Author says traveling alone is one of the most liberating things you can do
Fear you'll be lonely? You'll also learn about your strengths
For once, you can be as selfish as you like
Big hurdle: eating alone
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”
So wrote the great travel writer Freya Stark in her 1932 book “Baghdad Sketches.”
It’s been my motto traveling solo through 30 countries in 21 years.
I took my first trip alone, to Greece, at 22.
I remember walking to the beach, Nirvana’s “Nevermind” blaring in my headphones, and realizing: no one knows where the hell I am.
I’ve been chasing that euphoric feeling ever since.
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Yet many people who might like to travel alone never do.
They fear getting lonely or being bored.
They worry about danger.
Succumb to these fears, however, and you’ll miss out on one of the most addictive travel experiences around.
These seven tips will prepare you for a solo adventure.
1. Learn to like your traveling companion: You
“But I’ll be lonely!”
It’s perhaps the most common cry from people who’ve never traveled alone.
“No: You won’t,” writes Andrew O’Hagan in a New York Times blog.
“My solo travels in Paris have brought many perfect hours of being alone but not a moment of loneliness,” he writes.
“People who depend on other people are often in hiding from themselves.”
Traveling alone brings you face to face with yourself – with your failings and your strengths.
But that confrontation is inevitable in life – don’t put it off.
You may even find you love what you see – and go away with yourself every time.
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2. Revel in your selfishness
Having no one but yourself to decide what to do each day is a rare luxury.
Imagine: no one to sneer if you want to find the local art house cinema and watch old black-and-white movies all day.
No one to sigh over your love of tractor museums.t
No one to gripe when you whip through a gallery in 30 minutes instead of taking the tour.
“Never will you feel guilty for missing that train from Florence to Rome … never will you have to apologize to anyone for sleeping in late at your hostel,” expands Katka Lapelosa on the Matador Network travel site.
“You don’t have anyone else’s feelings to take into consideration, and that is sometimes the most encouraging reason to travel alone.”
3. Lose the invisible “Helpless Rube” sign
Nothing says “clueless” like standing on a street corner with a huge map and terrified expression.
The key to traveling solo is looking confident, even if you don’t always feel it.
The U.S. Peace Corps has this advice for travelers: “Walk confidently … and wear sunglasses if you need to walk with your head held high.”
More specifically: when traveling alone, always go into a shop or doorway to consult a map.
Work out where you need to be and then stride off confidently.
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4. Be realistic about the dangers
To anyone who fears that traveling alone invites danger, remember that you could (but hopefully won’t) just as easily be robbed or assaulted when getting about alone in a town or city at home.
Foreign places aren’t necessarily more dangerous.
Statistics show that serious incidents rarely befall travelers.
Statistics on incidents affecting single travelers specifically are hard to find, but according to Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, for every one million of its citizens traveling abroad, five are assaulted or killed.
5. Take yourself out to dinner
The thought of dining alone terrifies some people.
The fear even has a name: solomangarephobia.
But giving into it and relying on grab-and-go fast food when traveling alone is a crime against cuisine.
“I hadn’t realized the depth of flavors I could experience [with] nothing to occupy my mind beyond the plate in front of me and my thoughts,” says New York Times food writer Mark Bittman on his website.
It’s also a good way to make new friends – even if you didn’t intend to.
“The interesting thing is that you nearly always end up talking to the person next to you, so dining alone can be, ironically, a social experience,” says London restaurateur Russell Norman.
6. Go easy on the social media
Missing people isn’t all bad.
It’s a bittersweet feeling you might even learn to cherish.
The eventual pleasure of being reunited with friends and family is all the greater for holding off contact a bit.
So ration the SMS messages, emails and Skype calls and actually pay attention to what’s going on around you.
The more stories you don’t blog about on the road, the fresher they’ll be when you get back home.
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7. How to save money (you won’t)
Traveling solo you can’t share the price of a room or a meal, nor will you save on a companion fare.
Then there’s the dreaded single supplement if you’re on an organized tour – although these are becoming less common.
The point is, accept that in some ways, in certain circumstances, traveling alone is more expensive than traveling with others … then imagine the benefits of the arrangement.
You’ll never be stuck with someone whom you find you don’t really like on what could otherwise have been a memorable adventure.
And someone who doesn’t, it turns out, like you.
That’s a priceless saving.
Are you a dedicated solo traveler? Can’t stand the idea? Enjoy it on occasion? Let us know in the comments.