How to travel solo (and how to love it!)
Solo travel, the very words will install fear in some and joy in others. But whichever way you feel, there comes a point in every adult traveller's life where it becomes a reality.
Friends and family have ties; work, relationships, pets. Whatever the reason, sometimes they’re not able to hop on that flight at the drop of a hat and join you on your travels. And that’s ok.
As someone who’s undertaken her fair share of solo travel, I know it’s not always easy to deal with.
I’m the girl who once ate self-consciously at a restaurant in India as the waiters kept asking when I expected my friend to join me. ‘No, it’s just me’, I kept repeating, only to be met by uncomprehending stares.
I’m the girl who once ordered a sad portion of McDonald’s fries for lunch in Tokyo as I just couldn’t face entering an unknown restaurant alone, the girl who found it far easier to take the first item I recognised on the fast-food chain menu, pointing at the image and holding out a handful of coins.
But, as time goes on and I’ve had more and more chances and opportunity to travel, if it meant going solo, I’m also the girl who’s embraced it whole-heartedly.
I’ve camped out under the stars in Omani deserts alone. I’ve navigated the streets of Shanghai with confidence alone. I've stayed in Ethiopian guesthouses as a solo occupant. I’ve spent 48 hours solo in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo, where, by the very nature of my time as a guidebook writer there, I was forced not only to travel solo but to really experience every element of the city, from dining alone in grand restaurants, to haggling in unknown markets and catching taxis in the dark, alone.
Having these incredible opportunities to take up solo travel from time to time, has really built my ability to land in a new country and just get out and enjoy it. To walk into the best restaurants in town, ask for a table for one, and to really enjoy every mouthful of the food I've been served.
The secret? I’ve found, that the more confidence you have as you travel solo, the more the experience gives back to you. Rather than shying away from interactions with waiters as you lower your head and gobble up your food as quickly as possible, I suggest you speak to them, ask them about the food, the local area, their lives. You’ll likely find, more often than not, that they’ll be happy with the excuse to chat and will not only willingly engage in conversation but also offer some good tips about where you should visit in the area too.
Smile as you wander the streets of a new city. Stop, sit, take in the surroundings. Often, simply by sitting solo on a bench I’ve had the most incredible interactions with locals; played games with their children, sampled their home-made food and exchanged life stories.
Of course, travelling solo does mean you need to have your wits about you; and if any situation ever makes you uncomfortable, get up and leave.
But, I urge you, be the person who keeps their head held high, who actively encourages conversations with locals, who confidently walks into museums, who seeks out the best table in the house in order to enjoy the food you’ve travelled so far to eat.
Don’t be the person who, like I once did, sheepishly orders McDonald’s fries for lunch.
I promise you, the world has a lot more to offer for a solo traveller when you simply open up and embrace it.
- By Katie Silcox
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