New year, adventurous you? The holidays are over, but it’s not too late to give yourself a gift. As much as I enjoy traveling with my husband, right now I can’t think of anything more exciting than planning a trip to a bucket-list destination and buying one — yes, one — plane ticket.
If you’ve already experienced solo travel, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, think how great it will be to not have to wait while your travel partner visits a museum dedicated to things you aren’t interested in (think cars, dolls, dinosaurs) and only stopping to eat or drink when you’re hungry or thirsty. It’s also fun to meet local people, and this is much more likely to happen when you’re on your own rather than chatting away with travel companions.
Mindfulness Made Easy
I find when I travel alone, I become totally absorbed in the destination. This is partly because I’m not distracted by travel buddy conversations, but it’s also due to the fact that I’m able to alter the agenda and pursue at length any random thing I discover. In Germany, I became enamored of the etchings by Professor Paul Geissler and made an unplanned detour of several hours from Munich to Rothenberg in search of the best selection. Last summer, on a solo trip to Christchurch, New Zealand, I developed a thing for Thai soup and browsed around town most nights tasting and trying to wheedle recipes from bemused chefs.
In both cases, I was totally immersed in what I was doing and living in the moment. I love this state of “mindfulness,” to quote the wellness gurus, but it’s hard for me to get there, even through meditation, when I’m at home. I think that’s one reason why I’m always so happy when I’m traveling on my own. I really do live in the moment.
In her book Mindful Travelling, author Sarah Samuel says, “When we take time to step away from our routines, we naturally become more present. We also expand our appreciation of not just the world around us, but the world within us and the joy of being alive.”
If you’re ready to go solo, here are some tips:
• Carry a travel journal and take time to record your thoughts and observations.
• Travel light. Lugging luggage is depressing.
• Do a lot of pre-departure research and plan a day-by-day agenda. You may very well abandon it, but it will save you from that moment of sheer terror when you get where you’re going and can’t remember why you ever thought this was a good idea. If you’re new to travel planning, pick up a copy of The Red Bandanna Travel Book by Joanne Socha.
• Make contacts in your destination through friends or social media. For female travelers, Journey Woman is another great resource. journeywoman.com
• Study the “what’s-on” options and buy theatre tickets ahead of time. Seeing Hamilton at the Kennedy Center was the highlight of a recent solo visit to D.C., and I couldn’t have bought that box seat at the last minute.
• Use your trip as motivation to get fit, and then stay physically active while you’re on the road. A brisk walk in the Tuileries will elevate your mood, enable to you to rub shoulders with Parisians, and help you burn off a few croissants.
• Travel with a novel set in your destination. Get ideas from Goodreads or your bookseller. goodreads.com
Do I ever wish I was traveling with a companion? Yes. Sometimes it would be nice to have company for a couple of hours or enjoy a meal with like-minded souls. And, thanks to the sharing economy, it’s easy to find local guides and dinner companions online. Withlocals offers food tours, bike tours, walking tours, day trips, and night tours lasting from two to eight hours. Tours By Locals also offers a range of sightseeing and activity options. Meal Sharing will connect you to home-hosted meals around the world. And Eatwith offers shared dining experiences, cooking classes, and food tours. withlocals.com, toursbylocals.com, mealsharing.com, eatwith.com
Will you ever be lonely? Possibly. But that moment will pass, and along the way you’ll develop self-confidence and perspective that might just change your life. Traveling on your own is fun, empowering, and the best gift you could ever give yourself. Bon voyage.