Solo travel is tough. Not only do you have to learn how to deal with situational difficulties on your own but you also need to deal with any emotional difficulties on your own as well. In many ways, solo travel is therapeutic for me. It allows me to experience a new country, people, and culture that I’ve never interacted with before. However, I understand that going on a solo trip is different than having fun and enjoying a solo trip.
Below are a few ways to enjoy a solo trip but ultimately, I believe maximizing your enjoyment of your solo trip is based mainly on enjoying the moment. Take it in, appreciate where you are, and take pride in how far you’ve come as a person. You have a lot of time for your mind to wander on solo trips but if you’re willing to take the time to appreciate your surroundings, you’ll find your solo trips really rewarding.
Do what you want to do
The great thing about traveling solo is that you get to do whatever you want to do on your time. There is no compromise. However, oftentimes, what happens is that we have too much time on our hands. With all this extra time, it’s easy to think that we’re bored, disinterested, or listless. Sometimes there’s so much we want to do that we can’t figure out where to begin.
But that’s the great thing about solo travel. You have to view the endless choices as a gift. It’s a good thing to have endless opportunities and options, not a bad thing. Sometimes it is nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of or have someone else plan the logistics of a trip. But there is no chance that you are going to be as excited to do something as your friend is going to be over an activity. It just isn’t possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s a relative, best friend, or significant other. There’s just no way the excitement level is going to be equal.
Think about it like this. You may be traveling with your best friend and you might both like cars. If you’re in Munich, you may even want to to the BMW museum to check it out. But inevitably, one of you is going to be more excited to be touring the museum over the other and one is going to be ready to leave and move on to something different before the other.
When that happens, you’re going to feel rushed to leave (if you’re really enjoying yourself) or you’re going to wish your friend would hurry up so you can leave. It isn’t malicious but it’s just a fact. One of you is going to find the the attraction more interesting than the other.
Enjoying the independence of doing what you want on your own time and pace is what makes solo travel fun. You don’t have to feel guilty about rushing someone or go to something you aren’t that interested in.
Stay in touch with people back home
Staying in touch is great for two reasons. First, it allows you to let everyone know back home that you’re ok and doing well. I remember on my first few solo trips, I didn’t think anyone really cared so I really didn’t send out any email updates or any sort of notice to let people back home know that I was ok. After I got yelled at from concerned friends and family, I learned that maybe I should send out some sort of update.
Second, keeping in touch allows you to relive the experiences of the day or week. It’s a great feeling to know that you get to narrate the story because you’re the one telling it. You can talk about all the highlights of the trip and all the things that you find rewarding. Of course this allows you to only share the good parts of your trip. The highlights. By sharing the highlights, it’ll reinforce all the great times you’ve had thus far. This doesn’t mean that your entire trip thus far has been without trouble. But the fact that you’re focusing on just the good aspects to share will help to reinforce the enjoyment of your trip.
For example, I’ve been scammed many times and I’m sure I’ll be scammed again in the future. Does this mean I share my lowlight with those back home? Absolutely not. One, it’s embarrassing but two, it isn’t what people want to read.
Focusing on the positive aspects of my trip is not only more entertaining to read for folks back home, but it’s also more fun to write. It’s easier to write about something you really enjoyed vs. writing about something you really hated. Think about it, no one wants to hear someone whine about how their vacation is terrible because they lost $20. You aren’t going to win anyone over and it’s just not fun to write either.
However, if you can focus on how you were the first person to walk through the gate at Chichen Itza and how you were able to walk around the entire site all by yourself without seeing another person all morning, that’s a great experience. It’s also an experience most people will never have because they either won’t get there early enough to beat the other tourists or will be in massive tour groups and arrive alongside the other tour busses.
By keeping in touch with those back home and being able to narrate the story to your liking, it allows you to relive the day. But more importantly, it reinforces the enjoyable highlights of that day. A couple years down the line, you probably won’t remember the bad parts of the trip because you spent all your time talking about how great the trip was.
Meet new people
Look, people are sociable by nature. I think one of the things that worries people the most about their first solo trip is if they’re going to be lonely. I think that’s the main reason so many solo travelers decide to stay in hostels over other accommodations. If the price were the same, I think a lot of solo travelers would still choose to stay in hostels mainly for the social nature of hostels. However, there are different ways of meeting people as a solo traveler.
I don’t believe that meeting people can make or break any solo trip. However, for those of you who are worried about being lonely, I think meeting people will certainly enhance your trip. Meeting new people to share a common experience would allow you to make friends. It’s fantastic. If you feel that meeting people will help you enjoy your trip more, I think doing activities or joining tours is a great idea.
