Bon Voyage! How to Travel Solo Internationally and Domestically
When was the last time you went on a vacation alone?
For many of us, business travel is the only time we travel solo, but vacation? Alone? That's a different story.
Travel has been my greatest adventure in life. While I’ve been fortunate enough to share many trips with friends, I’ve been equally fortunate to explore the world on my own. There is something exciting about having a personal adventure exploring unfamiliar places with no one else's filters.
I always wanted to travel internationally, but it seemed financially and circumstantially inaccessible to me. I imagined the cost to be excessive and I wasn't sure I could manage getting around by myself in a country foreign to me. After pricing a Mediterranean cruise that came to about $6,500 with single upcharges and airfare, I gave up on the idea. I simply didn't know how to accomplish it...until I met Ana.
There are people more informed than I who can give you the scoop on exchange rates and safety, but I'm more interested in the courage and financial savvy it takes to fearlessly hop on a plane headed to Costa Rica at the age of 23 without a way to get to her hotel upon arrival. This is Ana Rivas.
A little background. Ana and I worked together a few years back. When I met her, she was in her 20s, I was in my 30s, and she'd already been to Cancun, Costa Rica, and Greece. She was amazing to me because she was her sole sponsor. Born into a working-class family, every excursion symbolized personal sacrifice. Having restricted funds didn't seem to scare her, nor did bucking the expectations for a single woman raised in traditional Mexican culture. She was gutsy.
Having visited some 12 countries to date and countless U.S. cities, she is the person who most inspires me to travel, so I thought it only fitting to talk to her about her experience with solo vacationing.
Q. What were the circumstances under which you began traveling solo?
A. I always knew I wanted to travel. I'd try to coordinate a trip with my friends, but it never worked out because of time and money.
Q. How did you finance your trip to Costa Rica at 23?
A. I saved for a year by paying myself every month. I made sacrifices that my friends wouldn't make--no weekly manicures, hair appointments, partying every weekend, and shopping.
Q. What was your greatest sacrifice?
A. Shoe shopping. Hi, my name is Ana and I have a shoe addiction!
Q. Were you completely alone on your trip?
A. No. I was alone on the flight over, but met tons of people [who were part of a travel group] once I got there. To date, this has been the best trip I've had.
Q. How did you know that the travel company* you booked with was a legit company?
A. I searched for reviews, scams, and checked the Better Business Bureau. They didn't seem to have any negative comments about the company, so I took the leap of faith. I did my research before I made the full payment.
Q. What has been your experience with travel companies (like Contiki) where you meet up with a group?
A. I've traveled with Globus Journey where travelers were retirement age and there was very little leisure time.
Contiki was a different type of crowd--they were younger people with a different mentality about how to have a great time.
With the traveling I've done I now put more importance on my leisure time. I like travel packages where I stay for more than 1-2 nights at a location and have more than 3-5 hours of free time.
When I traveled to California I was completely on my own. I loved not having to rush to pack my bags because I was going to miss the bus, which is what you experience when you use travel companies.
When I travel I try not to have any expectations so nothing can ruin your good time.
Q. What do you like about traveling solo?
A. It forces you out of your comfort zone. You have to approach people, trust people to help you. You have to make an effort.
Also, it's all about you. You don't have to compromise.
Q. What don't you like about traveling solo?
A. It can get lonely when there's no one to talk to or share an experience with.
Q. What are a few tips you can offer anyone thinking about traveling solo?
A. 1) Make sure the hotel meets your star-rating and has free amenities. Beyond that, your hotel should be a place for a comfortable nights sleep, shower, and safety.
2) Save. Pay yourself. Even if it means you only travel once a year. Shoes will pinch, clothes will wear out, but travel memories last forever.
3) Can't find someone to go with? Don't let that hold you back. Do what you want to do because life is going to pass you by. It's a regret you'll have to live with.
Q. Where are you going next?
A. I'll be in New York and Colorado this year. Next year, I'm looking at either Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Italy, or France...
*Ana booked her Costa Rica trip through AllSinglesTravel.com, which has experienced a name change. As Ana did, do your research on travel companies. Read reviews and check on their status with the Better Business Bureau before you invest.
My Travel Story
In 2013, I happened to be daydreaming about Paris. I started looking up flights and searching package deals out of curiosity. One hour later, unplanned and completely unexpected, I'd booked a flight to the U.K. and had purchased a 2-week vacation package from Contiki that took me to London, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and, of course, Paris.
