Read This Before You Travel Solo

solo travel phone technologyman traveling alone using phone
Sarinya Pinngam/Dreamstime

Ready to take the plunge? With a little preparation, traveling alone is easier and even more enriching than you may think.

Have you ever thought, “It might be nice to go on vacation by myself”?

If so, you’re not alone. Roughly one in four Americans say they will travel solo this year, according to an annual survey by marketing firm MMGY Global. One of the benefits of vacationing by yourself, of course, is the freedom. “You can do what you want, when you want,” says Janice Waugh, author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook and founder of the online resource Solo Traveler. Want to eat lunch at 4 p.m.? Go for it! Have no desire to see, for instance, that world-famous boardwalk? Just drive right by and on to your next destination.

Solo travel can also make you more resilient. “It’s a huge confidence builder,” says Waugh. “When you’re on the road by yourself, you’re managing everything. You’re navigating new territory. You’re getting to know yourself better.”

Furthermore, a recent survey of 2,000 American travelers by the tour company Intrepid Travel found that 57 percent of respondents said they enjoy traveling alone because there’s no pressure to take part in certain activities, 45 percent said it’s more relaxing, 31 percent said it makes for a better learning experience, 27 percent said it makes it easier to meet new people, and 20 percent said they do it because it's difficult to coordinate the same vacation time with friends.

Planning your first journey for a party of one? Follow these five steps to make your inaugural solo vacation special.

1. PICK A SOLO-FRIENDLY DESTINATION

Waugh recommends that first-time solo travelers stay relatively close to home. “Travel within your own country,” she says. “That way you know how to navigate the area and the culture and you know the language.” For U.S. travelers, Waugh particularly recommends Nashville—“it’s interesting, it’s safe, and it’s easy to get around,” she says. We echo that sentiment, and,of course, have tons of other awesome and affordable U.S. destinations to recommend.

Feeling more adventurous? Consider taking a trip to Canada or Western Europe. In addition to obvious English-speaking choices such as Ireland and the U.K., Waugh says, “I’d suggest Paris or Amsterdam, because you’ll find English speakers in both cities easily.”

2. GET TO KNOW LOCALS AND OTHER TRAVELERS

Traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Indeed, there are a number of ways you can immerse yourself with locals. Waugh recommends searching MeetUp (meetup.com) for a local group that matches your interests. “When I went to Hong Kong, the most popular MeetUp group was a hiking group,” she says. “I joined them for a hike and met a lot of people, and it showed me parts of the city that I never would have seen.” Similarly, mobile apps like MealSharing (mealsharing.com) and EatWith (eatwith.com) let you dine with locals in the area.

Another way to meet people is through the Global Greeter Network, a group of volunteers in cities around the world that have offered to show visitors the sites and their favorite places. (You can search for greeters at your destination at globalgreeternetwork.info/location.)

Connecting with other travelers can also be a great way to enhance your trip. You can meet these people by staying at hostels, taking free walking tours, booking a one-day group tour of a city, or searching for a travel buddy on a site like Trip Giraffe (tripgiraffe.com) or an app like Tourlina (tourlina.com), which is tailored specifically for solo female travelers.  

3. AVOID PAYING THE DREADED “SINGLE SUPPLEMENT”

Solo travelers often get hit with a “single supplement” (often abbreviated as “s.s.”) for hotel rooms, tours, and cruises. Single supplements range anywhere from 10 to 100 percent of the double occupancy rate—meaning they can drive up your travel expenses significantly.  

One way to avoid single supplements is by being flexible with when you travel. “If you travel during the shoulder season, you might be more successful in negotiating the single supplement,” says Waugh. In addition, some tour companies, including Abercrombie and Kent, Classic Journeys, and U.K.-based Solos Vacations, cater exclusively to singletons and offer supplement-free pricing. (You can also sign up for a monthly newsletter from Waugh’s Solo Traveler to receive deals on tours, cruises, and other travel products with no or low single supplements.)

4. FOLLOW THESE SAFETY TIPS

Of course, safety is a top concern for solo travelers—men and women alike. Taking some common-sense measures can help you stay safe while traveling alone, including:

Book accommodations in advance

“You don’t want to arrive in town without knowing where you’re staying,” especially on your first night, Waugh says.

Arrive during the daytime

Waugh advises getting to your destination before dark. “If you get there and realize that it’s not a place you want to stay, you have time to make a change before it’s late at night,” she says.

Book a room above the first floor

Perpetrators have easier access to ground floor units, Waugh says, so reserve a room on an upper level.

Share your itinerary

Keep friends and family updated on your whereabouts. Also, consider scheduling a daily check-in with one of your emergency contacts.

Stay in public spaces

Meeting new people—whether they’re locals or other travelers—is one of the best aspects of traveling solo. But stick to public spaces like museums, coffee shops, restaurants, or bars when hanging out with your new pals. “If you just met someone, don’t go to that person’s house or some other private space,” Waugh cautions.

5. REVEL IN YOUR SOLO-NESS!

A solo journey is often the perfect opportunity to focus on you. That’s not selfishness, that’s self-care, which is an essential ingredient to living a happier, healthier life. You can relax as much as you want, de-stress, do the things you’d never be able to do if you had the kids in tow. You have complete and total freedom. You have our permission to have a blast.

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