At the age of 29 I left my career and traveled around the world solo for two years. When I planned the trip, I assumed I would be alone, that it would be lots of hard work, and that at times I would be lonely. I was wrong on all counts. What I found was that traveling solo is very rewarding. There is a treasury of companionship out there, and just because you start alone doesn’t mean you’ll stay alone.
For example, on a beach in Bali, I asked an American woman to watch my bag while I went swimming. After a short conversation, we became friends and explored the island together. We remain close friends to this day. Later, I met a Swiss woman on a plane to Delhi, and we ended up trekking together in the Himalayas. This voyage taught me that women connect easily when traveling and rely on each other for advice and companionship.
Here are my travel-tested tips to make your journey more rewarding.
Collect intelligence Do your research. Visit the destination tourist office sites online. Go to your public library and take out guidebooks and CD’s about the country, customs and history. It makes the experience richer and less disorienting. Read the consular information sheets for the countries you plan to visit. Research travel insurance and make a decision before you go.
Stranger in a strange landLearn how to say “hello” and “thank you” in the local language. Even if your pronunciation is terrible, it makes a first good impression and opens you up to the people of the place you are visiting in a much greater way.
Small is beautiful Spend time in small towns as well as big cities. Big cities are great for art, architecture and cuisine, but small towns give you a flavor of the country and its people. It is so much easier to meet people in small towns as they generally are more interested in foreigners and the pace is slower.
Meet the localsFor those of us who travel a lot, the most enduring memories are often of the people we meet along the way. Remember that hilarious waiter in Florence or Mary Murphy, the owner of the B&B in Ireland? The best way to connect with locals is to stay in their homes or to stay in small hotels, B&Bs or inns. The smaller the establishment, the better chance there is more of a communal feeling and less anonymity. To research local homestays, check out these organizations.
Wine & Dine YourselfEating alone comfortably is a skill you will quickly develop. Choose a lively cafe or bistro with lots of people. Consider sitting at the counter and watch your food be prepared. Take along reading and writing material. Enjoy watching people and the fine art of eavesdropping. Again, use your smile to reach out and make contact with the diners around you. Your conversations with them may be the highlight of your evening.