For almost three decades, I’ve happily travelled the globe alone. While I enjoy travelling with family or friends, nothing beats the joy of being by myself as I discover a new place. But there are, as with anything worthwhile, a few issues to consider. Here are a few tips to help you discover solo nirvana.
Watching the bags
One of the most inconvenient things about travelling alone is having no one with you to watch your bags. With a bag on your back or at your feet, you become very vulnerable when your attention is distracted – like when you’re booking a bus ticket for instance. There are several ways of reducing the chances of being robbed. Travelling light is the obvious one – carry less stuff and there’s less chance of that stuff being stolen.
Also consider which type of luggage you’re carrying and how to avoid being the victim of an opportunist thief. I travel with a hard shell wheelie and when I’m off somewhere dodgy, pop a mini padlock on my rucksack. It’s not foolproof – a bag slasher obviously wouldn’t have a problem – but it is a small deterrent. If the person next to you has their bag wide open, you’re not going to be the first choice for a thief. Keep your bags in sight and where possible, keep the strap across your body.
Timing is everything
On a related point, I’ve never thought it would be smart to leave my bags unattended. I’ve no wish to be the reason an airport is evacuated. But I’m also regularly the victim of suggestion – and if I see a toilet, then there’s a good chance I need to visit it. That can be tricky when you’re on the move with all your bags and the floors are at best grubby, at worst, well, let’s not go there…
Timing is everything. Go before you leave your hotel, in an airport where the cubicle could be big and clean enough to leave belongings on the floor or somewhere there’s a solid, heavy duty hook. And pray it’s not a squat toilet. Believe me when I say it’s almost impossible to keep your balance with a rucksack on your back.
The dreaded single supplement can make it all too obvious that solo travellers incur a financial penalty from some establishments. While I understand how frustrating it must be for hoteliers to lose half the potential revenue from a double or twin room, I still have a travel budget to stick to. I look for hotels with single rooms – they’re not all windowless cells shoved in basements – and unpackage my trip to swap private drivers for public transport.
I also avoid tour companies promising single rooms without the single supplement – usually all they’ve done is absorbed those charges into their headline price. If I do need to take a tour, I opt to share with a same-sex stranger – sometimes you get lucky and get a room to yourself anyway and where that’s not been the case, I’m relieved to say my room mate has been a pleasant distraction for a few nights and not a surprise snorer.
Most of the time, while I’m happy for my husband to rest his head on my shoulder, the same doesn’t apply for complete strangers who just happen to be occupying the seat beside me. On buses and trains, I seat myself on the aisle seat with my bag by the window. Most people would prefer to slide into an empty seat rather than have to ask someone to move, so you often keep your seat even when the bus is quite full. I’m always gazing intently at something out of the window, though if they ask me to move over or let them in, I always do so with a smile. There’s no sense in pissing someone off who’s going to be next to you for hours. It’s also easier than you might think to find single seats, whether on trains or on the overnight sleeper buses that are common in South America.
If you do end up next to someone, it’s not the end of the world. The most comfortable flight I ever took was an overnighter from Ghana wedged tightly up against a very large woman – she was as soft as a goose feather pillow and happy for me to snuggle up as she spilled over into my seat.
Eat at the bar
Often, the only time when I’m really conscious I’m travelling alone is when it comes to dinner. Where eating breakfast without a companion rarely feels odd, there still seems to be a stigma about sitting alone over dinner. I’ve never been one for room service (and let’s face it, rarely stay somewhere smart enough to even have room service) so how do I overcome the thorny problem of dinner for one? I’m not frightened to say no to a table shoved up at the back of a restaurant by the kitchen door – if they don’t want to give me a decent table, I’m quite happy to take my business elsewhere.
But if I’m feeling sociable I often sit at the bar to eat, as the bar tender and fellow patrons are often chattier there. And if I’m not, I’m quite happy to read a book between courses or simply people watch.
If you’re thinking of travelling solo but are scared to try it – don’t be! It might just be the best thing you’ve ever done.