I often get emails from people asking for advice about traveling solo. They talk about their fears and worries and I have to say, I have to step back and take a deep breath to avoid emailing back and screaming at them that they should just go, now!
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Traveling on your own is not always easy, but with the right attitude it can be one of the most fantastic, selfish experiences you can have. Now that I have a young family, it’ll be a (long) while before I get the thrill of traveling solo again, but a girl can dream … so these are some of the things I miss about traveling alone.
#1: Decision Making
This is the biggest one for me. When you travel solo, everything is entirely up to you. Okay, it’s also up to the train timetables and the weather and the whim of border guards, but the basic decision on where you’re going and what you’re doing next is completely yours. You don’t need to pander to the interests of anyone else and if you don’t want to see yet another war museum you don’t have to.
You can also decide — entirely on the spur of the moment — if you want a rest, something to eat, to spend longer than you’d anticipated at a sight, or if you want to completely change your itinerary on a whim and head to Budapest instead of Rome. This is the highlight of solo travel for me — no negotiation is required.
The best way to observe the locals is to sit back and listen. You can’t do that well when you’re chatting with traveling companions, but a solo traveler gets a special window onto this world. I love sitting there with a drink or a snack and watching the world go by, especially when it’s a world that’s quite different to my usual one.
Solo travelers easily blend into the background and you can eavesdrop on neighboring seats and learn all kinds of local secrets!
#3: Chatting with Others
It’s not just watching people that I enjoy when traveling, but also getting to know some of them, whether that’s fellow travelers or locals at my destination. I definitely still do this when I travel these days but when you’re a solo traveler, this becomes a whole level easier.
Everyone’s happy to talk to a solo traveler; some people even assume they’re doing a good deed by heading over for a chat with you as they assume you must be lonely. It’s also easier to join in with the plans of others when it’s only you that you have to consider.
I love to sit with a delicious meal and a satisfying book (unfortunately, my husband’s family taught him it’s unhealthy to read and eat so I can’t get away with it now!). When I travel solo, it’s almost compulsory for me to have something to read in a café or restaurant.
It’s a great tip, too, for those who feel uncomfortable eating alone in a restaurant: if your head’s in a book, you will soon lose that feeling that everyone’s noticing that you’ve got no dining companion.
#5: Staying In
Spending a relaxing evening in a hotel room is sometimes all I want to do after a day of exploring museums or going hiking. A relaxing evening alone, with a glass of wine and a book or some TV, can give me the perfect time to reflect on what I’ve seen and process some of the new experiences I’ve had.
Staying in can also be an option for an entire day if you’re on a longer trip. If it’s only up to you to decide which day that should be, you can make the most of your time and not end up traipsing around a city exhausted just because your travel companion has tons of energy that day.
If I’m, say, in Belgium or Switzerland, I want to try the chocolate and lots of it. Same goes for sushi or okonomiyaki or ramen in Japan. No travel companion means there’s nobody to tell me I’m making a pig of myself. Yes, my slightly guilty conscience is still there, but that’s no match for the other voice in my head telling me I have to enjoy the local specialties while I’m there!
And it’s easier to make up for over-indulgences with a brisk walk instead of a bus or train ride when it’s only me I have to convince to do it.
#7: Stretching Out
Not sure if this is a mother thing, or a girl thing, but when I travel with my family, I tend to be the one who lets everyone else sit in the better seats in the plane or bus, or have the seat with the best view at the restaurant. It saves hearing complaints, and since my husband’s taller than me and my toddler’s squirmier than me, it seems somehow fair, too. But when you travel solo there’s nobody to compete with and you can choose the best spot for yourself and enjoy it. Ah, yes, I really miss that!
What about you? What are your favorite selfish parts of solo travel?