By Miriam Longobardi
Have you ever wanted to get on a plane and leave the country to have an adventure by yourself? If the idea feels simultaneously appealing yet overwhelming, allow me to break it down into a manageable plan. I have taken several, three-week solo journeys overseas exploring new countries and, while it takes considerable planning, the freedom is exhilarating!
Research and plan. Preparing for my trips builds excitement and anticipation. I enjoy reading travel books about my destinations. Rick Steves’ books cover many European destinations and his tips are very helpful and practical, but I read across many sources to find a consensus about neighborhoods, local customs and hot spots, and the best times to visit certain attractions. Steves has podcasts and interactive maps you can download for walking tours and the audio guide to many museums which saves money and time waiting on lines to rent headsets.
Simply load up your phone and get right to sightseeing. Most tourist attractions offer online ticket purchases and some allow you to choose your entry time. Consult maps: Streetwise makes easy-to-read large, laminated maps of many cities and will give you a sense of where to stay based on your plans. Consider your activities both day and night. Do you want to be on the beach and take cabs to town or in town and take a cab to the beach?
Do you want to be able to walk to most places or stay off the beaten path? Maximize your time by familiarizing yourself with the city in advance.
Read reviews. As a woman traveling alone I like a specific destination. TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Airbnb and VRBO are all reputable sites I have used to book accommodations abroad. I cannot stress enough the importance of thoroughly reading several reviews because people are generally honest. Weigh the disgruntled traveler’s poor experience against the others. I chose a hotel in Spain because the manager personally responded to every review which showed customer service is a priority. If you’re staying several days or a week in one city, consider renting an apartment or home on VRBO or Airbnb. I have rented lovely apartments on VRBO when I had my young daughters in tow at significantly lower cost than a hotel and had a kitchen and washing machine.
Another good option traveling solo is a bed and breakfast because the proprietors are usually on site and can be an excellent resource. After reading reviews about a B&B in Italy, I stayed there because all reviewers mentioned how fun and friendly the couple who ran it were, and they turned out to be really terrific company!
Be safe. The moment has arrived: you’ve checked into your hotel, you’ve got your map (keep it with you at all times!) and you’re ready to go exploring. Lock your passport and money in a safe at your hotel and carry a securely zipped purse across your body, holding tightly at all times, especially when snapping photos or admiring views. Carry just enough cash and one credit card, and alert your banks that you’ll be out of the country.
When it comes to unwelcome attention from men, err on the side of being rude –they’ll get over it. Men from certain cultures flirt nearly compulsively, and certain cultures have a general lack of respect for unescorted women. Don’t take it personally and avoid isolated parts of town.
Solo socializing. Some find socializing alone daunting, especially if you’re not a 20-something backpacker toward which much nightlife is geared. Quieter venues for a more mature crowd tend to attract couples, so where to go? My biggest challenge is finding casual but lively bars for people close(ish) to my age. I ask hotel staff, salespeople and bartenders for ideas. A group tour can help connect you with potential companions, or simply strike up a conversation with people around you. I asked locals in Venice where good nightlife is and they took me all around, showing me the town. When a cab driver in Croatia asked me where to, I said, “Surprise me,” and he dropped me at a beach concert which was a blast! He even arranged to pick me up afterward knowing I was alone and cabs would be scarce!
If solo travel is something you’ve considered, give it a try. For a first time, you may want to pick an English-speaking country or even just a U.S. or Canadian city to get your feet wet. Traveling at your own pace is incredibly liberating and you’ll meet and interact with far more people than with a friend or group. Start planning, and get out there! The world beckons.
Miriam is a single mother of two daughters living in Westchester. She is currently planning her boldest solo journey yet-three weeks in Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong this summer.