A lot of bloggers out there talk up solo traveling these days, myself included. Why solo travel? Well, for many reasons. A solo trip, no matter how short or long, has the potential to make you more independent, confident, and resilient as an individual. It’s often considered the ultimate form of freedom.
Despite all the benefits and positive learnings you’ll endure along the way, solo travel also has its fair share of challenges. This post will outline some of the common struggles you may experience as a solo traveler (and will provide you with solutions to those problems).
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15 Struggles Solo Travelers Experience
You have to make all of the decisions.
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. The fact that literally every decision you make is completely up to you can be freeing yet burdensome at the same time. Yes, you can do as you please, go wherever you want, whenever you want—but every decision is on you. That can be mentally exhausting at times. There’s a very carefree feeling you get when you simply going along on a trip somebody else planned.
My personal experience of decision fatigue
There were times on my extended solo trip to Europe where I really missed that carelessness feeling. Each activity I did that day was a conscious decision I made. Since I was traveling for well over 3 months (and given my very, very Type A personality), I had to make sure I knew what I was doing at all times. I made sure I booked all the necessary accommodation, transportation, and attractions in order to keep moving. Towards the end of my trip, there came a time where I just wanted to give my brain a break. As a result, I wound up booking a hostel for 4 days in Zadar, Croatia and just did absolutely nothing other than write. It was so freeing, as the only real decision I had to make over the course of 4 days was what I wanted to eat.
Take a break when you need it. Realize it’s okay to wander and go with the flow and go where the day takes you. Ask for advice if you are stuck deciding between two things. You’re alone on your trip, but not alone in the world.
You are your own support, instinct, guide, and protection.
Sounds a bit spiritual, but the hardest part of traveling solo is really learning to depend on yourself. This may come a bit more naturally to some than others. If you tend to have more anxiety over the little things, solo travel (and depending on yourself) may take a bit more practice and getting used to.
How I got through it
When I was fresh out of college and fresh out of a relationship, I spent a lot of time on my own, without the presence of any familiar faces (studying at coffee shops, going to restaurants, hiking, exploring new local towns). By doing this and really embracing each solo experience, I was able to gain independence and understand the value of being alone pretty early on. Once I embarked on my first solo adventure (a solo camping trip in Mendocino County, CA— probably not the safest thing to do as a solo female traveler, but totally worth it), I was pretty ready to carry myself in all aspects.
Fast-forward to my 4-month long Europe backpacking trip— I experienced complete independence but on a much larger scale. Each train, plane, or bus I took I had meticulously planned out. Each route I took I had to map it out on Google to make sure I knew where I was going. I had to be very vigilant when taking public transportation, making sure no one was attempting to pick-pocket me. All these situations and many more will require you to be strong and take ownership.
When you’re lost, confused, or scared, you’ll likely think you have no one to rely on but yourself. What you can do in these situations is go find someone and ask for advice, ask for help, and ask for recommendations. Wherever you go, you should be able to find people to help you out. At the end of the day though, make sure to follow your gut and have your own back.
The variety of foods you can try is limited.
Part of the fun about traveling to new places is being able to taste their food, right? Well, what if you want to try two, or even three things on the menu? After all, you probably won’t be back in this country let alone this renowned restaurant within the next 5-10 years. Either you get one dish and finish it, or you spend way more than you need to sample multiple dishes, only to let it go to waste when you can’t finish.
Make some friends from the tour you went on or at the hostel you’re staying at and ask if they’d like to join you for lunch/dinner. Then, you guys can split the bill and try all the dishes that your hearts desire.
Watch out for single supplement costs.
Travel, in general, can be expensive, but solo travel can present an additional burden of cost. The single supplement is a surcharge that solo travelers must face when booking a tour, trek, cruise, or travel package (as opposed to booking as a part of 2 or more). You may find tour companies charging you the full two-person price since technically you’re taking up one whole room and should pay the double-occupancy rate. When I was looking into Tour Du Mont Blanc guided tours in Europe, this certainly was the case. Luckily, I found a small Swiss tour company that fit the bill and didn’t charge single supplement fees.
Due to the growing popularity of solo travel, more and more companies are starting to offer trips without single supplement fees. In fact, there are now some companies that cater exclusively to solo travelers. Do a bit of research on various tour companies before booking; you might just find one that doesn’t want to absolutely suck you dry of your money.
Accommodation options are way more limited.
For a solo traveler, hotels are often out of the question because it usually means paying for double occupancy rooms. When you’re traveling solo, you probably don’t want to be spending a huge chunk of your travel budget on a room that you likely won’t be spending more than a total of 10 hours in. This usually means hostels are your primary option, instead of nicer hotel rooms or renting out a flat or apartment.
My accommodation strategy
Having endured a 4-month solo trip across Europe as well as many more solo trips around the US, I’ve found a happy balance between my top two solo travel lodging options: 1) private room in Airbnbs and 2) hostels. I will often opt for the hostel if I’m feeling social or if I think I’d get more out of exploring the city with fellow travelers. I will then opt for private rooms via Airbnb if I’m just not feeling up for social activity or if I want a few days alone to unplug and reset.
Mix it up if your budget allows for it. Private rooms on Airbnb offer more privacy and can be pretty cheap. Trusted Housesitters is another great way of negotiating temporary lodging if you plan ahead and are willing to exchange your housesitting services!
