Some of my most formative travel experiences have come from flying solo. There’s something empowering about exploring a new country entirely on your own, trusting your instincts and making friends along your journey.
Over the past year, planning travel with friends and family has been increasingly difficult due to ever-changing testing and vaccination guidelines. Sometimes, it’s easiest to throw in the towel on planning with others and embark on a solo trip instead.
When I travel solo, I’ve had to heed extra safety precautions as I’m both a 20-something and a woman of color. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years and why I continue to add solo trips into my travel rotation.
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Solo travel doesn’t mean you’re alone
“Don’t you get lonely?”
“Wouldn’t you rather travel with your friends and family?”
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, I’d argue that everyone should try solo travel at least once. If you’re an introvert, there’s nothing more appealing than getting some quality alone time and exploring a destination on your own terms. Or, if you’re extroverted, solo travel brings myriad opportunities to interact with locals and other tourists along your journey.
There are many ways to not “feel alone” when you’re on a solo trip. While I enjoy meandering aimlessly through a city, I make sure to book a tour or activity to kick-start my trip — and to meet new people.
In Milan, I found a last-minute fashion and culture tour through Airbnb Experiences. It was an insightful walking tour led by a Milanese fashion student, joined by two other solo travelers.
We took a coffee break midtour in a gorgeous cafe away from the hustle and bustle of tourists. It was located above the iconic Gucci store in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Without my tour guide, Giovanni, I never would have found the staircase leading up to this hidden gem on my own.
In Costa Rica, I joined a zip line tour with over 10 other people. Everyone was traveling either with their spouse or with their families. When I told them that I was traveling alone, I felt a sense of marvel from the group.
But as we trudged through the entanglements of the jungle, these strangers quickly became my friends. They were my biggest cheerleaders as I jumped off a 500-foot zip line in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest.
At the end of the tour, we had lunch together, getting to know one another while exchanging travel stories. I even met a couple who had moved 15 minutes away from my hometown, so I gave them all of the recommendations for things to see, eat and do in North Carolina.
Solo travel safety
When traveling solo, I try to only explore in the daytime, communicate with my friends and family back home to share my location at all times, and never have too many drinks alone. Even so, there’s a lot more to worry about.
I’ve felt the unwanted stares on me tenfold on trips this past year. It’s hard to blend in somewhere when traveling alone since being a minority woman is enough to draw attention and place you as a target for racist or sexist remarks. With that said, solo travel can feel burdensome when all you’re trying to do is rest and relax on your vacation.
My colleague Chris Dong recently wrote this moving piece on how the pandemic has changed his perspective of travel as an Asian American. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from his article that I’d like to share:
“There is a certain sense of gratitude for being able to traverse the world and slowly break down the hate and intolerance that others have built up.”Chris Dong, Writer for The Points Guy
When we travel somewhere new, we’re all outsiders. While travel is a privilege, I believe that obstacles such as racism and sexism shouldn’t stop you from seeing the world.
Despite the catcalls and the remarks about my race or appearance, I try not to get discouraged in the face of blatant ignorance. Like Chris, I’m determined to continue my travels, as the kindness I’ve received from most strangers outweighs the disparaging comments that I’ve experienced. I try to get to know locals and tourists to remind everyone that I’m human, just like everyone else.
Take the slow road
As I mentioned earlier, I like to build a couple of activities into my itinerary. But as we all know, time seems to fly, especially when you’re on vacation, so I always add buffer time in case any unexpected situations arise. Plus, not planning everything to the exact minute can relieve a lot of stress when things don’t go as planned.
One of the major benefits of solo travel is that you define your agenda. In Costa Rica, I stumbled upon a cargo plane turned into a restaurant and bar, where I proceeded to spend the rest of my afternoon.
While my friends and family wouldn’t have understood my fascination with this cargo plane, I spent as much time as I wanted since I was on my own schedule.
If the idea of solo travel is a bit unnerving, you’re not alone. Fortunately, you can start small, meaning you don’t have to jet off to a new country to cultivate the whole solo travel experience.
Living in New York City, I often visit Koreatown alone as it makes me feel at home. I felt solace when I looked around the room, and everyone there was also Korean, minding their own business. I enjoyed eating at my favorite mom-and-pop restaurant and speaking in broken Korean as I would to my mom. If you’re also a second-generation immigrant, I urge you to seek spaces or communities around you that make you feel accepted rather than an outsider.
When I was in Los Angeles a few months ago, my favorite part of my solo trip was visiting Koreatown. It was the closest I’ve felt to being in South Korea as borders remain closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
There are varying levels of the solo travel experience, and hopefully, you’ll get the chance to venture on your own — even if you remain close to home.
Over the past four years, I’ve traveled far and wide, adding new stamps to my passport. Visiting 15-plus countries wouldn’t have been possible without throwing some solo trips in the mix, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite types of travel.
If you’re also a solo traveler (or you’ve been thinking of embarking on your first solo trip), feel free to email me. I’d love to hear about your experiences or answer any questions you may have!
Featured photo by Stella Shon for The Points Guy.