Taking the leap into solo travel
My first solo trip was to London in early 2002. I was taking a 5-day haircutting course at the Vidal Sassoon Academy, and while it was more about work (we studied one haircut per day), it was my first time going somewhere alone and where I wouldn't know a soul.
I packed like a first-time international traveler should: a giant suitcase and a separate bag for just shoes. If I have two missions on this planet, it will be to teach people how to pack and how to apply sunscreen properly. Future blog posts, perhaps? I quickly learned that you do not need to pack outfits you wouldn't wear at home, and you will never need that many options in footwear at home or abroad.
So there I was dragging said luggage all over town. I had used public transportation before in San Francisco, but the tube was in a whole other category. I refused the help of the B&B owner who offered to pick me up from the station, and instead, I got lost with these bags. Upstairs, downstairs, over a bridge, down sidewalks. I was convinced to find this place all on my own. There was no google or Uber to lean on. A lady at a bus stop took a look at the simple directions I had been given and told me which bus to get on. Those bags felt like 1,000 pounds at that point, and by some miracle, I ended up in front of the place I was supposed to be.
That experience might make some run the other way, but for me, that's what travel became about, the challenge of figuring a place out. Drop me off anywhere in the world, and I'll find my way. Ask me where something is in my neighborhood, however, and I have to think long and hard. Where I live in Santa Teresa, there are two grocery stores with the same name Ronny 1 and Ronny 2. I think I just figured out which is where after all of these years.
I asked some of my female friends about their take on solo travel, and we shared a lot the same views on it. The majority of us had planned solo trips because it was hard to organize schedules or interests with others. If you’re nervous about traveling alone, think of the flip side of being free to do whatever you want to whenever you want to do it. We found one of the best things to do as a new solo traveler was to find an activity you enjoy or a social place to stay so that you can meet people if you are feeling up to it. My friend Sara suggests, participating in a guided tour, staying in a hotel or hostel that has private rooms but also shared spaces such as a kitchen, a bar, or a co-work space. Also looking into organized social events in town can be a way to meet new people.
For instance, I am planning a two-week dive trip to Bonaire for my birthday this year. While some of my friends are into diving, it may not work out that they get to join. So I did my research and found a great spot with a private room and kitchen but a communal area to hang and meet other divers. I also plan to sign up at one of the local dive shops for dive buddies. Safety first!
An example of what not to do is what I did in Thailand. Because it is so affordable there, I picked a few places without doing thorough research. For less than $30, I could stay in these gorgeous guesthouses and have tons of amenities, including a private porch. In Sukothai, I checked into one of these places. The first thing I noticed when I opened the door to my room was the two towel swans on the bed, their heads touching to form a heart and mini roses placed around them. I was single and had gone through a break-up a few months prior. All I could do was laugh. The next day, I had no roses and only one neatly folded towel. I am not sure if it's because they felt bad, or you only get the towel origami on the first night. The next day at the breakfast, I was surrounded by couples. Without knowing it, I was staying at a romantic/honeymoon spot. Not ideal for my particular situation. I am not against meeting couples, but in that case, couples aren't really looking to hang with a backpacker after pledging their lives to one another. I get it.
Another way to dip your toes into the idea of traveling alone is to join a retreat. It's a great way to meet people and have your trip a bit more organized. You also get to have the experience of meeting others with similar interests. My friend Rebecca shared about a Budokon retreat she went to in Turks & Caicos. It was a blend of yoga, martial arts, and meditation which she was really into, but couldn't find any of her friends who felt the same. She ended up having a great time, met new people, and experienced something new.
Solo travel isn't for everyone; just like organized group travel isn't for me. As my friend Eva put it, traveling solo doesn't have to be this big, brave thing, one does, and if it doesn't call to you it's ok! I believe being honest with yourself in terms of travel is rule number one for having a good time. Any kind of exploring is good for the soul. If you are curious about traveling alone, I encourage you to give it a go.
Even though you are going to a destination without a friend or partner, if you are open, you can meet other travelers doing the same. I have made some incredible friends while traveling solo. I even found my new home because of it. Traveling alone does make one more vulnerable, and it can be a little scary at first, but it can lend itself to a different kind of adventure you may not have had with the familiarity of your friends or partner nearby.
Have you traveled solo? Curious in giving it a shot? Let us know in the comments.