I mostly travel alone. Sometimes it is by choice, and sometimes it is simply because I’m not one to let my perpetually single status stop me from doing anything I dream of doing.
To be honest, most times I travel solo, I don’t even notice. I’m pretty awesome company (I think), and there are always people to talk to on the road. Plus with modern capabilities to connect from the remotest places, I’m never further than a Facetime away from my mother when I get tired of talking to myself. She always likes to see what I’m seeing.
Yet, even as independent as I can be, there are times that I choose to not go somewhere because I’m solo. And it isn’t just about safety. There are lots of reasons that cause the unaccompanied to press pause on their travel plans.
For years I’d wanted to travel to the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora and sleep in an overwater bungalow with tropical fish below me. But I put it off, and I put it off. Pushing pause on my dream time and time again.
You see, the entire tourism structure of Bora Bora is designed to cater to couples—destination weddings, honeymooners, and 25th anniversary celebrators. The airlines might as well sell tickets by the pair. Part of me was waiting for +1 to present to Air Tahiti to validate my worthiness to see this Polynesian paradise.
It wasn’t until recently that I said, F*%& it. My +1 is apparently lost in the Bermuda Triangle or undertaking a very extended journey across the Sahara. And so I went to Bora Bora by myself. Honeymoon island, party of one.
In all of my alone time watching the fish swim in the crystal clear lagoon from the perch of my over-the-water bungalow dock I spent some time reflecting on what really stops many of us from solo travel—and why we should do it anyway.
If you’re struggling with any of these reasons of why you shouldn’t travel alone, here’s some real reasons you should ignore them.
Reason not to go #1: It isn’t a solo-traveler kind of place.
Like Bora Bora, many of the most beautiful destinations in the world have been turned into “honeymoon hot-spots” and “romantic getaways”. Some places are tagged “family destinations”. Other places just have reputations for being more difficult to see solo. Most of this is a marketing ploy. At honeymoon resorts, tables are for two–but who cares. You have just as much right to take up space in your dream destination as any one else- and you don’t have to share the bread basket.
Lesson: If you want to go somewhere solo do your own research and don’t let the reputation of the place stop you from going. There are single people everywhere in the world (therefore there is no destination that isn’t solo-appropriate with a little bit of creativity). There are also ways that you can connect up with other solo travelers if you feel more confident being part of a group.
Reason not to go #2: Other people question why you’d go there alone
When I checked into the Intercontinental in Bora Bora, the woman working at reception asked me three times where my husband was. Her disbelief that I was in Bora Bora by myself was palpable. “Just one? Are you sure? No husband?”
I replied with a question- “Do you not have many guests with single bookings?”
“Well, we’ve had one other this week—a man,” she said. “Maybe you should meet.”
(sidenote: I wasn’t aware that the IHG hotel group was now offering matchmaking as part of its benefits for elite members.)
Lesson: When it comes to travel (and, well, a lot of other things) the lesson that I’ve learned is that it really doesn’t matter what other people think about where you want to go and if you want to be there by yourself. Sure, you may have to explain your situation, but why not make it fun and be true to what you want? Most of the travelers I talked to were intrigued about why I was there alone. I used this opportunity to talk to them about a new travel guide I’m writing (stay tuned) and handed out more business cards in Bora Bora than I do at a typical networking event.
The wedding chapel at the Intercontinental in Bora Bora (convenient for when that elite matchmaking works out)
Reason not to go #3: You won’t be safe
Most people assume that safety is the primary concern of solo travelers—and solo female travelers in particular. However, as I’ve talked to more and more female travelers I’ve learned that safety isn’t often their biggest fear—they are much more afraid of being lonely and not having anyone to share their trip with. While safety isn’t always at the top of the list for what holds people back—or at the top of your worries in a pretty peaceful place like Bora Bora staying safe on the road is still important.
Lesson: The thing I’ve learned from years of solo globetrotting and my own run-ins with danger, is that staying safe on the road is very much like staying safe at home. Know where you’re going, be intentional when you’re wandering around alone in the dark, stick to areas with people, make local connections and ask if there are places that you should stay away from.
I always opt for situations that make me feel safe—even when they cost a few dollars extra. When I booked my ticket to Tahiti, the only flight available arrived late at night, so I booked the hotel’s shared shuttle. Normally I’d hop outside and hail a taxi to save a few bucks, but for my own security, an extra 10$ ensured that I’d be with other people and not looking for an ATM in the dark and negotiating with a taxi driver in bad French at midnight. (Note – doing things that aren’t safe alone when you’re at home are also not safe to do when you’re traveling–make a friend to do things that require a safety buddy)
Reason not to go #4: You’ll be lonely
Being alone does not always equal being lonely. By the time I left Bora Bora and Tahiti, I’d made a dozen new and very interesting friends: My over-the-water bungalow neighbor who had patented an inflatable tent and was celebrating his 25th anniversary, an American sailor who’d just finished a 31 day crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Mexico in his 26 foot sailboat, two Belgian grandfathers on a dive trip who wanted to buy me beer and talk about pre-election U.S. politics, and a dozen honeymooning and anniversary-ing couples who were really thrilled to have an unusual person to talk to after a week on an island with only their significant other.
Lesson: Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing (It’s worth repeating). The world is full of amazing people and amazing stories and people worth talking to. You don’t have to be that chatty person on the airplane who talks for the whole flight to make friends (please, don’t be him/her)—just be friendly. Just do you.
Reason not to go #5: You’ve never traveled alone before
Maybe you aren’t single, maybe you just wonder what having a solo adventure would be like, or you want to go somewhere that your partner doesn’t want to go–but you’ve never traveled alone before and aren’t sure if you’ll like it. Well, one thing is for certain, you’ll never know unless you try it. When I was preparing to take my first solo backpacking trip around Indonesia I confess I was a little nervous (even though I was already living alone in Thailand) so I faced my fear and took myself on a practice weekend trip to a Thai island all by myself–and I was totally fine!
Lesson: Think about what makes you afraid of traveling solo and figure out a way to practice so you can reassure yourself you’ll be okay on the road. Worried about being alone? Get in your car by yourself and go on a weekend road trip. Worried about flying alone? Practice with some domestic flights by yourself.
I’m guessing you’re stronger, braver, and more prepared than you believe. I definitely learned that I was.
Happy Solo Travels!