Step out of your comfort zone
Many people may not think stepping out of their comfort zone is enjoyable but I think it provides an opportunity to do something different. It doesn’t have to be death defying or completely off the rails stupid either. However if you’re the type of person who enjoys doing what’s “safe” and “predictable,” you may find that stepping out of your comfort zone is an enjoyable challenge.
I’ve done countless things that are outside my comfort zone if only to say that I’ve done it. It can be bungee jumping in Australia, shark diving in South Africa, eating Thai chilis in Bangkok, or just walking around in a sea of humanity during a celebration after a major soccer game. These are all things I would normally not do partially because I’m scared but partially because it isn’t what I typically like or think of as fun. I can say with conviction that I don’t like spicy foods (or my stomach doesn’t like it) and I really dislike crowds. But when I’m traveling, I do make it a point to try different things that I normally wouldn’t do. It’s part of the experience.
The way I look at it, even if it isn’t enjoyable at the time, it’ll probably make for an enjoyable, self deprecating story to tell when I get back home and that’s really what I love the most. A good anecdote to tell back home is worth more than money because it’s personal and can be really funny. Admittedly, I’ll do almost anything if I have a good story to tell later.
And I guess that’s the point. I wouldn’t have those fun stories if I didn’t step out of my comfort zone. You would have to be a world class comedian to be able to turn a mundane activity like having coffee at the corner cafe into an enjoyable story. But if you step out of your comfort zone and do something completely unexpected, not only will you have a great story to tell but you’ll also walk away with a life experience that you wouldn’t otherwise have had. And that experience is what makes travel so enjoyable.
Learn new skills
Learning new skills as an adult isn’t like being back in school. It’s more like being able to take only the classes you enjoy and want to learn about. Sure, you can learn everyday skills like how to navigate a city, remove yourself from a less than desirable situation, or avoiding scams. But travel is more than just lessons learned “on the job”. You can also take classes while you’re traveling to learn more about a topic of skill that you find interesting.
As an older millennial, I’ve seen changes in travel over the years and it has mainly to do with the tastes of the millennial traveler. Look, we’re the ones who are traveling right now but we also travel differently than those before us. Millennials travel because we want life experiences but our wallets also dictate how we spend our money and what causes we choose to support.
We’re more likely to go to a yoga retreat, cooking class, do a work stay, or do a cultural tour that benefits locals. These are all times where we’re choosing to learn new skills while traveling. Our wallets are dictating what we choose to support but it’s not just because we believe in that cause, it’s also because we want to learn about the places we visit and not just hop on a bus and see all the tourist sites like other travelers.
Learning new skills is a great way to get more enjoyment out of your solo trips because you’ll not only learn something but you’ll also supporting what you like and you’ll be learning something you want to learn. This makes us more interesting as solo travelers but also gives us a deeper appreciation for where we are.
Enjoy the moment
If there is one thing I firmly believe in, it’s enjoy the moment. I think we get so bogged down in the day to day activities that we often forget to look around and appreciate where we are. We’re so obsessed with taking the perfect selfie, capturing that video, or positioning yourself to get the amazing photo. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people holding up their cell phones or ipads taking photos of everything without a clue of what they’re photographing or even stopping to look around and seeing what they’re surrounded by. It’s such a waste of an opportunity that I can’t help but feel sad for these people whenever I see it.
For example. When was the last time you went to a concert? You paid a lot of money for those tickets to go and when you get there, you’re surrounded by people who spent as much if not more money for the same tickets and yet all they’re doing is recording the show. Instead of enjoying the concert, they’re busy recording the concert for whatever reason. They spent so much money only to see the concert through their 8 inch phone screen when all they had to do was look up and enjoy the concert in real life.
I think that’s exactly what people are doing when they travel and instead of seeing the world with their eyes, they’re content seeing it on their cell phone screens. As a solo traveler, I think there are certain times when you can see something and say “I’m glad I saw this”. It can be a vista you see on a hike in the Alps, the aurora in the middle of nowhere in Norway, or a secluded temple in the jungles of Laos. If you’re going to go through all that trouble to visit these places, I think you should just take the time to enjoy it. Maybe you take a photo and maybe you don’t. But it’s a memory that’ll you’ll have and you don’t want your memory of the experience to be through the camera lens on your phone.
Solo travel is great. But I agree that it has its drawbacks. Sometimes it is difficult to keep yourself entertained and think of different activities to do. I get that. If you’re the type of person who enjoys being on the go (like I do), it can be a bit of a let down to get everything done on your list of places and things you wanted to visit and do. But if you make the sole purpose of your trip to fully appreciate your time there, I think you’ll come home without being able to think of a single instance where you were bored. Sure, you’ll come home exhausted and ready to take a break from your vacation. But you definitely won’t come home saying you were bored.