By Chantae Reden | Published on December 1, 2021
At the age of 19, I purchased a plane ticket to Nicaragua and ventured on my first-ever solo trip to Central America. Ten years and 30 countries later, I still believe that traveling alone is one of the best ways to see the world. When you travel solo, you're likely to make new friends, develop newfound confidence and experience the freedom of waking up in a destination and doing the activities you're passionate about, all on your own timeline.
When friends and family hear that I'm planning a solo trip to a far-flung destination, I'm usually met with one question:
"Is it safe to travel alone?"
Understandably, safety is one of the biggest factors on people's minds when it comes to venturing on a solo vacation. On my first international trip traveling alone, I scheduled a driver to pick me up at the airport and drive me six hours away to my accommodations. However, my plane landed late in the evening and my driver was nowhere to be seen. I'd failed to write down the address of my destination, trusting the driver to have it. Then, because I'd failed to put a travel notice on my credit card, my debit card was declined at the airport's ATM. I only had the exact amount of cash on hand to pay my rogue driver.
With no plan B, I cried and walked from the airport to a nearby hotel in the dark. The hotel receptionist took pity on me and helped me call my bank and my family back home. We also arranged for a new driver to take me to my destination in Popoyo, Nicaragua the next morning.
Once I've arrived somewhere as a solo traveler, I take the same precautions that I take in any major city. I typically stick to main roads, avoid showing off any expensive objects and aim to be back in my hotel just after dinner. If a stranger seems too inquisitive, I'll mention that I'm planning to meet a friend. I also ask locals and hotel staff for safety advice and guidance on what scams I should be looking out for.
Though most destinations are worth visiting as a solo traveler, there are some that are easier to navigate than others. One thing you can count on, however, is that you likely won't be the only one doing it. Solo travelers are one of the fastest-growing travel demographics, with more people traveling alone to new countries each year. In regions like Europe, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, solo travelers can be found in just about every hostel.
Joining meetup groups, walking tours and day trips and taking cultural dance or cooking classes are all interesting ways to learn about the place you're visiting in a social environment. As a solo traveler in Hawaii, I went on an adventure tour of the North Shore where we could snorkel, hike to waterfalls and kayak. While I was nervous about feeling left out of the group at first, I met a fellow solo traveler on the tour bus who happened to feel the same. We kayaked through a sea turtle sanctuary together, nearly spilling into the water in excitement whenever a sea turtle bobbed its head above the surface. Later, we met up for a sugar-sweet scoop of shave ice and swapped contact information.
It's a common misconception that traveling alone is bound to be a lonely experience. I've found I actually make more friends on the road as a solo traveler. I'm more likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger and join group experiences and I'm often seen as more approachable by other travelers than when I travel with a friend. Because I'm not beholden to anyone else's schedule, I can easily join and leave travel groups as I please. I've made some of my best friends while traveling solo and we now often plan trips together. My spouse and I met because he was traveling alone through California, my home state, and I gave him an impromptu tour of Southern California.
If you're trying to decide where to stay, hostels foster a social environment that's ideal for making travel buddies. If you want to be able to take a break, some hostels have private rooms available, offering solo travelers a nice compromise of privacy and a social life. Standard hotels are ideal for those looking for solitude and a private escape, but it may be a challenge to make friends, especially if the hotel caters to romantic getaways or families with young children. And while relaxing at an overwater bungalow in the Maldives sounds idyllic, I'd probably save that seaside getaway for when I'm traveling with a partner.
Some guided multi-day tours cater to solo travelers, which is a bit of an oxymoron when you consider that you'll have travel partners from sunrise until sunset for the duration of your trip. This is a great option for those who are nervous about traveling on their own but don't want to let their fear get in the way of going on a journey to somewhere new.
A cruise offers a great balance of relaxation and adventure for solo travelers. It's a trip where you're bound to make interesting friends from all around the world while enjoying the freedom of movement that only solo travel brings. You can enjoy a multi-city trip with the freedom of not having to worry about the logistics of finding accommodation, transportation and delicious meals. Then you can recapture your solitude whenever it suits you and enjoy the destinations, activities and amenities that the cruise offers on your own schedule. Here are some of the best perks of a solo cruise.
Onboard a cruise, there are dozens of activities to keep you busy. Plus, you're bound to meet people as you try your hand at adventure activities like fencing, archery, ziplining, catching a wave on the FlowRider, racing around on bumper cars, rock climbing and sliding down the best water attractions at sea.
When it's time to slow your heart rate, escape for a spa treatment or perch yourself at one of the many bars onboard and swap travel tales with the bartender. There are also cooking classes, theater performances, dance classes and karaoke nights, where you can get to know your fellow travelers by bonding over mutual affinities for and distastes of the songs being belted on stage.
Once the ship pulls into port, you can venture on a shore excursion with other guests or strike out on your own. Fellow solo travelers tend to join shore excursion trips, so that's an easy way to make friends with whom you can plan future activities onboard. Blow bubbles and explore dive sites in the aquarium-clear waters of Bonaire with a scuba dive buddy, embrace your curiosity on a cultural tour of Kyoto, learn to surf in Oahu or explore the Greek ruins in Athens. Back on the ship, you'll have plenty of shared memories with your shipmates.
As a solo traveler onboard, it's often easy to get to know the staff. Crew members usually hail from all around the world and often share your love of travel. They're experts at recommending the best things to do no matter your interest and are also savvy when it comes to helping guests choose excursions and making the most of the ship's features. On one cruise, a staff member showed me which lounge chair area was bound to get the most shade throughout the day.
Dining is one of the most common conundrums for solo travelers, especially if you're not keen on ordering room service each evening. Fortunately, the maître d' often has a good eye for matching solo travelers at a dining table together as long as you simply let staff know in advance. If you'd like your solo vacation to double as a complete retreat, bring a book along and enjoy dining in your own company. Don't be afraid to enter the specialty dining restaurants, either.
Going solo on a cruise can offer a great deal for travelers. Solo cruise vacations are becoming increasingly popular and select Royal Caribbean ships have studio staterooms. These rooms are designed specifically with solo travelers in mind, and you can say goodbye to single supplement fees. If you'd rather go with another option, there's nothing wrong with paying a bit more and having a larger stateroom to yourself.
If you want to enjoy the freedom of a solo trip without the heavy planning logistics, a cruise is a great way to get your feet wet. You'll have the benefit of planned meals, activities and excursions whenever you want, along with plenty of ways to satisfy your wanderlust. A solo vacation is a great way to come to center; you'll return home feeling rejuvenated and filled with the confidence that all you need is yourself to have a wonderful time.