15 Tips for a Super Solo Vacation
As in, yours is the only one that counts! You can do whatever you want whenever you want. No one will snipe about the price of front-row theater tickets or judge you for sleeping till noon. Does monument-hopping bore you senseless? Skip it—spend the afternoon indulging your crazy fascination with foreign drugstores instead.
Before you pack your buckwheat pillow, essential oils collection, and three bathrobes of varying thicknesses, keep this in mind: "You'll be the one hauling your own suitcase, hoisting it into overhead compartments, and dragging it up and down stairs," warns Janice Waugh, publisher of the website Solo Traveler. Lighten up! You want to come home with fond memories, not a hiatal hernia.
Sitting by yourself in a restaurant doesn't have to feel like starring in your own one-woman show, Friendless Loser. It's actually a great way to meet people, says Gloria Atanmo, creator of The Blog Abroad. Chat with your neighbors at the bar, or ask your waiter what to see and do. If you feel awkward occupying a candlelit table at Chez Snooty, try lunch instead, says Waugh; she also recommends places with communal tables or VoulezVousDiner.com, which offers dinner in the homes of locals around the world.
Does the idea of total solitude instill DEFCON 1 panic? Consider a group tour: The companies G Adventures and Intrepid Travel organize excursions all over the world in small groups (usually 10 or less), with a mix of planned activities and free time for roaming. This year Intrepid launched six solo-only tours, including jaunts in India, Morocco, and Peru. Instead of tacking on the "single supplement fee," a penalty many tours and resorts charge when only one person is occupying a room, G Adventures and Intrepid will match you with a fellow traveler of the same gender (you can also opt for your own room at an additional cost).
"Travelers are a friendly bunch," says Oneika Raymond, Travel Channel host and author of the blog Oneika the Traveller. "On my first solo trip to Mexico, I met two sisters and we explored the city together. Traveling alone doesn't mean being alone." Atanmo adds, "In 60 countries, almost everyone I've met has welcomed me. I always learn a few words in the local language, like good morning. And a smile is universally understood."
One way to guarantee you'll come back a changed woman: Gain new knowledge or skills. The nonprofit organization Road Scholar offers 5,500 learning vacations in more than 150 countries and every state, whether you want to take photos in Cuba or throw pots in the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you're curious about your family's history, Go Ahead Tours has teamed up with Ancestry.com to offer genealogy trips in Italy, Germany, and Ireland, with more destinations to come. Or do your own independent study—antebellum architecture in Savannah or modern art in Minneapolis.
Should you get lonely, the free app Tourlina can connect you with a network of 40,000 female travelers, all individually vetted. Raymond also recommends Meetup.com for group activities tailored to your interests—hiking, wine tasting—and Nomadness Travel Tribe, an online community of 19,000 globe-trotters of color, most of them women. "I met up with someone from Nomadness in Brussels," says Raymond, "and we had a lovely day just wandering the streets."
Native Tour Guides
You can work your way through every "best of" list on the internet, but there's still no better way to get to know a place than having a beer with a local. Through Global Greeter Network, you can find volunteer guides eager to show you around their hometowns, from Houston to Hanoi.
If part of you longs to run with the wolves but another part has nightmares about running from the wolves, a group wilderness tour offers safety in numbers. Last year REI Adventures launched 19 women-only trips organized by activity level, from placid paddling through Baja to scaling the icy face of Mount Shasta.
For selfies as incredible as your exploits, Kristin Francis, founder of the blog Souvenir Finder, suggests the Camkix Bluetooth Camera Shutter Remote Control ($9, works with a number of phones) and a small, lightweight tripod like the Joby GripTight One GP stand ($35, has flexible legs that can wrap around trees or street signs so you can stage your own shoot).
When it's up to you to read the map, decipher the train schedule, and remember the Portuguese word for ladies' room, you learn how capable you are. "That sense of strength and confidence stays with you," says Waugh. If you do run into trouble finding your hotel or getting a taxi, don't be shy about asking for help, she adds. "It's safer to choose someone rather than looking vulnerable and letting them choose you."
Chill out your nervous loved ones by giving them easy access to your itinerary with Google Docs. "You can make changes as you go," Raymond says, "so everyone stays updated."
In travel, as in life, things don't always go according to plan—and those will be the most memorable moments. "The best stories aren't about standing in line at the Louvre," says Jen O'Neal, president of Tripping.com, a search site for vacation rentals. "One night in Costa Rica the power went out, but I found a bar where it seemed the entire town was packed inside, dancing by candlelight. It was the highlight of the trip."
Both taking walks and taking trips can supposedly help boost creative thinking—so whether you want to plot the Great American Novel or work through a thorny personal problem, here's your chance: Just put on a pair of comfortable shoes and let your feet and your thoughts roam free. As Rebecca Solnit wrote in Wanderlust, "Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains."
Taking in new sights and sounds sharpens our senses; we feel more alive in the present moment. Bringing that awareness back to our daily lives can make any ordinary day feel like an adventure. And when we're comfortable with ourselves, we feel more at home wherever we go. "Travel doesn't necessarily change you—it just reveals who you already are," says Atanmo. "For me, it's meant coming to terms with my introversion and lack of patience! But accepting your truths is liberating. That kind of growth is the greatest journey of all."