It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then, too, we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.” – Alain de Botton
You get off the plane, the sights and smells and sounds of the place overload your senses. Conversations are happening all around you, but you can’t understand any of them. Trying to find the bus stop, you scan the signs, but none of them are in an alphabet you’re capable of reading. You’ve got an hour and a half to get to the city center and catch your train, and if you don’t catch the next bus departure, your only other option is to hail a cab. You’re completely, utterly alone.
Now let’s stop. How does that scenario make you feel? Are you terrified or thrilled? Stressed or invigorated?
Traveling alone tends to be one of those things that people love or they hate. For some, it’s the only way to go — they enjoy the freedom and flexibility of it. For others, it’s a daunting prospect — they want to share the experience, or feel better having a travel buddy. In this post, we’re going to look at how to go traveling alone without going crazy!
Spend some extra time researching
One of the big things that scares people about traveling alone is not having any backup. All the responsibility, all of the decisions, all of the preparation… it’s all on you. That being the case, it’s important to spend some extra time researching and planning the trip. You don’t need to have a comprehensive schedule laid out, but at least do your due diligence. Some good things to check out:
- Visa requirements.
- Common customs.
- Basic phrases in the local language.
- Exchange rates.
- How to get to town from the airport, etc.
- Directions to your hostel in your language and the local language.
Find ways to occupy your time
Whether that means learning how to play solitaire or packing a Kindle chock full of good reads, figuring out productive or at least entertaining ways of passing the hours will make your time spent traveling alone much more enjoyable. Here are some ideas:
- Take the long way if you’re going somewhere. Maybe even walk!
- Bring a good book.
- Print out a few logic puzzles to work on.
- Make a to-do list of things you can do in transit.
- Start a new hobby.
- Do a solo scavenger hunt.
- Keep a diary.
Be your own ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’
Being a traveler means you’ll have to take on a number of roles. For example, let’s assume you’re traveling with a friend. There might be days when your mood is a bit ‘meh’ and you don’t feel like taking initiative. Your friend could take over and get you both in motion. Then, on days where your friend is feeling down and out, you could be the instigator.
Or imagine you’re out shopping with your travel buddy for a scarf. Your buddy finds one they really like, and starts talking with the merchant. Meanwhile, you feign disinterest, and even convey skepticism as to how good of a deal the scarf really is. Working together, you might have more bargaining power than your friend would if they were by themselves.
Traveling alone means it’s just you against the world, so plan on playing both roles if you want to make the most out of your trip.
Know what makes you tick
One of the biggest perks to traveling alone is that you have complete control over how you spend your time. No compromising to accommodate a travel partner, no having to get a second opinion. Take advantage of the freedom and make each day about doing what you want to do. Feel like some quiet time? Find a good spot to chillax. Craving some thrills? Find an adventure activity and do it. The world is your oyster!
Unless you’re a sociopath or are merely fond of conducting cruel psychological experiments on yourself, you need some sort of human interaction to maintain a healthy level of sanity. Traveling alone is a great adventure, but if you begin to notice you’re having longer than usual conversations with yourself, it might be time to reconnect with humanity for a bit. Hostels are great for this, but social networks can play a key role as well.
A few of those which let you see what’s going on nearby include:
Join up with other travelers for short trips
Not only is this a refreshing change of pace and a good way to meet other travelers, but it has a very practical benefit: it’s cheaper than traveling alone. Traveling solo can get pricey, since you can’t split transportation, accommodation, or food costs. If you’re planning on going somewhere for a few days, try linking up with a small group heading in the same direction. You could save a few bucks and make some friends along the way!
Be proactive about sharing your trip
One of the best things about traveling with a friend is the shared memories you’ll have after. If you’re traveling alone, you won’t have that common ground with anyone. To compensate, involve your friends and family with your trip. Get tips on places to see, ask them to give you a mission to accomplish, maybe even bring along a small cardboard cutout of them and pose with it in awkward places. It may not be quite the same as sharing the experience first-hand, but it’s better than nothing.
How’d I do? If you haven’t traveled alone before, do you think you’d be willing to attempt it? If you have, care to share any tips of your own? Let me know in the comments below!
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I travel alone too and been dangerous countries too but its really quite fun.! your post is awesome!
You had me nodding at so many places, Nathan 🙂
Nice 🙂 Thanks for reading, Elita! See you next week on #TravelIST!
I love travelling alone, but haven’t done it anywhere near as much as you Nathan, so thanks for the advice. Those fluffy, red camels have honestly made my day. Are they specific to the Gobi?! Can I have one?!!!
Pretty much, they only live in Central Asia 🙂 I freaking love camels, they’re so much better than horses! And these are better than the single hump ones, cause why have one hump when you can have two? Haha
That’s a good overview Nathan. I’m used to traveling along and even prefer it – done it most of my adult life. If somewhere is really good I go back to it and as a result have begun making some friends. If it stinks, I have the freedom to bug out and look for somewhere else.
“How does that scenario make you feel?” Usually I find there are a few moments of panic and then I think, “Well, this oughta be interesting, waah!”
Thanks for reading! I would say I prefer traveling alone as well, for much the same reasons as you. It’s nice being able to bug out and look for a better place without worrying about upsetting a travel buddy, and it’s easy enough to make friends along the way!
” it’s easy enough to make friends along the way!”
Certainly is and I hope to visit some later on this year after I finish my time in Italy.
1. Good stuff! I enjoy travelling alone, because it’s a great way to get outside my comfort zone and meet people. I most likely would not have spent several weeks travelling with a knife fighter from Mexico without showing up in Bangkok solo.
2. The part about swapping initiative hats sounds familiar 🙂
3. That camel pic is AWESOME!
1. Hahaha oh, Sergio. I wish I’d met that guy.
2. That’s what I was thinkin’ of 😉
3. One of these days, man, let’s do a camel safari. Do they have camels in Turkey?