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By Deb Landau
The thought of traveling alone in a foreign place can be daunting, but buying a single plane ticket and going solo may be the most impactful voyage a traveler can take.
Unaccompanied travel allows you to design a trip that is unique, personal and meaningful — be it touring sustainably or ensuring that your dollars go to help the local community.
And when there’s no one else making decisions, single adventurers are forced to dig deep into their intuition and resourcefulness. They become more capable, confident and better able to handle adversity.
“I have long felt that traveling by yourself should be a destination in itself,” said Robert Reid, a longtime guidebook writer and National Geographic editor-at-large. “A solo adventure is equal to visiting Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal.”
The destination doesn’t matter, he explained — just the willingness to go it alone.
When Reid — who lives in Vietnam — travels the world, he’s mostly by himself. Yet he rarely experiences loneliness.
“I tell people, ‘Don’t be afraid to travel alone. You won’t be alone for long.”
Follow these six pieces of advice to make the most of your trip.
1. Plan, But Not Too Much
Before your trip, it’s a good idea to learn about the destination — what’s historically important about the place, the can’t-miss sights, local festivals, customs and cuisine.
Study a map to get your bearings ahead of time, and use your research to get excited. But once you’ve arrived, Reid suggests letting your eyes and feet dictate your agenda.
“I do a lot of research beforehand,” he said. “But once I get there, I often throw it all away.”
Resist the urge to create an exhaustive itinerary and instead let whim and curiosity drive your agenda.
2. Pack Light
Being encumbered by giant bricks of luggage can seriously limit your mobility when you’re traveling. When you’re alone, you want to be able to manage all your belongings so you’re not dependent on others for help.
Consider limiting yourself to one small suitcase no matter the trip length, as well as a satchel or backpack for hands-free wandering.
You’ll want to pack a few essentials in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost. Keep personal toiletries, one change of clothes, a pair of versatile Cole Haan shoes that are built for any adventure, a good map, a smartphone charger and some cash close on the plane. You should be able to live without everything else for a while.
3. Be In The Moment
Traveling solo gives you the chance to listen to your gut instincts about what you truly enjoy. Do you want to tour a museum or take a nap? Eat at odd hours or sit in a park and watch the world go by? All of the above?
Reid recommends bringing along a travel journal and taking lots of moments to record sights, tastes, sounds, smells and thoughts. Resist the urge to bury yourself in your smartphone — you’ll be inspired to be present and more open to interaction with locals.
And, according to Reid, sitting by yourself in a restaurant in another country makes locals curious about you: “I can’t tell you how many times people have invited me to join them.”
4. Travel Like A Local
When you’re traveling solo, the best way to stave off loneliness is to be around people.
Skip the rental car and find out what forms of alternative transportation the locals use. Take advantage of bike-share programs and explore via dedicated bike trails, hop on a tuk tuk or jitney, take the gondola or local bus. When you travel as residents do, you get a more intimate view of everyday life.
5. Devise An Instagram Strategy
While we all love seeing the odd travel selfie, why not think more deeply about your travel photography? Take photos that genuinely capture what’s special about people and places — and tell a story beyond just “look at me!”
Instead of just filling your Instagram feed with random photos, consider keeping yourself and your followers entertained by capturing a series — maybe a collection of spectacular Old City shots in Lagos, cats in Tokyo or beer bottles in Prague.
And there’s something even bigger to keep in mind. By traveling to someplace new, you’re giving yourself the gift of a first-class education in new cultures, foods and perspectives. Why not offer up the value of your experience to your followers? They’ll thank you for it.
6. Make Friends
When booking a place to stay, find somewhere with a communal area where other travelers congregate. Hang out in local bars or coffee shops where you’ll likely be drawn into rewarding conversations with strangers.
Reid suggests planning one thing when you arrive that will connect you with others — go to the visitor center and book a walking tour, take a photography class or join a gastronomy tour.
Solo travel is both liberating and empowering — it can show you sides of yourself you never knew existed.
Keep in mind the old adage, “Traveling is not reward for working, it’s education for living.” There may be nothing better than traveling by yourself to open up a world of new sights, friends and experiences, and to see how true that proverb is.
Deb Landau is a writer, editor and video producer who has traveled through all intersections of publishing — from writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet Publications to teaching magazine writing. She is a passionate outdoor enthusiast and lives in Portland, Oregon.