‘It’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone’: 10 tips for solo travellers | Travelling solo
Dyoung people, new remote workers and children left without parents in the “break-up” years are all fueling the post-quarantine solo travel boom. Figures from the Solo Traveler website show that most of them are women, and quite a few are in relationships: solo is not the same as being single. Since 2020, Google searches for “private travel” have quadrupled. If you go on vacation alone, it means that you are in charge of the schedule and are more likely to make new friends. Here are 10 things that can make a trip even more fun, offering structure, safety and company (for those who want it).
Hostels range from the most budget-friendly to the most luxurious, but they usually have common areas such as bars, kitchens, and lounges where travelers can exchange tips, food, books, jokes, and even agree to get together for a while. At the lovely Dolphin Inn hostel (double room from £44) in Dunbar, on the coast of East Lothian, I shared a meal with the lady at the front desk. Clara Zhao from Sydney, who has traveled to a dozen countries on her own, says: “In Helsinki, I stayed in a hostel by the woods with a cafeteria where guests had breakfast. I met a nice German family and another girl my age and spent a couple of days with them traveling around the city.”
Hostels don’t have to mean sleeping in a hostel; many now have separate rooms. Some city hostels are famous for their happy hour parties and DJs. But dorm living can equally include board games in a Georgian mansion at the Stratford-upon-Avon YHA (private rooms from £29), communal saunas at 7 Fells Hostel in Finnish Lapland (private room from €65), or surfing and sunrise yoga on the beach at Salty Pelican in Portugal (3 nights package €349).
stay at home
Clara also recommends staying with a host family (good for “cultural and language immersion”) through homestayin.com or booking a room on Airbnb where you share the rest of the place with a regular host who will often be “the source of many locals.” Couchsurfing is a well-known scheme for free sleeping on spare beds and sofas around the world, and many cities have weekly meetups in coffee shops for people to hang out with. Nomad Sister is a couchsurfing community for women.
Janice Waugh of Toronto, founder of Solo Traveler, has a lot of planning and safety tips (prevention is key). She recommends booking a tour with Worldwide Greeters, which offers free guided tours of 130 cities around the world.
Tours of all kinds are great for solo travelers. Advice-only tours, such as those on freetour.com, can often be more suggestive than a pre-paid guide to historical attractions.
On a recent free walking tour of Amsterdam, anthropology student Katyalisa (who has since joined the travel firm Tours that Matter) used Amsterdam cityscapes to introduce tourists to Dutch concepts such as tolerate (illegal, but officially allowed) and pleasant (communicative). There were three of us on the tour and we traveled alone, and then we joined forces to go around the bars.
Ride the tram
One of the best ways to get an idea of the layout of a new city is to spend time exploring it on public transport, where you usually travel alone. Instead of wandering dark alleys alone or navigating a strange one-way system by car, sitting on a bus or tram can be a relaxed and affordable way to see the sights.
Traveling by tram around a new city is often a mini-adventure in itself, and there are always routes that take you past the city’s main attractions. In Helsinki, for example, tram 2 is the best route for sightseeing, and a day ticket is also valid on the ferry to the island fortress of Suomenlinna.
Excellent Amsterdam routes include tram 14, which passes the Hortus botanical garden and exits to the reeds and willows of the Flevopark. On the way, he passes through one of the old city gates and a huge octagonal wooden windmill, standing at the junction of several waterways.
To go for a walk
The Ramblers, a vibrant UK walking charity, offers free wellness walks to its members, as well as longer guided walks. Before joining, non-members can try three wellness walks for free (from £38.50 per year). There are 50,000 UK group walks each year for members. Communications director Jardine Howlett says it’s a great option for solo travelers looking to explore the spectacular off-the-beaten-path scenery with confidence.
In Carmarthenshire, Lisa Denison runs Quiet Walks (from £10 per person). It is designed for the less extroverted walkers who may not want to socialize all the time but still prefer to be in a small group. “Most of my clients come by themselves,” she says. A favorite is the five-mile round-trip hike to Gurn Goch, one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in Wales.
Find your tribe
The Meetup website is a great source of information on group outings around the world and can include winter hikes as well as ice skating in Stockholm’s popular Hellasgården park and year-round sea swimming in Barcelona. Enthusiasts will be able to find like-minded people at events ranging from chess clubs and climbing walls to jazz bars in many cities.
Eat and drink
Eating and drinking together is often the shortest path to friendship. Cooking courses are always a good bet, as are gathering courses. Kerry Bowness of Foraging Course leads brisk walks with samples of hawthorn ketchup or elderflower jelly in areas from Norfolk to Gloucestershire.
Gourmet walks have sprung up around the world. Visiting the brewery, distillery, and vineyards is also a pleasure, especially when the flow of tasters begins. There are hundreds of them in the UK alone, including the friendly hydraulically powered Deanston distillery near Stirling (£15) or the fun year-round tours of the Yorkshire Heart Vineyard, in the countryside between York and Knaresborough (from £25).
Noticed by men
Sharing a 16-passenger mini-bus, Edinburgh-based Rabbie’s Tours makes travel affordable and sociable while taking guests to breathtaking scenery. Among his many tours is the 12-hour round-trip from Edinburgh, which includes many dramatic landscapes, including Glencoe and Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain (£59).
The Cotswolds in a Day (£55) is a small-group minibus tour that starts from the train stations and begins with a great view from Dover Hill, followed by towns and villages full of old stone bridges, rose-covered cottages and beamed pubs . . Lisa and Tom Benjamin, founders of Go Cotswolds, met while each was traveling alone in South America. Lisa says: “Later on when we started our business, it was very important to us that our tours were welcoming and accessible to independent solo travelers because that’s where we come from.”
Be a pilgrim
More than half of the 350,000 people who walk the Camino de Santiago every year are women. Many of them set out on their journey alone and form long-standing friendships along the way. Caroline Gillespie is the author of Pilgrim, about walking the Camino. Many pilgrims, she says, are in a transitional phase in their lives, and solo travel is part of the plan. “It’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone and seeing what you’re made of.” At the same time, it’s nice to be part of a “traveling caravan of people” with the same destination. “We laughed, we talked, we put the world in order, but we were just as content with silence, listening to the cuckoo,” she writes. Camigas is a Facebook page that allows women on Camino to connect with each other.
keep a journal
Not only will this help you remember the details of everything you’ve been through, but it will also give you some sort of focused activity when you’re sitting alone in a restaurant. “When I travel, I always keep a diary,” says Zhao, “to write down impressions, observations, little sketches of the moment. It’s also a good travel souvenir to look back on.”