Tips for traveling solo

I just returned from a very quick trip to Beijing.  It was the kind of trip that most people would never think to go on; I was in transit for longer than I was at my destination.  But I had an amazing adventure.  And had I waited to find someone to go with… well, I wouldn’t have gone.  Traveling solo is at the heart of my blog.  Most of the time it really isn’t that different than traveling with friends or family.  But there are a few lessons I have learned along the way that have made it even more enjoyable.  These are my tips for traveling solo.

  1. Don’t be a “should-y” traveler – Get the word “should” out of your vocabulary before you leave home.  The less expectations when traveling alone the better.  Who says you “should” go see the Mona Lisa while in Paris?  Maybe you find reading at a cafe on a quiet street more enjoyable than fighting the crowds to see the famous smile (hint: it actually isn’t that impressive).  Traveling solo can come with added stress; don’t let your inner voice make you anxious.
  2. Treat yourself – What do you love to do while traveling that others you travel with never want to do?  Do it.  For me this includes things like taking a nap midday, going to the spa (please practice proper spa etiquette), or seeing an obscure play or art exhibit.  Eat well.  Drink lots of water.  Get enough rest.  Traveling alone means you don’t have to compromise!
  3. Practice – If you are afraid to go to a movie by yourself or go out to eat alone, then maybe you aren’t ready for solo travel.  Take baby steps and try out the solo thing at home first.  Once you have embraced your ability to experience things by yourself in a place you know, it will be much easier to do it in a new location.
  4. Ask others to take your photo – Just because you are traveling alone doesn’t mean you can’t get some fun pictures for your Facebook profile.  An easy way to do this is to offer to take someone else’s photo.  When I was at the Forbidden City in Beijing I saw an American family and the dad was taking the photo.  I asked if they wanted me to take one of the entire family.  They were very appreciative and offered to take one of me.  Of course you can always take a selfie, but please don’t use a selfie stick, okay?
  5. Breathe deep – It is easy to get yourself wound up when you don’t have someone else there to provide perspective.  When your taxi driver doesn’t speak English and you fear you are lost, take a deep breath.  Count to 10.  This is part of the adventure.  What really is the worst case scenario?  Pause to clear your head when you start stressing out.
  6. Find ways to connect with others that is meaningful to you – For some this may be signing up for a guided group tour.  For others it may be staying at a hostel where you can find other solo travelers to explore with.  Still others will find chatting with the waiter at lunch enough.  I am a “less is more” type solo traveler.  I don’t need much socializing to energize me so a quick chat with my seat mate on the airplane or conversation with the concierge is enough for me.  But others need more.  So find a way to connect that works for you.  This may take some trial and error to find out where those places are, but you know yourself better than anyone else.
  7. It isn’t cheating to call someone back home – If you do get lonely, there is no shame in checking in with someone you care about.  Sometimes you just have to tell someone about the rainstorm that had you wading through two feet of water get out of your hotel.  Send an email, text, Skype, send smoke signals, post to Instagram.  Social media is great for sharing your experience with others (but don’t become reliant on it!).

If you have tips for traveling solo share them in the comments below.

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