Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Traveling solo

The beauty of solo travel: moving at your own pace...or sometimes lack thereof.

 I know there are many reasons why people aren't able to travel where they want to travel -- not all of us have or can take as much time off of work as we would like, or may not have the health or finances to do so. I have been admittedly pretty fortunate in all of these areas -- even in my younger days I was able to set up a separate bank account for travel and save a little every month into that account, and although I've been plagued before with a bad foot and still have the occasional hip problem, I've mostly been able to work around them.

The reason I want to talk about today is not having anyone who wants to go where you're going. Many years ago, I adopted the philosophy that I would never prevent this from letting me see the places I wanted to see, and I've held to it. I've gone on wonderful trips with family and friends, and I've gone on wonderful trips by myself -- they're very different, but I've enjoyed each in their own ways.

Admittedly, the place that I travel to most now is Great Britain, and I feel very comfortable traveling solo there. There are places in the world that I've been to where I wouldn't have felt comfortable by myself, and probably would have sought to go as part of an organized tour if I hadn't already been going there with others.

Traveling solo gives you complete control over your itinerary. Feel like spending the whole day tramping through an old estate house and grounds? Do it. Feel like going to a quirky little museum? Do it. Feel like sitting by the water with a cup of tea or a pint of ale and reading a book? Do it. I've found it's my chance to completely indulge my own interests, better disconnect from the internet, and be more mindful of myself.

Traveling solo is also empowering. I will admit that I eased my way into it. After two trips to England with friends, I did my first solo trip here in the United States, taking the train up through New England with various stops. It went well, and after that I felt I was ready to make the jump and travel internationally by myself, which also went well. That's not to say that things haven't gone wrong periodically along the way -- they do -- but I've always been able to handle them, and when I've done that, I've felt empowered, and accomplished.

Traveling solo does not have to be lonely. I'm an introvert, so I enjoy the opportunity to disconnect from people and recharge a little bit, but even I like to make connections when I travel, and this is very easy in Britain because of the pub culture (and no, you do not have to drink to enjoy yourself at a pub -- ordering a soft drink is perfectly accepted there). There's a pretty simple etiquette that applies most of the time: if you sit at the bar, you want to chat, and if you sit at a table, you don't. A few times when I've found myself at "the local," I've had people strike up conversations with me at the table -- these are places where everybody knows everybody and conversation just sort of flows across the whole pub. But even that has been fun.

There are portions of traveling solo that worried me before I did it, and they may be some of the things concerning you now, if you're reading and thinking, "maybe I should do it...but..."

One of the biggest ones for me was meals. I like to enjoy a good meal, and the idea of going to a restaurant and requesting a table for one was intimidating. There are some simple solutions to that -- you can dine at the bar (and as noted, at many English pubs this will also guarantee you some conversation), or just get some takeaway food and dine in your hotel or al fresco. But the best solution I've found is a combination of several things: 1. dine at less busy times; 2. stay occupied; and 3. OWN IT.

If I eat a full English breakfast, I'm generally good until needing a snack sometime mid-afternoon (my favorite snack being a cream tea), and then ready for dinner at five or six (except in London, where the office crowd means aiming for even earlier). This is way earlier than I usually eat dinner, but it is before the crowds hit, so I don't feel like I'm taking up a table that two people would otherwise have used. Staying occupied just means bringing something to do to make up for having no conversation partner. I always keep a travel journal, so I use mealtime gaps as a chance to get caught up; if I am caught up, I'll read a book.

OWN IT, meanwhile, is as simple as it sounds. "Table for one?" I say "yes," and I say it confidently -- I'm traveling by myself and enjoying the heck out of it, and yes I am going to get a table for one at your restaurant and enjoy a delicious meal. OWN IT also applies to tours and anywhere else where I've felt a little weird being by myself. I like to remind myself that I'll likely never see any of these people again, so if they are judging me for being solo, who cares? The other thing I remind myself of is that it's way better to do something I've always wanted to do solo than to never do it at all. Let's face it, I know few, if any, people that I could drag through the quantity of historic homes I want to see myself.

The other doubt that may raise its head is in your ability to navigate a whole country (or countries) by yourself. I do recommend starting with a short trip somewhere relatively close to home, then for Americans like me who want to branch out internationally, I think there's no choice better than Britain (and I'm presuming many of my readers have a desire to travel there, anyway). It's easy to get around there -- I'm going to do another post in the future on navigating transportation there. And they speak English, albeit with some differences -- I am forever reminding myself to ask for the W.C. or the toilets, rather than the restroom! There are so many things to see there that it's easy to stay as occupied (or unoccupied) as you wish during the day, and the pub culture makes it easy to be social.

Things will go wrong. They do on every trip, whether you're solo or with others. But when you're solo, you'll be the sole person responsible for fixing them. I do recommend getting a data plan for your phone if you're doing this internationally. Figuring out how to deal with a roadblock is WAY easier if you have access to the internet. And I've generally found people to be very helpful if I ask (most of my problems have been transit-related, and transit employees in Britain are super-helpful).

There are also some things you can do to avoid issues. I wear a money belt, and keep cash, backup credit/debit cards, and my passport in it at all times. If anything else got lost or stolen, that would suck, but at least I would have the resources to deal with it. Now that I'm so reliant on my phone, I also bring a spare global phone, so if something does happen to my main phone, I can get back up and running faster. I also really recommend traveling with a carry-on size bag and a purse or daybag only. Navigating the world is a lot easier when you're not worrying whether you've left a steamer trunk behind somewhere. Last recommendation: don't max out your travel budget before you even leave. Keep some money in reserve to deal with issues as they arise. That way if you need to spend some money to get yourself out of a jam, you can get right back to enjoying the trip, rather than being out of the jam but now worried about finances.

There are loads of resources out there for solo travelers, so I won't rehash all of the tips. These are just the things that I have worked best for me, and I hope if anyone out there is considering solo travel, that they've helped. And perhaps if you weren't considering it...maybe you are now!

What say you, dear readers? Have I convinced you?

Are you considering traveling solo?

Done it, loved it!
Done it, not my cuppa
I'm considering it, but hesitant
I totally want to do it
I just booked my flight!
Poll Maker

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