, though you weren't around to experience it.
6. You Have to be Vigilant
It's no secret that a tourist is a target. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there, all over the world, who know that because you're in a different setting, you might not be fully aware of your surroundings, or distracted by other things around you.
While you check Google Maps, you might forget about the cell phone poking out of your pants pocket. If you're sitting on a park bench and someone asks if you can take their picture, you might leave your bag unattended.
These are all no-brainers, especially when listed in a blog, though you'd be surprised at how quickly someone with ill intentions can operate.
7. Expect a Rip-Off Here and There
It's just a part of life as a traveler to pay more. Sometimes that rip-off comes in the form of an accident (like accidentally paying twice in the Metro, guilty as charged) or something more nefarious like an actual scam.
Let's hope nothing serious happens, and if you find you paid more than necessary for something, don't let this dampen your spirits. To me, it's a bit like getting your sea legs. Only locals will know the truly good deals and in order to think like a local, you either have to make some friends or become one.
8. You Might Feel a Little Lost at Times
There was one time when I was taking out the garbage in my AirBnB in Brescia. The city is a bit particular with how it recycles and disposes of trash (a great thing, in my opinion), but there are a few things to know about the process:
A. There is a different trash receptacle for each type of trash category, and the bins are located on different streets
B. The organic waste bin requires a key card to open it
So, not fully understanding these two points, I walked around the block with several trash bags in hand. Each time I located a new bin, I got rid of one trash bag. Then finally when I found the organic waste receptacle (which was located in front of a bustling cafe), I spent five minutes Googling how to use the key card and scan it open. The whole process took a long time and had me hot around the collar with an additional ten pairs of eyes watching the ordeal.
A small offense, sure, but I definitely felt ridiculous. Most of the time when I travel, I want a clean assimilation. I want to blend in with the locals and be as unassuming as possible. In this case, I stood out like a sore thumb. Sometimes, there's no avoiding it.
9. You Have to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Well, you did it! As a solo traveler, you've already conquered your comfort zone in a way most people can't and won't. So in an effort to avoid being preachy, I'll just say this: it's easy to get comfortable just about anywhere.
We as humans are especially prone to routine, easy to fall into a schedule or stick to some way of living just because we've conveniently adapted to it. Oddly enough, this can and will happen in an environment foreign to you.
For example, on my daily walks around the city, I find myself crossing the road to walk down a street I've already been on, like, a hundred times. When I catch myself doing this, I make a mental note to check out a new part of town.
10. You Can't Always Follow What Other Solo Travelers are Doing
When I think of the term "solo travel," I emphasize the word solo. Yes, you're physically by yourself, but you have to follow your gut on some things as well. There are a billion different articles online (including this one!) that will tell you the places to visit, the places not to visit, how to act, what to do, and everything in between as a visitor. If you follow all these articles exactly, it's kind of like your solo traveling, but through someone else's experience and/or opinion. In that case, is it truly 'solo'?
I know this is a bit oxymoronic to include in an article specifically covering this topic, but an article on the internet can only take you so far. It's your innate curiosity that will take you to the home stretch of your travels.
Sure, feel free to take suggestions, and it's always good to do some research ahead of time. Though if you really want to branch out of your constraints, you'll have to do so by trusting yourself. Wholly and unapologetically.