Solo Travel Hang-Ups and How to Fix Them
Traveling solo is one of those experiences that can be rewarding and life changing, but it can also be full of scary adjustments, even to the most seasoned traveler.
Evelyn Hannon, solo traveling expert and editor of journeywoman.com, knows all too well how challenging it can be. In the 80’s, fresh from an amicable divorce with her partner of over 20 years, Hannon decided it was time to push herself further as a traveler.
“I thought I could die at home or I could die traveling.”
So traveling she went. She packed her bags for 35 days and just left. There was a lot of public crying involved, but in the end Hannon learned how wonderful it can be to be on your own. And she’s been traveling solo and sharing her advice ever since.
But solo traveling is more than bucking up and being brave, there are a few hurdles unique to the solo traveling experience that often trip up first timers. Here are four of the most common issues, and some tips and tricks to fix them.
One of the major hurdles of traveling on your own is undoubtedly fear. Fear of forgetting the important details, fear of exploring things on your own or even the more general fear of the unknown.
And although it might seem like a good idea to throw yourself into the deep end, Hannon, advises wading into the kiddie pool first. “Don’t jump into a hot bathtub,” she says. “Gradually ease yourself into new situations.”
Do a day trip to a local tourist destination and explore like you would in any other country. Take the train to a nearby city, even if it’s one you’re already familiar with, and stay the night. Then ease yourself into weekend trips a little bit further away from home. Then take four day trip a bit further than that… etc.
These baby steps, especially the first few trips, are great because you’ll not only explore all the great locales in your backyard, but the progression will help you test your comfort level. Each new excursion should be pushing your comfort zone judge a smidgen wider. So experiment with different solo trips until you feel ready to move onto the next one and soon you’ll find yourself in Paris for a month!
Another great way to quell the fear is to do your homework! Researching a location is a good idea for traveling anyway, but it’s even more integral to the solo travel process. Wikipedia and the CIA Factbook are great places to start, but don’t let your fact finding mission end there. GoNOMAD has thousands of travel stories from around the world you can read through.
Check out your location’s tourism board, the transportation systems, the hours of operations for your top destinations, research every minut detail of your excursion that might cause you anxiety. Even embassy and consulate information is important to have on you, just in case.
The more you know about your destination and all the possibilities it entails, the more confident you will feel about going there by your onesies.
Safety is another one of those universal issues for travelers in general, but again, it’s an even more important consideration for the solo traveler.
Before you leave, you should take note of any districts that are known to be dangerous and try to avoid them the best you can. You should also let friends and family know where you are going and for how long. Also be sure to carry with you details on the nearest US embassy and any other emergency tourist information. Scanning your passport and drivers license and emailing them to yourself just in case can save yourself a lot of trouble if you ever lose your ID.
Do your best to not advertise yourself as a tourist. Or as Hannon advises, “travel to observe, not to be observed.” Wear neutral colored dress, and if you can help it, clothes that are current and on the conservative side for your locale.
And for goodness sake stash the map and camera, and anything else that’s considered a sign of affluence, they’re dead give aways that you’re an easy target for pickpockets and other scam artists.
It’s best to avoid traveling after dark if you can. But if you must, be sure to look like you’re walking with a purpose.
If you’re being followed, go to the nearest crowded intersection or plaza then turn around and yell at them in English. Point, scream, what have you, just make sure to publicly shame them. Nine times out of ten this will be enough to scare them away.
If you’re being followed in a less crowded area, duck into the nearest bar, home, or open establishment you can find, then ask for help.
Solo travel safety comes down to this: be aware of your surroundings at all times, plain and simple. So take out the ear buds and pay attention.
The Single Supplement
If you’re more of a guided tour traveler, or even if you’re planning on working with a customizable tour group company, there’s another common hurdle to deal with: the dreaded single supplement.
“The single supplement is a fee that a single traveler must pay to obtain their own hotel room,” Diana Ferro, Product Manager from Perillo Tours explains.
Perillo Tours, a New Jersey and Italy based guided tour company, offers a selection of itinerary based to fully customizable tours through out Italy, Hawaii, and Israel. And according to Ferro, unfortunately most trips do include some sort of single supplement. “This is not our company policy – this is standard policy for most hotels in Europe.”
