By Marybeth Bond
On a beach in Bali I asked an American woman to watch my bag while I went swimming. After a short conversation, we became friends and explored the island together - renting a motorcycle to discover remote villages set among green terraced rice fields, even changing flights to continue traveling together. Later, I met a Swiss woman on a plane to Delhi and ended up renting a houseboat with her in Kashmir. This voyage taught me that women connect easily when traveling and rely on each other for advice and companionship.
If you are considering going solo your next vacation, here are a few travel-tested tips that make it easier:
Buy a Guidebook Geared Toward the Single Traveler
The accommodations, hang-outs and restaurants listed will be full of other independent travelers. You'll have plenty of opportunities to hook up with a variety of people for an afternoon of exploring the bazaar in Kathmandu, eating a meal together, or even traveling for a day or a week together (perhaps even more...I met my husband while traveling in Nepal.)
Check Out the Independent Travelers Meeting Places
Some guidebooks (such as the Lonely Planet series) will list them. Many cities have well-known meccas for independent travelers from bookstores to cafes to youth hostels with bulletin boards and calendars of local events. These provide a treasure trove of listings for inexpensive tours, travel companions or rides wanted, free or almost free lectures, or social gatherings which you can join. A morning jog with the running group "Hash House Harriers" in Singapore or Kathmandu can lead to local friends and social invitations. My hand-written note posted on a message board on a tree in the cafe courtyard of the Old Stanley Hotel in Nairobi led to a safari with dynamic people and some wonderful friendships.
Even if you want to be unstructured, book at least the first night's accommodation in advance. It may cost more than you want to spend the rest of the trip for lodging, but this makes it easier getting your bearings and ensures you don't start the trip fatigued trying to get it all together right when you step off the plane in a foreign country.
Avoid Power Plays and Unwanted Attention
Advances can be thwarted by silence, no eye contact and quickly moving away from the source of irritation. Always trust your instincts. If you are really being pestered, go into a store or hotel and explain that you are a tourist and there is a person annoying you, that you are afraid and don't know how to handle it. Can they help by calling the police or telling the obnoxious person to go away? Works every time! Dress conservatively so as not to draw attention to yourself and take clues from the way local women are dressed.
Do Talk To Strangers
Some of the most meaningful travel experiences come from spontaneous invitations to join a person, family or group for a dinner or activity. Communicate with women, children and elders. Even if you don't speak their language, a smile goes a long way.
Wine & Dine Yourself
Eating alone comfortably is a skill you will quickly develop. Choose a lively cafe or bistro with lots of people. Consider sitting at the counter and watch your food be prepared. Take along reading and writing material. Enjoy watching people and the fine art of eavesdropping. Again, use that smile to reach out and make contact with the diners around you. Your conversations with them may be the highlight of your evening.
Avoid Romantic Destinations
Ask yourself if a destination is perfect for a honeymooners. If it is, then avoid this location (unless you are a romance voyeur).
So be brave and take the plunge - try traveling solo, you may become a convert. Remember, it is better to BE alone than to wish you WERE alone.
All rights reserved. © Marybeth Bond