“Table for one,” can be an intimidating phrase for one to use. Perhaps embarrassing. I’ve been there. Walking into a brewery, alone, and a bright-eyed waitress asks, “Table for one?”
Her head is tilted slightly with a pity-you smile. I proudly respond, “Yes, table for one, please.”
Something, maybe pride, inside of me wants to interject, “I promise I’m not always alone!” To be honest, I have spent a lot of time alone: time at breweries, on snowy hiking trails, and traveling overseas—alone. Completely by choice. It fits right in line with the larger topic of an American female melodrama: solo travel.
It’s kind of a hot topic right now because women are traveling solo now more than ever. And it’s not just young 20-somethings or teenage Australians on their “gap year.” It’s middle-aged women, retired women, and all of the stages in-between. Whether it is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, boarding a long flight to Thailand, or backpacking across Europe, women are embarking on solo adventures.
So, what’s drawing these women to set their fears aside and travel solo? Bestselling memoirs such as Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” and Cheryl Stayed’s “Wild” share some insight on a common theme: self-discovery.
Self-discovery is a constantly changing, ever growing, and humbling thing. Choosing to set aside all titles and pick up a boots-to-the-ground solo traveler title can be an intimidating decision—especially if you’ve never done it before. But chances are, if you’ve met someone who has traveled solo, they will highly suggest it to you. Just one problem: there are all the fears to overcome first. Here are a few tips to help you along the way.
1. Research Before You Go
Research your destination before you do anything else. Get to know the weather patterns, local customs, etiquette, and food. Regardless of where you’re going, always book your first night’s stay ahead of time. Write down the address on a piece of paper and keep it with you.
2. Be Aware
Know before you go what to look for. Is pickpocketing common? Read up on current news in the area. Are some areas safer than others? Choose wisely, and always, always, always opt for budgeting higher to stay in a safer area, even if it stretches your budget. Your safety is worth it.
3. Get Insurance
If you’re traveling abroad, make sure you have a printed copy of your passport, travel plans, and travel insurance. Yes, travel insurance is a thing, and you should have it. Just in case you miss a flight, lose your luggage or, God forbid, have to cancel your entire trip, insurance is a good thing to have.
4. Download the Apps
Download software apps like “Maps.Me” (similar to Google Maps but doesn’t require data or Wi-Fi), “Currency Exchange,” “WhatsApp,” (free international messaging) and “Google Translate” to lighten the language barrier.
5. Share Your Plans
Share your travel plans with your parents, friends, significant others, kids, and dogs before leaving. They might be concerned about you. The more information they have, the better they will feel. It’s also smart to have someone else know where you’ll be in case of an emergency.
6. Allow It to Change You
Change can be difficult. However, it is a constant and not all change that happens in life is easy to accept. Make sure to bring a journal to record your experiences, feelings, thoughts, and places you’ve visited.
7. Talk to Strangers
Seriously. Talk to the locals! If you’re in a region that speaks another language, try to learn a few simple phrases. Get the secret local scoop on where the best restaurants, hikes, swimming holes, or historic attractions are.
8. Set Your Fears Aside
Actor Will Smith said it best: “The greatest things in life exist just beyond fear.” Trust yourself, plan well, and be prepared. Traveling away from home on unfamiliar terrain can be intimidating. Allow space to surprise and impress yourself.
9. Better to Be Early Than Late
It seems pretty obvious, but if you’re traveling somewhere with trains, buses, ferries or flights, make sure you are early. It’s better to arrive early, have a snack, and relax than having to sprint at top speed to make that connection.
10. Sit Proud at Your Table for One
After all, this is your time for you. Do what you enjoy! Set expectations to ask yourself every day what you want to do that day. Be okay with laziness, if that’s what you need. Be okay with spending four nights in one city when you maybe only planned for one. Be okay with plans changing. Period. Be okay with asking for a “Table for one.”
Traveling abroad might not look like some of the Instagram-famous women whose bios display traveling to “85 plus countries!” But it will be your own special, personal, and intimate experience with you. Just you. Tell your fears to take a back seat, but make sure your common sense is seated right beside you. Listen to your intuition and allow the experience to shape itself. And lastly, enjoy the adventure!
Documenting Your Trip
How does one get a great travel photo when travelling solo? Summer Mitchell, an avid single adventurer, has been working to master evocative trip photos. Her simple trick? Carefully propping her phone in nature and using a 10-second timer, which is available on most cameras. Other helpful, inexpensive tools include a small bendable tripod and a camera remote shutter. The remote device attaches to the phone via Bluetooth;
hold it in your hand and click away.