KL Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.
There are conflicting articles online when it comes to solo traveling. While the majority of write-ups celebrate the benefits and thrills of it, some also condemn solo vacations as over-hyped, miserable, and even downright dangerous.
Having traveled alone for over 20 years, I can only say that solo traveling is liberating but is also not for everyone, with the deciding factors being what you look for in a holiday and whether you are capable of certain habits.
The following are 10 solo traveling skills that you must have before exploring the world alone. Most involve whether you are able to consistently do something. Others, in turn, involve the sort of expectations to have about a vacation on your own.
Can Traveling Alone Be Enjoyable? It Will Be, If You Are Able To:
- Consistently Wake up on Time
- Constantly Be Aware of Your Surroundings
- Do Extensive Travel Research
- Walk a Mile Without Getting Exhausted
- Think on Your Feet
- Pack Sensibly
- Enjoy Your Own Company
- Have an Enjoyable Time Without Meeting "Friendly Locals"
- Feast on Unfamiliar Food
- Identify the Best Places for Solo Traveling
1. You Can Consistently Wake up on Time
I know this sounds silly. However, if you’re the type for which every morning is an uphill battle, the harsh fact is that you shouldn’t be traveling alone at all.
Simply put, if you cannot wake up without your mother threatening to turn out your bedroom, or if you are perpetually late for work with the snooze button on your alarm clock bruised from repeated pounding, your solo trips are going to be disastrous.
When you are unable to get up on time, you affect the rest of your day right away, which in turn affects your entire holiday. The worst is when you have transportation to catch, for example, a train or a flight.
Other than that, many attractions also require you to turn up early should you wish to avoid crowds – an extra hour in bed could result in you queuing for three hours later. In all cases, everything is made worse by the fact that there is no one to drag you out of bed. Just imagine, how awful is it to snap awake at noon-time, and realize the plane you’re supposed to catch is already halfway across the sea?
2. You Are Constantly Aware of Your Surroundings
Talk to anyone who’s aghast about solo traveling and you’d likely be regaled by endless stories of threats and crimes targeting tourists. Regrettably, many such stories are true. No city in the world is crime-free, or would ever be. Many destinations also contain hidden hazards.
Unless a few hours in a hospital or a police station is your idea of adventure, you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings when traveling alone; this, one of the most important solo traveling skills to have. You must never be the type who turns utterly oblivious to everything and anything while composing a selfie. Neither should you be the sort who wouldn’t spare a second thought before climbing up rickety structures for a better view.
At the risk of encouraging paranoia, I’d say you also need to be immediately aware of human threats, for example, an intoxicated group lumbering in your direction.
Foreboding as all these might sound, in truth, being conscious of your surroundings is an instinctive skill once you get the hang of it. Speak to anyone who has lived in a large city and he or she will tell you it’s second-nature.
Travel Threats Come in Many Forms
Threats do not only involve humans. Many times, it’s architectural and geographical too, such as sagging beams in an aged structure, or muddy slopes. The savvy solo traveler notices and immediately moves away.
3. You Have Superior Travel Research Abilities, and You Enjoy Doing It
Before I elaborate, let me say I’m aware that many people dislike package tours because these can feel incredibly regimental. For others, traveling with friends can likewise be as restricting because it’s inevitably a constant situation of give-and-take. In both cases, the whole allure of solo traveling is the freedom to do whatever one wants, whenever one pleases. There is no formal plan to adhere to, so to speak. Freedom is the foremost draw.
The above said, even if there’s no one to herd you, any vacation still requires some degree of planning. To begin with, wouldn’t you at least need to know which places to go to? Wouldn’t you need to have some skeleton of an itinerary to ensure you get to where you want to be, punctually?
Here’s the truth. Traveling alone is not as free as it sounds simply because you are alone.
There is no one to rely on and no one to shepherd you. Any mistake you make will magnify; often, outrageously.
Thus, if you lack the skill to put together a sensible itinerary or if you dislike the intense research involved, my advice is that you reconsider the merits of vacationing with others. Lastly, let me add that good planning starts with knowing yourself in and out. What’s the point of an itinerary when it’s too demanding for you physically and mentally?
4. You Can Easily Walk a Mile. Or Many Miles
In package tours, you are ferried from point to point like royalty. For most destinations, you would also be delivered right to doorsteps. Not to exaggerate, but the most strenuous thing one would be doing on such holidays would be to get on and off the coach.
Something that’s not going to happen when you are vacationing by yourself.
Even if you pre-arrange private transportation for your entire trip, chances are, you would still need to hunt for pick-up points. To this, add the need to carry bags, look for food, queue for tickets and entry, and, if you cannot avoid public transportation, hustle with locals during peak hours.
To put it in another way, if walking half a mile sounds nightmarish to you, you are not going to enjoy a solo holiday at all.
Don’t start thinking a solo trip might be a convenient way to get fit too. It’s downright dangerous to overexert yourself when alone in an unfamiliar place. What you need to be is to get fit way beforehand.
5. You Are Able to Think on Your Feet
It’s often said that even the best-laid plans go awry. If you’ve traveled enough, I’m sure you’d agree that this is understating things.
Unannounced closures, breakdowns, delays. Sudden industrial actions, bad weather, and lost luggage. The list goes on and on when it comes to things that could disrupt your vacation.
