James, a colleague, went down to Australia for a training exercise. He landed a little before nine A.M. and had to hustle to his first session. Unfortunately for him, the company has two buildings in Sydney, and he went to the wrong one. After a brisk walk, suitcase and all, James entered his first session an hour late. That first night, he ventured into a restaurant to eat alone, feeling dreadfully self-conscious without a prop (Appetizer, Sports Illustrated? Yes, don’t mind if I do.), and with WiFi unavailable, he pretended to be reading something funny on his phone, even inserting a snicker here and there. The second night, he forgot how to get to his hotel (breadcrumbs were unavailable) and walked in the wrong direction for more than an hour before realizing his mistake.
Don’t fall into a similar trap of discontentment on your solo venture. Here are some easy tips that can take a solitary, miserable jaunt and make it a memorable, self-indulgent experience.
All by Myself
Don’t want to be all by yourself? Solo travelers get a chance to discover a new part of themselves not previously known. You are no longer confined to the whims of others. Don’t want to get up before seven? Five more minutes! Want to gamble with a bite of Fugu? Don’t mind if I do. Without anyone to judge and no one’s preferences to please, you are free to live how you want, and you are free to explore what that might entail.
You’ll also discover a strength (and perhaps fear) you never knew you had. With solo travel comes the singularity of the person. No longer can you rely on another person. Alone, out in the bewilderment of some exotic city, you’ll be forced to come face-to-face with one of the most fierce predators this world has ever known—another human. Traveling alone forces you to talk to other people, to be social away from Facebook and Twitter (Le gasp!). Sure, you can still post pictures of your incredible adventure, but chat up your waiter or waitress to find out other great places in the city you’re visiting. Go to that hotel manager’s cocktail hour. Get lost in a city and just explore! This is your time to go beyond your comfort zone, learn who you can be and who you might want to become. Unhampered, unrestrained, this is you, living.
Of course, safety is paramount when traveling alone. While you might feel gratification after outrunning a pack of thieves, not everyone can say the same. Be adventurous, but don’t be reckless. The most important part of a solo adventure comes before you even step outside your door—research. Know your destination—the good sections and the bad neighborhoods—so you won’t be put in a devastating situation where you can’t save yourself only by snapping your fingers and dancing to a choreographed fight scene.
Also, make your chosen destination your stomping grounds. The best way to do that is to arrive in the daylight. At night, you’re disorientated, exhausted from travel, and finding your hotel won’t leave a fabulous first impression. After you’ve relaxed, take a day to become familiar with the streets, sights, and customs, so you know where your hotel is located and how to get back to it. However, avoid standing on the street corner with your map and guidebook. It would be more subtle to stamp “tourist” on your forehead. Instead, look at the map and mass transit guides in your room before you leave, and if you need a refresher, hit the bathroom of a local eatery. Slip into a stall, pull out what you need to see, make notes in your phone, and then head on your way. Also, GPS is your friend. If you’re able to pay the outrageous international data fees, then you can leave the maps in your hotel room.
Table for One
At your destination, you’ll undoubtedly want to try that famous curry sauce or an authentic enchilada, so don’t be turned off by the dreaded “eating alone” complex. Look for an outside bistro where you can sit in the bustling atmosphere and easily crowd-watch or grab a booth inside for more privacy. Don’t forget to bring a book or download one onto your phone. And always, always indulge. Want that decadent dessert? Go for it. No one will give you the evil eye. Got a craving for a mid-day crepe? Why not? You’re in charge on this trip, and if all else fails, order room service. At all-inclusive resorts, room service is—you guessed it!—included, and in Europe, it isn’t that much more expensive than a local restaurant. You’ll get the added bonus of utter tranquility, lounging on your bed as you savor the local cuisine.
Nine million American women travel solo, and for many of them, the adventure can be a nerve-wrecking experience. (After all, women are most afraid of meeting a serial killer on a blind date. Imagine a whole country filled with strangers.) Be smart. Travel in packs. Only go to well-lit, crowded places, and if you do get lost, seek out families or talk to shop owners. And don’t be afraid to lie. Spin a ring around, so it appears to be a wedding band. If someone comes onto you, tell them unequivocally that your husband is a CIA agent, here on a kill mission (okay, you might want to make up a more convincing back story). Also, wearing sunglasses can easily fend off unwanted attention, and others won’t be able to tell if you’re making eye contact.
Update Your Facebook Status
When away, make sure to keep contact with someone at home—a family member or a friend. Call in and give an account to your adventures (keep the bragging to a minimum, please), and before you leave for your trip, give an itinerary to someone. If for some reason you aren’t able to call home, someone will know where to find you. Also, check out the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). By signing up, you’ll receive updates about your destination, so you can make informed decisions about your trip. The local consulate and embassy will be aware of your presence, so in case of an emergency, the State Department will be able to get in contact with you.
Yay! You’re off, Solo Traveler! … where to?
For your first venture, Solo Traveler, you might want to choose a tourist friendly, English-speaking destination, such as New Zealand (bring your hobbit ears) or Ireland (another round?). If you do hit a foreign-speaking land, make sure you can say basic phrases, especially “no thank you” and “bathroom” and “nearest bar.” Also, Caribbean and Mexican all-inclusive resort personnel speak English, and you never have to leave the resort. Breathless Punta Cana Resort and Spa offers communal seating at some restaurants, and gala dinners, night clubs, and shopping areas are arranged to foster social interaction. At Grand Oasis Sens in Cancun, there’re planned activities and a roaring nightlife geared toward maximizing solo and couple’s vacations.
The world awaits you. Don’t wait for others. Plan your solo adventure and head off on a journey of self-discovery, decadent indulgence, and utter enjoyment. (Don’t forget to take a selfie!)