When it comes to solo travel, I was a late starter. When you consider that 72 percent of women in the U.S. have taken a solo vacation, and Google searches for “solo women travel” increased by 32 percent in 2017, 59 percent in 2018, and 230 percent in 2019, it is obvious that women are busy traveling solo, and have been for years.
It wasn’t until my 40s that I took a look at myself and all those other women who had traveled on their own and decided to try going somewhere alone. The reason I never had traveled solo before had nothing to do with lack of opportunity, being scared, or not knowing where to start; the main reason I had never traveled alone was simply because I had always assumed that I needed to share great experiences with someone. I thought that if I didn’t have someone to nudge and point something out to, that it wasn’t as enjoyable. But I was wrong.
After thinking about what sort of travel I would most enjoy on my own, I settled on a city break just short and exciting enough to dip my toe in. It was a success, soon followed by a lengthy road trip and countless other journeys, lasting from day trips to several week-long adventures.
I liked the sensation of going somewhere new alone, managed to enjoy myself despite not being immediately able to share experiences, and got better at it with every trip.
Here are some things I learned about traveling solo, and about myself.
1. You Are Allowed To Go It Alone
When I sat my husband down and told him that I really wanted to try traveling somewhere on my own, he looked at me in utter disbelief. Why would I want to go alone if I could go with someone, be it him or someone else? Exactly that was why. I wanted to see if I could do it -- and if I could enjoy it. Traveling solo is not a snub to your partner or to your family and friends who would be happy to accompany you, but it is a challenge to yourself, and just as you should plan in some “me time” every day, it is something everybody ought to try at least once.
Leaving your partner behind does not mean you don’t love them or prefer to travel without them. It just means you wan to do something for yourself. And you are allowed to do that.
2. You Can Enjoy Experiences Alone
At first, I kept calling my husband whenever I spotted something I knew he would enjoy just as much as I was. It was difficult to let go of wanting to share every little thing. But bit by bit, I learned that it was quite okay to look at a great picture in an art gallery or appreciate a view and keep that all to myself. It felt a little like a guilty pleasure at first, like that sneaky piece of chocolate or that top that you bought and hid in the wardrobe. Soon, though, I began to enjoy seeing things that I would probably never share with anybody else. That is not saying that I haven’t traveled back to some places which I absolutely had to share, as that has happened a few times, too.
3. A Little Routine Serves Well
The last few times I went away on my own, I somehow fell into a nice little routine of finding the loveliest view in the area, preferably a cafe terrace with plenty of people-watching opportunities, ordering myself an aperitif, sitting back, and just watching the world go by. It is a time when I either catch up with writing notes or make plans, but mostly, I simply do nothing. No sightseeing, no running around, no packing or unpacking. It is quality me time, even within all the time to myself during solo travel. Strange, but I now look forward to my aperitif time when traveling.
4. Keep In Touch Through Social Media
This one I got from my now-grown daughter when she went traveling on her own or with friends. When she began traveling without us, I made her call or text me every day (preferably every hour!), but obviously that was not helpful at all. I learned to simply look out for Instagram or Facebook posts, if not hers, then her friends’ who were traveling with her. If they are posting, they are alive. Now I do the same. I might talk to my husband every day when I am away, but not my daughter. However, I usually post pictures, so my family and friends always know where I am and what I am doing, and they don’t have to worry about me.
5. Eating Out Alone Can Be Fun, But Not Always
What I still struggle with is having a nice dinner on my own. Breakfast? A doddle. Lunch? No problem, especially on a restaurant terrace with a view. A dinner inside a chic restaurant alone? Not so much. But, like with all things in life, you must take the good with the bad, and I have acknowledged that I just do not enjoy lingering over a gorgeous dinner on my own. I do it, especially if needed for work, but I prefer to have a partner in crime. This is when world-wide friend connections come into their own, or I bring a book. I am old enough not to worry about being frowned at by other diners.
Want more solo dining inspiration? Consider our 11 tips for dining solo while traveling.
6. Apartment Stays Win Over Hotels
I love staying in lovely hotels, being pampered and handed a cold towel as I step through the entrance, and with food -- or a nice drink -- a mere phone call away. But when it comes down to it, when I do travel alone, more often than not an apartment wins over a nice hotel stay. I suppose it really depends on the length of my stay: A brief weekend, and I love the attention a hotel can give me; a week, and I prefer the extra space an apartment allows for and the opportunity to maybe whip up a simple meal in a kitchenette. Add to that the fact that apartments are often more economical, even with that extra space, and it is a no-brainer.
7. Organize Ahead, But Not Too Much
Being a travel writer, I tend to research ahead, but only so much. While I think it is really beneficial to be thoroughly organized and to have a crammed-full itinerary when you go on your first solo trip, as I’ve gotten more used to it, I have relaxed and become more open to surprises and spontaneity. Being open to change is part of the adventure, and even if you miss the train, who is going to mind if you don’t arrive on time?
8. Email Yourself Your Documents
Just when I said not to be too organized, this one is a must. I found out nearly to my own detriment that I was missing an important document and thought that I had to abandon my plans, when I remembered that I had, by pure chance, emailed it to someone a few days before. I managed to find the attachment and it saved my trip. From then onward, I have always emailed myself a copy of all my travel documents for easy access and as proof, just in case I lost one of them.
Obviously, you have got to be careful when using public computers and make sure to always sign in and out of your email account securely to avoid making yourself vulnerable to hackers during your travels.
9. To Me Solo Means Alone, But Not Lonely
When it comes to solo travel, to me it means what is says: I travel solo -- alone -- not with a group of other solo travelers. Obviously to each their own, but I have come to appreciate the time alone. I don’t have to make conversation, I don’t have to adjust plans according to others, I can cancel something just because I want to and not tell anybody. I don’t have to be responsible to anybody but myself. That, to me, turned out to be the driving factor of traveling alone. And, no, I don’t get lonely. I am not saying that I wouldn’t miss social contact after a long stay away from home, but if I am traveling for a week alone, then I want to be alone and not with other people. To me, that is the whole point.
What have you learned from solo travel? Or have you not tried it yet? Try it, bit by bit, and you’ll find that it can be a marvelous antidote to stress and the routines of daily life. Bon voyage.