I 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.
—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.
—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.
—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.
—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.—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.
—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.Anything to add?