“Who are you traveling with?” The question can make a first-time solo traveler cringe. But once you’ve embraced the confidence of replying “I’m traveling alone” and reaped the many benefits of doing so — like the freedom to travel where you want, when you want — inevitably, a certain guest arrives trying to spoil all your solo fun.
This uninvited guest is Loneliness.
Even the most introverted solo traveler craves human company at some point. And this tagalong tends to creep in just when you can’t stomach another “Table for one, please.”
Discover tips to help you enjoy the advantages of traveling independently while still meeting fellow travelers and locals. You’ll have all the “me time” you want but will finally ditch that killjoy Loneliness on the side of the road for good.
1. Learn the lingo and do your homework … ahead of time.
There are times to wing it and times to plan ahead, but when you’re traveling solo, it’s always wise to arrive prepared and knowledgeable about your destination.
But this doesn’t just entail making sure you know which areas are safer than others to walk alone at night or which hotels are more solo traveler–friendly versus packed with honeymooners.
While these are important things to research, also do your homework on the local culture and learn a bit of the language ahead of time. The more immersed you are in a place, the easier it will be to feel comfortable exploring the areas off the tourist trail by yourself and talking to strangers.
2. Scared of dining alone? Hit happy hour or eat with a local.
Enjoying a quiet breakfast is a luxury, and grabbing lunch whenever you’re hungry is convenient, but eating dinner alone? This is often the most dreaded and intimidating aspect of independent travel. When traveling solo, steer clear of dimly lit romantic restaurants and head to the bar in the early evening.
Eating during happy hour makes you feel a bit more social versus feeling like a lone early-bird diner. And sitting at the bar allows you to causally chat up the bartender or people sitting next to you. Also, searching for street food while people watching is always a more adventurous alternative to finding a table for one.
For a truly unique take on a town’s food scene, dine with a local. Sites such as EatWith, BonAppetour and VoulezVousDiner match you up with locals hosting dinner parties, cooking classes and supper clubs.
3. Take a class and learn something new.
You’ve read every book you’ve packed and promised yourself you won’t even glance at what’s new on Netflix. So how can you combat boredom and meet people naturally? Sign up for a class, especially one in the evenings when your lack of companions is even more apparent.
If you’re traveling in Latin America, consider filling your days with Spanish classes and nights with salsa, tango or bachata dance lessons. Not only will you pick up some Spanish and a few new moves, but the familiar faces you see each lesson can become friends outside of class. Fear of the dance floor? Sign up for surf lessons, get your scuba diving certification, or enroll in a cooking school, and you’ll never have to worry about eating alone.
Or perhaps, simply drop in on a yoga class where you’re traveling. Getting there early gives you time to strike up conversations with people you already know share an interest. Even if there’s no time for small talk (meditation classes will ease the stress of solo travel), you’ll surely feel less alone after being in a room full of people for an hour — even if you never spoke a word.
4. Find a local tour with like-minded travelers.
There comes a time on every solo trip where you find yourself missing the joys of shared experiences. Who is going to laugh with you about your most recent lost-in-translation blunder? Or share in your happiness when you finally reach the top of that mountain and take in the view?
And let’s face it: You’re also tired of ill-staged selfies and asking friendly grandmas that are unfamiliar with autofocus to snap your pic. This is exactly the time to seek a local small-group tour.
Find fellow adventurers on a northern lights hunt in Iceland, where you’ll have plenty of time to discuss world politics in the Superjeep searching for Mother Nature’s elusive light show.
Staying stateside? Meet up with other art lovers through Museum Hack, which offers unconventional behind-the-art tours (that may involve scavenger hunts) in museums across the United States.
5. Finally, put down your phone and look up.
In today’s hyperconnected world, relying on your always-there, always-in-the-know friend (aka: your phone) is even more tempting when you’re traveling solo. But there’s nothing more annoying and unapproachable than a traveler tethered to a phone.
Not only will you be missing all the nuances of daily life around you if your head is always down, absorbed in your social feeds, but you’ll be missing opportunities to talk to locals and fellow travelers.
Also, it can be a bummer to see your friends on social media enjoying life without you. So switch on airplane mode and fix your eyes on the world around you — that’s absolutely all yours at the moment.