OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI keep seeing pieces about solo travel, and I am a little flummoxed. I never considered that there was any problem with traveling alone. Before meeting the Carnivore, I traveled all over the world solo, and my approach evolved over the years. You shouldn’t let solo status stop you from seeing the world. Travel opens minds, brings a deeper understanding of what’s going on in the world, adds a finish of sophistication.

289.City of Carcassonne at night
La Cité of Carcassonne. A song says, “You shouldn’t die without having seen Carcassonne.”

—Start small. Do a weekend away by yourself. Or join a tour. I went hiking in the Atlas mountains in Morocco with Nouvelles Frontières; the others joked that while for them it was adventure travel for me it was an intensive language course. In fact, my French improved by leaps and bounds during 10 days of being the only non-native French speaker. I made a bunch of new friends, too. And it was an experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise—hiking in a remote area of a foreign country is not something I would have done without some kind of group.

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La Grosse Pomme, dream destination of nearly every French person I meet (exotic depends on where you’re coming from). They worry whether it’s safe enough.

—Be happy. I went to a nice restaurant in the Calvados region of France, looking forward to an amazing meal. I was met with dismay by the host, who finally conceded to give me a small table next to the kitchen door. I had a book to keep me company and just kept a smile on my face. But the book was set aside and my smile turned to moans of pleasure as I ate. By the time I had finished, the entire staff was around the table, telling me about the preparation of the dishes, the history, the seasonings…..My swooning reaction (more discreet than Sally’s, but still) made them forgive me for being a single woman. For good measure, for the good of all single women diners to come after me, I tipped generously.

—Don’t let the jerks spoil your trip. On the other hand, I was turned away from nearly empty restaurants in Thessaloniki and Copenhagen. It wasn’t because I hadn’t reserved—in each case, a couple came along, admitted to not having reservations and was seated immediately (as I said, the restaurants weren’t busy). I didn’t argue; I decided such a restaurant wasn’t worthy of my business. Then I told everybody I knew. Don’t expect slights, but when they come along, don’t let them ruin your experience.

—Luxuriate at lunch. In general, if I wanted to eat at a nice restaurant, it would go at lunch, when one doesn’t get funny looks for eating alone, and have something small and informal for dinner. This tactic also is good for a budget–lunch menus tend to be better deals than dinner ones–and better health-wise, too.

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Barcelona’s Park Guell.

—Be safe. Wear a cross-body bag. It keeps your hands free, is hard to grab, and unlike a backpack keeps your stuff in front of you. Only once in my multiple decades of travel to multiple dozens of countries have I had a problem of any kind. I was walking to my hotel in Barcelona, my Furla bag on top of my wheeled suitcase, and a guy ran by, grabbing the bag. I saw my weekend away flash before my eyes: hours at the consulat replacing my passport. So I held on. He dragged me down the street, in broad daylight, me screaming, people doing nothing but staring. My Furla didn’t break, and he finally let go. My lesson: carry my passport and credit card in a pouch inside my clothes and never again have a bag in my hand.

I’ve hitchhiked in Africa (probably not a good idea but once I was taken home by some American missionaries, given a hot bath–a huge treat since I didn’t have running water–and fed Rice Krispie bars while watching “Little House on the Prairie” with their kids), taken the subway late at night in New York and walked from the Left Bank to Montmartre in Paris when the Métro had closed and I couldn’t find a cab. Cars stopped to offer me a ride, but I’d say I had only one block to go and thanks but no thanks. I see little old ladies walking around Carcassonne with a cane in one hand and their handbags dangling from the other and feel quite safe indeed.

IMG_0336
No explanation needed.

—Don’t imagine that the couples around you are happy, especially in Paris. How many teary fights have I witnessed in the City of Light! But the worst was at the Picasso museum. I noticed a woman entranced before a painting. She didn’t move, except for her eyes, which seemed to devour the work. People swarmed past her, snapping selfies with the painting (somebody was looking at it, plus it was big, so it must be one worth photographing) and moving on to the next thing almost without stopping. Then a guy came into the gallery and barked at her. “There you are! I looked all over for you. You’re STILL here? Come on, we’ve got to go.” She winced and tore herself away. And I thought how grateful I was to be there on my own. Sartre might have been a little tough when he said “hell is other people,” but you have to admit that sometimes it’s better to be alone than to be with certain folks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA—Consider the local culture. Travel in some countries is pretty easy because the cultures are similar. France and the U.S., for example, have many differences, but on a scale of 1-200 (there are about that many in the world today), they would be lumped fairly close together. If you go to countries that are more different, the difference usually is in the average wealth of the people. You might not consider yourself rich at home, but in some countries, you are wealthy beyond their hopes and dreams. No, people aren’t going to want to rob you. No, you shouldn’t give handouts, even to children, out of guilt (though if the poverty touches you, find an organization that you can donation to). I guess you could, but having lived in Africa, my friends found such handouts at once demeaning, too small (why did this foreigner give me a pencil?), and confusing—should they ask for them? Should they refuse? With kids, it just teaches them to beg from foreigners. The charity GiveDirectly is interesting. A great podcast about it here.

—Put a ring on it. A brass one will do (wash the green off your finger at night). If you are in a poor country, it is just logical that certain guys see you and say “Green Card!” They are going to give it their best shot because why not! It isn’t about you. It is about them wanting to escape poverty. So you give them a tall tale about how you are traveling with your husband who got food poisoning and is back at the hotel puking and you just had to get out for an hour before going back to him. It isn’t personal. You just want to be left alone and saying that is NOT going to make any green card hopeful give up. A story is so much kinder and more effective than saying “there is no way on earth that you and I would ever get together.” A husband, even an imaginary one, is an argument they can’t beat.

palms
France’s Mediterranean coast. To me, palm trees = exotic vacation.

