My first solo trip was not by choice. After months of saving and planning a New Year’s trip to Paris with my best friend, she called me the day before we were supposed to leave to say that she couldn’t go. She had the flu.
Having spent all the money I earned with my student job on the trip, I couldn’t imagine staying home just because I’d be traveling alone. Still, I didn’t want to spend a holiday all by myself while the rest of the world was surrounded by loved ones, clinking glasses with friends or kissing someone special at the stroke of midnight. I was worried about feeling lonely, scared of being isolated and sad about missing out on the fun. Still, I left for Paris, consumed with all of those doubts, and headed towards one of my best New Year’s Eve experiences ever.
New Year’s Eve in Paris felt way different from back home. Everything was so much more relaxed (a day like every other day), people where shopping till late at night, no one was going crazy about purchasing fireworks, and the entire atmosphere on the streets at midnight was magical. Everybody was hugging and cheering and wishing each other well. I even made a friend that I am still very close with today. The secret was shifting my perspective. . . .
To this day, I often travel somewhere on my own just to experience something special. Solo travel can make you feel more alive than you ever have before. It’s the chance to take that trip you’ve been dreaming of forever— and to have it your way! (Not to mention that being in the wrong company on a vacation may make you feel lonely, too.)
Before you give in to your fear, consider these five ways to make aloneness while away a thing of the past.
1. Plan One Exciting Thing Each Day
The excitement and anticipation of knowing what you’ll experience on your trip will outweigh any “What if I feel lonely”-worries. You’ll have something to look forward to every day of your trip.
Search Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration or follow tastemakers whose interests and passions you share for ideas. You can also read guide books and travel magazines or ask your friends for recommendations.
Google Maps is another great tool for visualizing your itinerary and getting more comfortable with your new surroundings. You can save places and drop pins onto a personalized map so you know exactly where your points of interests such as museums, your hotel, and restaurants are located.
But don’t plan too much in advance! Some of the best things in life happen by chance. There is always something going on that you’ll only find out about once you’re there, and who doesn’t enjoy being in the moment?
2. Engage in Small Talk With Strangers and Ask for Advice
Ask for recommendations when you order something at a coffee shop or restaurant, when you cross paths with someone at your hotel or when you book a local service like getting a massage or hiring an UBER. It’s a great way to meet and talk to locals. (Pro tip: I like to get my nails done at a local nail bar. It’s a great way to pause for half an hour or so, mingle with locals, hear what they talk about and get to chat with some of them.).
Find out their favorite restaurant, their most-loved parks or neighborhoods, how they like to spend their weekends, or if there is something special going on while you’re there. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Most important, this will leave no room for feeling lonely as you’ll regularly talk to other people while learning more about local life.
3. Make Lodging a Home Away From Home
When you don’t like the place you’re staying, traveling can feel miserable. But if you do the work to find a cozy bed and breakfast that makes you feel comfortable and cared for or a luxurious hotel room that makes you excited just to check in, you’ll feel inspired (not alienated) by your solo trip.
If you prefer the comfort, familiarity and amenities of a hotel, check out websites such as Mr & Mrs. Smith’s with curated selections, flip through travel magazines such as Conde Nast Traveller, or head to the website of your favorite hotel chain. If you like to rent or share apartments, read the trusted recommendations on booking platforms like Airbnb.
Once you find something you like, always check the exact location before you book. Think about how you like to spend your days (and evenings) as well as the areas you want to visit. Do you want to be in a quiet neighborhood or in the midst of all the action? How do you want to get around– by car, on foot or by public transport? The answers to these questions might change your opinion of the lodging you chose. Google Maps and Google Streetview are great tools to help you figure this out, as well as a quick Google search on the neighborhood.
4. Read About Your Destination and Local Habits
Information is power and it makes all the difference to come prepared. Knowing more about current news (like the Brexit, the 30 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the upcoming elections in Argentina), the history of the place, its economic and political situation will make you feel connected the moment you arrive.
This will also provide you with potential things to talk about with the people you’ll meet, and you’ll get an idea which topics to avoid.
5. Pick The Right Places To Dine Solo
No need to ever order room service again— unless you like to have breakfast in bed or dine in your pajamas. One way to bravely dine solo is by simply going to your hotel’s lobby. Hip hotels (like the Hotel Zoo or the Orania in Berlin, the Standard in NYC, or the Como in Bangkok) often have chic restaurants that are also popular with locals. So by dining in, you’ll meet people from all over the world and locals alike.
I’ve met lovely people who were staying at the same hotel. Like a TV presenter who was in London for a movie premiere while I was there on business. We met at the hotel bar and had great fun talking about life, work and our travels.
Another tip: Avoiding formal, white tablecloth, fine dining establishments and opting for busy, street food-type restaurants or sushi bars. Soho, London, is for instance packed with great restaurants where you can easily dine by yourself without ever being bothered or feeling awkward. Finally, pick a seat at the bar or choose a restaurant with an open kitchen. (If all else fails, at least you’ll be able to chat with the bartender and or chef!)