The logic behind the fee, according to industry insiders, is that the cost of the room upkeep between single and double occupancy are practically the same, so often times hotels will charge the going rate for a double regardless.
And even more frustrating is that some companies, depending on the tour, don’t offer the single supplement as an option. Instead you’ll get paired up with someone of the same gender, oftentimes based on a simple roommate survey.
But it’s not completely a bust. If you shop smart, sometimes you can get the supplement waived, depending on when you book. Generally, booking really early or really late, and during the off season of your location is the best bet in avoiding a single supplement. And as always, don’t be afraid to ask.
Super early birds will sometimes get their single supplements waived and other bonus discounts for snagging a spot, especially during the off season. Latecomers have a harder time of it, but if serendipity is on your side you can find your fee waived as well, as the staff of tour groups will bend over backwards to send off a full tour rather than an incomplete one.
Singles Travel International has a worldwide Solo Super Savers program that offers low to no single supplement deals. It’s best to check this resource early, though, dates can be flexible depending on the tour, but usually are in the earlier part of the year and tend to favor river cruises over land excursions. And of course, there’s a limited amount of these Super Saver deals, about five per trip, so search early.
Another great solo travel resource is Connecting: Solo Travel Network, a non-profit international organization focused on sharing great solo travel tips and tricks. Founded by veteren solo traveler Diane Redfern in 1990, the Canada based group does charge a one time registration fee. The fee varies between $25-30 depending on your location, but it allows you to browse all of CSTN’s content, including three e-publications: the Single-Friendly Travel Directory,Going Solo Tales, and Going Solo Tips. However, CSTN also tracks single tours and cruises, worldwide. Calendars are available to the public with single occupancy tours marked.
Another common hang up to the solo traveler is loneliness. It can be very freeing to be the master of your daily itinerary (or lack there of) but traveling alone can get isolating pretty quick too.
Signing up for a walking tour is a great way to meet fellow travelers. You’ll get a great view of the city and potential lunch and dinner partners too. So sign up for a walking tour your first day in a new place and try to initiate conversation with your fellow tourists. You never know, they might be interested in the same destinations as you are and you could find yourself some fast friends.
If you’re feeling adventurous, eating at the corner spot at the the local bar can be a good idea as well. “Bartenders are pros at conversation,” one travel editor at GoNOMAD explains. “Don’t sit at a table. No one will try to talk to you at the table!” And he’s right, sitting at the corner lets you talk to everyone else at the bar.
Stay away from the giant hotel megaplex too. They’re impersonal and you end up feeling like a tiny ant in giant colony. Opt for a bed and breakfast instead. Usually B & B’s are run by the locals, who can give you some unique recommendations of things to do in the area, and your more likely to get to know the counter staff here than at a large tourist hotel over the course of your stay.
Any smaller establishment, like a restaurants etc, are a good place to visit over and over again throughout your stay. Establishing yourself as a regular is a good solid foundation to get some friendly banter in, and who knows? Maybe the staff has some good tips to the local goings-ons.
Don’t hesitate to ask- for restaurant recommendations, for directions, for tips, etc. Especially if you’re shy, push yourself to talk to people and soon it will come naturally.
Evelyn Hannon’s “Grandmother Tips”
Trade in your backpack for a shopping bag from the local super market. Backpacks are like tourist targets on your back to all those pickpockets. You’ll blend in better with a shopping bag and it’ll keep you from over packing.
Bring the front page of your local English and Chinese newspapers. Take out the Chinese front page for when you don’t want to be bothered on public transit, which unless you’re in China, works pretty well. When you’re dining alone at lunch pull out the English front page and lay it on the table as a conversation starter.
Before you leave home, ask friends and family to audio record personal messages, whether its on a tape recorder or an.mp3 on your iPod. This way, when you’re feeling a bit lonely, you’ll have the sound of your love ones voices right there with you.
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Sarah Cavicchi is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and an editorial assistant for GoNOMAD. She writes our daily Travel News Notes blog.
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