One three letter word perfectly sums up how I used to feel about traveling on my own:
These days, I travel alone often, but the truth is, it didn't start by choice. It was simply by circumstance.
I prefer to travel in intimate pairs or small groups. For me, the best part of traveling is sharing the experience and creating new memories with friends. But sometimes schedules, priorities and pocketbooks just don't align.
I'm from the school of thought that life is short. Why put off until tomorrow, what you can do today? I stopped waiting for others to join me two years ago when I took my first solo trip to Cancún—and then Iceland, and then South Africa—and before I knew it, I was a regular solo traveler.
Solo travel is not always fun or easy, but it's always worth it. Here are some tips if you want to be a confident solo traveler, too.
I lost an earring, broke a shoe, and got toasted by the sun, but overall, my first solo trip was a success. There were a few moments during the trip (like plunging into 70 ft deep water) where I said to myself: "I'm scared to do this" or "I can't do this," but I changed my thinking to "I gotta do this..." "I'm doing this..." and I did it! Other moments I simply said: "I will not do this." And I didn't. Knowing yourself, and trusting yourself is freeing. I'm grateful for the experience. Until next time ... #cancun #mexico #solotravel
Location, Location, Location
When you're traveling by yourself, where you stay matters. I made the mistake of picking an isolated bed and breakfast on a recent solo trip to Dakar, Senegal. I never met a single guest, and getting to other parts of town was a hassle (more on that later). In retrospect, a bigger hotel closer to downtown would have been more suitable for meeting other travelers, and getting out and interacting with locals. Since then, whether I stay in a hotel, hostel or Airbnb, I always choose locations where I'll meet other people and have easy access to downtown areas.
Find Your Local Hangout
Speaking of meeting other travelers and interacting with locals, it's always a good idea to find a local hangout early on in your trip, like a cafe or bar. I once met two girls from Switzerland at a local cafe in Berlin, who ended up inviting me to an art exhibition at a nearby gallery the same afternoon. And now I have an open invitation to visit them in Zurich, If my travels ever take me there.
Book At Least One Group Tour
One of the easiest ways to meet new people abroad is on a group tour. After spending a day climbing ancient ruins outside of Mexico City in Teotihuacan, you're bound to make new friends, who are just as eager as you to find a travel buddy (and picture taker!) for a trek to the Frida Khalo Museum in Coyoacan. Take advantage of group tours to make new friends when you want some company on your solo trip.
Know Basic Phrases in the Local Language
When I went to Dakar, I didn't know a lick of French (the official language) besides bonjour and oui oui. It got me nowhere, literally. English is hardly spoken in Dakar, especially when it comes to taxi drivers. And the first time I tried to hail a cab, the driver and I couldn't understand each other. He drove up to people on the side of the road, who he thought might know some English, to translate, but it was no use. I ended up getting out of the cab about a half mile from my bed and breakfast and walking back to where I started. So, know at least basic phrases in the local language to get around, like hailing taxis, ordering at restaurants, paying for goods, asking for directions, etc—or download a translation app like iTranslate. This was a rookie mistake, but it happens to the best of us.
Download a Currency App
I'm admittedly bad at math. That's why I'm a journalist. But I didn't know just how bad I was until I bought a map in Iceland, which by my calculations was only $3 USD, but when I checked my credit card statement the following day, it was actually $15 USD. After that trip, I downloaded the XE currency app, and I've never had a problem with conversion again.
Join a Travel Group
I've been a member of Nomadness Travel Tribe, a group of 13,000 passionate travelers around the world, for more than 2 years. It's made my solo travel experience infinitely better by connecting me with "family by choice," as tribe members call each other, in most, if not all countries I visit. And at the very least, I'll always know someone who has traveled to a place before me and is willing to share tips. Since I joined Nomadness in 2014, there are more travel networks, like Travel Noire and Tastemakers Africa, that make it easier to connect with likeminded travelers and authentic local experiences.
Most of All, Enjoy It
The greatest joy of traveling alone is being on your own schedule and not having to answer to anyone. If you want to sleep in the day after an eight hour day trip, who gon' check you, boo? So embrace the freedom of solo travel, and enjoy the ride.
Charlise is a travel writer and former editor at ESSENCE.com. Follow her travel diary on Instagram at @chartastical.