Do you prefer to travel solo or with a friend? Matt Lindley of HotelClub.com shares his thoughts on travelling alone, walking you through some tips to get the most out of the experience...
I'm a firm believer that travelling alone is best. I mean, if I have an opportunity to travel with a friend, I'll take it. But if a group trip can't be organised with minimal fuss and effort, I'll probably opt to travel on my lonesome instead.
For a start, you have only your own interests to take into account, which means you don't have to compromise on the destination. You also don't need to wait for a date when both of you can get time off work (which can be tricky to organise).
Plus, once you arrive at your destination, as a solo traveller you can do anything you like. Fancy spending the whole afternoon sitting in a cafe and writing in your journal? Fine. Want to visit The Louvre in the shortest time possible? No problem. Your travel buddy might not want to join you on this...
I also find it much easier to meet people when travelling alone. Other single travellers are more approachable than groups or couples. And if you're staying in a hostel, you can guarantee there'll be plenty of other travellers in the same boat as you.
Most importantly, as a solo traveller you can fully experiencing a new place without the constant reminder of being back home. Alain de Botton points out in The Art of Travel that “our responses to the world are moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others.” Travel buddies can unwittingly stop us from throwing ourselves into the deep end in a new place.
Travelling alone is great. But how do you get the most out of the experience? I've put together a list of tips to help you travel smart.
Tip 1: Let The Light Shine In
One of the most daunting parts of any holiday is arriving at your destination in the middle of the night and trying to find your accommodation in the dark. This is especially true for solo travellers, who may be more vulnerable to unwanted attention from pickpockets without a friend to look out for them. Try to ease yourself into your travel experience by booking a flight that lands during the day time. This will give you time to familiarise yourself with your new surroundings while the sun is out and you’re still wide awake.
Tip 2: Write It Down
Keeping a journal is a matter of personal choice, but those who write down their thoughts regularly will know that travelling is the best time for getting new ideas and inspiration. You will be having all kinds of new experiences but may not have anyone to communicate them with. So, write them down in a diary and share them with others when you get back. Bring a good book to read, while you're at it, as a way of recharging your batteries between all the sightseeing.
Tip 3: Everyone Else Is Doing It...
Just because other people are ticking off every attraction in their guide book, as though it were a competition, doesn't mean you have to. Sightseeing gets tiring. And if you decide to take a break from the endless stream of museums and galleries, that's fine. Just chill in your hotel room instead. After all, it's your trip, and you can do what you want, when you want to do it.
Tip 4: It's Not Hard to Find a Friend
All of this “me-time” can make you start to go a bit crazy. If you ever crave a conversation, go out and find some new friends. It's never hard to meet new people in a hostel, many of whom are in the same boat as you, travelling alone and looking for someone to shoot the breeze with. Staying in a hotel can be harder, but you might want to attend a Couchsurfing meeting to hook up with locals and other backpackers in the area.
Tip 5: Discovery Through Walking
One of the activities I recommend most of all as a solo traveller is to join a guided walking tour. Not only will it give you lots of new facts about the area, it'll also be a chance to connect with other people on the tour. Besides, reading about stuff in museums every day can start to get a bit boring after a while, and it's nice to have someone talk you through the history of an area instead.
Tip 6: Don't Switch Off?
Some folks may disagree with me on this, but I think that bringing a laptop or smartphone with you is an excellent idea. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are likely to be available in most countries you visit. And while you may be trying to "get away from it all" and "switch off", it’s reassuring to know that your friends and family are just a few clicks away on Facebook or Skype if you need them. You can also research new destinations on the move, helping you to find hidden gems that aren't listed in the guide book and check out restaurant reviews before booking a table.
Anyway, I hope these tips have helped you prepare for your next solo adventure. Leave a comment to let me know if you have any other tips on travelling alone. And feel free to share your own solo travel experiences!
Matt Lindley is a tech and travel blogger currently based in London. He enjoys exploring the world on as little money as possible and sharing his tips and travel inspiration with others. He hopes to have tried a cappuccino on every continent by the time he's 35. Follow him on Twitter: @MattELindleyImages by Andrew Beebe and Chamko Rani via Flickr.