5 Must-Do's for Going Solo on Vacation
Are you headed out into the world for your very own solo adventure? Maybe you're along for the ride while your spouse or loved one is traveling for work! Does your travel party have other plans for the day?
When you're traveling, every day is an opportunity to make memories. Think of these must-do's as guides for living your best life while exploring the world around you!
one: gather your navigation basics
Download the local map on the Google Maps app*, take a free map from the welcome center at the airport or transit station, or choose your navigation tool of choice. The point is, you will want to have an easy-to-access map of the area you're exploring that won't require cellphone or WiFi service. I don't care if you're in the Pacific islands or in downtown NYC - you're going to be able to Sacagawea the crap out of this adventure, signal or no!
You'll also want to scope out some transit basics. Most major cities have car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, in addition to taxis. If you aren't afraid of taking the bus, make note of that option, too. Bike share? Subway? Scooters?! Know your options.
A map is empowering. If you know nothing or very little about where you're exploring, a map is just as much a series of options as it is a safety line. You can quickly identify public spaces, hospitals, and government buildings, if you need to. But you can also find new neighborhoods, restaurant options, and sightseeing locations.
Particularly as a woman traveling alone, I know to be mindful of myself and my belongings, be aware of my surroundings, and maintain awareness of people in my vicinity. Not everyone or everything is a threat, but awareness can be just as much about keeping yourself safe as it can be about assisting someone else in need. So the saying goes: better safe than sorry.
Trust me. Bring a map.
*Side note: having local map with Google Maps will turn your smart phone into a GPS. You'll still be able to use directions and basic searches without having any access to cell or wifi. This functionality might be possible on other apps, but Google is my go-to.
two: prepare for self-amuse
An inherent part of going solo is developing and exercising your ability to rely on yourself - and that goes for entertainment, too. The hope is that you (sooner or later) genuinely enjoy your own company and can keep yourself motivated along the way. There's at least an ounce of truth to the stereotype of the young adult backpacking alone across Europe to find themselves: you can learn a lot about who you are, what you're capable of, and what you can/will tolerate by exploring alone.
Find one or two things that you can or want to spend some time doing so that when you reach your destination - or find yourself waiting to get there - not a moment is wasted twiddling your thumbs. I always keep a camera handy when I travel, especially if sightseeing is on the agenda. A day on the beach? I grab a good book and postcards. Hopping coffee shops? Headphones and Spotify, thank you.
Bring a book. Bring a journal. Buy post cards. Bring an extra battery pack to charge up your phone for games and social sharing. Bring a camera. You can thank me later.
three: be flexible - it might surprise you
I've found that one of the very best parts of exploring alone is being able to change plans on a whim and not being accountable to anyone but yourself when you do it.
I was walking down the beach in Waikiki plotting my next 3x6 in the sand when I passed a catamaran selling cheap ocean excursions.
- Do I have the appropriate cash/card to pay? Check.
- Can I keep my belongings safe, stowed, and in my sights? Check.
- Are there many others going for a ride? Check.
Checks completed - let's go sailing!
eing flexible is just as much about taking things in stride when plans, well...don't go to plan. Taxi a no-sho? Crazy surge pricing on Uber? Oh hey, there's a bus line right here that's headed in my direction!
Sure, your options may impact what you had in mind for your day, but embracing change rather than fighting it is the best way to keep your outlook positive and enjoy the adventure. After all, there's more to be said of the adventure of getting to somewhere than of the somewhere itself.
four: smile and be friendly
Let's be real: this ain't about looking pretty.
Think about any instance where someone has done something nice for you. What were the circumstances surrounding that moment? I would bet that you weren't complaining, arguing, getting indignant, or otherwise being unpleasant. Now I'm not saying that being pushy can't get you places sometimes, but who wants to play that card when you're just trying to have a nice time? Being kind and friendly can be the best possible way to meet interesting people on your adventure, and can often result in unexpected rewards.
Talk to the busboy and the waitstaff. To the clerk at the front desk. To the tour guide. To the bus driver. Making small talk and extending pleasantries is the best way to bring positive vibes to your experience and to make someone who is likely dealing with tourists, weather, or unpleasant guests throughout their day that much more likely to lend you a hand - especially if you aren't asking for anything! You never know. You might just end up on that sold-out tour you've been dying to go on.
Be kind to other explorers, too. They are the folks you can ask to take pictures of you in front of monuments and sites. They are the ones who might share a recommendation for the best meal in your vicinity. They might even exchange tips for adventures you hadn't even considered. They might also not speak your language and can rely on your welcoming smile and happy face to help them get the best shot too. You never know what happy surprises you might receive.
five: quiet days are OK too
If you're on day 4 of your excursion and you find that your feet are aching and your shoulders are sunburned, it's OK to stay in. The bottom line is, you're on an adventure that you yourself get to define.
This might not equal sprawling out in your hotel room with the shutters closed (*ahem* - like me). It may just be keeping a close distance to your home base for the day, or finding a cozy spot to park yourself for a few hours to recharge however you need to. Adventure can be just as much about nurturing or pampering yourself. Self-care can be your exploration for the day! If you don't take time to breathe, recharge, and reflect, how can you prepare yourself for what's next?
The reality is that you are likely to do so much more on your own than you might have done with a group. Think about it! There is no waiting on anyone else, there's no extra stops or bathroom breaks unless you deem it so. There's no slowing down or skipping things because of someone else. You're likely to be at break-neck speed without even realizing it. And when you do? Boy, oh boy, will you be tired!
bonus tip: make postcard memories
If you aren't much for journaling, buy postcards that you like. Not ones you think the family back home will enjoy, but ones you look at and think: "I'd like to be on the receiving end of that one.
At the end of the day, pick out the most memorable moments of your day and share them on the post card. Then address it, and send it to yourself.
Whether you're gone for a couple days, a couple weeks, or a couple months, you'll not only have a positive reminder of your experience when you return home, but a souvenir of your travels that you didn't have to find a spot for in your luggage!
Have you been on a solo trip? Comment below to tell me about your adventure and some of your best lessons-learned.