There are many benefits to taking a solo trip: planning an itinerary around only you, not having to comprise on any plans, and limitless freedom to explore your surroundings at your own pace.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about taking another solo trip, simply because why not take advantage of being young and single and check some places off my bucket list while I have time? Four years ago when I was living in France, I thought of myself as a seasoned solo traveler. While I hit the occasional snafu – such as getting (temporarily) lost, having things stolen, or having my phone die at inopportune times – my trips during the many school vacations that you get while teaching in France are some of my favorite memories. These adventures provided me with so much inspiration and creative energy. So, I’m thinking about it again…
I took trips on my own to many cities in France when I was living there, including Nice, Marseilles, Cannes, Saint Malo, Nantes, and Bordeaux. I also took a solo trip to Budapest while I was living in Europe. While traveling solo can seem daunting, there are plenty of ways to have fun, meet like-minded independent and adventurous souls, and connect with the locals. Here are my top tips for maximizing adventure on a solo excursion:
- Go on a group tour: I went on many group tours while I was traveling through Europe solo. In major cities in Europe, historic city tours are often free, and in my experience, they were still high quality and fun. I did one of the Sandeman’s tours, offered in many major European cities, when I visited London. In Budapest, the people who worked at my hostel recommended a free daily tour around the city led by a local tour company. Group tours are a great way to experience a place on a budget, hit the major sites, and learn a bit of history. Many of the attendees on such tours are also fellow young backpackers who are open to chatting with people. Pro tip: ask your guide for recommendations on where to eat, and what other sites to hit afterwords. They usually have great suggestions.
- Stay in a hostel: This is a great way to mingle with kindred free-spirits and solo travelers. People often socialize in the communal kitchen or other areas in hostels, and you may end up finding some new acquaintances to explore the city with. It is sometimes possible to get a private room at a hostel. If not, I always tried to opt for a women’s only room that sleeps only four or five, that way I can leave the party when I feel like it and be well rested for a full tomorrow of adventures. An added bonus is that the people who work in hostels are often super-friendly, experienced backpackers themselves with lots of great suggestions for restaurants and cafes that the locals frequent, insider tips, and other off-the-beaten-path destinations.
- See where the day takes you: While it’s great to have a few things planned for your solo trip and to map out a must-do activity or two for each day, it’s also nice to let yourself explore your new surroundings spontaneously. Maybe your tour guide recommends a museum or area of town that you hadn’t originally worked into your schedule, or fellow backpackers at your hostel are going to the restaurant down the street in the evening. Allow time to experience a place in a more organic way. As long as you hit the main goals of what you want to see and accomplish on your trip, you won’t regret leaving time for some impromptu adventures.
- Flirt with the waiter: You don’t have to actually flirt (but hey… if he’s cute, then go for it), but chatting with locals in casual contexts such as at a restaurant, bar, museum, hostel, or hotel is a built-in way to learn about the people of your new surroundings. There are preconceived notions that locals in Europe are bothered by tourists, particularly American tourists, but this is simply not true. People don’t like annoying or demanding tourists, but if you’re genuinely curious about the new place you’re in and the people that inhabit it, many local residents are willing to connect.
- Skip the paper maps and selfie-sticks: Toting around anything that screams tourist is probably a bad idea. Leave behind the backpacks, selfie sticks, and maps in your hostel or hotel. Try to walk with a purpose, even if at a slow pace, and don’t loiter around too leisurely in super congested, tourist-dense areas. When I need a few minutes to regroup, or figure out where I’m going next, stopping by a Starbucks (I know, so American) or other quick and casual café is a good way to hop on wifi, get my bearings, and avoid appearing to be a lost and clueless traveler.
What are your best tips for traveling alone?
la fille americaine