Traveling independently is one of my all time favorite things to do. For me it’s one of those rare opportunities to combine personal growth with fun and adventure. The benefits of solo travel are numerous, but my favorite thing about it is the increased sense of awareness. While this phenomenon is certainly experienced while traveling in groups, traveling independently only seems to heighten the sensation.
Whether you are looking to truly live in the moment, want some peace and quiet or are simply tired of compromising, traveling independently will achieve your goals. Read on for first-hand advice on how to plan a spectacular journey, for an audience of one.
First, when traveling independently you’ll need a basic plan
At the very least, you should have a plan for a place to stay and a way to get there. Depending on where you are traveling this may entail exchanging money before boarding your flight. Not all cabs will accept credit cards and you can’t always rely on exchanging money at your destination airport.
When traveling it can seem like everything that can go wrong does. This is never more true than when you are alone! Make sure you have a confirmed reservation and local currency to minimize the risk of dealing with a travel disaster, while also jet-lagged and holding a heavy bag in a busy airport.
With that said, once you are settled and have your basic needs met, a well formulated plan may actually hinder your experience. Make sure to leave space in your schedule to follow the recommendations of locals. Look at the local newspaper for events and places to go. In order to have a truly amazing experience you’ll need free time to get out of the tourist circuit.
One of my favorite hacks for traveling independently is to stay somewhere with a built in sense of community. Generally hostels are the first thought to come to mind in this regard. In fact, hostels are a great way to find community when traveling independently. However, depending on what you are looking for, they can also be loud and skew towards a younger demographic. Consider staying at private campgrounds, Airbnbs, or with private hosts in order to make local connections while traveling.
Aside from housing, there are plenty of other ways to connect with the community. It may take a little bit of research, but looking for ways to volunteer while traveling is a fantastic way to connect with the place you are visiting. If you are not able to find a good volunteer opportunity, then look for classes or groups that align to your hobbies. Hiking groups and cooking classes have served me well in the past.
Don’t forget to take some downtime
When going somewhere new, it’s easy to get hyper-focused on checking off the list of well known landmarks. However, this approach has a few downfalls. Not only does it preclude the amazing travel experiences that tend to happen off the beaten path, it’ll also leave you feeling tired and cranky. Depending on how far you have traveled, you are likely jet-lagged or at the very least, running low on sleep. Combining your current state with an aggressive agenda of standing in line all day is a recipe for disaster. To further complicate matters, taking some time to relax, especially in public, can feel extra uncomfortable when traveling alone.
Even though it can feel counterintuitive to take a break, I promise it’ll be worth your while. Try taking an extra long lunch at a charming sidewalk cafe, laying in the grass at a city park or watching a movie at the local theater (bonus if it’s a local flick!). Giving yourself the time to regenerate will not only make your active pursuits more enjoyable, it’ll also give you a taste of day to day life in your chosen destination.
One of the greatest joys of traveling independently is the complete and utter control of your travel budget. Relish in this rare opportunity to have an extravagant experience that you will truly love. For most travelers, myself included, this will mean cutting back on other areas. Why not stay in a low cost hostel and then buy the most expensive dessert on the menu? Treating yourself doesn’t mean that you have to be rich, it just means that you make budgeting decisions that are fully optimized to bring you joy. And since you are traveling independently, you can unabashedly pursue your unique preferences.
Checking in back home
Even though there is great joy in disconnecting from day to day life, it’s always a good idea to let someone at home know your travel plans and check in from time to time. I generally do a check in any time I switch locations or after any solo hiking. Other travelers may choose to check in each evening, or even share your location via GPS with a trusted partner.
While I have found traveling alone to be way more safe than it seems on the surface, arranging check ins takes very little effort and can be hugely rewarding should something unexpected happen.
Traveling independently in the best way to get to know yourself
How many times during our regular lives do we get to be truly alone? Even for us singles, there is something about a familiar environment that makes us feel like we have to act a certain way. What better way to get to know your true self than to be completely alone in an unfamiliar environment? When you travel independently you can be anyone. You can finally drop all of the expectations of everyday life. Go out without makeup, wear a ridiculous outfit, order 2 entrees, you can do whatever you want and no one will judge.
Just go for it
The final piece of advice for traveling independently is just go for it! You may never feel fully prepared to venture out you on your own, but taking the first step will actually prepare for the second one. It’s okay to learn as you go. If you spend your first trip within walking distance of your accommodations, that’s okay! Next time you will go farther.
Conclusion on traveling independently
Traveling independently is not just an activity, it’s a way to experience the world through a whole new set of eyes. Once you take the leap into solo travel it’ll be hard to understand why it was ever so intimidating in the first place.
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