Seeing Ana go to Thailand, Laos, Europe, and countless other destinations made me call bull$h!t on my excuses for not traveling more freely, but it also renewed my interest in exploration, and gave me the courage to finally book a flight to somewhere outside the U.S.
You don't need an excuse to explore the world passed your borders, but if you do, here's how you travel solo with a purpose:
- Participate in a fun run: Find a fun 5K in a city or country you're interested in visiting. You're doing it for your health.
- Attend a famous festival: You can find festivals centered around your interests (art, food, wine, music, cars, beauty). Go to learn and enjoy.
Shop: If there's a store or a thing that only exists in another city, state, or country, go! It's best to examine your purchases in person anyways.
- Explore your interests: There are conferences and retreats for everything. Travel to hear a famous speaker, to do a deep dive in a subject, or attend a concert.
- Reflect and recharge: It's always a good idea to put distance between yourself and your everyday concerns to reflect on your life and recharge.
- Experience something unique: See or do something unique to a location or region. Last fall I visited Stowe, Vermont just to experience a real fall season with changing leaves. I went to Europe, partially, because I wanted to see Venice "before it sinks" and go through the Austrian Alps like Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music." All legitimate reasons to travel.
- Deliberately get out of your comfort zone: For no other reason than personal growth, do something brave.
More tips for solo travel
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times. As you move about, make mental notes of safe-looking places. If you need help, you can go there where you're likely to find someone helpful. Err on the side of safety.
- Research to get good deals, but don't wait too long to book.
- Save time by researching activities beforehand. Know what time places open and close, have numbers written down, and have a loose itinerary.
- Go with the flow. Don't get married to your itinerary--enjoy the moments.
- Have something you must do? Do it early in the day. By the end of day, you might give up on all your plans if your feet hurt, you're tired, or hungry.
My hurdle was international travel. Your hurdle may be something as simple as a staycation. Whatever it is, be encouraged to take a step towards living a fuller life with no regrets.
WHERE TO STAY
Priceline – www.priceline.com
When you travel solo, there’s more room to be flexible, so Priceline may be a good option since the whole idea is that you don't know where you'll stay until you book. But no worries, you're allowed to choose your star-rating.
AirBnB – www.airbnb.com
For a non-traditional option, AirBnB is great. You choose what you're willing to spend and are presented with tons of options from renting a bed, a room, or an entire space to the level of contact you'd like from your host. Read the reviews.
HomeAway – www.homeaway.com
This site attracts over 30s looking to rent something more spacious and homey. Downside? No one to make up your bed.
VRBO – www.vrbo.com
Owned by HomeAway. Same concept, but will offer different listings. VRBO has been around longer than HomeAway.
Couchsurfing – www.couchsurfing.com
I will never. But to be fair, I’m presenting this as an economical option for those more open minded than I. A friend of mine on a tight budget couch-surfed across Europe, but I know no one who has used this site. Use sound judgment.
PACKAGE DEALS/TRAVEL GROUPS
Contiki – www.contiki.com
If there’s one good reason to still be 35 or under, Contiki is it. Here’s where you’ll find packaged vacation deals. They take care of everything for you, except the flight. This service is concierge-like in that they arrange your transportation, hotel, some meals, adventures, plus they’re knowledgeable about each location. You travel with people from all over the world.
Google – www.google.com
If you’ve aged out of Contiki, like me, then Google it!
Google this: travel groups for singles or travel groups for singles over ___
Many options will appear.
MAKE IT RAIN…LESS
“How To Budget” sounds so 80s. You will indeed make it rain to finance your vacay, but let’s make it sprinkle instead of thunderstorm. As Dave Ramsey says, keep your vacation from following you back home (in the form of debt).
Travel Budget Calculator – You can do it. Estimate how much you need to save. www.independenttraveler.com
How To Get To Your Destination – Here are the steps to take.
OTHER TRAVEL TIPS
Pinterest – Ideas on how to pack, places to go, books to take, what to wear... www.pinterest.com
The Art of Manliness – I’m obsessed with this blog. Great tips on life's adventures.
Rick Steves' Travel Tips – Rick Steves and his followers are veteran travelers with time-tested wisdom. His specialty is Europe, so if that's where you have your sights set, Rick Steves has the inside scoop.
Do share! If you have a favorite travel blog, mag, website, pinterest page, please share the name in the comments. Thanks!
Credit photo: Roger Schultz via CC Flickr