My name is Anne and I have a problem: I suffer from wanderlust. I don’t know if I will ever be able to feed the inner monster that has an insatiable appetite to travel to new places—especially traveling solo.
If you are single like me, trying to find a friend who can take time off work and has money for travel planned into their budget at the same time you do is tricky. Never fear! It can be done, and I definitely recommend it, but even if you cannot coordinate with a friend, don’t let that stop you from exploring on your own!
Early in my adult working life, I found myself almost two years into a new job before I realized I hadn’t taken any real vacation time other than long weekends and holiday trips home. Shortly after, I saw an amazing airfare promotion offered during a window of time that was convenient for me. The only problem was that the sale timing didn’t work with any of my friends’ job schedules or budget constraints. I was thrilled to see Chicago included as I perused the list of cities in the deal; I had never been there and always wanted to go. It was the perfect time of year to visit, and before I realized it, I’d bought my ticket.
I’m so glad I did! I had an amazing trip. Of course, I shopped and walked around downtown. I hailed my first cab. I rode a train by myself. I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and wandered through the adjacent neighborhoods. I went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field but cheered for the Braves.
After the game, an older man approached me and said he had a son who needed to meet a woman who would go to a ballgame alone. I watched the Monday night Bears game at a local bar and cheered for the Bears with perfectly charming people who lived in the neighborhood near my hotel. I learned a lot about myself in addition to learning a lot about Chicago.
I have a problem: I suffer from wanderlust.
Since that trip, I have had lots of amazing moments traveling by myself—sometimes traveling solo for pleasure and other times capturing moments to explore while traveling alone for business. I would have missed so many wonderful moments if I’d never faced my fear of traveling alone! I’ll never forget a beautiful early morning I spent in Seattle sitting near Pike’s Place drinking a fantastic cup of coffee and eating yummy donuts while watching the fog lift as ships came and went. I’ve walked along both Atlantic and Pacific Coast beaches, taken a morning drive through the Rocky Mountains to a quaint, little town with a mountain lake for a picnic lunch, and even explored Greenwich Village and Central Park in NYC.
If I hadn’t stepped out of my comfort zone, I would have missed all of these travel memories that are forever preserved on the highlight reel of my life.
If you’re like me and dream of exploring some of this beautiful world, here are 9 tips for planning your own successful solo vacation:
1. Decide how much of a plan you need. When I’m on vacation, I don’t like too much of a schedule, but I want to know all my options to make decisions as I go. So I accumulate information before traveling but only make a skeleton outline of my time. I have other friends who would be a complete wreck without a schedule. For some, a combination of the two is best. Decide first how best you will enjoy your trip. You may not know what you prefer until you take your first trip—that’s ok too! You’ll figure it out as you go.
2. Do your homework. The internet is your friend. There is a lot of free information to be had on most locations. Let Google lead you as you start this process. Use social media, Travelocity, and crowdsource recommendations from your friends who may have been where you’re going. Also, paying for information from travel writers can be super helpful. I still love reading travel books from Fodors, Frommers, and others to find off-the-beaten-path ideas.
3. Plan early if you can. If you must request your vacation time well in advance, take advantage of that by watching for the best deals on airfare, rental cars, and hotels. Planning early allows you to save up and plan your budget ahead of time instead of relying on credit cards and accumulating debt. If you’re spontaneous and adventurous, take advantage of last-minute deals available via bargain travel sites.
4. Be wise. As a woman traveling alone, you must stay aware of your surroundings. Don’t allow yourself to be too distracted by digging in your purse, your phone, or other electronics. I don’t believe in being fearful, but I also don’t believe in being careless. In many situations, simply acting like you are headed somewhere on purpose with confidence will eliminate you as a mark for someone who may be looking for an easy victim. (If you are traveling internationally, be sure to check with the state department for any travel warnings for that area).
5. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. The idea is to experience this big, beautiful world. Do something you cannot do where you live.
6. Do the expected things and the unexpected things. Make sure you do some of the things for which that location is famous. What is quintessential in (fill in the blank with your chosen city). It may feel cliché, but for the most part, they are known for those things for a reason. So when you are in Kansas City or Memphis, eat BBQ and go to a honky tonk. Visit the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, shop the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, and go to a Broadway show in NYC.
Also, go somewhere historically significant and learn something you didn’t know before. Look for things the locals do. Spend some unplanned time in nature. Walk around a popular neighborhood and people-watch in the neighborhood coffee shop. Go on a walking tour of haunted houses or take a historical bus tour of a downtown area.
7. Meet people. Just because you are traveling by yourself does not mean you are alone. Talk to people, whether it’s the server at a restaurant, the person sitting next to you at an event or attraction, or your cab driver—pick their brains for things to do.
8. Start small. My first solo trip was four days in Chicago. I don’t recommend filling a week-long vacation by yourself for the first time. For me, it would have been too daunting. But if you feel up for that, go for it!
9. Have fun. I find that being able to roll with the punches is a critically important survival skill. When you are traveling, this is especially true. It’s probably gonna rain on one of the days you planned to be at the beach or the zoo. So, go shopping or to a museum instead. My ability to be flexible is directly connected to my having fun and enjoying my situation.
Traveling solo brings this.
New discoveries not only about the places you visit but you as well. New experiences you would have missed had you not gone. New people and cultures you have been introduced to. There is much to love about the world we live in. Get out there, explore, and enjoy it—even if you have to do it solo!
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