10 ways to stay happy when travelling solo

 How do I stay sane and safe on the road?

I recently wrote a post called "Why I'm Traveling Alone". In it, I talk about feeling afraid, lost, uneasy and vulnerable — and how important that is to living fully.


I keep hearing from budding travelers saying they are considering taking off themselves but are too afraid, or have recently booked a flight on their own that they are now afraid of.


Over the years, I've figured out how to ease the discomfort and reduce vulnerability—and I haven't canceled either, but find small ways to feel good so I can get the most out of being in a new place on my own.



Below is a summary of my answers to the various questions and comments I sent my way. While it doesn't guarantee complete safety and saneness, I'm sharing it here in case it's useful for other solo travelers - beginners and veterans alike. I'd love to hear your advice - scroll down to leave a comment.


First: some super basic "do this if nothing else" safety rules. Because part of happiness is being in one piece.


1. Keeping security simple.

Contrary to what might seem reasonable, it is wise not to chain the backpack with chains/wires/lock within an inch of its life. It makes it seem like you have good stuff out there, which you wouldn't do perfectly. Leave the expensive stuff at home - just because simplicity always looks great.


2. Avoid getting lost completely.

My life changed forever when downloading offline maps to your phone became a thing. Without it, I would probably still be driving through winding mountain trails in Bosnia with a lost taxi driver like me. (Make a plan to get lost a little - it's so much better than seeing anything because your head is buried in the map.)


3. Learn about the deal.

Check your destination on this site. If you are going to enter a threat area on your own, be judicious in dealing with the specific risks and be smart about them. Knowledge is power.


4. BUT...Keep a balance.

Constant worrying about what might happen makes it difficult to be fully present in your exciting new surroundings. Do the basics, but know where to draw the line. A little confidence and common sense go a long way.


Here are a few less obvious but just as important things that I've learned through trial and error that make me smile, grounded, and less inclined to fear.


5. Get direction: Find food.

Find out where the supermarket is. It is your priority and your first adventure.


On my first day out on my own, I learned that - psychologically - this is the most important thing to me. It's a reliable anchor, short to feel steady and ready to explore. (Not to mention that hunger is the number one enemy of the singular and frightened).


I had landed in Sydney, arrived at my hostel, and the only thing I wanted to do was sleep. Once you indulged yourself in jet lag, and had enough time to fully enter my mind and begin to fear not knowing anyone in a 9,000 mile radius… I was starving. By then, I had lost vision in my comfort zone - I came out strong, jumped and slept completely when the collisions and paralysis began.


The turning point came when I dragged myself half a mile down the road to the supermarket. Already feeling more energetic and capable, and now having some semblance of my tendencies, I went back to the inn and shyly entered the kitchen. Half an hour later I was drinking wine from a glass with 10 other travelers and wondering why I didn't do it sooner.


Supermarkets are also a great way to get to know a place. Less so in Sydney, but if you're in Budapest, Nairobi or Havana, this is a great tour of the weird and wonderful local cuisine, and an excuse to practice hopping in your new currency.


6. Give yourself a small task.

Without structure, rules, expectations and all those other guidelines that I happily leave at home, I tend not to know what to do with myself. I used to pick two or three things I want to do in advance when I arrive (once I find the supermarket of course). Fill your first day with a picnic on top of this attractive hill, check out the farmers market, or take a picture from the local harbor. A little sense of purpose when it feels unfounded is nice.


Then, after the first 24 hours, the days seem to have a way of handling themselves.


7. Communicate, even if you don't know how.

Not knowing the local language can sometimes lead to severe paralysis and loneliness. But I've learned that communication is always possible, because people will always want to understand you. Trust the universality of hand gestures and facial expressions - we all really speak the same language. Imitation can be a little silly, and make you very aware of your language weakness; But the joy and satisfaction of communicating with another person overshadows this.


This was no more evident to me than when I found myself alone in Montevideo in the middle of the night, with no money and therefore no bed. All banks were closed, and an hour of walking downtown made it clear that there were no ATMs on the street. Now on the verge of tears, I found a cute shopkeeper who explained to me, with wild gestures, that to get to the ATM, I simply needed to swipe my credit card at the bank door (who knew?!). Of course, I hugged him.


There's no need to wait until you're in crisis mode - it's amazing how many people want to get to know you, even if it means both of you are waving your arms a little, drawing pictures, and pointing a lot. It turns out that the words are exaggerated: they may be more effective, but they are certainly no more real or meaningful than our universal language.


8. Bring a magazine.

My notebook is where I record and note what happened, incorporating ideas that have had room to come up since I was alone. It's a valuable exercise in itself, but it's also great to read again later: the inner workings written in my mind capture individual moments and bring them to life more fully than the images of sunsets I've taken subconsciously.


I often take my diary when dining alone at restaurants - a scenario that would-be (or seasoned) travelers often dread alone. He's my little friend with whom I can share ideas. Plus there seems to be something upsetting about someone scribbling in a notebook - I tend to make new friends when I get my pen and paper in public. Whether it's Cusco, Krakow, Melbourne or Berlin, "what are you writing about?" It turned out to be an unexpected icebreaker. Journaling is a great way to connect with yourself — with the added bonus that you may end up connecting with someone else, too.


9. Follow your nose to find your bed.

When it comes to accommodation, I like to let instinct guide me. My needs change, so my choices change, too. If I wanted to hang out with other travelers, I would go with the hostel; If I want some time on my own, I'll take a look at Airbnb; If I wanted to meet locals, I would visit Couchsurfing or HelpX; And if I want to spend time in nature, I bring a tent or find a hut. And the glory of it all is that there are no rules: the choice is yours, you don't have to compromise with anyone.


I like to know where to sleep the night I land somewhere, so I tend to book the first night or two before I let instinct take over; Others prefer to let things happen when they arrive. Either way - your bed is your makeshift little home, your little safe space: give yourself the freedom to arrange whatever you want, whenever you want, and mix it up if you need.


10. Maintain your independence (when you want to).

Sometimes, others may want to direct you to your next destination. They are in a place on their journey where they would like some company - but that doesn't mean you are. I've learned that it's cool to say "Hey, thanks for wanting to join me, but I'm really just too eager to do this next part on my own." Saying inconvenient, but totally worth it.


Traveling anywhere—or actually just getting out of bed in the morning—isn't without its risks or inconveniences at times. But that is certainly no reason to hide from the world - a world that is safer and more welcoming than it may seem. Exploring our beautiful big planet, and doing it on your own terms, is an important and possible gift to give yourself. Hope this helps make it seem less difficult.

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