Solo Travel… It’s been said that the most beautiful phrase in the English language is “cellar door,” but if you ask me, “solo travel” is infinitely more attractive. Sure, it may not have the right confluence of consonants and vowels… but does anything else bring such an immediate and appealing image to the forefront of the mind? Nothing that I can think of… or am willing to say in public.
Imagine stepping off a bus onto the crowded streets of a brand-new city. The warm night air flows through your hair and pleasant, unknown smells rise to greet you from a local food vendor. Tall buildings of unknown architecture and foreign words surround you. Serious and apparently busy women and men rush through the crowded sidewalks. You pick up your light luggage and slowly turn and do a purposeful 360 deciding which direction to head in. You may or may not have a hostel or hotel room booked. It’s possible you might’ve done some research into the different districts to explore or sights to see. It doesn’t really matter; you are here and you are alive.
You’ve (hopefully) got a couple hundred dollars cash hidden on your person, and – if you’re lucky – a computer with a decent enough speed for writing about your thoughts and feelings. Of course, it does not hurt to have a smartphone with an up-to-the-minute camera capable of capturing all of those Instagrammable moments. All of this is to say: you’re in a new place and ready to make the most of it. We at wanderbbq are excited for you and can’t wait for your solo journey to begin. Here are some thoughts and tips to keep in mind during your solo travels.
Safety is paramount. Seriously, that’s why we put it as the first sub-header.
My grandmother used to tell us that “nothing good happens after midnight” and back in the day, as an aspiring and diligent scientist, I put her theorem to the test. I spent my teens and early twenties gathering data and A/B testing this concept and although the results were inconclusive, the evidence that I did generate seems to point to there being quite a bit of truth to her statement. Unfortunately, trouble is not an exact science, so there is a chance that we will never know.
I think I would amend her statement to ”It’s wild and warm and there’s a lot of fun to be had out there; however, it’s much more likely that something unwanted, bad, or downright shitty will happen to you after the clock strikes 12:00, and it’s very likely you’ll find trouble if you’re looking for it.”
All joking aside safety should be at the forefront of any traveler’s planning process – especially for inexperienced ones.
Your personal risk tolerance will determine a lot of where you will go and what you will do, so I suggest figuring out what you’re cool with first. I’ll give you some examples of “risk tolerance” profiles modeled after some people in the real world:
Low risk travel veteran: Comfortable hotel in up and coming district of a large city or remote town with generally friendly English-speaking populace, pristine wilderness hike with no large predators.
Risk averse suburbanite: Large beautiful European capitals during daytime, old graveyards and churches in rural areas during daytime, suburban shopping malls also during daytime, at home with cats (all hours). Also, this traveler archetype wanted me to highlight the fact that they enjoy going to the destination’s bakeries to try various local specialty cakes.
Eat Pray Love – Fury Road: Back of motorcycle taxi, dirty and loud non-English speaking area, nightclub district. Willing to go on an adventure with that group of strangers they just met that same night. Might sleep on a floor tonight.
85% Risk Tolerant Traveler: English speaking or non-English speaking not a problem, hostel or hotel agnostic, willing to go anywhere, try any food or drink, doesn’t mind hopping a fence to see something worthwhile, just doesn’t want to hang around places where there are pickpockets or AK-47
How would you describe your inner traveler? What would the name of that ”character” be? What would excite them? Which situations would be too much? After you have an idea of what your traveler archetype is looking for from a risk tolerance perspective try and find examples of other travelers on the internet that fit the same profile. It may sound cliché, but when I first started traveling, I watched as much Anthony Bourdain as I could and really looked to him for inspiration. We still miss you Tony. It’s great to have a few travel heroes to provide motivation and ideas and fire you up. A travel hero could be a writer, family member, character in fiction, or travel channel legend. The possibilities for inspiration are endless.
Starbucks is your friend (especially their bathrooms)
While I dedicate most of the time in my day to not being a corporate shill, I have to tell you that Starbucks more so than any other dystopian western megacorp (McDonalds, etc.) is the place to be if you’re traveling alone and get a little flustered and need to take a break from figuring everything out for yourself. It’s alright every once in a while to throw in the proverbial solo traveler’s towel for a few minutes, and I’ve always found Starbucks as a suitable place to do so. Here are a few reasons why:
- Starbucks employees in foreign countries are typically friendly, helpful, knowledgeable about what’s going on in the city, young, and well versed in the English language.
- Decent coffee, food that won’t upset your stomach, free and average quality WiFi.
- Friendly English-speaking customers who may or may not be travelers or expats themselves.
- Western toilets. If it’s your first time in a country with squat toilets (lucky you), I recommend you make a map of every Starbucks within the city or provincial limits.’
The ‘Thank U, Next’ Principle
A personal travel philosophy that I have adopted is the ”Thank U, Next” Principle
’. Thank you, Ariana Grande, for the wonderful phrasing. I keep this principle in the back of my mind throughout the entirety of my travels and use it to influence most of my decision-making while ‘on the road’. Here’s a simple summary:
At first, I give warmth and the benefit of the doubt to people that I interact with. If they set off any alarm bells or do not reciprocate warmth, I immediately ”Thank U, Next” them and move on. This is applicable to people, coffee shops, bars, hotels, and even entire cities.
