I was meandering through the side streets of beautiful and blissfully quiet off-season Mykonos, Greece when I bumped into a woman I had met at my hostel in Athens several days earlier. Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “I am SO happy to see you! I am bored out of my mind here. There is no one around. I am the only person in my hostel! I am dying to head back to Athens – this entire trip to the islands was a complete waste!” She, too, was traveling alone. But, interestingly enough, she explained that she never wanted to be alone. She liked busy hostels where she could meet people to hang out with. She wanted a constant conversation partner. And most of all, she hated eating alone.
I did not share her sentiments. The past few days in Mykonos had been some of my first truly solo days in nearly a month of solo travel, and, while I am grateful for all of the amazing people I have spent time with, I was loving the personal space and quiet time for exploring, writing, and reflecting.
Over the course of my travels, I have become very comfortable being alone, but I have met many people who just cannot imagine enjoying solo travel, and often ask me questions about what I do to entertain myself. Similarly, I have met many solo travelers who seem to hate the idea of ever actually being alone, and are constantly roaming the hostel common spaces to find a friend. Unfortunately, these people are missing a valuable chance for self-growth (and fun!) by being unwilling to leave their comfort zones.
If you, too, are hesitant about being alone in a new place, here are some suggestions to ease you into learning to enjoy your “solo” time:
- Before a long train or airplane ride, consider downloading a movie or television show onto your phone or computer to help pass the time. I often like to download travel programs about the place I am about to visit, which has the added bonus of giving me some direction and ideas for my “to-do” list before I arrive. I also enjoy reading guidebooks and blog posts about a place before I get there. I usually find that I am more comfortable in a new place if I know what to expect in terms of scenery, customs, ease of transportation, and the safety of certain neighborhoods.
- Play photographer for a day. Instead of just snapping away at popular tourist sites, take the time to look for (or set up) beautiful, artistic shots. Experiment with new angles and different settings on your camera. This is a good way to improve your photography skills and explore a new place without feeling like you are just wandering aimlessly. Plus, you will find that you gain a new appreciation for the beauty of ordinary things, like a colorful little window or a vibrant fruit market.
- Carry a book with you. This may come in handy if you find a nice sunny spot to relax for a while, or a great little café to sip a cappuccino in on a cold day. Having a book to read can also make waiting for your food to arrive feel less awkward. However, I would also suggest that you get used to dining alone without a book. When you take your nose out of the book, you are more likely to strike up conversation with the waiter or the local couple sitting next to you who may have some great suggestions for places to visit while you are in their city.
- Go for a run or a hike. It always feels good to get a little bit of fresh air and exercise, and it is a great way to explore new scenery. Just make sure to bring a map or a business card with your hotel’s address and a little bit of cash in case you get lost or are too tired to hike back.
- If you are visiting a well-known tourist site, see if there are any audio tours available. In addition to audio tours available at the site itself, many websites offer free or inexpensive audio tours for museums or ruins, or even walking tours of entire cities. An audio tour is a great way to familiarize yourself with a new place and learn a little bit about its history, all while skipping the tour group that can often leave you feeling like a cow in a herd. One of my favorites was an audio tour of Venice – I just downloaded in onto my phone, hopped on to the Vaporetto (Venice’s water bus), and learned about Venice as I cruised down the Grand Canal. Alternatively, many guidebooks and websites publish walking tours of cities, museums or various ruins.
- People watch. I love to head to the town center with a sandwich (or, even better, some “street food” – any regional specialty sold “to-go” by street vendors or restaurants) and watch the action. In towns on the water, I love to head to the port to watch the boats come and go. Or perhaps there is a pretty park to sit in and watch people stroll by or a bustling produce or fish market to wander through? I find people watching particularly entertaining when you do not speak the language – you get to imagine what they are talking about based on their gestures and tone.
- Keep a travel journal. Take some time to sit and write about your travels and the deep (or not-so-deep) thoughts you will be thinking in your quiet, solo moments. In addition to helping you pass the time, it is great to have a record of your trip to look back on when you want to remember the name of a certain restaurant or how excited you felt when your plane first touched down in a new country.
- Watch a sunset. In almost every town, there is a great place to have a glass of wine and let nature provide the entertainment in the form of a beautiful sunset while you think about what a great day you had all by yourself.