I grew up with three brothers who are seven, nine, and 11 years older than I. By the time I was 11, they were all out of the house and, for the most part, on their own. That meant I was, too.
I didn’t mind this. I spent my afternoons singing into the mirror songs by the band, America, and watching, “The Partridge Family” (and singing their songs in the mirror).
Suffice it to say, I learned early on how to be by myself. Coupled with my adventurous tomboy side from having three brothers, that’s likely why I found myself attracted to a life of adventure—with or without companions.
I easily can recall my first semi-solo trip. I was headed to London to meet up with a group of college students from around the United States for a three-week classical music course at Oxford.
Some long-time friends dropped me off at (what is now) Newark Liberty International Airport. I remember standing in the queue to check in for my flight with legs shaking, so nervously excited to be leaving the country all by myself. But I did it. I was so empowered that the next year I took a semester off from college and traveled around the United States on my own. (I remember my legs shaking in the car as I drove off on that trip, too!)
We all feel some level of fear when we begin traveling on our own. But with time and practice, it gets easier. I promise. Until you feel it has gotten easier for you, here are some tricks to get you over the hump of feeling alone when you’re traveling on your own.
Skytrain in Bangkok
Practice at home
The way I see it, we humans don’t spend more time on our own for a couple of reasons. First, I think we imagine other people will assume we’re losers if we’re not surrounded by friends or loved ones. This is so untrue! One of the ways to get over this fear is to get yourself accustomed to being alone. Eat out solo. Go to the movies solo. Take long walks by yourself. With time, even the shyest among us can gain confidence and eventually start to make conversations with other people.
Second, I’ll be the first to admit it’s a bit nerve-wracking to navigate new situations alone, especially in a destination where English is not the primary language. I still get a flutter of nervousness when I have to figure out a bus or train system in a new city. What if I get lost? What if I can’t figure out where to insert my foreign currency to get on the bus? What I’ve learned is that at my most clueless moments, there’s always someone to help me figure out a situation. Which always restores my faith in humanity.
Trust that you’ll meet others
In advance of a trip, you easily can research things to do, where to eat, and what hotels are in the safest neighborhoods. What you can’t know in advance is who you’re going to meet.
This is where you have to trust me: You will meet people when you’re traveling on your own.
Taj Mahal, India
While it might be a bit more challenging these days because so many people have their eyeballs glued to their mini computers, you’ll find that if your eyes are not glued to yours, it’s easier than you think to make eye contact with others and strike up conversations.
If you’re such an introvert that you can’t fathom making conversation with a stranger, it’s easy enough to make connections with people in advance through organizations such as Servas (where hosts are vetted and you can stay in someone’s home for at least two nights at no cost). There are many other websites that connect locals with travelers who simply want to get together for coffee or perhaps some insider tips about travel overall.
One of the most intimidating things for many people is to be seen dining out on their own.
Resist the urge to order room service and get yourself into an honest-to-goodness restaurant. If you simply cannot bring yourself to sit alone at a table, sit at the bar of your hotel, where there’s often a TV to keep you partially distracted and a bartender you can ask questions about your destination. Depending on the hotel, there likely will be other solo diners, too. They might be just as nervous as you are. Strike up a conversation, or at the very least say hello.
When you do this, always bring a book or a newspaper as a backup, but leave your smart phone or iPad in your bag; someone is less likely to talk to you if you seem consumed by your electronics. If you’re staring into a device, you also are a lot less likely to see the world around you, which is why you’re traveling in the first place.
What concerns you most about traveling solo?