Thoughts on Solo Travel

Mwah Solo travel is often portrayed through idealistic eyes.  I know that was my original perspective.  After being on my own for nearly a month, my view has become a little more realistic.  Every person will have a different perspective because we are all in different situations.  I am a young female who is not terribly harsh on the eyes.  My experience will be much different than a sixty year old male.  Here is what I experienced.

My Story

When I dreamed of solo travel, overarching themes came to mind like freedom, destiny, growth, and self-actualization.  I would be like a pioneer of my own life.  It is odd how sometimes thoughts become realities, but in a different way than you mapped out.

My first day and night alone were a little embarrassing.  I questioned what I was doing and wondered if I made a horrible mistake.  The fight vs. flight set right in, and my first reaction was flight.  I even considered calling the airline to see if I could change my flight.  After the initial panic (and sleep), I realized I was being ridiculous (especially the reoccurring thought that I might choke to death because no one could save me).  I told myself, “this is what you’ve been counting down for.  This is your dream.”  I decided to make a plan, because that is my coping mechanism.  I created a calendar and brainstormed everything I wanted to do.  Then I mapped out the days.

Once I knew all of the adventures I had planned, I felt better.  Routine started to set in and my photography really took off.  I was busy learning, seeing, and doing.  I even started to think, “what will I do when I get home?  Life will be so boring.”

Then, bad news came from home.  I thought my anxiety level was high in the beginning, but knowing that I was needed at home and I couldn’t get there was awful.  I feared that I wouldn’t make it home in time.  I’ve never had to make such important decisions on my own.  When is the right time to come home?  How will I get home?  How will I take care of all the “other” details like checking out with my landlord and getting everything done in time?  I’d like to say I kept my cool the whole time, but I’d be lying.

Through this experience, I have learned a lot about myself, what I want, and what I can accomplish.  This was the goal of the trip, but I didn’t realize this is how it would all happen.  I love travel, but I also love my family and friends.  I do need them.  I don’t think I can just move across the globe, but I sure can visit as many places as my heart desires as long as I have a home waiting for me.  Even as I wait for the dust to settle here, I dream of where I will be going next.  Perhaps I am a chronic sufferer of the grass being greener on the other side.  Talk about a paragraph being full of cliches…

So, what are my overall thoughts on solo travel?  There is good and bad.  I think if it is approached the right way, it can be a very liberating experience.  Here are some benefits and downsides to traveling alone, plus some tips to make it the best experience possible.

Pros to Solo Travel

-Freedom of Choice

-Create your own schedule

-Move at your own pace

-Greater growing experience

-No compromises have to be made with others

-Typically we are more approachable when we are alone

Cons to Solo Travel

-Loneliness can set in

-It can be more costly

-Sometimes paranoia can take over when too much time is spent alone

-Extra cautions need to be taken to remain safe

-If we are uncomfortable, we may be less adventurous and miss out on opportunities

-It can be challenging to trust others because we can become more guarded

Tips

-Select your destination carefully.  There are some places that are much more comforting to solo travelers than others.  I felt so much more comfortable and at ease during my layover in Dublin than I did my entire month in Paris.  Language barriers do make things more challenging.  Different cultures have different values and customs.  Perhaps it is best to find one that is more similar to your own for your first trip alone.

-Balance city and country in your itinerary.  City life can be harsh and sometimes we need to be able to let our guard down a little.

-Don’t be surprised when fear steps in, but have a plan to combat it.  If you know how to calm yourself down, you are a step ahead.  If not, try different strategies to cope.

-It is okay to be homesick.  Fill your needs with skype, home comforts (whether it is food or entertainment), and connections with other travelers.  I spaced out my English-speaking interactions with fun events like a cooking class, champagne tour, and guided walks through the city.  Even though I didn’t make long lasting friendships, I did have conversations that helped me fill my social quota.

-Do what feels comfortable.  If you don’t feel safe alone at night, enjoy each daylight hour.  I imagined myself exploring the night scene, but after being followed for almost a mile by a man and then approached, I realized that I would have to change my plans.  I received a lot of unwanted attention that made me realize being out late at night would make me feel uncomfortable.  It is unfortunate, but I will have to enjoy those moments with friends while I travel.

-Eat out at lunch.  I found that I could really enjoy my lunch on my own.  Eating alone at dinner seemed to draw more attention that I didn’t want.  I must have been sending off some serious pheromones because I’ve never gotten so many “I love you baby,” whistles, or looks in my life.

