Hi, I’m Elaine Hayes and I’ve been happily traveling by myself internationally for a couple of years. In 2015, I did a solo Mediterranean cruise, and, in 2016, I visited London and Paris on my own. In September of this year, I’m heading off to Washington D.C., and in June 2018, I’m on a solo Northern European (Baltic) cruise.
Although I’m traveling alone by choice, I’m not alone in this trend. The travel industry reports that more and more Americans are vacationing on their own. According to recent statistics, the average solo traveler who booked tours through travel agents was women over the age of 45, just like me. See more of these travel statistics here http://www.visamiddleeast.com/ae/en-ae/aboutvisa/research/travelintentions.shtml .
More than half of American adults are now single, and therefore do not necessarily have a built-in travel partner. Tour companies, hotels, and cruise lines have adapted to this change and are offering space for solo travelers without the dreaded “single supplement,” which can double your tour costs if you’re staying in a hotel room or cruise cabin by yourself.
There are many benefits and challenges to traveling alone, but I think all of the challenges are actually benefits in disguise.
First and most importantly, you are in charge of all the planning. You see only the sights you want to see and spend your time only how you want to spend it. This can make a vacation very liberating. You can stay in the museum as long as you want, or spend a whole day shopping; it’s all up to you.
Secondly, anywhere outside the U.S. you will need to figure out the language, the money, the culture, the transportation, etc. all by yourself, and when you do have it figured out, it’s a great confidence booster. Most of my traveling has been in European countries where many people speak English so language was never much of a barrier. Your ingenuity, sense of humor and sense of direction are repeatedly tested but you succeed, learn and feel better about yourself.
Thirdly, you have to carry all your own baggage. But this inspires you to pack lightly. Dress in layers for all weather possibilities, bring no more than two pair of shoes (one that’s on your feet), all tops should match with all bottoms and plan to wear everything more than once. Rick Steves does a great job addressing this minimalist packing goal in his European travel books.
Lastly, you are alone but that doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. If you do get lonely, talk to the locals (especially those who serve you in restaurants, hotels and stores); you may make some friends, or, at least, you’ll learn about the people and culture of your destination. I’ve never felt lonely on my European adventures because I was either on a cruise ship with a thousand other passengers, in a hostel, or bed-and-breakfast that held social events, or staying in an AirBNB with a friendly resident host. I also kept in touch with my friends and family back home by phone, email, and Facebook which both cures your loneliness and keeps you safer.
I’m always asked about safety. Most countries in Europe actually have much lower crime rates than the U.S. I would say if there was something that you wouldn’t do in Chicago or Seattle, you shouldn’t do it in Paris or Rome either. Be aware of your surroundings and careful with your belongings. If traveling outside of the U.S., Canada or Western Europe I’d look at what the U.S. State Department says regarding the safety of tourists at this web site-https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html.
If you feel uncomfortable taking public transportation at night by yourself, don’t do it. Get a taxi, an Uber, or stay close to your hotel at night. It’s actually pretty easy to do much of your sightseeing during the day and save the evenings for resting and planning for the next day. In the summer, daylight extends until 9 or 10 p.m., so you can easily get dinner before it turns dark. Or go out with a group, most big cities have guided night tours and hop-on hop-off buses that do tours at night. Many hostels also sponsor social outings so you can tag along with a larger group to a local restaurant, bar or night show.
Below you’ll find a bibliography of books at LCLS and some websites that I’ve found helpful in my solo travels.
Rick Steves’ Europe through the back door.
914.04 STEVES 2017
Gutsy women: more travel tips and wisdom for the road.
Only pack what you can carry: my path to inner strength, confidence and true self-knowledge.
Safety and security for women who travel.
Traveling solo: advice and ideas for more than 250 great vacations.