A couple years ago I wrote a post about traveling alone in Barcelona. It wasn’t a very long experience, and I wasn’t totally comfortable. The first time I traveled alone, I had fun during the day, but as soon as evening fell, I felt self-conscious or lonely or paranoid and would stay in rather than go out alone. Since that trip, I’ve spent a bit more time op reis solo, for over a week this summer to Italy but also several times to Paris for a few days each time. And I have loved it.
WordPress tells me that my “solo Barcelona” post gets a lot of traffic, presumably because a lot of people are curious about traveling by themselves—so I thought I’d share some of my updated thoughts. My advice is more on traveling alone to enjoy being alone, rather than traveling to a city and hoping to make a whole bunch of new friends or meet a guy in a bar, etc.
1. Stay in a place you’ll like and feel safe. As a solo traveler, it’s worth it. I was jumpy in Barcelona because I was staying in a total dive, trying to be cheap. My own safety and comfort are more important to me now than only paying €25/night. I’m still on a budget, mind you, so I don’t put myself up in five-star hotels. I mostly stay in AirBnB apartments with lots of good reviews, and I look for reviews by other women traveling alone.
2. Embrace the art of dining alone. The first time I was in Paris by myself, I went to the grocery store at the end of my adopted street and got pre-made meals or takeout most nights.
For shame. I felt “stupid” going to a table-service restaurant by myself; or, if I did, I ate so quickly I was done in twenty minutes with a meal I could have lingered over for two hours with a friend. It has taken me a few meals to get comfortable dining alone, but I don’t think it’s weird anymore. I take a book, or a notebook. This keeps me from plowing through the food too quickly and gives me something (apart from people-watching) to do. And I’ve realized, other people aren’t half as interested in the fact that you’re dining alone as you fear they are. If anything, you enjoy a mysterious air. Once or twice, strangers have started a conversation with me, which can be enjoyable (or, irritating).
If you’re in a wonderful city, find a good place to eat within your budget and order whatever you would if you had a companion. And enjoy it just as much.
3. Plan something. I have a high threshold for spending time by myself, but I find that it helps to put something on the calendar—if possible, something where I might interact with other people. A couple times I’ve gone to concerts. Checked for readings at a local bookstore. Once I booked a spot on a walking tour. I enjoyed the rest of the group and chatted happily with people during a week in which I otherwise spent most of my time alone. Knowing which landmarks in the city have a night where they stay open late (a museum, or a historical site) can help you pick evening activities, too, if you’re not planning on diving into the nightlife.
4. Don’t be foolish. Use your radar, and keep your eyes open. Have a phone. Know the emergency numbers for the country you’re in. When you go out, take the # of your host or hotel.
I wouldn’t travel everywhere alone. The more times I return to a city like Paris, I feel more and more comfortable and know the neighborhoods a little better and a few more words of French and can jump right into the experience.
As a solo traveler, I get mistaken for a local fairly often. I think part of this is that people don’t expect as much that you’re a tourist if you’re alone, without your head shoved in a guidebook. I am happy to keep up this pretense if I can, as I think it makes you less of a target for petty crime or just the guys trying to sell you bracelets and little plastic toys.
5. Enjoy what you enjoy. If you normally travel with a friend or partner or family member, spend a day in the flea market that person would never be interested in. Bring a book and read it for hours in a cafe—you’re not holding anyone up. Keep your own hours, and use the time for thinking and exploring. When I’m in Paris, I often realize I have literally walked miles in the course of a day, just wandering toward the address of some place I read about online (inevitably to find it’s closed, or missing).
As I reread this post (as I inevitably, compulsively do), what I’m saying isn’t earth-shattering. But if it gives someone the confidence to embrace a trip alone, or to sit down at that restaurant table for one—I’m happy. Feel free to add your other tips, or solo travel memories, below!