Solo travel can seem daunting the first time you book a trip for one, but it is also rewarding. There are the selfish pleasures of not having to compromise (meals are eaten when you are hungry, waking-up is dictated by your internal circadian rhythms, and you determine how the day will unfold). When alone you are also more approachable. In Salzburg, at a busy beer hall with no empty tables, two older gentleman sat down at my table. They didn’t speak English and I don’t speak German, but they shared their food with me – food I wouldn’t have otherwise tried because I had no idea what it was (and honestly I still don’t). I also find that I am also more willing to initiate conversations with strangers when on my own. At a crowded restaurant in Carmel, California, I snagged the last two-top and the woman behind me was in the process of being turned away. I invited her to join me and in gratitude she bought the wine. It was actually these encounters that inspired this blog.
Being alone, also allows you to observe details that might otherwise slip by unnoticed. During a 3.5 hour meal at a high end restaurant, I observed the elaborate choreography of the wait staff as they followed the same loop around the room regardless of the table being served. Courses were placed in front of each diner in unison. Then, the servers formed a single file line and followed the same circular path back to the kitchen. It was like watching a performance and I am not sure I would have noticed had I been deep in conversation.
But for me, the greatest pleasure of traveling alone is that without anyone accompanying you who is there to remind you of, well, you, it’s possible to lose yourself and be present in the moment in a way that is impossible when you are with friends, a partner, or family. We have shared connections and histories with our friends and families that define our relationships and in their presence it can be hard to be mindful of our surroundings. When alone, the endless to do lists, obligations, complicated relationships recede. For me, traveling alone isn’t about anonymity (although it is for many), it is about a heightened level of consciousness about my destination and myself. Perhaps it is the introvert in me, but the solitude and peace that I gain from wandering around a new place alone is restorative.
For those uninitiated in solo travel, I suggest starting slowly with an easy trip in your home country or an international city with an excellent safety record and transportation system. I tend to be more fastidious when traveling alone. I book hotel reservations, transfers to and from the airport, if public transport is unreliable, and any long distance train or plane flights before I leave. It gives me an extra sense of security. Then, when I arrive, I ask fellow travelers and hotel staff about what areas can be visited solo, which ones require a taxi, and those that should be avoided at night.
When you feel comfortable, try a more complex destination and don’t be put off by places that seem too dangerous or difficult to navigate on your own. Before moving to Johannesburg, I wanted to go on safari in Southern Africa but I couldn’t convince anyone to travel with me and I wasn’t brave enough to attempt the trip by myself, despite having travelled to Africa several times for work. And, yet here I am traveling all over Southern Africa, something I would not have attempted had I not moved here. As a single female traveller, I do exercise extra caution, but in the past year I have not let being alone prevent me from visiting the places I want to see
Traveling with others brings its own joys, but for those who haven’t attempted a solo trip to a place where you know no one, try it. Talk to strangers, eavesdrop on conversations, observe the unique color palate and sounds of your destination, sit on a park bench and watch the world go by, listen to the snow crunch under your boots, and enjoy the endless succession of new experiences. You will learn something about yourself and you might just find you enjoy traveling alone more than you anticipated.