When I took my first solo road trip at 21, I was hooked. I drove up and down the California coast for 5 days, stopping wherever I pleased, couch surfing or sleeping in whatever hostel was closest by. There is an exhilaration that fills my entire body when I travel by myself. I get so filled with glee at the thought of doing everything and anything that I literally shake with excitement.
I love the feeling of wandering a town I’ve never visited where no one knows my name or who I am. I love being a mysterious figure just passing through, drinking up the city for myself and storing the sights in my memory for later for when the wanderlust hits.
I’ve taken a few solo road trips at this point in my life, and I like to think I’ve amassed some pretty good tips from my experiences. For many people with a similar disposition as myself, time alone is incredibly welcome. I love the people in my life, but sometimes I just need to be alone with my thoughts.
For others who enjoy the company of people all the time, traveling by yourself may sound like a nightmare. I urge you to try it at least once in your life. There is such freedom in being the one who calls all the shots. You can eat when you’re hungry, stop to pee any time you want, and most importantly, experience the city in the way that you, and only you, desire. For me, it’s the ultimate taste of free will. It’s just you, the open road, and your imagination.
Below, please enjoy my top tips for being a solo traveler. If you try some of these out, I guarantee you’ll at least have some interesting experiences:
1. Talk to locals
Who better to ask for recommendations in a city you’ve never been to than someone who lives there full time? Talking to strangers is definitely outside of my comfort zone most of the time, but I’ve found that most people are happy to tell you about their favorite haunts. Pick out a nice-looking local and strike up a conversation!
2. Ask strangers to take your picture
This is something that’s even more embarrassing for me at times because it makes you look like such a tourist. I say bite the bullet. The photos I have of me on these trips are cherished possessions – relics of my younger self. You don’t have to do it a lot, but I recommend asking at least a couple of strangers to snap some photos of you as you pass through town.
3. Read the local papers
In every independent coffee shop in every town in America you’ll find small, local newspapers. These are gold for solo travelers because that’s where you’ll find word of all the cool events! Stop in one of these cafes for your morning roast and peruse the events section. You’ll see countless concerts, classes, plays, meetups… I like to close my eyes, point at something and go do it. If you prefer a little bit more planning, pick something that sounds interesting and try to find out a few more details, either online or from one of the baristas.
4. Use common sense
This goes without saying, but it’s the truth. When traveling alone, there are many safety hazards that you’ll need to be aware of. Don’t let it ruin your trip, but don’t be oblivious either. If you’re in a location and start to get a weird feeling, don’t question it. Turn around and go somewhere else. Don’t leave your car/hostel without a charged phone and your ID/credit card. Carry pepper spray. The basics.
5. Exude confidence
This helps with safety as well, but can also lead you to having a better experience all around. If you’re timid and nervous while traveling alone, you may attract the wrong type of person. Additionally, your nerves will exhaust you and prevent you from being relaxed. If you force yourself to walk with confidence, chances are the feeling will spread to the rest of you. You’ll be more open to new experiences, and you won’t have to spend as much time worrying. Walk around the city like you own it!
6. Minimize your social media usage
When traveling alone, it’s natural to feel… well, lonely! At first, anyway. As humans, we’re used to conversing, sharing ideas, feeding off the energy of other humans. It can be tempting to pull out your phone and scroll through Instagram or Facebook while you’re strolling through an unknown place. Try to put it away if you can. If your face is buried in your phone, your eyes will be too busy to notice the new things all around you.
7. Be open
My number one rule of road trips: don’t have a plan. Or, at the very least, have a loose plan and plan to break it often. If you map out your trip too much, you’ll always feel like you have to get to the next place soon. Too much rigidity makes it hard to live in the moment. If you’re on your way to a local museum but happen to see an awesome concert going on in the park next to it, go to the concert instead! The museum will always be there – the concert won’t. As hippie dippie as it may sound, “go with the flow” is actually awesome advice.
8. Be pedestrian
There is no better way to experience a city than to see it like a local. Don’t drive to that monument you want to see – walk there! If it’s too far, rent a bike (or bring one with you in the car!) If the city you’re in has good public transport, definitely take a bus or a trolley. I find that you meet the most interesting people that way – plus, you’ll force yourself to get to know the layout of the area better.
9. Take a class
This is one of my favorite things to do in an unknown place! Take another look at the events section of that local newspaper and see what classes happen to be going on that day. What better time to learn pottery? Or painting? Or yoga? Or cooking or gardening or whatever else strikes your fancy. You might end up discovering a hobby you really love – what an awesome souvenir that would be!
10. Do something you normally do with others
For extroverts, this probably sounds like the behavior of a crazy person. As a partial introvert, this was even weird for me at first. Over time though, I’ve come to love it. Go bowling, see a movie, eat out at a fancy restaurant, do karaoke, anything you can think of. I went bowling once on a solo road trip in Big Bear and it was awesome. I got myself some cheap beer, a basket of onion rings, bought two games and had a grand old time. People might look at you and wonder why you’re alone, but who cares? As long as you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.