-If you want to avoid unwanted attention, whether they are gypsies, hagglers, perverts, drunks, or homeless people, you have to be harsh.  At home, I am the kind that smiles as someone walks by in the grocery store, or will say hi to the hiker walking past me on the trail.  In Paris I found that making eye contact more than once was not a good idea.  When I talked about this with my tour guide, she said that to avoid unwanted approaches, simply look through people.  You gaze as though they are invisible.  Eye contact in the states is different than eye contact in other countries.  Perhaps I am a little paranoid, but when I am on my own and have to handle every situation by myself, I find that caution is what feels best to me.

To Sum it Up…

Will I ever travel alone again?  You betcha.  Will I do it the same way I did this time?  No.  A big part of traveling alone is learning about what works for you.  After getting to know myself, I know that my next solo adventure will look a little different.  Sure there will be struggles again, but there will also be growth and unforgettable moments.  What a life…

Table for One

FrontMy friends and family have gone their own ways, and now I am on my own.  I have filled my scheduled time with plenty of things to do which is good.  As I rest today, I feel a bit homesick.  I’m sure it will pass as I get more used to being by myself.

I stopped for lunch at a cafe outside of the Place des Vosges.  I soon realized it was an early lunch as no one else was eating.  Rather than go with the flight option, I tried my best to enjoy the isolation.  One of my goals is to write, and solitude seems to be my best muse.  I won’t share all of my poems on here, but I might as well share my first little blurb.

Table for one

No patrons yet

Chipped paint hangs with oak beams

Holey limestone protrudes from walls

Jars filled with dried goods

Teapots hanging in a row

Dusty cotton sprig in cluttered corner

And boxes under bench creates decor.

Mother smoking outside

Son cooking inside

Me sitting with my tivoli salad

and water glass that resembles a dog water bowl.

50 Things to do on Your Own

PonderExploring on your own should be an activity written in all guidebooks.  Whether you are traveling alone, or just want to get away from the group for a bit, here are some things you can do:

Academic

1. Take an art history class

-If you’ve never liked art, or never understood it, why not start?  Even if you like art, there is always more to learn about the masterpiece in front of you.

2. Brush up on the language

-Take a class, or find a private tutor.  Maybe you’ll be opened up to a new circle of friends.

3. Go to a museum

-There seems to be a museum for every interest.  Military, history, science, and even toilets; there seems to be something out there for everyone.

4. Check out a library

-Even if you don’t possess the power of a library card, it can still be interesting to see what events are going on.

5.  Check out the art scene

-Art can be found everywhere.  Don’t just consider the museums.  Some of the coolest art can be found in the streets.

6. Gaze at the architecture

-There are a variety of styles.  Some destinations are filled with multiple kinds.  Make sure you look up and around.

7. Learn a new artistic form

-Think about what art forms you enjoy and get involved.  Maybe you’ll be the next Rodin.

8. Read a newspaper out in publicA Monk Tourist at Notre Dame

-Make sure you get out.  Few memorable experiences will take place in your hotel.

9. Go to the historical sights

-It seems every town has some history to share.  See what makes that place unique.

10. Check out an author reading/signing

-Even if you’ve never heard of the book or author, it is a chance to learn and be around people.

11. Read literature from/about the destination

-One way to bring a place to life is through the words and experiences of others.

Walking

12. Dive into a neighborhood

-Spend a day wandering in just one area.  Learning about a place will open up more knowledge about the people.

13. Stop by a cemetery

-Cemeteries are different all over the world.  Check out the graves, and maybe you’ll even come across someone famous.

14. Watch the vendors set up early in the morning

-Getting out early is a great way to avoid tourists, and peak into everyday life.

15. Be Roman, Passeggiata

-The Romans love to stroll in the evening.  As the day starts to settle down, grab some ice cream or gelato as you walk through, and watch people congregate in areas and socialize.

Shopping

Waiting Artist16. Peruse the market

-There are markets for everyone: food, clothing, books, etc.  Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, you can still look.  Take the opportunity to talk to a local about their products.

17. Hunt for bargains at a flea market

-You don’t have to buy anything, but it can still be enjoyable to check out the interesting items.

18. Window shop at boutiques

-Sometimes the pocketbook doesn’t hold enough currency to purchase anything behind the windows, but at least it is free to look and get ideas.

