I know what you’re thinking; vacation alone?! But it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact, many travelers prefer traveling alone to traveling with a companion. According to the Visa Global Travel Intentions Study of 2015, solo travel is on the rise, with 1 in 5 people having traveled solo on their most recent leisure trip. And we’re not just talking seasoned travelers — solo wanderlust has more than doubled among first-time travelers. Still not convinced? Read on, my friend.
Why is Solo Travel so Rad?
Do what you love
Everyone has their own idea of a good time. And even if you have a friend who shares the same interests as you, solo travel means you are independent and in control. You won’t have to stop every time Jimmy wants a juice box or Molly has to pee for the 800th time. Yawning at the thought of one cathedral tour after another? Skip ‘em. Wanting to cross town to frequent a favorite Italian street cart? Go ahead. Indulge yourself. Going solo means traveling at your own pace and dining where you’d like. It means no negotiation about when to call it quits for the day or when to make an itinerary change.
Travel at your pace
It’s natural as humans to be concerned about the comfort of our companions. When traveling with a companion, we make accommodations and compromise for one another’s benefit. I guess I’ll eat since he’s hungry. She’s tired…let’s head back to the hotel. I can tell he’s not interested in this museum…let’s move on. As a result, the thrills of the sights, sounds and smells we should be reveling in get pushed to the backburner!
If you’re worried about feeling lonely on your trip, remember that there are lots of other people just like you, traveling on their own, craving adventure, but wanting to have meaningful interactions with others….and that other is you! Traveling solo means you’re free from the obligations that would normally accompany someone traveling with a companion, and around every corner is a soon-to-be-new friend. Lone travelers are seen as more approachable, too, to both locals and other travelers. Wanting a real, cultural experience? Hit the road solo.
Best Places to Travel Alone
Really, the sky’s the limit as far as travel destinations go. It’s entirely up to you — your passions and your preferences — but for your convenience, we’ve compiled a few ideas that have great safety ratings (based on police reliability, gender equality, crime rates, and incidences of terrorism), are a little “out of the box,” and that will guarantee you have a fantastic trip.
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark. This city has beautiful architecture, world-renowned shopping, a distinct restaurant scene for foodies, and an awesome bike culture. Book a boat down the veranda-lined river or stop by the Tivoli Gardens for the incredible light displays, theatre programs, amusement park or lush botanical sights.
Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and is known as the “City of Sails” because of the plethora of yachts lining the harbor. Rich in maritime history and Maori culture, the city is as well-suited to the scholarly traveler as it is to the beach bum and party animal. Snorkel, kayak, surf, or ride a horse down the beach! Relax in a thermal spring or check out the city’s active nightlife.
Helsinki is the capital of Finland, just adjacent to Norway and Sweden. Amazing architecture, a vibrant art scene, unrivaled history and culture, and breathtaking scenery make this destination an enviable one. Attend a concert at the Temppeliaukio Church, which was literally carved from an enormous rock, with acoustics that’ll blow your socks off. Or book a ferry to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress and learn about European war strategy.
Thailand is known for its generous hospitality, affordability and beautiful jungle scenery. Its predominantly Buddhist views promote equality among the sexes, which makes it a perfect location for both male and female travelers. Backpack and explore picturesque, white sandy beaches, ancient ruins, and jungle scenes. Schedule a massage at a local spa, shop for fresh food at a local market, or try authentic Panang curry.
Capital of the ancient Incan Empire and nestled in the Andes mountain range, Cusco is steeped in Spanish colonial culture and architecture and known for its archaeological remains. Close to the famed Machu Picchu, the city offers the best of the ancient and civilized worlds. Shop for brightly colored textiles, attend a lively summer festival, backpack through the Incan ruins, or explore the city’s bustling nightlife.
Bali is a relaxing, spiritual retreat with friendly locals, forested volcanic mountains, flowing rice paddies, and stunning beaches and coral reefs. Attend a yoga session, dine at an organic cafe, or book a tour through an island castle!
