How to Get the Most Out of Travelling Solo
Travelling solo can boost your confidence, help you face your fears and give you perspective; the most reported benefit of travelling alone. You become more independent, can figure out what works for you, what you enjoy, and how you want to live your life. You’ll observe more, experience more, and see yourself like never before. Travelling solo allows you to really experience a place, able to do what you want without having to compromise with someone else. It forces you to meet different people from other cultures, you will no doubt meet new friends from across the world.
Why Would You Want to start Travelling Solo?
A lot of people ask about the loneliness of travelling solo – all too few talk about the freedom.
When I visited New York, my friends were very keen on itineraries and rules. I found it stifling, so took a day to explore the city on my own, and it was glorious. I visited a couple of vintage record shops, ate a delicious single slice of pizza in a local diner, got a Mac makeover at Macys and drank better coffee than I’ve ever tasted in England – from an American vending machine. I also relished getting a day to myself; I am a bit of an introvert and 24/7 socialising was exhausting to me. We did a lot of fun activities – Central Park, the Empire State Building, Time Square, Bloomingdales, but there were also a few things I missed that I really would have loved; I wanted to see art galleries and museums, and while we did see one or two, I (obviously) had to compromise more than I would have liked in a group of six on a 5 day holiday.
I would love to go back, as a solo traveller -when you are travelling solo you are beholden to no-one but yourself, and can do anything you want. You don’t have to negotiate the food you want to eat, the places you want to go, or the destinations you want to visit. Everything from planning the trip to packing is simplified, made easier, by only having to think about yourself. You can go at your own speed – follow a strict itinerary, relax on the beach. You can go for delicious seafood and mimosas at 3pm just because you want to. And that applies whether it’s a treat after a gruelling 6 hour breakfast conference or a blissful rest point in a busy day of sightseeing.
Some people apparently wonder about where to eat – well, sitting at the bar is an easy way to eat alone, and booths can be wonderful. I used to travel to London a lot for work, and seating myself in a booth around 6.30pm, with a laptop, dinner and a glass of wine was heavenly.
It’s a truly liberating, freeing experience.
Eating Alone – A More Authentic Experience
“The best way… it makes you trust more and get more involved with the language and the locals.” Kirsty Hughes, Domestic Violence Support Worker
Where to eat can be one of the trickier elements of getting the most out of solo travel. Many have reported feeling embarrassed to dine alone; many others have reported how liberating it can be. Solo diners are no longer a rarity; table for one bookings are increasing rapidly, according to data from Dimmi.
For the leisure traveller, eating alone can be a valuable opportunity to observe, read or simply immerse themselves in the local culture. For business travellers, it can be a vital respite from the regular business day, which at conferences can total 10-12 hours.
Restaurants are the obvious option, and there are even restaurants such as Amsterdam based Eenmaal that encourage solo dining, and only offer tables for one.
If you visit a chain restaurant, you may feel more confident in the cuisine and the brand, but to truly experience the local culture and get the most out of your trip, it’s a good idea to sample local delicacies, even if you are only travelling solo nationally; do check Tripadvisor, and ask people who have been there before if they know of any hidden gems.
Communal eating establishments have experienced a resurgence. ‘Canteen’ style communal dining can also be surprisingly chic. For example, the Soup Kitchen in Manchester, which boasts a delicious Caribbean menu, communal tables, a bar and live music.
One great option to participate in local culture, stay safe and stay healthy (a major concern for business travellers) is to book a serviced apartment and shop at local markets and delis for fresh, seasonal ingredients. It makes for a more authentic experience, as you engage with local people and can be fantastic value for money. It’s also a lot healthier than grabbing take-out or fast food – plus apartments tend to have reliable WiFi, so you won’t need to spend £4+ on a latte to check your emails. Most serviced apartments have high quality cooking facilities, or at least a microwave and oven. If you want a takeaway, you can look through Just Eat listings – otherwise ‘Apart-Hotel’ style buildings tend to have concierges who can recommend venues or even order for you.
If you don’t want to eat completely alone…
There are websites designed to help travellers arrange dinner companions.
• “Eat With” is the brainchild of Guy Michlin, as a way to connect with local people when you travel. Hosts put out an invite and name their price, (Eatwith take 15%). Every host is interviewed by the EatWith team and currently only 4% of all applicants are accepted. While chefs range from the Michelin starred to enthusiastic amateurs, this helps maintain quality and safety.
• Meetup.com advertises free and cheap foodie meetups on a regular basis. Niche groups aren’t excluded – the London Vegan Meetup group has 7,791 members. There are also groups themed around cuisine, and even religion.
Apart from anything else, enjoy yourself, and relish the freedom and joy that comes from travelling alone – and truly knowing yourself.