19. Immerse yourself in a bookstore

-Books are cool.  People that like books are cool.

Nature

20. Visit a park

-You can sit, sun bathe, eat, nap, or do whatever your heart desires (within reason).

21. Watch the sun set/rise

-Find a nice spot to settle down, and welcome or say goodbye to the sun.

HobbiesIce Cream Break

22. Take photographs

-Consider focusing on a theme to create your own view of your destination.

23. Go to a movie

-Even if you’re in a foreign country, sometimes you can find movies in English.  If not, interpret the movie the best you can from the imagery.

24. Sketch a scene

-My aunt carries a few colored pencils with her in case she sees a scene she wants to sketch.  It is another memento to take with you.

25. Write your thoughts

-Journaling is a great activity to do out in public.  Somehow I become more observant with a pen and paper in hand.

26. Volunteer

-If you are looking to meet some good people, consider volunteering to help.  There are always food pantries that need help.  Get involved with a community and make an impact with your stay.

27. Start a blog

-As you can probably tell, I love this one.  When those nights come around, and you don’t want to go out, but you don’t want to go to bed, write a post to share your activities and reflect.

Benchwarmer28. Join in on a cooking class

-Whether your expertise doesn’t go beyond ramen noodles or you are America’s Top Chef, we can learn new ideas, and create fusions through cooking classes.  This is also another great way to meet people.  Food always brings people together.

Eat

29. Have a picnic

-Grab some bread, cheese, meat, and maybe a little wine.  Find a prime spot in a park and plop down.  If you are nervous about eating out alone, a picnic can be a nice compromise.

30. Sit at a café

-Some places definitely have café culture.  Order a drink of choice and relax.

31. Order a cappuccino at the bar

-If you don’t like sitting by yourself, go up to the coffee bar and get a drink.  Sometimes this is a cheaper option as well.

32. Sip at a wine tasting

-Everyone gets friendly with a little wine in them.  Make it a double win by enjoying wine and meeting other wine fans.

33. Pick up a gelato

-Gelato is delicious and a bit healthier than ice cream.  You can grab some and go, or stay.

34. Savor the local dessertsArtist at Work

-When your sweet tooth is calling, answer with the dessert of the destination.

35. Taste at a brewery

-I’m not a beer fan, but even I will do a little tasting at a brewery.  Yet another way to meet people.

36. Taste the local alcohol

-Sometimes wine or beer is not the specialty on the menu.  Think about a whiskey,  schnapps, or other local beverage tasting.

37. Have a Sunday dinner with a local

-I just signed up for one in Paris.  He typically has over 40 guests.  The cost is very reasonable, and all types of people come together.  Some places have agencies that can arrange it or check out meetup.com.

Sight See

38. Join a tour

-Learning from a local can provide the most comprehensive view of a place.  They can also make recommendations for places to visit if you need ideas.

39. People watch

-Some countries have this as a pastime.  I love to find a bench to watch people on a nice day.

Solitude40. Cruise down the river

-Get another perspective of the city.  The view from the water generally encompasses many of the major sights.

41. Ride the lines

-Sometimes I will get on the metro in Paris and just ride.  The stations all have a unique vibe and some can be considered art museums themselves.

42. Search for pop culture sights

-If you’ve seen a movie, read a book, or listened to a song about the place you are visiting, see if you can find the sights mentioned.

Entertainment

43. Attend a concert

-You can find a band from that country, or find familiar acts.

44. Watch a game at a local bar/pub

-Every country loves sports.  America loves baseball, football, and basketball.  Europe loves soccer.  Figure out what the most popular sport is, and cheer on the local team.

45. Visit an open house

-If a home is open to view, check it out to see how someone else lives.

46. Watch bar windows for posters to see a live band

-If you don’t want to pay the fee of a concert, consider catching a band at the bar.

Spiritual

47. Stroll through a church

-Churches are very popular in Europe.  If there are interesting churches where you are going, step inside.

48. Walk through a synagogue

-Be sure to check that people are welcome when you want to visit.  See how others warship.

49. Visit a temple

-Same as above.  Temples are often welcoming and hope you join them for meditation.

50. Investigate a Mosque

-Same as above.  Some Mosques even have little cafes if you’d like to try a different kind of fare.

Helpful Resources

Meetup.com

Couchsurfing

What is your favorite thing to do on your own?