What To Watch For When Traveling Solo

traveling solo

Solo travel is many wonderful things. As with anything, though, there are some challenges. I asked members of the Solo Travel Society, the actively engaged community that I facilitate on Facebook, “What is the hardest part of traveling solo?”

Their answers were many and varied – including, “There is no hard part!” — but there were several themes that came up again and again. Here are the main challenges that were identified, along with some tips for handling them in future.

Sharing Special Experiences

Megan said that sometimes the hardest part of traveling solo is wishing someone was there to share your experiences along with you. Mattia found not being able to share the experience with loved ones back home disappointing, while Jason found it particularly difficult being away from family during the holidays—although he noted that when you travel solo, you always find someone to celebrate with. Melinda joked that “If something really funny happens to you, it’s nice to have someone to laugh with. Otherwise you spend the next few hours looking like a dill every time you think about it and laugh out loud and passers-by think you’re going mad!”

Taking Your Photo

A number of readers lamented not having anyone to take photos of them while traveling. When Ina suggested using a selfie stick, reaction was quite mixed. Monica said that she is sick and tired of selfies and Kiki worried that she looked silly trying to take pics of herself. Chanin recommended asking a stranger to take your photo, but cautioned that the quality of the resulting photo is not guaranteed. Jeanne worried about strangers running off with her camera, and Alex reminded us all that “Back before everybody claimed to be a photographer we used cameras for self-portraits using a timer…which all cameras still have.”

Costs

Travel in general can be expensive, but solo travel can present an additional burden of cost. Several Solo Travel Society members mentioned the aggravation of the single supplement that is charged by many tour companies. Taru noted, “For some trips it’s ridiculously high!” Suz and Warren said the fact that there is no one to split costs with makes things difficult, and Joe agreed, adding that there is no one to share 2-for1 deals with when traveling alone. Michelle brought up an entirely different topic around money: “When the credit card stops working because the bank forgot you were going to more than one country on your travels and put a freeze on it–money problems are my biggest stress being solo now!”

For tips on how to get around extra charges, see this Forbes article. Don’t forget that we publish a new post every Tuesday on saving money for and while traveling. You can find all of our Travel Money posts right here. For advice specifically on managing your money on the go, check out Manage Money. Avoid Fees. Keep Cards and Cash Safe.

Watching Your Stuff

This one surprised me: a lot of readers told me that the hardest part of traveling solo is not having anyone else to watch your belongings. Over and over again, readers complained about having no one to watch their luggage while they used the washroom, especially in airports. Bryony finds “going to the loo in airports and lugging all your baggage (especially if you’re the kind of person who only takes carry on so is burdened like a mule)” a big challenge. Dawn added that it also frequently means that you lose your seat while you’re gone. Isabel identified this problem: “When there are no lifts at the metro stations and I have my check-in as well as cabin luggage to move to and from the airport. I can’t exactly carry one piece down, leave it there, and run up to get the other piece without worrying that someone might not just grab the unattended piece and bolt.”

Everything Is Up To You

Now, this one did not surprise me at all. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword: the fact that everything is up to you can be simultaneously freeing and burdening. You can do as you wish, whenever and wherever and for as long as you wish—but every decision, every plan, every bit of organization is also on your shoulders. Brenda shared, “I’m on month 3 of a long trip solo right now. I find it mentally exhausting at times trying to organize and figure things out, even easy stuff, like “What am I eating for breakfast?”

Amy said, “Being from a city that is sorely lacking in public transportation, I have a bit of difficulty deciphering best transportation options when visiting large cities with buses, trains, light rail, etc. I’m visiting Sydney in March and I’m spending quite a bit of time mapping out transportation (besides the two-legged kind!)” Rebekka understood Amy’s problem, offering “I’m from Sydney and always think how difficult it would be for tourists, our transportation sucks and everything is so spread out!”

At the end of the day, said Mecedes, “You are the only one taking care of you.” And the hardest part of traveling solo, according to Martha, is “learning to depend on yourself.” According to Janet, “The best part and the worst part are the same…making your own decisions.”

First-Day Jitters

For some Solo Travel Society members, the hardest part of traveling solo comes at the very beginning of a trip. For Pamela, it’s “the moment before I leave for the trip because there are anxieties and fear of the unknown. A small part of me will want to go back home and live in my comfort zone but once the plane takes off, it leaves the anxiety and fear behind and I begin to live in the moment and enjoy the adventure.” Claire agreed, saying “Once at the airport, I start feeling excited!”

At smartertravel.com they share what they found the first solo trip the hardest. “I very nearly booked a flight home whilst waiting for a connection to Singapore.” But I think Max had the best line of all. He said that the hardest part is “getting out the door. The rest flows like wine.”

Attitudes of Other People

Not everyone understands or appreciates the desire to travel solo. Family and friends, while well-meaning, can sometimes be a bit difficult to deal with around this issue. Rachael finds the hardest part of traveling solo happens “at home before leaving and having to listen to my mother’s or other people’s comments on how unsafe it is to travel alone and having them point out every little news item of someone disappeared or raped or beaten. I’ve quit trying to explain how it really is because they have no idea what it’s like to travel alone and it can actually usually be as safe as when you are at home.” Isuru sympathized, saying, “Ah, I know this one well. I was getting scolded every time I called my mother during my trip.”

While Suzanne finds it difficult to convince her parents that she will be fine, Ayn hates having to say “no” when someone wants to come along on the journey. Sue says it is hard “convincing others that I really do like being on my own. Don’t feel sorry for me!”

And it’s not just people close to us. Julia dislikes “that look people give you when you say, ‘One, please,’ and Alex is annoyed by people constantly asking ‘omg you’re traveling alone?'”

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