25 Things Solo Travelers Must Do on a Trip
Traveling alone is a one-of-a-kind experience. Ask anyone who has done a solo trip and they’ll tell you. You can feel like you’re on top of the world one minute, and the next can remind you that you’re a tiny speck swallowed up in it all. But that’s part of the draw, right?
That tug-of-war between adventure and risk that you don’t quite feel on a family vacation, honeymoon, or a weekend getaway with friends is catching on. According to the 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions Study, one in five travelers took their most recent leisure trip on their own.
There are endless advantages to traveling without anyone else in tow. You can choose your destination without having to consult or compromise. You set the budget, the dates, and the itinerary—and that’s all before you even arrive. While there, you have the luxury of pursuing anything that catches your eye, be it a piece of art, a side trail, your future spouse, or a nap. If it’s what you want, it’s not a waste of your time.
The complete freedom of solo travel can sometimes seem intimidating, though, especially if you don’t consider yourself the spontaneous type. There are two reactions that come with knowing your entire excursion is up to you: peace and anxiety. If you’re feeling more of the latter, we’re here to help.
So book your ticket, find somewhere comfortable to stay, and read up on the smartest solo travel hacks before you go, because you’re officially out of excuses. Regardless of where you’re headed, we’ve thought of 25 ways to maximize your me-time abroad. From dining out and shopping to touring and exploring, these suggestions may not all be for you, but that’s kind of the point of solo travel: to figure out what is.
1. Take yourself out to dinner
It can seem intuitive to grab food on the go or stock your backpack first, but there’s no reason a meal on your own shouldn’t be a sit-down affair—just as it would if you were meeting a date or a friend. In destinations known for group dining, you might be more comfortable finding a place where you can eat at the bar instead of at a table; most bartenders will be up for a chat. Either way, treat yourself to an awesome meal and relish that you avoided the conversational Ping-Pong of, “Where should we go,” “I don’t know.”
2. Learn the art of people watching
If your table for one happens to be on the sidewalk or by a window—or even facing the rest of the dining room—mealtime can be a great source of entertainment. Think of people-watching as a visual study of what’s different (and what’s universal) about the way passersby dress, carry themselves, greet each other, make jokes, and converse. You’ll be surprised by how interesting it is to be a fly on the wall of everyday human interaction. Post up on a park bench and observe, live-Tweeting optional, sunglasses recommended.
3. Meet the locals
Talking to strangers is one thing that can seem intimidating about traveling alone. Though chances are it will be more effortless and rewarding than you’re imagining, meeting people abroad doesn’t have to be an in-the-moment interaction. Before you leave, ask friends and family if they have any connections where you’re heading. Talk to people who have been there. You might meet an old friend of your mom’s or a distant family member with memories to share. If you don’t end up with any leads, just keep in mind the easiest go-to ice breaker: “Hi, I’m from [insert home country or city] and I’m visiting for a week, do you have any recommendations?”
4. Make a valiant attempt to speak the language
Please don’t go in linguistically blind. Good solo travelers—and travelers in general—should at least get familiar with the conversational basics of your destinations’ official language; the everyday essential phrases. Even if you botch the pronunciation, your willingness to make the effort is appreciated. Here’s a list of some of the best translation apps for travelers to help decode on the go.
5. Ditch your map app
If you’re in search of a particular address, by all means, navigate away. But if you’re not, and you’re staring down at your screen watching a GPS dot blip along the streets of Paris, stop that. You’re in Paris: your eyeballs should be looking at everything that is not your phone. You don’t have to turn it off, just stow it safely away. Spend a few hours taking rights and lefts at random, and expect to happen upon something wonderful.
6. In fact, ditch your phone altogether
If you’re really brave—or need to save battery—power down for a while. If you end up getting lost, you’ll find your way—and will walk a little taller when it’s over. You never know what you might find when you do.
7. Spend some time in nature
Like many other things on this list, you get to choose the level of adventure that appeals to you. Especially if you’re alone, you don’t need to summit a 10,000-foot mountain or dive from the top of a colossal waterfall into a plunge pool. A winding walk down some forest trails or a breezy bike ride through a park can be just as invigorating.
8. Blend into the crowds
Maybe being surrounded by luscious greenery isn’t your jam, and you’d prefer to be engulfed in a rush of colorful conversation. Scout out a local event or gathering place—a market, a sporting event, a festival, a parade—that interests you. These are some of the best places to get a feel for the energy of a place.
9. Pay extra attention
It’s not only smart to be alert and observant for your personal safety, but remembering to look up and down and around corners and over your shoulder ensures you’ll leave no detail undiscovered. In a new place, it’s easy to train your eye to notice the character and the minutiae of your surroundings. But it’s a skill you can take home with you, too.
