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The Solo Traveler (or, Another Way to Be Awesome While Traveling)

When I travel solo, the ice cream is mine… all mine.

My recent Travel Gone Awry story about my near-miss at the Canadian border left a few of you wondering how the world can still be prejudiced against solo female travelers. That experience was quite a few years ago, and I think the world now is much more accepting of (and accustomed to) travelers that fly solo (literally and figuratively). What I didn’t mention in that post was that my visit to Quebec was approximately my second solo international trip. The whole concept was still a little new and a little nerve-wracking – which only added to my anxiety when the customs official started to look at me askance. By now, I’ve become an old hand at traveling solo – and an advocate for it. Everyone should travel solo from time to time (and business trips don’t count).

The perks of traveling solo are many: You don’t have to coordinate vacation schedules with your travel companions. You can go where you want to go, and do exactly (and only) what you want to do. You can move at your own pace. You can eat when and what you want. You don’t have to share the bathroom. You can even take your own picture, thanks to the selfie-stick (and retake it as many times as your vanity requires). The whole thing is actually quite liberating. It’s also empowering – you’ve figured it all out on your own and navigated the world single-handedly! If you ever feel like you need a little confidence-boost in the competence department, get on an airplane by yourself and go.

Is it more fun to travel with people? Sometimes. (Depends on the people.) But is it fun to travel alone, too? Absolutely. If someone tells you it’s not fun to travel solo, they haven’t tried it. (I’m pretty sure that Canadian customs official had never traveled solo.)

But let’s be honest: traveling solo is not always easy. There’s a fair amount of cultural conditioning against doing any kind of social/leisure activity alone, and that conditioning stays with you when you travel. For women, there are additional safety concerns. And there’s no one to watch your bags for you while you go into a public restroom (hint: there’s a lot more juggling involved). But fret not, I’m here to help. To get you on your way, here are my…

6 Tips to Becoming a Successful Solo Traveler:

1. Stop silently shaming yourself for being alone. It’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s awesome.

2. Bring a book. Or a notepad. Or okay, an iPad. It will keep you from getting bored while you’re waiting for your dinner to arrive or the train to depart, and if you start to feel self-conscious, you can make yourself look busy instead.

3. Be smart. Ladies, let’s use some common sense here. Of all the activities I think we can and should do by ourselves, walking through marginal neighborhoods at 2 AM is not one of them. Use only official taxis and tour guides. Exercise a little more caution than usual. And listen to your gut when something feels “off.”

4. Stay connected. Usually when we travel, it’s nice to disconnect from the world and go off the grid for a while. But if you’re traveling solo and starting to feel a bit alone in the world (it happens to all of us), the Internet can be your salvation. Share pictures on Instagram or Facebook. Tweet about what you’re doing. Skype a friend if you’re getting talk-buildup. You can travel alone without being alone.

5. Practice. The more you travel solo, the more comfortable you’ll be. If your first attempt doesn’t go great, don’t give up on the whole institution. It will get easier and more fun. I hardly give a second thought to traveling solo anymore – it’s just another way to roll.

6. And above all, don’t hold back. This is an adventure! Don’t sit in your hotel room feeling forlorn – go out there and explore! If it’s Friday night, take a walk – no one can tell if you’re truly alone or on your way to meet ten of your closest friends. If you’re an extrovert, talk to strangers. If you’re an introvert, observe strangers from a front-row seat in a busy café. When you’re traveling solo, the world is your oyster: crack it open and slurp it down.

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