When such incidences occur during a solo trip, there’s only one thing you can do – make alternative arrangements right away without the aid of friends and experts. In some cases, you might even have to do so without Internet access i.e. with no immediate information on hand.
If the thought of this appalls you or if you are incapable of such on-the-spot decision-making, I regret to say solo traveling is decisively not for you. Not only would the experience be too stressful, you might even end up making foolish and dangerous decisions because of the pressure. The best is to avoid the situation of having to do so altogether.
6. You Know How to Pack Sensibly
This is common sense. Whatever you bring on a solo trip, you carry all of it. There wouldn’t be any friends or family members to lend a helping hand. If you insist on bringing your entire bedroom with you, that’s fine, but you end up being a donkey throughout your trip.
Moreover, the more bags you bring, the more things you have to keep an eye on. Going back to the issue of safety, you become a magnet for crime because your attention is so divided and because you are so encumbered with every step.
In short, two bags should be the maximum, anything more is a burden. Needless to say, be sure you can manage the weight of whatever you bring too. It is sheer stupidity to bring a suitcase you can’t even lift off the ground.
7. You Genuinely Enjoy Your Own Company
Some time back, I read a lengthy article accusing solo travelers of lies. In that rude write-up, the author lamented how miserable his only solo trip was. He felt lonely and unwanted. Worse, he felt uneasy when alone in an unfamiliar country.
I read the article in full, and I thought, what a silly person this writer was.
Bluntly, solo traveling is all about “me time.” It’s also about taking a break from your usual routines and social circles.
If any of these sounds dreadful to you, well, why are you even thinking about holidaying alone? Incidentally, don’t rely on meeting all sorts of “warm and friendly” locals to spice up your trip. To know why, read on.
"Me Time" Is Not for Everyone
There are many stories about the disappointed and the dejected rediscovering themselves during solo vacations. Personally, I think these are over-romanticized, on top of encouraging dangerous endeavors. Seek professional help if you are depressed, not the company of strangers or alone time to brood over tragedies.
8. You Don’t Need to Meet “friendly Locals” to Have an Enjoyable Trip
Nowadays, it’s almost imperative for any write-up celebrating a destination to talk about how friendly and helpful locals are. I myself had a most memorable experience with an elderly couple when stranded in a Japanese mountain village in 1998.
That said, the reality is usually the opposite, isn’t it? Such hospitality is the exception rather than the rule. Think about it, in your own city, how often do you fraternize for hours with a stranger, or go to incredible lengths to assist a lost tourist?
In other words, if you are relying on such hospitality to brighten a trip or to save you during crises, you are going to be sorely disappointed. You might also end up terribly resentful about your trip, perhaps for life.
Remember, solo traveling is first and foremost about enjoying your own company. Everything else is secondary.
Is Everybody That Unfriendly?
I ought to moderate the above point by stating that most people, worldwide, wouldn’t hesitate to offer directions when asked on the streets. However, savvy solo travelers expect no more than that.
9. You Are Able to Feast on Unfamiliar Food
To share, some of my family members swear by package tours. They claim it’s because they loathe having to use public transportation in a foreign country.
In my opinion, though, the real reason is that they cannot last three days eating food unfamiliar to them. During all the package trips I’ve been on with them, the tour providers went to great lengths to provide us with “home” food.
Again, and I promise this is the last time I’m saying it, not going to happen when you are traveling alone.
Sure, you could resolve this by bringing a tome listing outlets selling food from your country, and go hunting for these places thrice a day.
But is that really what you want to do during a holiday? Do you seriously want to spend hours each day searching for restaurants serving food familiar to you?
By the way, don’t scorn the ability to enjoy unfamiliar food as being inane, it’s far easier said than done. I’ve always been experimental with food. However, beyond two weeks, I yearn for familiar cuisine too.
10. The Most Basic of All Solo Traveling Skills. You Have an Eye for the Best Places to Travel Alone
It’s sad but true. There are many destinations perfect for traveling alone. Correspondingly, many destinations are unpleasant, if not downright hazardous, to be alone in.
Outside of safety, some places are just ill-suited for having a solo holiday in, be it because you’d end up paying much more, because the best attractions require companionship, or because of the lack of infrastructure crucial for solo travelers.
An all-important solo traveling skill should thus be the ability to identify places best suited for vacationing alone. This, in turn, requires superior and sensible research skills.
Lack of which, you’d be wasting your time and money. You will also end up disgruntled, instead of rejuvenated by your holiday.
© 2018 Yong Kuan Leong
Yong Kuan Leong (author) from Singapore on April 21, 2018:
Hey Liz, thanks for commenting!
Liz Westwood from UK on April 21, 2018:
This is an excellent article, clearly laying out what it's like to travel alone. I am full of admiration for solo travelers after reading this.
Yong Kuan Leong (author) from Singapore on April 19, 2018:
Hi Aesta1, thanks for the comment. Yeah, as much as I hate to admit it, what you wrote is true. In recent years, I'm increasingly inclined towards package tours, whereas I once hated it.
Still, I see many elderly people traveling alone, esp in Japan and Europe. They are my inspiration!
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 19, 2018:
I think when you're young, this is the best way to travel. You are free to choose your own schedule and itinerary and always have something interesting to share. However, when you're older, the safety, security and ease of travelling in a group become more attractive. Enjoyed reading your article.