Traveling alone is a one-of-a-kind experience. Ask anyone who has done a solo trip and they’ll tell you. You can feel like you’re on top of the world one minute, and the next can remind you that you’re a tiny speck swallowed up in it all. But that’s part of the draw, right?
That tug-of-war between adventure and risk that you don’t quite feel on a family vacation, honeymoon, or a weekend getaway with friends is catching on. According to the 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions Study, one in five travelers took their most recent leisure trip on their own.
There are endless advantages to traveling without anyone else in tow. You can choose your destination without having to consult or compromise. You set the budget, the dates, and the itinerary—and that’s all before you even arrive. While there, you have the luxury of pursuing anything that catches your eye, be it a piece of art, a side trail, your future spouse, or a nap. If it’s what you want, it’s not a waste of your time.
The complete freedom of solo travel can sometimes seem intimidating, though, especially if you don’t consider yourself the spontaneous type. There are two reactions that come with knowing your entire excursion is up to you: peace and anxiety. If you’re feeling more of the latter, we’re here to help.
So book your ticket, find somewhere comfortable to stay, and read up on the smartest solo travel hacks before you go, because you’re officially out of excuses. Regardless of where you’re headed, we’ve thought of 25 ways to maximize your me-time abroad. From dining out and shopping to touring and exploring, these suggestions may not all be for you, but that’s kind of the point of solo travel: to figure out what is.
- Take yourself out to dinner.
It can seem intuitive to grab food on the go or stock your backpack first, but there’s no reason a meal on your own shouldn’t be a sit-down affair—just as it would if you were meeting a date or a friend. In destinations known for group dining, you might be more comfortable finding a place where you can eat at the bar instead of at a table; most bartenders will be up for a chat. Either way, treat yourself to an awesome meal and relish that you avoided the conversational Ping-Pong of, “Where should we go,” “I don’t know.”
- Learn the art of people watching.
If your table for one happens to be on the sidewalk or by a window—or even facing the rest of the dining room—mealtime can be a great source of entertainment. Think of people-watching as a visual study of what’s different (and what’s universal) about the way passersby dress, carry themselves, greet each other, make jokes, and converse. You’ll be surprised by how interesting it is to be a fly on the wall of everyday human interaction. Post up on a park bench and observe, live-Tweeting optional, sunglasses recommended.
- Meet the locals.
Talking to strangers is one thing that can seem intimidating about traveling alone. Though chances are it will be more effortless and rewarding than you’re imagining, meeting people abroad doesn’t have to be an in-the-moment interaction. Before you leave, ask friends and family if they have any connections where you’re heading. Talk to people who have been there. You might meet an old friend of your mom’s or a distant family member with memories to share. If you don’t end up with any leads, just keep in mind the easiest go-to ice breaker: “Hi, I’m from [insert home country or city] and I’m visiting for a week, do you have any recommendations?”
- Make a valiant attempt to speak the language.
Please don’t go in linguistically blind. Good solo travelers—and travelers in general—should at least get familiar with the conversational basics of your destinations’ official language; the everyday essential phrases. Even if you botch the pronunciation, your willingness to make the effort is appreciated. Here’s a list of some of the best translation apps for travelers to help decode on the go.
- Ditch your map app.
If you’re in search of a particular address, by all means, navigate away. But if you’re not, and you’re staring down at your screen watching a GPS dot blip along the streets of Paris, stop that. You’re in Paris: your eyeballs should be looking at everything that is not your phone. You don’t have to turn it off, just stow it safely away. Spend a few hours taking rights and lefts at random, and expect to happen upon something wonderful.
- In fact, ditch your phone altogether.
If you’re really brave—or need to save battery—power down for a while. If you end up getting lost, you’ll find your way—and will walk a little taller when it’s over. You never know what you might find when you do.
- Spend some time in nature.
Like many other things on this list, you get to choose the level of adventure that appeals to you. Especially if you’re alone, you don’t need to summit a 10,000-foot mountain or dive from the top of a colossal waterfall into a plunge pool. A winding walk down some forest trails or a breezy bike ride through a park can be just as invigorating.
- Blend into the crowds.
Maybe being surrounded by luscious greenery isn’t your jam, and you’d prefer to be engulfed in a rush of colorful conversation. Scout out a local event or gathering place—a market, a sporting event, a festival, a parade—that interests you. These are some of the best places to get a feel for the energy of a place.
- Be smart and safe.
Approaching your trip with a “what can go wrong probably will” attitude doesn’t make you a pessimist, it makes you prepared. Take all of the precautions you can imagine. With advice on visas and passport tips, It’s also smart to make sure you leave at least a rough outline of your plans with a few loved ones before you go.
- Take a class in something you know.
Find something you love to do at home and try it out abroad. Instead of having to miss your regular yoga session or weekly ceramics class, seek out a far-flung substitute and give it a shot. Doing an activity you’re comfortable with will keep you from feeling like an outsider, and it’s a smart way to meet locals and other travelers with mutual interests.
- Keep a travel journal.
Your photos will help you remember where you’ve been, but a journal can capture how it felt to be there. Document your trip and your thoughts—there will be many—however you choose. Write, sketch, tape in tickets and receipts, press flowers, paint elaborately gorgeous landscapes. Notebooks have no rules.
- Embrace the introspective moments.
Unless you pack your schedule to the brim and exhaust yourself with activities, it’s hard to avoid spending some time in your head. Every traveler has baggage, and those dips into solitude are one of the many reasons people turn to a solo sojourn as a means of healing or moving on. Embrace it.
- Trust your instincts.
Listen closely to any gut feelings you have about people, places, and things, and build confidence in those strange inner twinges we sometimes choose to ignore. You have to protect yourself. The first time you realize you’ve avoided or figured out a crisis on your own—whether that’s taking a wrong turn or realizing you just left your passport in the hotel safe after checking out—is so empowering.
What do you like to do when you travel alone?