This article first appeared in Juice (March 2019 issue), Mango airline’s inflight mag
With international arrivals set to push past the 1.4 billion mark in 2019, the global travel industry is as bullish as ever. Opinions differ as the experts weigh in on what’s trending this year, but according to reputable surveys, solo travel is coming in hot.
Going solo is both daunting and thrilling
When Anthony Bourdain described a solo visit to Tokyo as an “an eye-opening, traumatizing and life-changing” experience he was right on the button. I can identify, as my first foray into the heart of the Japanese capital without a crew in tow was a baptism of fire, daunting yet such a thrill. I was out of my comfort zone, facing down my insecurities and winning.
Why go solo?
Solo travel happens for a myriad reasons and is beneficial on so many levels. On your own you’re able to control the ‘what and when’ , be spontaneous and indulge your curiousity without fretting about inconveniencing others. In his bestseller The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton wrote “it seemed an advantage to be travelling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by whom we are with and we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others, adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, so we have to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.” That’s it, in a nutshell. By yourself you can roam at will and without constraints. It’s a blissful way to wander and everyone should try it, at least once.
A new era for soloists
2019 has been clocked as a new era for solo travel, across the age and gender spectrum. Last year, hospitality stats recorded a 600 percent hike in loner bookings, an upswing that has stimulated dynamic industry innovations. For the ladies, there are fem-centric offerings like the women-only ride hailing service in Malaysia called Carriage For Her and websites like Girls LOVE Travel that offer moral and practical support before and during a trip. In the UK, 21 per cent of holidaymakers who choose to travel alone are over the age of 65, digitally savvy and as woke to social media as their Millennial counterparts. The Web has made the universe seem smaller and with an App for pretty much anything, people of all ages are going boldly where they’ve never been before and journeying smarter with all the support they need in the palm of a hand.
Get into local life
Wonderful things happen when conventional whirlwind touring is off the table. Left to your own devices you’ve a chance to immerse yourself in lesser known parts beyond the bucket list museums and landmarks beset by crowds and queues. Each time I’m in Paris I indulge in little idiosyncrasies and follow a ritual that alleviates the anxiety I sometimes feel when travelling by myself. I’ve been to the City of Lights numerous times and in the last few visits have based myself in Le Marais where I love nothing more than to soak up the neighbourhood atmosphere, shopping at markets frequented by Parisians and hanging out in pretty residential parks, a baguette under my arm and a copy of French Vogue in hand. I get a glimpse into arrondissement life and a truer sense of Paris which is, for me, priceless.
But what of loneliness though? Having alone time is one thing, but it can be overwhelming and one of my best antidotes is to book interesting tours – walking, cycling, motorbike or gastronomy – in the first two or three days after arrival. It’s fun and a great way to connect with kindred spirits and get the companionship you’re missing. Also, taking a tour gives a clearer sense of the lay of the land so by day three you’ll be feeling bolder and more au fait with your milieu. There may well be times when you have to deal with and overcome unpleasant incidents. I’ve found myself ugly-crying after being unceremoniously dumped by a cabbie on the outskirts of Bangkok – not my finest moment but through that I got to uncover parts of the metropolis and a community not mentioned in any of my guidebooks. Wherever you are on the planet, positive interactions with a country’s citizens will inevitably create incredible memories and build a greater affinity with a place.
Bourdain puts it succinctly
In the same article referenced earlier, Mr. Bourdain concluded by saying that “travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
Travelling solo, at least once in your life, is always a good idea
Pretty it may not always be, but travelling solo will impact and enhance you in the best ways imaginable as you encounter different cultures, traditions and languages. Always remember that ultimately, your best travel companion is You.
TIPS for SOLOISTS, women in particular
Have a goal for the trip and do your destination homework so you’re adequately prepared for everything from visa regulations to common tourist scams, and book tours before you leave your home country.
Apps not Maps
Download maps, subway and bus routes so you can navigate offline and save data. For additional peace of mind, print the routes, in case of a phone fail.
Fully charged devices
Make sure your phone is on max charge before you head out and always have a battery pack and the correct adaptors with you. Buy a local sim card with a good package at the airport and Google reputable service providers beforehand.
Money and valuables
Always have the local currency on hand in small denominations for the bus, train and taxi (and tips) if you’re not using Uber, and for extra safety, draw cash from inside a bank and never at street ATM’s after dark. Leave your diamonds at home to avoid unwanted attention, especially if you’re going solo.
Public transport in Europe is generally reliable and affordable. For first timers, use a hotel pick up or book a professional cab service that will cost more but will ease stress. Check ahead to see if Uber is operational in the country.
Don’t overshare personal info with strangers. At the tap of a screen you can be tracked online so be sociable but don’t divulge details.
That Louis V tote might look divine in the crook of your arm but any bag without a zip or secure fasteners is an invitation to pickpockets.
Know what the common tourist hustles are before you land and be alert, especially at tourist hot spots.
Keep hard copies of your passport, prescriptions, Embassy info and medical insurance docs on you.
My recommended top ten countries for travellers going solo, especially women
Switzerland, France, Canada, Sweden, Holland, Botswana, Italy, Monaco, Portugal, Thailand