WANDERLUST is a theme that comes up often with Red Shoe readers. Travel adventures rank high on dream lists but is the thought of being a solo traveler stopping you? Gotcha’ covered Sisters. Never fear. Your solo travel mentor is near!
MEET LOIS…..YOUR SOLO TRAVEL WARRIOR
Lois Beer 55, is contentedly single and an intrepid solo traveler.
The urge to travel struck 14 years ago when I bought 2 backpacks and trekked through Europe with my 11 year old daughter; staying in pensiones and hostels. I realized then that there was a wide world out there to explore and lots of really interesting people to meet. Fast forward 10 years and it was no longer feasible to go on trips with my daughter who was busy in university and making a life of her own.
What was one to do?
As a single woman how would I fulfill the dream?
Bus tours were out they didn’t fit my independent spirit. So I took on solo travel. My first steps were tentative but once I found my footing I’ve been unstoppable. Occasionally I travel with friends, sometimes my adult daughter Alyssa shares the experience and other times I shepherd small groups of women who are itching to see the world, but aren’t ready to strike off on their own, through some of the world’s greatest cities. As passionate as I am about travel, my work in the financial sector as a Portfolio & Wealth Manager continues, where I help clients financially prepare for living the life they love.
An Open Letter from Lois
Let’s take a quick test to see if you want to become a solo travel warrior.
Do you want to travel and your significant other either can’t or doesn’t want to?
Do you have a friend who travels on her own all the time and you think to yourself, “If she can do it than I can too?”
Do you have the flexibility to just pack up and go, but your friends and family don’t?
Do you have a bad case of wanderlust and ready to rock the world?
Do you just really really like being on your own?
If you’ve answered YES to any, some, or all of these questions, then you, my friend, are ready to become a solo traveler warrior. So, next question is HOW?
Well, I’m going to outline 6 simple steps that will make your inaugural solo travel a happy and successful experience.
STEP ONE – PICK A PLACE TO GO
If you only take away one thing from this blog, then let this be it: Pick a place where you’ve already been before. Let me repeat this because I feel it is really important. Pick a place where you have already been. I know. I know. This doesn’t exactly sound like warrior material, but trust me, it is the best way to get your solo feet wet. One of the biggest stresses in solo travel is the actual getting there; landing at the airport – securing transportation and getting to your hotel. Do you speak the language? If you can’t speak the mother language, then you shouldn’t make that your first trip. Choosing a place you’ve been to before eliminates most of this stress. Take me, for example. My first solo travel was to New York City.
I had been there once with my adult daughter. If you’ve traveled with your adult children you know that they like to take control of the when, where and what. They also tend to pull you around on the transit systems, and you happily let them.
I loved the city and knew I had to go back. So that is where I went. I flew into the same airport. I knew where the taxi stand was and how to take the taxi to the hotel. It was easy peasy…. Maybe it’s somewhere when you went a long time ago or maybe it was to that place last time you went with a friend. Pick a metropolitan city that will offer you lots to do; museums, parks, shopping, restaurants. Even if you’ve been there before, if you’ve picked a place diverse enough, there will always be things to do – places to see that you haven’t seen before. I’ve been to New York now 5 times and there is still lots for me to see and discover.
Let’s face it – if your inaugural trip is successful, you’ll be booking your next one when you get home. If it’s a flop, you will throw away your maps and apps and never try it again.
STEP TWO – FINDING ACCOMMODATION
After picking your destination, the second most important decision is deciding where you are going to stay. Pick an area of your destination that you’re familiar with. You might even want to stay in the same hotel (I’m assuming hotel but maybe it’s a hostel – extra brownie points for you if it is). This is really important as you are creating your safety net with your choice. So, back to me. I stayed at the same hotel close to Times Square.
The beauty of staying in mid-town in Manhattan is exactly that – you are midtown. You can venture north to Upper West Side, Central Park, Upper East Side. If you’re a real warrior go even further to Harlem or Morningside. You can head south and be in the Village, SoHo or Lower East Side. By staying in the same hotel, I gave myself that safety net of familiarity.
The other suggestion I have with accommodations is this; please stay in a reputable place. Don’t cheap out for the sake of cheaping out. Nothing will throw you off further solo travels than feeling vulnerable or unsafe. Pick a hotel or apartment that has a concierge or doorman. My hotel had a person checking for key cards before you were allowed in the elevator area. It doesn’t guarantee your safety 100% but it does put your mind at ease. For this reason I wouldn’t recommend that you book an apartment. Unless you’ve done that before and were comfortable with it and it has a doorman or concierge. Hostel can be great as there are always people to talk to. But sometimes hostels are outside the inner city perimeter and so the safety net can get compromised. Again, this is your first time. Play it safe, and you’ll soon learn what your tolerances are and can decide to do something a bit more adventurous on your next trip.
STEP THREE – SOLO EATING
Let’s face it – this is the dreaded area of solo travel – no one wants to eat alone. Who wants to be on the receiving line of all those judgmental eyes? I, too, found this to be my biggest hurdle.
