Today’s guest post is by Gray Cargill of Solo Friendly. As an outgoing solo traveler, it never occurred to me that there are different kinds of solo travelers. Isn’t there only one type? Nor that I had something to learn about going it alone. Gray reminded me, there’s always something new to learn.
So you’ve finally decided to fulfill your lifelong dream of traveling around the world, even though you have to go solo. While you’re busy handling the logistics of your trip–saving money, booking travel arrangements, getting vaccinations, and learning basic phrases in several languages–don’t forget there’s another aspect of your trip you should be preparing for ahead of time: Being alone. Sure, you’ll meet people and make friends on your journey, so you won’t be alone the entire time, but there will be days when you are. Are you ready for them?
The issues you have regarding your solitude will depend on whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. How do you know which one you are? Imagine you run on a battery that is fully charged at the beginning of each day. An introvert’s battery is drained when she is around other people (especially strangers); it is recharged when she alone with her thoughts. An extrovert’s battery is drained when she is alone, but recharged when she is around other people. Both introverts and extroverts can be shy, and both can get lonely. But there are some things you can do prior to your trip to prepare yourself for those long, solo days of round-the-world (RTW) travel. Here are a few tips.
1. Talking to Strangers is Good
Since you’re traveling solo, those of you who are shy can’t rely on your extroverted friend to talk to locals when you need information. You need to get used to approaching strangers yourself. Practice at home by chatting people up in the line at the grocery store, on the bus, at a coffee shop, or at an event. If you don’t know what to say, talk about the weather, ask for the time, ask for directions, anything to get used to talking to strangers. Always do it with a smile.
2. Forge Short, But Satisfying
I know you introverts prefer depth over breadth when it comes to friendships, so you’ve probably had the same core group of friends for a long time. But when you’re only in a city for 3 or 4 days, you need to make short-term friendships unless you truly want to be alone for the next year of your life. Practice by volunteering for a nonprofit event or joining a hobby group where you don’t know anyone. At the very least, you’ll get more comfortable being around new people. Be assertive about getting to know others. Ask them questions about themselves and show interest in them. Just like on the road, some of these short-term friendships may turn into long-term friendships, but if they don’t, it’s okay.
3. Test Run Shared Spaces
Are you accustomed to sharing a room with strangers? Can you handle it? If your home city has hostels, go ahead and buy a bed in one for a night to see what it’s like. If there are no local hostels, and it’s been awhile since you’ve had to share a room, invite some friends over for a sleepover (have them bring sleeping bags so you can all bunk out in the same room). Or take a weekend getaway with three friends and share a hotel room with them. It won’t completely duplicate the experience, since they’re not strangers, but you may learn more about your tolerance levels for group sleeping arrangements. If you find you don’t like sharing your sleeping space, you may need to increase your travel budget so you can afford a private room or travel for a shorter period of time. Even if you decide to tolerate hostel dorm life, figure out now where you will go for the alone time you need every day.
1. Alone is Good
As long as you are not a shy extrovert, you will probably have an easier time making friends wherever you go, based on your outgoing nature. But whether or not you are shy, you will find yourself alone at times on the road. Lest your loneliness come across as neediness (a sure-fire magnet for predators), you must learn to embrace solitude. Practice spending time alone with just your thoughts–no other people around, and no external stimuli (no Internet,cell phone, TV or radio). See how long you can stand being alone. Keep practicing until you become comfortable.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
Start practicing doing things alone, like going for long walks, to events, or to the movies. Eating alone in public might be especially tough for you. If you can’t bring yourself to eat alone in a restaurant at home, what makes you think you’ll be able to do it on the road? Everything gets easier the more you do it, so practice, practice, practice until you can do it comfortably. Obviously, you don’t want to divert too much of your travel money to this exercise, so find cheap ways of practicing–go for coffee and dessert, go to a church potluck, or just go to a bar or coffee shop for a drink. Just go alone.
3. Dear Diary
If you don’t already, start writing in a journal every day. Write down not only what happened, but what you thought about it and how you felt about it. Did you learn anything from it? Not only will this solitary activity help prepare you to be alone with your own thoughts, it will become habitual so once you start your trip, you can record it for posterity. I know, you’d rather “live in the moment” when you’re on the road than write about it. But trust me, your memory will eventually start to fail you, and when that happens, you’ll be glad you recorded the details of your amazing journey. Re-reading it years from now will be fun.
So whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it’s worth considering the psychological and emotional preparation for your RTW trip in addition to the logistical side of things. You can certainly wait until you are on the road to discover that you can’t bear to eat alone in a restaurant or can’t sleep in a hostel dormitory. But wouldn’t it be better to know these things beforehand so you can prepare yourself just as you would for high altitude hikes or preventing pickpockets from making off with your wallet?
About the Author
Gray Cargill is the author of SoloFriendly.com, a blog featuring advice and tips for solo travelers and reviews of solo-friendly destinations, lodging, and restaurants. She is also the author of VegasSolo.com, a guide to help solo travelers plan their Las Vegas vacation.