Eating lunch alone in the cafeteria is a fear middle schoolers everywhere face. And frankly, it’s nerve-wracking for many adults, myself included.
I’m sure the eighth grader in me would disagree with this, but it’s okay to eat alone. Who cares what others in the restaurant think. Chances are you’ll never see them again. And along the same line, it’s just fine to travel alone. It challenges your comfort zone and as I’ve found out, it is a great way to escape from it all.
I’ve taken two solo trips in the last year or so. One, a week to Phoenix, Arizona; the other, a three-night media trip to Provincetown, Massachusetts. And I’ll do it again. Here’s advice on making sure you make the most of your solo adventure.
Eating and nightlife
Not every meal needs to be at a sit-down restaurant. For my week in Phoenix, I stayed in a townhouse rental with a full kitchen. My first stop was to Trader Joe’s for groceries. I had breakfast at the house before taking off for the day.
Use Facebook to your advantage. For my Arizona trip, I looked up to see which friends lived in the area and was surprised with the number of results. I messaged them and booked meals so we could catch up in person. They loved showing me the city they lived in.
If you’re gay, use Grindr or Scruff to your advantage. In Provincetown, I changed my name to ‘visiting’ and received messages from many curious guys. You can use those apps for whatever you’d like, but I’ve found them great for getting dinner and nightlife recommendations from locals (whether you’re single or traveling as a couple or with friends). After chatting with one local for a while, we met up for a drink and it turned into a great night.
If you want to check out a restaurant, pull a chair up to the bar. Bartenders and the wait staff will strike up a conversation with you (just don’t have your face buried in your phone the entire time). It’s a great alternative to taking a table for two and looking like your date flaked on you. Another good option: seek out restaurants with communal tables.
You don’t need to go out every night. It’s just fine to buy a pint of ice cream and watch a made for TV movie in your room.
To avoid lonely nights in a hotel room, stay at a bed and breakfast. Based on my experience in Provincetown, the owners will make an effort to get to know you and they have plenty of recommendations for what to do. Plus, you get breakfast, too, which helps knock out another meal by yourself.
In the same line, book a place to sleep through Airbnb. Look for a place where the owners most likely will be home or if they have a shared commons. If you can’t tell in advance, ask.
Look for small group activities and tag along. In Provincetown, I joined a small group on a dune tour of the Cape Cod National Seashore. There were five of us in a Chevrolet and thanks to our guide striking up conversation, we all got to know each other, finding out we were from different parts of the world (one person was from Japan). Lo and behold, the next day, one of the people in my tour group spotted me and came up to chat.
Flying and ground travel
It can actually be a perk to fly alone. Depending on the airline and if your timeline allows, ask to get bumped and you could cash in big. Helpful tips: don’t check a bag and make sure to tell the gate agent you’re willing to get bumped about an hour before you board. Check out more advice, including what you will need to negotiate before giving up your seat, from the team at The Voyage Report (scroll down towards the end of the article).
Plan in advance for how you’ll get around. The time of the day can make a difference. Safety does become a concern when you’re traveling by yourself. Make sure you have a sense of your surroundings.
Pack that book you’ve wanted to read for a while but just haven’t had the time. Guess what: you’re traveling alone and can do whatever you want!
Make a goal to be extra friendly. Strike up conversation with retail workers, bartenders and passersby. Chances are you’re not the only one traveling alone in the city you visit. You might meet a new travel buddy!
Take lots of photos! Since no one will hold you back, you’ll be able to accomplish and see a lot. If you run into some of that awkward alone time in public, take a minute to scroll through (and edit) the photos you’ve taken.
Going abroad? Learn simple phrases in the local language. It’s the effort that counts.
Do plenty of research beforehand. Get recommendations from friends and travel blogs for places to eat (don’t forget about a good coffeeshop), museums, activities and sightseeing. Having a packed itinerary will keep you busy and will help you forget you’re traveling solo.