En español | There are several reasons why you might travel alone. Maybe you can’t find a suitable traveling companion or maybe, like me, you simply enjoy solitude during your explorations. And why not? With no one else’s needs to worry about, you control your itinerary — where and when you eat and sleep, how long you linger in a museum or coffee shop. And you’re much more likely to meet interesting new friends along the way than if you were with a pal.
Visiting Rome this month, with COVID restrictions lifted and travel being easier, I was thrilled to have planned to be on my own for the first few days of the trip. It was uncomfortably hot and crowded, and the jet lag kicked me hard. But because I was solo, I could schedule activities with only my needs and desires in mind.
I’ve also traveled alone in the Cook Islands and Tahiti in the South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia and all over the U.S. I once spent two months in France with just Noelle, my Jack Russell terrier — but we met another woman solo traveler from Los Angeles, Naomi, and her dog, Seymour, so had buddies when we needed some company.
I’ve had some less-wonderful experiences traveling alone, of course, and am still learning how to do it right. Years ago in Italy, for example, I was happy to learn that many hotels have rooms specifically for single travelers, and reserved one. I ended up with a tiny twin bed squeezed into what felt like a closet. I found out quickly that I would be smarter to opt for rooms described as “doubles for single occupancy,” which are larger but not much more expensive. My last trip to Italy I was in this type of room, and it included breakfast — a bonus that offers yet another chance to meet fellow travelers.
More tips for successful and satisfying solo travel:
1. Research and plan your trip thoroughly before you go.
While it can be more exciting to adapt your itinerary on the fly, I try to have at least some, if not all, hotels reserved and transportation arranged. It’s worth it for the peace of mind.
2. Look for solo-friendly deals.
Many cruise lines charge a “single supplement” — that dreaded extra fee charged to solo travelers using a double room, which can be more than 120 percent of the regular fare. But more are embracing single travelers as valuable customers. Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line, for instance, both offer solo cabins priced for one.
3. Remain acutely aware of your surroundings.
A pickpocket has more opportunities to lift a wallet when you’re distracted by friends, but those friends are also able to look out for your safety. When you’re alone, you need to be extra vigilant. I have been threatened with robbery several times, including one incident that had me running down the hill outside the Orangerie Museum in Paris to get away from a woman trying to trick me into giving her money for a ring she supposedly found. I speak French and, caught off guard, I responded. Next time, I would not engage a stranger in conversation.
4. Pack light.
Take only one bag — with wheels — and one additional item such as a purse or backpack. The bag does not have to be tiny. I always carry one with room for goodies to bring home and check it through at the airport. More than one bag becomes bulky and difficult to manage on your own. If you bring a backpack, don’t make my mistake and wear it on your back; wear it in front of your body, to prevent theft. Or, use a small cross-body bag or fanny pack (again, with the pouch in front) for carrying essentials, and leave your passport secured in a safe at the hotel when you’re out for the day.
5. Don’t be afraid to dine alone in local restaurants.
This is one of the best ways to experience local life, but it can be more pleasant to dine during off-hours, when it’s quieter and the restaurant server is less likely to give you the side eye for taking up a table for yourself. I learned this in Rimini, a seaside hot spot in Italy, when I went to a popular pizzeria on a Saturday and was relegated to a tiny back table, then ignored. Late lunch or early dinner means a more relaxed restaurant crew that will embrace a solo diner.
6. Be open to meeting new people.
It may feel awkward at first, but make an effort to start conversations; it’s a wonderful way to stave off loneliness. Some good places to connect with others, I’ve found, are riding on trains or ferries, walking around museums, dining in a local restaurant or joining an organized group tour. Thanks to social media, I remain connected to many people from around the world that I met in passing on a solo trip. I chat with Naomi — who’s still in France — regularly, and cried when Seymour passed away. I often receive emails from a couple I met on a barge cruise in France, and a Japanese winemaker in New Zealand is one of my most enthusiastic Instagram “likers.”
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7. Look for tours that are educational and don’t have single supplements.
Some tour companies don’t charge extra for travelers on their own, such as G Adventures, or will offer certain trips with a number of spots reserved for singles at no extra charge (Grand Circle Travel is one). Others have special journeys for solo adventurers; EF Go Ahead Tours currently has 10: to Portugal, Ireland, Egypt and other hot spots.
Bottom line? Traveling by yourself doesn’t need to be your primary vacation style; I still love traveling with friends. But it gives you the freedom to focus on your own interests and to explore at your preferred pace, the chance to make new connections and, at least for me, a great feeling of accomplishment.
Barbara Barrielle is a travel and wine writer who also produces films. Her documentary “Crushed: Climate Change and the Wine Country Fires” is at film festivals now.
This article was originally published on September 7, 2021. it's been updated to reflect new information.