Why Solo Travel Works For Me

by - Sunday, April 10, 2016

Recently, I was asked why I traveled alone.

I really didn't have an answer, other than because I wanted to. But honestly, solo travel has become a bit of a preference for me as of late. I realized this after I was invited on a couple of group trips here and declined, for no reason other than I didn't want to travel with a group.

I've gone on several group trips, either with family or with the girls. Even on those group trips I would venture off on my own to do something. If the group was sleeping or relaxing, and I wanted to go exploring, I had no problem doing just that.

At Essence Fest, while the girls slept in from a long and wild night out, I was up early having brunch on Bourbon and meeting other travelers. On a family trip, I ventured off to go horseback riding solo while the fam stayed behind and rested up. Back home, I had no problem going out to eat or to the movies alone. If I wanted to do something, I just did it. I've always been fiercely independent.

I'm the only educator in my small circle; I have more flexibility to plan and take trips since I have built-in breaks in my work schedule. Once I realized that everyone wasn't always going to be able to go somewhere when I wanted to go, I began entertaining the idea of solo travel.

My first solo trip was to Playa del Carmen, Mexico back in 2012.  I spent most of my time on the beach, strolling Avenida Cinco, or at the hotel's rooftop bar. It wasn't my idea of a fun trip, but it was enlightening. I learned that I needed to have an itinerary for myself on a solo trip, just as I would have if I were with a group.

Nothingness in Mexico, first solo trip

My next solo trip after that was to Aruba. Aruba is probably the most laid back tourist destination in the Caribbean. This time, I was equipped with an itinerary to keep myself busy. I also secured lodging that was right near the beach, so I could go whenever I wanted. The hotel had an onsite restaurant, so if I didn't wanna be bothered with searching for a place to have dinner, I'd have a quick, close option. This trip was much better than Playa. I kept busy, and I also relaxed and enjoyed my surroundings. I ate at a really fancy restaurant, and I didn't feel weird about it. I moved at my own pace, and I really enjoyed it.

At the Natural Pool in Aruba.

Since these two excursions, I have been on dozens of solo trips. What solidified my status as a for sure solo traveler, though, was when the now famous Etihad fare deal dropped a couple years ago. I almost hesitated to book the deal because I thought it was too good to be true:

"it's probably just going to get canceled"
"I live in Atlanta, how am I going to get to New York to catch this deal??"
"I wanna visit South Africa so bad! But it's soooo far!"

Courage prevailed, and the 24 hour window to cancel and change my mind, had passed.

I got a confirmed ticket, booked seats, activities and lodging, and later took my first trans-Atlantic flight, SOLO [and for only $400, including insurance, might I add]. I tried to tell others about the deal to no avail. They wanted to wait and see, like I almost did. That would have been one of the biggest mistakes I would have ever made. That trip was a defining moment in my travels and my life.

Solo in South Africa, monkeyin' around.
I really miss those shoes, by the way.

Views of Camps Bay and Lion's Head from my room in Cape Town.

Taking it all in at Cape Point.

Solo in Cape Town

If I could offer any piece of advice to anyone contemplating solo travel:
If you have an opportunity to go somewhere you've always wanted to go- 

Do not wait on your friends, family, spouse whatever to make up their minds. The mantra is always book first, ask questions last. Trust me, you will figure it out. If you remember nothing else about solo travel-know this!

If you're thinking about taking the solo travel plunge, consider a few perks:

  1. You came into this world alone, you're likely going to leave alone
  2. You need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable; that just means to be open to do something you've never done before. Life is about experiences; the magic happens outside of the comfort zone. You will master this as a solo traveler.
  3. You have the flexibility to do what you want, when you want!
  4. You can change your mind and do something else, and no one is gonna hound you for it!
  5. You will learn to be self-sufficient, quick on your feet, and resilient; if you already embody these qualities, you should have been gone!
  6. When things go wrong, and they can, you will be okay, because #5, and because you're covered.
  7. Unless you want to share your journey with the world, you will have judgment-free memories!
  8. Best of all: you will get to see the world on your own terms

If you really want to travel solo, and you're not quite comfortable with the idea of it, maybe consider planning a trip to a place that you really want to see. Just start planning the trip. 

Go on TripAdvisor and read the overview for the city/country you're interested in.

Click on the "Things to do" tab, and explore. Delve a little deeper: find a hotel you'd like to stay at, and save it to your account. You can do the same thing on AirBnB; scour cities and just start saving cool properties that have been filtered to your liking. 

The pictures usually get me hyped!

Get excited about going on the trip, even though you're not going on the trip (yet). Then when you're ready, head over to Google Flights, Momondo, or Skyscanner and see what the trip is pricing for. If your dates are flexible, even better. If you're really lucky, you will come across a flight deal and consider it destiny. 

If you're ready, and about that life: plan to book the next flight deal/glitch fare out of your city or nearest hub, and then see above. Get to planning and get excited!

I'm headed to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada for a whopping $5 this summer!
Never been, wasn't on my radar, ask me if I care?? :-p

If that stills sounds overwhelming, start small. Book a trip to another region within your home country. If you're in the states, book a flight to the opposite coast, and plan to explore. If you're a few hours from a beach, book seaside accommodation and go alone. Unwind and have fun.

Solo travel is wonderful if you're brave enough to do it. I travel alone often, but I'm hardly ever lonely. There's a difference. If you're abroad, be prepared for people to be befuddled by you being alone, especially if you're a woman. Refer to #2 if necessary, but don't take it personal, and definitely don't let it stop your fun. People may also gravitate toward you, though, out of curiosity. I can't think of any cultures that encourage this. Even in the U.S., solo travel isn't seemingly popular, unless you're on business. You will also meet other solo travelers on their own journey.

Solo in Melanesia, but not lonely.

Solo in Johannesburg, but not lonely.

Of course you will employ the same common sense/street smarts that you have back home in your respective cities and upbringings. You will research the places you will go, get a sense of if it's safe or not, and adjust accordingly if need be. That doesn't ever change no matter where you are. 

So go forth and be safe, but most of all have the time of your life. The world awaits hunny!

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