Why solo travel doesn't have to be lonely
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As I embarked upon another eight-hour bus journey through the Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina, I began to wonder whether or not solo travel is all it's cracked up to be. Sitting next to a middle-aged lady who insisted on muttering under her breath to herself throughout most of the start of the journey, I couldn't help but consider if the trip would have been more fun with other company.
However, I was proven wrong when she began chatting with another person across the aisle from me, and soon they both drew me into the conversation. All three of us started sharing where we were going, and the reasons behind our trips.
The simple act of engaging with strangers I otherwise wouldn't have spoken to reminded me that solo travel rarely means being by yourself.
There are many factors that scare people away from solo travel, but fear of loneliness, I've learned, is no reason not to travel alone.
Some people may have safety concerns about traveling solo, or want someone to come along and share the experience. This makes sense, but traveling alone can also be extremely fulfilling — and sometimes less hassle than traveling with friends. The people I've met while traveling alone have often helped me have an amazing experience.
If you've been considering a solo trip but aren't sure where to start, here are a few tips that can help you make the most of your journeys alone.
Just because you're traveling alone doesn't mean you will be spending all your time in isolation. A great way to meet people as soon as you arrive is by staying in hostels and getting to know the other travelers there.
This is exactly what happened to me as soon as I arrived in my hostel for a recent stay in Mendoza, Argentina. I had booked myself a spot in a six-person room and there was only one other woman staying there with me — and we quickly got to chatting.
Hostels often have big group events, common areas and planned nights so you can easily meet fellow travelers. During my stay, I met a group of people in the common room of the hostel and we planned a biking winery tour for the next day.
I've found that traveling and being in a new place is a great icebreaker, and that shared experience can make it easier to simply go up to a fellow solo traveler and start a conversation, or even make plans to go somewhere together.
The sharing economy
If you're not so keen on staying in hostels, you always have the alternative of a website like Airbnb, which gives you the option of staying with a local in their own home. Couchsurfing and the women-only Wanderful also connect travelers with locals who will host them at a discount, or even for free.
If you're worried about the idea of staying in a stranger's house, make sure you check your host's profile reviews. I've also found it's always a good idea to have a backup hostel in mind in case you simply don't like the vibe once you arrive at your host's place.
In addition to offering places to stay, websites like Couchsurfing frequently promote events that are going on in the area. Often, events are held specifically for visiting tourists, just to give you a good welcome and to help you feel at home.
Social networks like Meetup and Facebook are great sites to browse before arriving in a new destination. Meetup connects visitors to events for both visitors and locals, like workshops, talks or discussions tailored to niche interests.
Facebook groups for foreign travelers are another great place to meet people when you're traveling solo. I'm writing this out of Santiago, Chile, where there are tons of Facebook groups specifically for foreigners in Chile. It's not uncommon for solo travelers to post in these groups to find out about local events.
I've made some great friends while traveling solo by taking tours in a new city. I like to get my bearings when arriving in a new place, and find that one of the the best ways to do so is to walk around the area. Many cities have free walking tours, where the only cost is a tip to the guide, and I've found they're a great way to meet new people.
A walking tour can also give you immediate access to a local guide you can pepper with questions. If you have any safety concerns while traveling, a guide can offer advice on what areas are safest, or give you some recommendations about how to make the most of your time.
You can also structure your trip around a multi-day group tour, which gives you the chance to travel with other people even when you're traveling alone. Trips organized by tour operators will often pair you up with others for the day, and if you're staying overnight you at least know you will have some guaranteed company for the evening.
Even if you're not booking any excursions with a tour operator, they can still be a good source of information about a city and often provide safety guidelines that can help solo travelers.
Solo trips to tourist attractions can prove to be a great way to meet people. A hike into the mountains, for example, can give you an opportunity to meet others on the trail.
A question solo travelers often have is whether or not it's totally weird to dine out on your own. The answer is no, absolutely not.
The idea of eating meals alone can seem scary to apprehensive solo travelers, but having a nice dinner out by yourself can be a great way to relax and enjoy local culture. Eating alone can be a chance to take in your surroundings and take note of what locals are doing. And, while it may feel strange to eat a meal without staring at your phone, in my experience, it can make the whole thing that much better. Of course, if you're truly terrified of eating alone, now you know there are plenty of ways to make friends while traveling solo.