“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
Thursday October 23rd 2014

Solo Traveling

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jet skiSometimes when you wanna go somewhere, you just want to go now!!!  It can be a real bummer to conjure up this magnificent trip to ‘wherever’ and have the entire plan dashed because the person(s) you want to go with can’t.  The reasons run the gamut; they have to work, don’t have the money, they’re lazy and/or lame or just aren’t interested in the trip you’ve planned (what do people have against sharks?????).  At this point you are left with two options – adjust your schedule/destination or continue with your planning and go by yourself.  As I’ve become very comfortable going with option 2, I’d like to share my experiences, as well as a few pros and cons.

The first part of solo travel is actually being solo – or perhaps more accurately not married.  Traveling for work can strain even the best relationship, but consistently traveling for vacation without your spouse I would imagine would cause some issues.  Being single in the first place gives you ‘options’.  I’m frequently asked by folks at work; “how do you have the money to travel all over the world” or “Dude, I need to get on your compensation package”, etc.  Well, the simple fact is I don’t have the two biggest expenses most of my co-workers have – a spouse and kids.  I’m certainly not suggesting I’m better off than they are, it’s just that I can devote all of my discretionary income to one person – me.  The takeaway here is if this is your situation, take advantage of it while you can.

Bangkok

Tiger Temple

I’ve done a mix of solo travel, group and couple travel and I can say I enjoy them all equally.  None are significantly better than the others – they are all just different.  While there are certain things you have to account for when traveling solo, I think one of the biggest hurdles is fear – specifically your own fear.  Fear for one’s own safety, fear of being looked at as an outcast and fear of being bored/lonely are all legitimate but sometimes overblown.  I’d held all of those fears to varying levels.  I didn’t fear my safety as much as I was a little concerned about an altercation landing me in a foreign jail with no way to communicate.  Mostly, I was nervous about feeling like everyone would be looking at me (like the guy in the movies by himself) or just plain bored.  Fortunately, I found that all of those fears were unfounded.  Here are few of the pros and cons of solo travel:

Good Things

  • You won’t have to wait for anyone else to secure vacation time, save the money or argue about where to go or what to do.  Friends don’t want to jump in the water with sharks, no problem – hang out with the folks who do once you arrive.
  • Once at your destination, you don’t have to wait for anyone to get dressed, complain they are tired or worry they don’t want to do what you want to do.
  • Much more likely to meet new people when traveling solo as you’ll have the freedom to talk to anyone you want for whatever reason.  Being on a trip with someone typically involves giving most of your attention to that person.
  • It’s usually easier to book last-minute tours/events as there is almost always space for 1 extra person.
  • It’s almost impossible to get into an argument with yourself during your vacation.
  • Unless it’s a fellas outing or the person you are with is okay going “Dutch” for everything, then paying for two people can get a little expensive.

Challenging Aspects

  • Certain aspects ‘can’ be more expensive – usually when buying air + hotel packages.  Operators price these deals to attract two or more travelers – thus a ‘single supplement’ is charged to all solo passengers.  This additional fee can be anywhere from 5-30% of the price – in many cases negating the so called sale.
  • Can get lonely – but that depends on where you are and why you are there.  If partying is your thing, you will only be as lonely as your game takes you.  If you are there to see the sites (museums, artifacts, etc) – it can get lonely in the evening.
  • Unless you are a loner, humans generally need some form of social interaction.  There are varying levels of work involved with striking up conversations with strangers.
  • Singles only events are sausage factories.  The steady feedback I get from male travelers on these ‘singles cruises’ is the odds are usually 45 men to 5 women.
  • Constant or long-term travel can cause a little friction for the significant other left behind.

From my perspective, the advantages of solo travel outweigh the challenges.  Going solo certainly isn’t the best method for every trip; trips that are generally considered romantic in nature (Paris) or those geared towards children (Disney) are best left for couples and/or families.  For most other adventures, traveling by myself meant I could go wherever, whenever and with whomever I wanted.  That may sound a bit selfish, but the truth is it is quite liberating.

My Experiences

Here are a few of my solo travel experiences from the last year and my thoughts during those trips.

Belgium – Brussels
My first solo trip.  All of the concerns I’d held prior to the trip vanished almost immediately.  I was never lonely and there must be something about a guy with a video camera that sparks the craziest conversations.
Las Vegas, NV
Of all of the places in the US that are friendly to solo travelers, I’d think Vegas is somewhere near the top of the list.  With tons of day and nighttime activities, I was never bored in Vegas.
Thailand – Bangkok, Phuket
Due to the rioting in Bangkok and the amount of walking I did in Phuket, it was probably a good idea I was by myself.  Though I have to admit – the tiger temple tour and cooking classes were probably best experienced with someone else.
Costa Rica – Liberia, Arenal and San Jose
Traveling with someone wouldn’t have made the adventure any better/worse; my Liquid Image Scuba Mask and my Drift x170 head camera ensured I captured every zip-line, white water rafting and horseback adventure.  Still, I was almost a victim of robbery by two hot-chicks.
South Africa: Johannesburg, Kruger National Park & Cape Town
The only bad thing was the unusually cold night in a tree house in the middle of Kruger National park (could have really used a belly warmer).  The Table Mountain repelling, Shark Dive and innocent flirting with hotel front desk staff were right out of the solo traveler’s playbook.
Panama – Panama City
Traveling solo really helped with booking tours at the last minute.  Both my Atlantic Ocean scuba diving excursion and tour of Old Panama were sold out, but both operators made space for one more person.

I’ve met some interesting people traveling solo – both in person and virtually; that I would not have met if I were traveling with someone.  A few travel bloggers I’ve encountered who also do a good deal of solo travel include Gray from Solo Friendly, the Fly-Brother Ernest and Lillie from Around the World L.  The fact is there are tons of solo travelers at every destination who are looking to connect with like minded travelers like you.

Some Solo Travel Tips

Here are some travel tips which are unique to solo travelers (or are of greater importance);

  • Solo travel for women can be safe, so long as you follow a few simple rules such as avoiding unwanted attention, avoid talking to strangers, not accepting drinks from anyone your don’t completely trust and staying in well-lit areas.  Solo travel for men is also getting much more dangerous, at least in terms of nightclub drugging robberies.
  • Use Facebook, Twitter and TravelBlogExchange to meet new solo travelers in-route and at your destination.
  • Hostels are an excellent way to meet like minded travelers, especially in the common areas.  While my free stays on the Hilton’s executive floor had every creature comfort one could desire, they were generally filled with old rich folks.  CouchSurfing is also an excellent way to meet people – though the lack of privacy may be a little off-putting to new solo travelers.
  • Always carry identification – preferably a color copy of your passport.  Watch out for scammers.  Don’t tell your life story to complete strangers, feel free to omit or lie about specific details. In fact, don’t talk about personal information such as your last name, hotel room number, etc.
  • Start a conversation.   Looking like a tourist is a double edged sword; while it certainly makes you more of a target – it also lets others know you may be in need of assistance – whether that be directions, help with the language or just someone to talk to.
  • Remember to enjoy yourself – this is about living your life to the fullest!

Closing

Don’t let the fact you don’t have a partner influence where you want to go – properly prepare and go enjoy yourself!  As long as you follow the safety tips unique to solo travelers, you should be fine. Not waiting on someone else to go with you, doing whatever and whenever you want and the decreased travel costs are just a few of the benefits of going at it alone.  I’m not suggesting traveling by yourself is any better or worse than with someone else – it’s just different; call it liberating!!

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