There used to be quite the massive stigma attached to solo travel. However, as socially accepted coupling patterns and other social norms change, so is people’s attitude toward traveling alone. According to the U.S. Travel Association, 2009 alone saw 22.2 million Americans (out of a total of 170 million) take a trip by themselves for leisure purposes. There are numerous travel companies and tour operators out there who have caught on to this shift in attitudes and are trying to cater to this relatively underexplored segment of solo journeymen and women. And some of the world’s most acclaimed travel bloggers explain that the appeal of undertaking a solo journey is nearly too intense to put into words. The one linked above first had this experience at 22 and ended up seeing 30 countries alone, over the course of 21 years. These are some of the reasons for which today we’ve whipped up a travel items checklist for the single traveler. They’re not all about material possessions, though, as much as they are about planning, safety, and efficiency. We want your experience alone on the road to be as rewarding as possible.
Learn to like your own company
Keisuke Jinushi did. He’s a 28 year-old freelance photographer from Japan, who enjoyed his 15 minutes of Internet fame, when his hilarious series of selfies went viral. The photos depict Jinushi with an imaginary girlfriend, in a wide range of travel photos taken during his journeys. While you don’t necessarily have to start snapping up pictures of your mug and plaster them all over Instagram, you can develop a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance, as you travel on your own. As Nikki Bayley writes for CNN, there’s something very empowering in knowing that not a single soul in the world can track you down. There’s also a lot to be said about incessantly tweeting, blogging, calling, emailing, and Skyping while you’re away on vacation on your own. The less you reveal and the less frequent your contact with those back home, the more pleasurable the return and reunion will be. That being said, though…
Yes, it’s cool to wander off to some remote beach on your own, or trek at your own pace across the countryside, or not have to wait around after someone else – and miss your connecting train. But – and this is one major “but” – nothing is important as safety. Here are some tips to bear in mind, while exploring foreign destinations on your own:
- Leave a trace. Register with your local embassy on arrival, especially if you plan to visit remote areas, with no phone signal. Provide them with a route of your travel plans. International solo tourists from the U.S. can actually enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for free, which ensures you’ll receive assistance from the State Department, in the case of an emergency. You can also do the same for family and friends before you depart: send them a Google Maps course for your journey, so they know where you are, at least roughly.
- Blend in. Don’ts: standing on a corner, looking puzzled, with a map or traveling guide; wearing tourist-y clothing; being clueless as to local transport schedules and routes, hotel check-in times, etc.. You need to look local, which is easier to do when you’re not part of a big group. You also need to come prepared, because cab drivers, for instance, are more likely to try and dupe a solo traveler than a group/couple.
- Protect your privacy. This is all a matter of fine lines: there’s a fine line between making new friends while traveling and disclosing too much about yourself. For instance, if you don’t want to let on that you’re on your own, mention that you’re meeting a friend there, when asking for directions to a certain place. Don’t disclose that you’ll be up in your room alone to locals you’ve just met, no matter how friendly they seem. Hint: some of the biggest conmen in history were particularly charming and agreeable.
Choose the right tour operator
It doesn’t make much sense to have to pay more when you’re traveling alone, does it? However, as most of you already know, there’s such a thing as a single supplement, or single surcharge for people who travel on their own. What can you do to avoid this? Here’s a list of suggestions:
- Find a company with a lower single surcharge. Some tour operators will offer a discount of 60 to 80 per cent for the single supplement. Some of them will match you up with like-minded solo travelers, based on preferences, age, background, etc.
- Find a company that organizes solo travelers’ tours. Some travel companies organize singles-only trips, which can actually be a great way to meet someone new and fun. And if you’re a straight female who’s not looking to date, you can join a women’s only tour, too.
- Go it alone but ask for a match–up. If groups and tours are not your thing but you still find yourself thinking “I need to plan a trip for myself”, you can ask your regular travel operator if there’s any way they could match you up with someone taking the same journey around the same time. This way, you can avoid the singles’ supplement.
Take yourself to town
Do you suffer from the dreaded solomangarephobia? You’re not alone, that’s for sure. Yes, that right there is the clinical name of the fear of eating alone. However, the experience can be pleasurable in and of itself. And if you’re completely alone in a new town, but want to meet people and explore the local single’s scene, the prestigious Zagat guides will help you understand how to decide where to travel on your own, since they include a dedicated section on the Singles Scene in many cities. And, besides, when you go out on your own, there are plenty of options at your disposal, designed to make you feel less awkward. You can sit at the bar, take up a table at an outdoor café, bring a book to keep you company. And female travelers can check out Invite for a Bite, which helps women meet up with other women for lunch, dinner, or brunch, both at home and while traveling.
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