—Consider a guide. When I was in Morocco (different time than hiking), I was besieged by guides. A pack of them would follow me all day (not unlike the green card seekers). Rather than wear myself out rebuffing them all day long, I impulsively hired the youngest would-be guide, who looked to be about 8 years old. I gave him my best stern schoolmarm speech about how we were going where I wanted, and so we did. He was delightful company, in fact, and the other guides gave him knowing nods of respect when we’d pass. I had total peace….and control. It cost a pittance. I didn’t even barter the price he asked. Best money I ever spent.

—Mingle with the locals, not just with other tourists. I once took an overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa. In the sleeper car were two other women, both Kenyans. Let me tell you, it was the greatest time. We drank Tusker beer and talked and talked and talked. This insight into their lives would never have happened if I were traveling (A) with a guy or (B) even with another woman. With a guy, we wouldn’t have been put in the same car. And with another woman as a travel partner, we would have talked between ourselves and the Kenyan in the third bunk likely would have been too shy to join in. The fact that I was alone let them feel free to unload what they really thought…about life, love, politics, everything. This is what travel is all about–understanding the world.21. JUNE 2012 - SEPTEMBRE 2012 - 163Anything to add?

 

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124 thoughts on “Tips for Solo Travel

  1. Thanks for the tips. I’m currently planning my first solo trip in September to Rome and as excited as I am, it is a very daunting affair doing it for the first time. I’m writing a series for my blog on the preparation for this and any tips for not being a terrified loony for those four days are most welcome! x Lissibelle

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Go to the most crowded sights as early as possible (Sistine Chapel, for example, which was so crowded when I went that I gave up and went to the completely empty Egyptian rooms…I love Egyptian stuff and was quite happy). Priorities are personal–is it to see history? Lifestyle? Architecture? The Coliseum and Forum aren’t to be missed, Trastevere is cool, a café in front of the Pantheon is a great place to people-watch. Traveling solo, it’s best to start and end your days early.

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  2. Very interesting read! As I can relate to a lot and agree with you on many things. Though, I have to say that, traveling solo does open doors, that probably wouldn’t have opened when traveling in a group or as couple. BUT after having traveled solo and in groups or with only one friend, I can say that, for me personally, it’s more exciting and special to travel with someone. Simply because you have someone to share the views with. Someone right there, next to you. Another thing is, that it’s less likely for you to get robbed, or attacked and like you said yourself, you always get seated where ever you want to eat, at any time. In my opinion, it should be a mix, of how you you travel. I suggest to tarebl with a good friend to a completely new country and culture, if it’s far away (in a different continent for example.)
    Safe travels!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this amazing blog. I am travelling solo for the first time in my life through 3 countries in Europe. Your blog helped give me additional confidence and also prepared me for some of the bias’ that comes with being a single female travelling.

    One of the things that worries me, just like you had, is being able to sit down for a nice meal as one. One location that you mentioned, Copenhagen, is one of my destinations (actually my first of many). I hope that I do not come across the same challenges you had, but if I do, I hope I come out as positive and poised as you were.

    I think the most exciting part about travelling alone this time is that I get to do all the things I want, at my own pace. Being able to choose my locations and timelines was such a pleasure. If I don’t stick to my own itinerary, I have no one to answer to. I simply remove something else on my list or shave off time in other spots. I cannot recall how many times I have traveled where I did not get to see the things I wanted to because of we didn’t share the same interests or physical capabilities.

    I also want to comment on your mingle with locals. I think it is imperative that anyone traveling, solo or not, should always mingle with the locals if given the chance. I have done this in almost every country I have traveled to. They will tell you where the best local restaurants are at, where the best shopping is, and because you are visiting their spots, you are getting more culture and experience in doing so. I have even met locals who took me for dinner and drinks, shared their home and stories, and invited me out in the evenings. More often then not, when you take the time to get to know people within a country or area, they are excited to meet someone foreign. I know that should I ever come across the same opportunity, I would want to provide the same experience for those traveling to my area.

    Thanks again for your blog. It was a great read and I look forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great comment! I hope you have only wonderful experiences. The thing with Copenhagen is that I expected to be treated well since it’s such an egalitarian culture, and so I was all the more shocked when I was turned away. But in general, I try to eat my “nice” meal at lunch and have something light and informal at dinner, so the stakes are lower. And also so I can get up early the next morning! When you travel alone, you can get going and out the door quickly if you’re motivated, and don’t have to wait for others. So take advantage to hit all the places that usually have long lines as early as possible. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I join local culinary class for fun, which gives me a good insight of the local culture and a chance to meet fellow travellers and locals!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been turned away from a restaurant while traveling solo and it was so cringe-worthy, especially because I was in LA’s Koreatown alone with no idea where to go instead. Love your point about places like that not being worth your businesses. I’m keen to start doing a bit more solo travel around New Zealand, thanks for the inspiring tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, thank you for sharing. Love your comment on not assuming all couple in Paris are happy! Hahahaha! I’m a single traveling mom, and have gotten some raised eyebrows many times while traveling, but mostly it ends up making people smile and giving me a thumbs up. Use your senses and your smarts, and the world is a captivating place full of beautiful people and places!

    Liked by 1 person

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