How did I handle it? Well, first I picked a city where no-one cares if you are on your own. But since I still hadn’t embraced that fact yet, I did the following: I had my breakfast on the go. I usually just dropped into a Starbucks for my morning caffeine fix and grabbed some fruit or a bagel to go from one of the many delis in the city.
You might have picked a hotel that has a complimentary breakfast buffet (gold stars for you!) If you did, load up. Maybe take an apple or banana to go. I made lunch my main meal and would find a nice cafe to sit down after the noon rush and be served. Food carts are also awesome if you’re in a city. Grab something from a cart of your choice and find a park or nook where you can sit and chow down like a local. For dinner I’d just grab a salad or sandwich at a deli before heading to whatever I had planned for that evening. At the end of the day, it’s what makes you comfortable. I know now that no-one really cares that you’re on your own. It really is a stigma that we put on ourselves and has mostly disappeared. But I also know when you’re just starting to travel on your own, it is something that can make you uncomfortable. All I can say is give it a try and you’ll soon have the courage to dine in a 5 star all on your own!
STEP FOUR – DAYTIME ADVENTURES
Book some walking tours! This is a fabulous way to spend a good part of your day. There are lots of walking tours available in any major city. Most of them will accommodate a solo traveler as you’re just part of a bigger group. This is also a great opportunity to meet and talk to other travelers. There are many types of tours you can take.
You can go on historical tours, tour major parks, food tours are super fun and eliminate that pesky eating by yourself situation we just talked about. For me, I booked 2 different tours with the same operator. My first tour was a tour of the Highline combined with a food tour in Greenwich Village. It took up most of my day, had tons of food to eat – learned lots of good information and history and met some super awesome people! On a different day, I did another combo – this time it was food in Hell’s Kitchen (check lunch off my list!) and Central Park. Same operator but different tour guide and again, had a great time and met one of my favourite New Yorkers of all time. Do your homework before you go and find a reputable tour company. Read their reviews both on their website and on sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. Then go ahead and book it! It’s a great way to fill your day.
STEP FIVE – NIGHT TIME ADVENTURES
I think this could be the hardest area to tackle depending on where you decide to go. If you’re visiting a major metropolitan city, then you should be able to find lots of things to do. It’s another reason why I went back to New York City; in my mind it is the best place to visit solo. I’m a theatre geek – hands down.
I had NO idea how much I would fall in love with musical theatre until I saw my first show on Broadway. And let me tell you – I fell hard and fast. So, I booked three different shows on my first solo trip. I would have a fabulous day either doing the walking tours, or going to museums or discovering all the parks in the city, and then at night I would head up to the theatre district and catch a show. It was marvelous. Again, going back to central accommodations, I stayed in an area that I knew I could safely walk around at night (remember safety net). I didn’t need to rely on any other transportation than my own two feet. And if it rained, I could always buy a $5 umbrella from the nearest bodega.
The other important point on this is the time of year you are travelling. If possible make your solo trip at a time of the year where you have long days. When I went to New York my first time it was in May so I had really long days that lasted until after 10PM. Consequently my last trip was in November where it gets dark shortly after 4:30PM. This is a big difference when you’re walking the streets and worthy of being part of your decision.
Perfect segue to the last pointer…..
STEP SIX – TRANSPORTATION
Again, go back to #1 – where are you going? Make it somewhere that you are familiar with. Does it have a great public transit system? Are you comfortable riding the bus? Can you handle the subway systems? Are you tech savvy enough to use Uber? Or maybe you just want to hail a cab? If you’ve properly set up your safety net then daytime shouldn’t be a problem. You can easily walk to many destinations of interest. You’ve got a lovely doorman that will get a taxi for you. You’ve hired a driver for the day (lucky you!) Or you are a confident warrior and will use the subway or Uber. For my first solo trip to New York, I walked almost exclusively.
I really wanted to get the lay of the land, and Manhattan is a relatively small little island. So I walked up and I walked down. I happened upon many shops and stores that I would not have found if I was underground on the subway. Now to be honest, part of why I walked was that I was afraid I would get lost on the subway. It took me those two trips to really tackle it – my next trip was smooth sailing, but that’s another post. It can be intimidating and so I walked. But looking back now – it was the absolute best thing I could have done. I really got to know the city and the districts and how the city connected from north to south and east to west.
Other very walkable cities would be Paris, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Santa Fe to name a few. Think about this seriously when deciding where to go.
Uber is excellent in the cities where it’s available, but you need to have a smartphone and download/use an App. If you can do it, then definitely put it in your arsenal of transportation modes. Alternatively, if applicable, stick your hand out and hail a cab!
So that’s it (for now)! I hope this motivates you and puts any fears you had about solo travel to rest. Travelling on your own is one of the best experiences you will have. So fantastic that it becomes addictive. I still travel when I can with my daughter and friends, but I will always have at least one adventure on my own just for myself.
COMING SOON – more tips from Lois The Solo Travel Warrior
PS/ If you have a friend who needs a little encouragement please share Lois’s tips to help her get on with her travel dreams!
If travel is a dream of yours just waiting to be fulfilled…take Action….start Dream Testing.
Jackie Neufeld says
Wow! What a helpful and informative article! One of the best articles I’ve ever read on solo travelling. Bravo Lois!!