10. Be smart and safe
Approaching your trip with a “what can go wrong probably will” attitude doesn’t make you a pessimist, it makes you prepared. Take all of the precautions you can imagine. With advice on visas and passport tips, the U.S. State Department’s travel site is a great resource, and register your trip with your destination’s U.S. consulate office. It’s also smart to make sure you leave at least a rough outline of your plans with a few loved ones before you go.
11. Be selfish
One beauty of traveling solo is the glorious break from compromise. It is the quintessence of “you do you.” You can spend your time exactly as you want to, pursuing anything that catches your eye, judgment-free. It’s easier to do when you’re actually there, but try to summon that solo freedom as you’re planning, too. If you can, don’t feel guilty about treating yourself. Book a really indulgent spa session or spend a night at a really fabulous five-star hotel.
12. Take a class in something you know
Find something you love to do at home and try it out abroad. Instead of having to miss your regular yoga session or weekly ceramics class, seek out a far-flung substitute and give it a shot. Doing an activity you’re comfortable with will keep you from feeling like an outsider, and it’s a smart way to meet locals and other travelers with mutual interests.
13. Take a class in something unfamiliar
Take your trip to the next level and schedule something you’ve always thought would be fun—a sailing lesson, a via ferrata climb, a winemaking workshop. The options to push your boundaries with a new experience are practically endless.
14. Tag along with a tour group
There are tours focused on nature, art and architecture, horseback riding, scuba diving, breweries and vineyards. Your whole trip can be one continuous tour if you’d like. More and more companies are accommodating single travelers in search of the perfect solo safari, cruise, or other guided experience. It may be helpful to work with an agent to seek out specials and companies that work with solo travelers.
15. Do some low-key learning at museums and monuments
Some people love the deep-dive history and personal anecdotes a guide can provide, but if you prefer to peruse an occasional plaque here and there, then go it alone. That way, you’re free to wander, take your time, and be exactly as interested as you want to be.
16. Keep a travel journal
Your photos will help you remember where you’ve been, but a journal can capture how it felt to be there. Document your trip and your thoughts—there will be many—however you choose. Write, sketch, tape in tickets and receipts, press flowers, paint elaborately gorgeous landscapes. Notebooks have no rules.
17. Attend a performance
Even when you go to see a show with friends, it can feel like the story playing out in front of you is yours alone. Catch a play. Take in a traditional dance performance. Spend all day at a music festival. Even if you don't understand the language, in live performance, words and lyrics are no barrier to emotion.
18. Pop into any shop that calls to you
Shopping alone is a luxury experience whether you’re stepping into a used bookstore or a pristine boutique. There will be no one waiting on the bench outside for you to wrap it up. You can ask about the price of a necklace and end up chatting for 45 minutes with the shop owner. Then, when you wear that necklace and someone compliments you on it, you get to tell your souvenir story and go back to that sunny afternoon in Siena.
19. Send postcards
Yes, it’s true that postcards are dying at the thumbs of social media, but that only adds to their charm. If you find yourself missing the people you love, tell them as much as you can squeeze into that tiny blank rectangle—where you’re staying, what you’ve seen and done, the things that have reminded you of them or that you think they’d love to hear—the old-fashioned way.
20. Embrace the introspective moments
Unless you pack your schedule to the brim and exhaust yourself with activities, it’s hard to avoid spending some time in your head. Every traveler has baggage, and those dips into solitude are one of the many reasons people turn to a solo sojourn as a means of healing or moving on. Embrace it.
21. Bring a book and/or good music
Between the energy of new people and places and the deep peace of being alone, at some point you may crave a sweet spot in the middle. This is the perfect time to open up a book, power on your e-reader, or slide on your headphones and check out for a little while. If you’re taking any side trips, it’ll make for great en route entertainment.
22. Look into a retreat or voluntourism group
Picture your version of a grown-up summer camp and find out of it exists somewhere in the world. Head to a wellness retreat. Look into charity efforts in a country you’d love to visit. There is no standard way to travel on your own.
23. Don’t judge your choices
Try not to impose the phantom pressure of other people on yourself when making decisions. If you want to do something, it doesn’t matter whether or not you “should.” Even if it’s a nap, it’s not a waste of your time if it’s what you truly want. If you want to see the most popular tourist attractions, go. Don’t skip anything you are genuinely interested in because someone once made fun of it within earshot. You are traveling to make your heart happy and for nothing—and no one—else.
24. Trust your instincts
Listen closely to any gut feelings you have about people, places, and things, and build confidence in those strange inner twinges we sometimes choose to ignore. You have to protect yourself. The first time you realize you’ve avoided or figured out a crisis on your own—whether that’s taking a wrong turn or realizing you just left your passport in the hotel safe after checking out—is so empowering.
25. Get to know yourself
Traveling allows you to discover a destination, but that’s almost never the only way it changes you. Even if you consider yourself independent most days, you’re still surrounded by a comfort zone. On a solo trip, you leave all of that behind for a while. Your thoughts, actions, desires, and tastes may be different than you thought. Do yourself a favor and explore them.