The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Alone

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For many travelers, going on vacation alone may sound like a bad idea. Some view it as being too unsafe, too anti-social or just more expensive than traveling in a group. Yet often times, the opposite is true. When you travel alone, you may have more of an opportunity to meet new people and a better chance at saving money if you’re smart about planning your trip. And as for the safety issue, protecting yourself depends at least as much on how you compose yourself as it does on the number of people you’re flanked by.

So we spoke with dozens of experts and travelers who have decided to go solo on vacation to find out their tips for minimizing the risks and having a good time.

Meeting People is Easy If You Let It Happen

The solo traveler is really never alone. Many of the travelers we spoke with told us that they often spent time with more people when traveling alone than when they travel in groups. “I find that if I am traveling alone, it is much easier to meet the locals,” said Betty Thesky, author of Betty in the Sky With A Suitcase, a travelogue. “You are more approachable when you are by yourself, and people assume that if you're alone, you would appreciate company. Conversely, people assume couples or groups want to be left alone.”

Thesky told us that some of the best places to meet locals and other travelers are at airport and bus terminals. She often strikes up conversation by taking out her travel guide and asking people questions about where to go and general tips about the area. “This usually leads to a conversation where they ask where I'm from and where I'm going, and that often leads to coffee or dinner,” she said.

If you’re not the kind of person who likes to approach strangers this way, there are other options you can take advantage of online. According to Matthew Kepnes, a frequent traveler and founder of the popular travel blog NomadicMatt.com, sites like MeetUp.com and CouchSurfing.org make it easy to find locals who want to hang out and cool activities in whatever part of the world you’re visiting. But like Thesky, Kepnes urges the solo traveler to get comfortable “striking up conversations everywhere.”

Bring Gifts

If you’re traveling to a foreign country, it might seem especially hard to meet locals there given the language barrier. One trick that Ella Rich has found is to bring some items from your country that you can give away as gifts to the locals. Rich, who owns a flower shop, likes to hand out gum, peanut butter, jelly beans and other snacks from the states when she goes to foreign countries. “They don’t have the same stuff abroad, so it is fun to offer them something from your culture,” she said. “It is not so much a one for one trade, but sometimes locals reciprocate by inviting you for lunch or something.”

Be Prepared to Take Advantage of Last Minute Deals

One of the biggest advantages to traveling alone is that you have more flexibility than most other travelers when it comes to flights and hotel deals. While ordinary people traveling in pairs or groups have to plan well ahead to book multiple seats together on a plane, the solo traveler may be able to take advantage of some sweet last minute offerings.

Dave Heinzinger found this out first hand. Heinzinger, who works in public relations, often flies on his own and has enjoyed multiple flight upgrades.  “In July of 2009, I trekked to Thailand from NYC. After 14 hours to Tokyo, I deplaned for my layover and was approached by a friendly attendant. My connecting flight had been overbooked, and they were looking to bump volunteers. I hopped on a Northwest Airlines flight from Tokyo-Bangkok that departed 15 minutes later than my original flight, and with 10,000 Yen (about $100) in my pocket for the trouble. On my return flight from Tokyo to NYC, I was randomly upgraded from economy to business class, a huge boon for a 14-hour flight. As a solo traveler, I wasn't ditching anyone in coach, and got to enjoy my lie-flat seat with a clear conscience.”

Stay in Cheap Housing

Not only is it possible to save money while traveling alone, but as it happens, the cheapest options for housing abroad are often the best places to meet people. “If you stay at an expensive hotel, the clientele will be families and couples. So if you are by yourself in such a place, you better have a good book with you because nobody will talk to you,” said Kepnes, the author. “Yet, if you stay at a budget hotel or hostel, there will be common areas where people congregate. That's where you'll find other solo travelers, backpackers, and others sitting around and talking about what they did that day. So by staying at a cheap hotel, you save money and make new friends.”

Eat Cheaply

With the exception of hotels and airfare, your biggest vacation expenses are typically food. But if you’re traveling alone, there is little reason for you to spend on lavish romantic dinners. That’s why Kristina Wegscheider, the founder of an online travel community called Do It While You’re Young, chooses to focus more on lunch. “For meals, I try to do lunch as my "going out" meal since lunchtime prices tend to be cheaper and more reasonably portioned,” she said. “For dinner, I seek out the local grocery store and grab some items for an impromptu picnic which usually only sets me back a few dollars.”

Put Away the Map

While you may be eager to meet people abroad, you want to avoid meeting the kind of people who just want to take advantage of you. One way to do that is to be mindful of how you handle yourself. According to Kerryn Cook, a VP at the travel wholesale company Down Under Answers, “Never stand on a street corner with a map, it shows that you are a tourist and you could be charged extra for a cab ride, or targeted for local scam artists.

Dress Appropriately

Similarly, if you don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention, it’s important that you dress according to whatever setting you find yourself in. This is particularly true for women traveling alone who are worried that they may be harassed. According to SmarterTravel, the general rule is that you should “dress as conservatively as the women you see around you.” That said, they point out that you may end up looking even more out of place if you mimic the local attire too much, so this rule really means dress as conservatively in your own native attire as the women you see around you are dressed in theirs.

Pack Light

Van Badham, a writer and “compulsive traveler,” has had more problems vacationing on his own than most, and he chalks the majority of them up to one mistake: he took too much stuff with him on his trip. His suitcase exploded in a New York bus terminal because it was overfilled, which caused him to miss a flight; another time he got ripped off by an exchange office in Budapest because his bag was so heavy, he couldn’t manage to walk two miles more to a real bank. “Another time, I missed my flight out of Thailand because my bags were so large the hotel staff were convinced I’d stolen bathrobes, so they made me unpack all of my reams of stuff to make sure I didn’t have anything hidden in them.”

We’re not really sure why it took Badham so many times to realize this lesson, but it is a vital lesson nonetheless, especially when you’re traveling on your own and have no one else to help you carry your load. As Badham says now with some earned wisdom, packing light “prevents you from making insanely bad judgments about lifts, cabs, hotels, favours and transport, just because you are sick to death of carrying something heavy and want some relief.”

Photocopy Your Important Documents

This rule applies for any traveler, but it’s especially important when traveling alone. Before you go on any extended trip, make sure that you photocopy and scan all your important documents, including your passport, license and credit cards. One traveler told us that having these documents made it possible for them to rent a car even though they’d lost their wallet; another traveler said it allowed them to claim their lost luggage easier.

As a side note, it’s also a good idea to leave copies of your itinerary including hotels and flights with your family and friends back home so they can keep track of you in case something does go wrong while you’re traveling.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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