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One for the road: the art of solo travel

Guest blog by Janice Waugh of Solo Traveler

I’ve travelled with friends, with my husband, and with kids. I’ve done short-term travel and long-term travel. I’ve roughed it camping and enjoyed luxurious resorts. But for the last four years, what is most unique about my style of travel is that I go solo. I started to travel alone by chance but I continue to do so by choice.

A few years ago, my life changed dramatically. After a 10-month family trip in 2001/02, my husband fell ill and eventually passed away in 2006. With my children grown, I was left without my usual travel companions. The thought of not travelling never occurred to me. I had to go. My first trip was to Havana, Cuba.

I had travelled alone in my 20s but, almost 30 years on, I had forgotten some of my solo travel skills. I made my first mistake in the first hour of that first trip. I arrived in a foreign city at 11:30 at night. A solo traveller should never, even with the help of a taxi, be looking for her hotel room in the dark. This hadn’t occurred to me until the taxi let me off to wander a pedestrian zone in search of my hotel in Old Havana.

Solo travel nourishes the soul in ways travel with companions cannot. By yourself, you’re free to discover who you are when no one is looking.

Since that trip I’ve had many more. I’ve traveled solo down the Blues Highway from Chicago to New Orleans staying at luxurious hotels and going to some seedy bars with great music. I’ve traveled solo to the Lake District of England where I walked the fells. I spent a week volunteering at the Sundance Film Festival while taking time to do a bit of skiing in the incredible Utah Rockies.

During these trips and others, I brushed off my solo travel skills from before and developed many new ones. It is important to me to share these skills to help others travel solo. There are many tips I can offer, but here are 10:

  1. Public is always safer than private. Enjoy meeting new people but always stay in public spaces.
  2. Pack light. If you can’t carry it yourself, you shouldn’t take it.
  3. Be patient. When you’re navigating everything yourself, it can take a day or so to feel comfortable in a new situation.
  4. If you’re feeling social, identify who you want to talk to and approach them with an open-ended question.
  5. Go out at night. Theatre, the opera and music festivals are great night life options. If you want to go to a bar, arrive early, sit at the bar and befriend the bartender or server. They’ll likely look out for you.
  6. Never drink too much.
  7. If you’re in one location for a few days, go to the same coffee shop, pub, restaurant… daily, and you may find yourself adopted.
  8. Join day tours to get the lay of the land and spend time with people. Many large cities have free tours.
  9. Save money by eating your main meal at lunch. Find restaurants with communal tables or coffee shops where freelancers work if you’re looking for social settings.
  10. Dress conservatively. Tone everything down so that you’re not a target.

And yes, plan to arrive before dark with a place to stay already booked.

Solo travel nourishes the soul in ways that travel with companions cannot. By yourself, you are free to discover who you are when no one is looking. By yourself, you have time to reflect. And, of course, you can do what you want when you want. I encourage everyone, single or coupled, to take the time to travel solo.

Janice Waugh publishes Solo Traveler, the blog for those who travel alone. It offers solo travel stories, tips, safety advice and destination ideas as well as a couple of free ebooks including Glad You’re Not Here: a solo traveler’s manifesto.

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About

Janice publishes Solo Traveler, the blog for those who travel alone. It offers solo travel stories, tips, safety advice and destination ideas as well as a couple of free ebooks including Glad You’re Not Here: a solo traveler’s manifesto. She is also author of The Solo Traveler's Handbook.

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