For example, when I first visited a certain country, I did not know anyone and had to start from scratch – through trial and error and visiting probably 20-30 coffee shops, bars, and restaurants I managed to find the coolest, friendliest, and most helpful people in the entire city (maybe region). I have the “Thank U, Next” Principle to thank for this. This was no easy feat as many people were very uninterested or rude to me during my time there. After opening my heart a little bit, showing genuine warmth and putting myself out there – even though there were often times negative responses (or no response at all) I was finally able to find a group of bartenders, baristas, sushi chefs, and business people who I became fast friends with and absolutely made my trip memorable and wonderful.
Important Note: There are some situations where after showing a little bit of warmth or authenticity you may immediately feel that you’ve met a dangerous or untrustworthy person. If this alarm bell rings, always trust your instinct. Leave at any sign that you are dealing with a deceitful person or situation.
Essential things to pack for traveling
Rule one: pack light. The fewer bags packed, the more that Future You will be grateful. The first trick to figuring out how much to bring is to know how long you will be traveling for. Obvious, right? The second trick is to figure out the climate of the places that you will be visiting, as well as the season that you will be traveling in. Once you have these variables figured out, you can move on to selecting your packing list of travel essentials.
- If possible, it is great to have both a suitcase and a day-bag/backpack. I will typically leave my suitcase at the hostel or hotel and wear my backpack when I venture forth.
- Two pairs of pants (made of a heavy material like denim jeans) with lots of pockets.
- Several shirts, preferably ones that do not wrinkle easily and do not need to be ironed.
- A suitable coat appropriate to the climate and season of the place that you are traveling to.
- Enough socks and underpants, typically one pair per day (up to about a week, after that you should do your laundry in the sink or at a laundromat)– it doesn’t hurt to bring a few extra pairs if you have extra room.
- A small bag for a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, medicine, soap.
- Wallet, passport, hidden cash stash (I like to keep some extra in my sock just in case of a pickpocket).
- Charging cord for your phone.
Nice to haves to consider packing:
- Computer, Kindle, iPad (though not all three)
- A lightweight paperback book
- An additional pair of shoes or boots
- A pair of headphones
- A pair of sunglasses
- A paper journal and pen to write with
Is it weird to travel alone?
You may ask ‘Is it weird to travel alone?’. I strongly believe that it is not weird to travel alone, in fact, I think it is weird to NOT want to travel alone ;). I understand that many people feel more comfortable in groups or when traveling with a friend or partner, and that is totally one hundred percent fine. My point is that if a desire to travel alone is cultivated you will benefit enormously in your confidence, travels, and life. Even if you are traveling with friends or a larger group. No matter how you travel, at points you will be alone, and if you can find comfort and excitement in taking on a small part of the trip (or the world) alone, then I believe that to be growth. It can be difficult to push yourself past that comfort zone, but to me it is more about mindset than actually ‘buying a motorcycle and speeding off into the wilds… alone’ .
Solo Travel Groups
It is worth mentioning that currently it is quite popular for many new travelers to link up with other like-minded (and typically young) travelers for a pre-determined price and amount of time and go on a large “Group Solo Travel.” I personally haven’t partaken in one of these excursions; however, one of the core principles of the wanderbbq guidebook is “Don’t knock it until you try it’.”
There are Solo Travel Group sites such as www.gadventures.com or www.contiki.com where you will be able to browse and book a travel package. Trips with companies similar to these are typically between a few days to a few weeks, and cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Solo Travel for Females
There are considerations to be made for the female solo traveler. Can I wear normal clothes? Is it safe for me to go to out at night alone? Will people come up to me on the street? Some destinations should be heavily researched and considered before a decision is made to visit. Unfortunately, not all places on the globe are on the same page culturally and there are many places where it is very difficult to be a western female solo traveler.
We believe that the vast majority of places on Earth are a good choice and ready to embrace a solo female traveler on their journey, but we also do caution a certain amount of research on the destinations that you will be visiting prior to booking your tickets.
There is an excellent blog titled TheBlondeAbroad, where you can find many excellent articles and resources specifically for women solo travelers. As we are a couple of guys, we defer to her expertise on the issue and so we’ve included a link to her site here.
Solo Travel: In Conclusion
You’re about to embark on an incredible journey. It is important to keep that in mind. Almost every single one of this author’s best memories is tied to solo travel. Some of the most interesting relationships, strongest friendships, and wildest experiences were all because of solo travel. Don’t wait to start living.
We at wanderbbq wish you luck on your journey. We believe that stepping out of the comfortable normal society and into the larger world will open your mind, broaden your horizons, and free your spirit. Of course, we encourage any questions or concerns you may have about solo travel. You can reach out to us publicly via the comment section or privately at our general email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to promptly get back to you. Thank you for taking the time to read this post – we would really appreciate a star rating or comment. See you around soon.