I recently met up with a friend who commended me for being “brave” enough to travel on my own. I don’t feel especially brave for going on vacations, especially when my options are to either go on solo adventures or stay at home and squander my PTO.
I don’t have a boyfriend (or a girlfriend). I have a ton of friends, but many of them don’t have the time, money or desire to hop around the world as often as I do, and most of them certainly don’t want to do it at the frenetic pace or minimal budget that I do. Therefore, I often end up the solo female traveler.
I’ve traveled alone to more than 15 countries, including Israel, Turkey, France, Italy, and Croatia. There’ve been ups and downs to going it alone on so many adventures, but I’m rarely lonely. Spoiler alert: I always end up making friends during my journeys, and you can too!
Yes, people have devoted many articles and even entire blogs to this specific species of wanderer, but I’m here to give you some of my top tips for making the best of your stag sojourns.
- Stay at hostels. The easiest way to save money and make friends is to stay somewhere that’s going to be chock full of other travelers looking to make connections. I’ve come to prefer staying at hostels over Airbnbs or hotels, as you can usually find places with the same amenities for a fraction of the price. Most importantly, hostels are swarming with potential new international BFFs who are also looking to make fast friends to go exploring with. If you hang out in the common spaces, get a drink at the bar or go on one of the free walking tours, you’re sure to pick up some new travel buddies in no time.
- Make the first move. If you’re on a quest to make friends, don’t be afraid to start a conversation! It can be as simple as complementing someone on their shirt or accessories—flattery gets you far in this world 🙂 I’ve had great success at hostels asking to sit at a shared table with people, which is a fantastic way to break into conversations and often leads to new pals. In the same vein, the hostel bar is ground zero for picking up potential buddies….or dates! Alcohol is the best social lubricant, it’s much easier to approach someone after having a beer or a glass of wine.
- Bring a journal and a book. Although these are probably on every traveler’s packing list, I find it especially important to be armed with supplies for reading and writing when traveling alone. Reading a book is a stellar way to signal to the world that you’re not interested in being approached, be it at a bar, at the beach or on public transit. Having your nose in a book is the international sign for “Don’t bother me.” Similarly, I always have a journal on hand and find it’s a good way to recount my adventures and pass the time when on trains/planes, at a bar/restaurant, or when back at the hostel.
- Don’t be afraid to eat alone. One of the hardest things for me when I started traveling was eating by myself. I had never gone to a sit-down meal solo before I started traveling, but now it’s something I quite enjoy. This is a perfect opportunity to reflect on your day/trip/life, and I like to use the time between ordering and the food arriving to write in my journal. Depending on where you’re seated, this is also prime time for people watching! Ask for a seat with a view of the street, or even better, one on the sidewalk outside.
- Pack light. The oldest tip in the books, but one that’s especially relevant for the solo female traveler. First off, you need to be able to effortlessly carry all your stuff. If your bag is so heavy that you can’t easily hoist it into the overhead bin or carry it up a few flights of stairs, you need to lighten your load. Second, the less you bring the more space you have to shop! In addition to getting a few souvenirs, I love being able to treat myself to something fun—a campy t-shirt, a vintage jacket, a locally made hand bag—but you need to be able to fit it into your luggage. Pack light so that you never have to worry about whether you can squeeze your new treasures in.
- Trust your gut. Your intuition is always correct, and learning to listen to it is an invaluable skill that will help you in every aspect of life, but especially when you’re hitting the road alone. By and large, I believe this world is filled with amazing, generous and honest people, but there are absolutely a few bad apples out there. Use common sense when you’re traveling by yourself: don’t wear flashy things, try to blend in with the locals, don’t carry a ton of cash, skip any alleyways that give you the heebie-jeebies, and if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable, get yourself out of that situation ASAP in whatever means necessary. I’ve ducked into a gelato shop in Rome when I was being followed, and have literally run away from people who were giving me bad vibes. Don’t be afraid about being nice: be more concerned with staying safe.
- Ask people to take your picture and embrace the selfie stick. One of the most difficult parts of traveling alone is getting decent pictures of yourself, but this can be easily remedied! Don’t be shy about asking other people to take your photo, especially at tourist hot spots where many others are doing the same. There’s definitely an art to picking the right person to snap a pic for you—look for someone who doesn’t appear to be in a hurry, is also a tourist, and who has a fancy camera (as they’ll hopefully be a decent photographer!). Another option is the the selfie stick. Know these silly devices get a lot of flack, and I used to be one of the people making fun of them and those who used them….until I got one myself. The difference of quality with a selfie stick is astounding, and gives you a much better picture that encapsulates so much more of the background as well as a better angle. Don’t hate until you try it yourself!
Traveling on your own is rarely the lonely or scary process that it’s made out to be. I much prefer solo travel, as you get to choose exactly what you do and when you do it without having to appease a partner or group. That said, it’s always possible to make friends on the road! Whether picking up pals for a few days of adventures or simply connecting with someone in a brief encounter, solo travel does not ever have to equate to solitary.
Now, go find a cheap flight to somewhere you’ve been dreaming about and make it happen! Life is too short to wait for the perfect partner to come around so that you can indulge in your wanderlust.