How to Prep for International Travel
Just like a normal vacation, traveling solo is going to take some preparation — sometimes even more so because you won’t have a second set of eyes, ears and brains with you on the road. If you’ve traveled out of the country before, you’ll be familiar with the general process, but if not, here’s what to do:
Get a passport
If you’re applying for your first passport, you must apply in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility, such as a post office or clerk of courts. To apply for a passport, you’ll need a birth certificate, one passport-size photo and another form of identification that proves your citizenship, such as a fully valid driver’s license. If you’re traveling within two weeks or need a foreign visa within four weeks, you’ll need to apply at a Department of State Passport Agency. If you have less than six months remaining on your passport, some countries will deny you a visa, so double check that it’s up-to-date. Renewing your passport or changing your name? You can submit your application and materials via mail. Remember, standard processing is six weeks, and expedited is three. The expedited fee is $60 plus an overnight fee of $20.66, so plan ahead and save your money on unnecessary fees.
Check immunization recommendations
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers immunization recommendations for your specific destination, and it is always recommended to see your doctor 4-6 weeks before your trip. Some immunization requirements/recommendations need several booster shots before you’ll be fully immunized. Scared of needles? Some immunizations can be given in pill form, just be sure to ask in advance. Take precautions with local food and water, prevent bug bites, and avoid sharing bodily fluids.
Check visa requirements
Thanks to the Visa Waiver Program, some countries don’t require a visa, but do your homework if you’d like a glitch-free trip. The last thing you want is to arrive on the other side of the world and get stuck in customs because you didn’t have everything squared away like you’d thought. Visit https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country.html to find travel requirements to the country of your choice.
Familiarize yourself with your travel destination
Familiarizing yourself with the money, culture and language of your travel destination is as much a necessity as it is a comfort. Want to pay twice what that sandwich is worth? Want to piss off the locals with your rude gestures and body language? Want to land in jail after committing a crime to which you were oblivious? Didn’t think so. Familiarizing yourself is even more important when you’re traveling alone since no one will be there to remind you that in that country, hugging is offensive or a peace sign is the equivalent to flipping someone the bird.
That being said, knowing the basics will pay off in more ways than just keeping you out of trouble. You’ll be able to negotiate with a street vendor on the price of a beautiful wool blanket, ask people their opinions on certain issues, connect with locals by honoring their customs and making conversation. The opportunities are endless.
Learning more about your country’s specific culture will take some hefty research, but have no fear! Try visiting their tourism-specific website to get the basics, and then conduct your own research from there. The more you learn now, the more you can take in once you’re there.
Research currency exchange rates
Currency exchange can be a whole other matter, as it’s slightly intimidating and country-specific. Skip the stress of exchanging money in a country where you might not even speak the language by using a site like Travelex. The site allows you to check the current rates for 97 currencies, lock in that rate by paying online and picking up your currency or having it delivered to your house before you even leave for the airport. Always alert your bank and credit card companies of the dates and cities you will be visiting so they don’t lock your account due to fraud.
Check living standards and weather
For countries with readily available electricity, you may need a converter and plug adapter. Even then, appliances and devices may not work correctly on the voltage provided, so research and pack accordingly. Computer batteries and phones can be affected as well. Look up the weather, airline regulations, and terrain, too, to ensure you’re not packing too heavy.
How to Stay Safe While Traveling Alone
Traveling alone can mean taking a few more precautions than you would otherwise. A few safety tips for the road:
- Give family members and/or friends your itinerary as well as photocopies of your passport and insurance information
- Know the country’s customs
- Don’t travel with excess cash and leave your passport in your hotel safe
- Keep in touch regularly with family members and/or friends (ideally, at agreed-upon times)
- Be confident and purposeful; exuding confidence discourages unsavory types
- Pack a doorstop with you to use nightly in your hotel room
- Trust your instincts
The main thing to remember is to use common sense, be prepared and be cautious.
Have a Damn Good Time
What are you waiting for?