No one to watch your stuff when you step away.
One of the hardest things about traveling solo is not having anyone there to watch your back or to watch your belongings. This is especially true in situations where you need to step away for just a split second. Many times, I found myself simply needing to use the restroom at a restaurant or at the airport but was burdened by my travel bags. When I had to go, I had to go with all of my things. Keep in mind there won’t be that go-to person to watch your laptop at the coffee shop, nor to watch your bags when you want to take a dip in the ocean at the beach.
Travel without very many valuables, and attempt to conceal everything if you have no choice but to step away from your belongings (under jackets, blankets, etc.). Ask someone nearby to keep an eye on your stuff, or travel with a newly made friend so you guys can have each other’s backs.
Taking photos: ask someone or take a shameless selfie.
Scroll through any given solo traveler’s photostream and you’ll notice one thing in common—their photo album will consist of a few types of photos: photos of food, photos of statues, photos of scenery, selfies, and selfies with the aforementioned elements. Yes, the sad reality is that when you’re traveling alone, you’ll often have to take selfies.
Selfies are all too common nowadays. Hey, everyone there is also doing it, so just own it! Or kindly ask the fellow travelers around you to snap a picture of you.
Being flirted with by random people.
Solo female travelers, this one’s for you. I’ve definitely noticed that men approach me more frequently when I’m alone as opposed to when I’m traveling with friends. When you’re walking around and exploring new places alone, men just seem less hesitant to come up to you or make flirtatious remarks to you. This doesn’t mean you’ll be pestered frequently, but being alone opens doors to more social interactions, whether you want to engage or not.
Wear headphones, ignore them, and just keep walking!
No one to carry your stuff.
I know I need a set number of things when I head out for a day of exploration: chapstick, wallet, camera, water bottle, snacks, etc. The aggregate of all this stuff ends up getting heavy when strapped on your back for hours and hours on end. If only I had someone there to trade-off and wear it half the time…
And the other thing is, you have to carry everything you own until your travels are over. What if you end up accumulating more than you can carry? There’s no extra room in “so-and-so’s” bag you can stow it in the meantime. You’ll have to either buy an extra bag or get rid of something else to make room. Oh, the struggle!
Maintain a minimalist mindset to prevent the collection of things over time. If this is not your style, then consider shipping stuff you don’t need there and then back to your home country while traveling. Or, you’ll have to either bring an extra collapsible travel bag or play a game of ‘give and take’ with your bags to make room.
Not all hostels are going to be social and fun.
Hostels have this facade of being extremely social environments filled with new opportunities to party, make friends, and build lifelong connections. Although yes, they do exist, not every single one you encounter will be like that. There will be times when your roommates are all antisocial, or simply isn’t the right fit for your personality. Likewise, there are times where you may purposefully choose to be antisocial and opt for some “me time”. And that’s totally okay.
Accept that all hostels have their own vibes. Read reviews on various hostels before booking to get a sense of what the vibe is (does it match what you’re looking for?). Don’t be pressured to party, stay up late to talk, or eat in the communal room if you don’t want to. Whatever, do you.
No splitting costs.
A taxi would be way cheaper if you had some friends with you. That Airbnb would be a fraction of the cost if only you had other people with you! There are just some things that would be cheaper if you had a travel partner. As a solo traveler, you’ll have deal with 100% of the costs incurred.
To lower costs, you can book hostels, 1-person hotels, or private rooms on Airbnb. You can also join a tour group to avoid any double occupancy costs. For transportation, choose the Uber Pool / Lyft Shared options or take public transportation. For restaurant meals, ask for take-away so you can save the other half for a later meal.
Not everyone is going to talk to you at hostels.
And also, not everyone is going to reach out to chat with you or hang out with you. Many of them are probably in the same boat as you— traveling solo, also wishing someone would reach out to them. If you wish to make the most of your experience in hostels but are finding that no one is really initiating, maybe it’s your time to step up. Reach out to others, initiate the conversation, and offer to coordinate and plan an outing with a small group. Once you form a group, other solo travelers will naturally gravitate towards you guys. (Hey, they’re probably also looking for social connection too!)
There are limitations to activities when traveling alone.
As a female solo traveler, sometimes I have to reconsider engaging in certain activities for the sake of my safety. This includes exploring a city at night, hiking alone, drinking solo at a dance club, or going too off the beaten path. While I absolutely love these types of activities, I know better than to risk it. Some things are just better done in groups or even with another individual. Always remember to travel within your level of comfort, there’s no one judging you.
If you can find one or two people that you feel you trust from your hostel or from a tour group, why not team up with them and see if they’re also interested in doing the activity you want? It’s always better to have someone have your back than to risk ending up in a bad situation. For nights out, you can go to happy hour, as well as sign up for group pub crawls or other night events (often advertised by hostels and community boards).
The hardest part is making the decision to do it.
Don’t let the decision to travel solo stop you. Despite the struggles I’ve described in this post, they’re really not all that difficult to work through. Traveling solo is an overwhelmingly rewarding experience and I’d 200 out of 10 recommend you try it at least once in your finite lifetime on Earth. Maybe then you’ll find that the hardest part is ending your travels and coming home from it all.
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