Tips for your next solitary adventure
Most of the travelling I’ve done in my life has been solo. Sometimes it’s been out of necessity—but most of the time, out of preference. I started travelling by myself at a young age, so it’s probably also become something that I’m just used to. From being smushed in a Greyhound seat for several days from New York to Seattle, to exploring New Zealand alone for a month, to driving down the California Coast and sleeping in my car, to travelling to South America for the first time (without knowing a single word of Spanish). I have so many unforgettable memories of my solitary adventures. While solo travel is becoming more and more popular, for many it’s still something they wouldn’t normally consider.
One of my favourite solo trips was a week-long visit to the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland. It was short and sweet and completely unplanned. I was already in Europe visiting friends and had a bit of time to go do something on my own. I’d always wanted to visit Scotland, but having only a few days at my disposal, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to do it justice—at least not on this particular trip. I wanted to put some geographical limits in place so that I’d feel less overwhelmed with having to make decisions of where to go and what to do. So I booked a flight to Kirkwall, the largest town on the Orkney archipelago.
Solo trips aren’t always easy … sometimes loneliness creeps in, or anxiety and fear about things going wrong and having to deal with them on your own. But, for me, the trips that I’ve gone on by myself will always hold a special, almost sacred place in my heart. They’ve always been filled with so much freedom, so much peace, so much time to think and remember who I am without the distractions of everyday life.
So, if you’re thinking of going on a solo trip this year, here are a few tips:
If you’ve never done a trip alone, maybe start with a short one. During the course of a month or more, you will have your ups and downs and may very well be tempted to throw in the towel. But if you go for a week or 10 days, you’re more likely to enjoy it without falling too far into a “low” along the way.
There’s no shame in not wanting to eat out all the time. Sometimes you’ll feel drawn to go eat at a table for one in a bustling local restaurant, but it’s alright if sometimes you just want to order room service or pick up something at the neighbourhood grocery store and eat it at your Airbnb, curled up in bed. There’s actually no shame in any decision you make while travelling alone. You don’t have to be accountable to anyone but yourself. You’re free. You can do things exactly as you want. No one is judging you.
If you’re not going for very long, consider travelling with just the basics. When I went to Orkney for seven days, I had my backpack and nothing else. Travelling light has the added benefit of making it easier for you to manage your luggage when flying or travelling by train. It means less squeezing your suitcases into airport bathroom stalls, no waiting at baggage carousels and less lugging around bags, by yourself, between trains.
Tips on transportation
I chose not to rent a car in Orkney because I didn’t want the added cost and responsibility, and so I decided to use public transportation instead (and I did a lot of walking, as well). Do some research before your trip, and if you’re heading to a place with a wide public-transportation system, such as almost anywhere in Europe, consider travelling that way. However, if you’re going to a place (like many parts of North America) that has very little public transportation, it might be a good idea to rent a car or take your own. If you rent a car, many rental companies offer roadside assistance, but it’s a good idea, for your own peace of mind, to brush up on certain basic skills before you go, such as how to change a tire or jump-start a car. Having your own mode of transportation can offer the opportunity to explore beautiful places off the beaten path, but many of those spots may not have good cell service.
If you’ll be traveling for a while, consider mixing in activities that include other people. Book a day tour somewhere where you’ll meet other travellers, sign up for a week-long language course in a city along the way, or take part in a local cooking class. Travelling alone can be liberating and fun, but most likely you’ll eventually find yourself in a situation where you’ll look around and see only happy couples and families enjoying themselves, and feel a bit lonely. Do something with other people, for a day or two, and you’ll be much more inclined to appreciate your solo time again afterwards.
Nothing is perfect
Understand that no mode of travel is perfect. If you’re travelling with friends and family, you’ll have to make compromises. Deciding where to eat or what to do will most likely not be up to only you. Travelling alone comes with its own disadvantages: you won’t have anyone to split the price of a hotel room with, and tours can be more expensive. You may get prying questions or bewildered looks when people realize you’re travelling alone, and you may miss having someone to share certain experiences with. But, on the flip side, you’ll have conversations with other people that you might never have if you were travelling with your partner, your family or your friends. You’ll learn foreign languages faster and you won’t have to worry about an argument with a travelling companion ruining your vacation.
This is your chance—your opportunity—to be totally yourself. No one knows you and you don’t have to be limited by your past. No one will judge you or remind you of who they think you are or should be. Enjoy yourself; do something totally new. Try foods you’ve always wanted to try. Go bungee jumping or spend an hour watching the sunset. Remember what used to make you feel alive as a kid—or a dream that you’ve always wanted to bring to fruition. No one is stopping you and “the sky’s the limit.”
Finding a balance
Be open and flexible. Let yourself be surprised. Let your plans change. No one is waiting for you and you don’t have to run your plans by anyone first. Enjoy the spontaneity. Find a balance between that and planning enough so that you feel safe and secure. Consider booking the first few nights of accommodation so you can relax and enjoy yourself and explore once you arrive, instead of having to immediately deal with finding a place to stay. Do a bit of research and be prepared, but welcome new ideas as they present themselves.
A solo trip will help you grow self-confidence and independence, and give you clarity about what you like and what you want in your life. It will help you to grow as a person. You’ll realize that being outside of your comfort zone can bring all kinds of gifts your way. You’ll discover new things about the world and about yourself. Have fun, be safe, and surprise yourself!