What am I Doing Here? Some Possibly Unhelpful Advice for Traveling Alone

As someone who has spent the better part of a decade traveling around the world all by her lonesome, here’s what has worked for me.

Jul 14, 2011 at 11:02am | Leave a comment

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Perhaps most people are less likely than I am to book a flight to someplace like Morocco without even considering the Visa requirements first.

But say you are like me, and as your plane touches down someplace hot and distant, you realize with a jolt that you haven’t thought this adventure all the way through.

You are feeling way more vulnerable than you did back when you picked up the Lonely Planet at Borders and the caftans you packed are transparent to the point that wearing one may actually result in fine or imprisonment. But never fear! I have tips!

As someone who has spent the better part of a decade traveling around the world all by her lonesome, here’s what has worked for me.

Give Yourself Lots of Pep Talks

Whatever your motivation for traveling alone is (and believe me I’ve had some weird ones) -- post-college “gap year” (as the Aussies call it), your best friend bailed on you, you found a pair of unfamiliar panties in your boyfriend’s bed -- in my experience it isn’t such a bad thing to be out in the world by yourself. But sometimes it won’t feel that way.

Some places constantly force you to reassess your decision to travel alone. The plates of food made only large enough to share, the woman a whole decade younger than you and balancing a child on each hip who asks, genuinely concerned, why you are alone and doesn’t it make you feel horrible not have a husband?

To many people, a woman traveling alone is like the sun being blue, beyond comprehension. So I like to remind myself as often as necessary that though I may be alone out in the world I also get to decide for myself which corners to turn, which places to explore, which restaurants to loiter in and when to eat.

Traveling alone is fine. It doesn’t make you a loser or desperate or lonely. It actually makes you kind of amazing.

Plus, if I hadn’t been alone I would never have met all of the amazing friends around the world that I get to go visit now. Or my lovely boyfriend.

Keep Away from the Beach

The worst place to vacation alone, in my experience, is the beach. Stay away from the beach at all costs. Not only do creepy things happen at the beach, regardless of where in the world they happen to be located, they all seem to be full of couples/weird single dreadlocked men and every bar plays Jack Johnson.

During the day the beach may seem fine, but in the evening, when all of the couples around you retire to their cabanas to make sandy, sun-sleepy love before their romantic fish dinners and the guy with the fake dreadlocks who earlier tried to sell you both a seashell hair extension and a ride on the back of his jet ski lingers creepily behind you humming Jack Johnson, you will begin to grasp the enormity of the night to follow.

It’s a recipe for at the very least a lonely existential crisis, at worst a B horror movie.

Minimize Hurty Feelings

Sometimes I start feeling weird, thinking about some ex-boyfriend -- the one who would never commit to me -- and his new girlfriend who I saw via Facebook (at the crappy Internet café down the road right before the power went out) were moving in together.

Or I start contemplating how pointless and sad everything is, a trail of thoughts which inevitably dead-ends at the depressing conclusion that everyone I know is going to die someday and that being here alone without cell phone service is probably what it will feel like.

In severe cases such as this, when you find nobody fun to distract you, I find it’s best to open a Marian Keyes novel, order a beer, eat the big to-share sized bowl of curry and go to bed, because in the morning everything will look better and if it doesn’t there is always a plane, bus, van, boat or donkey cart to somewhere else where it does.

BYOB(lanket)

Bring a scarfy pashmina thing that’s soft. It is useful for everything from on-the-fly modesty-making to towel drying. Plus it will seem oddly comforting at times. (But don’t get all Tom Hanks in "Castaway" on it. It’s a scarf and can’t provide you with an alternative to human interaction no matter how well you anthropomorphize.)

Stay in Small Places

Splurging on a fancy hotel is almost never worth it. Interesting people rarely have the money to stay at them and you’re a lot less likely to meet a travel companion or drinking buddy. Find yourself a sweet little family run spot with friendly-looking people hanging out in some sort of communal area. Then make sure the hot water works.

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I Come in Peace (Leave Me Alone)

For better or worse, I am a bit of a cynical traveler. When I hear people bragging about the “totally awesome remote hilltribe” they met who ‘gave them this authentic friendship thread,” the first things I think are “guided tour” and “bracelet made in China.”

I generally like to keep my cynicism at a nice midlevel that keeps me safe but doesn’t interfere with my experience in too negative a way. There’s a difference between having cultural experience and being taken advantage of. Just because you’re from a hill tribe and play the pan flute, doesn’t mean you’re not an asshole.

So, those are my ideas. Does anyone else have tips for traveling alone?

Posted in Relationships, travel