Solo travel can be a wonderful way to see the world. For a couple of decades, I went everywhere alone and loved the independence and freedom. Even now, having married a guy who loves to travel as much as I do, I elect to do a couple of trips on my own every year.
Solo travel means not having to wait while your travel partner visits a museum dedicated to things you aren’t interested in (think cars, dolls, dinosaurs) and not having to compromise when they want to eat or drink when you aren’t hungry or thirsty.
Solo travel is also a great way to meet local people and other travelers who might not approach a couple of travel buddies who are busy talking to each other. And – this might be the best part – solo travel is a great way to get to know yourself.
I owe my career as a travel journalist and editor to the fact that I traveled solo for many years. Because I was alone (sometimes for months), I relied on travel guidebooks for advice, and I shared my experiences on the blank pages of dozens of journals. Somewhere along the way – I think it was in the middle of Australia – I realized how much I enjoyed writing about travel …and the rest is history.
Solo travel challenges
Did I ever wish I was traveling with a companion? Yes. There were times when I wanted to go on a long walk in a remote area and knew that it might not be safe. Ditto swimming and snorkeling alone. And there were times when I wanted to share a special meal or a specific experience with another traveler.
Solo travel dining made fun
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one that wished for a short-term travel buddy, because now numerous websites offer just exactly that.
WithLocals is just one of the sites that can help you find kindred spirits with whom you are welcome to share a meal. Founded in the Netherlands in 2013, WithLocals is an online opportunity for solo travelers to connect with home cooks who offer casual small group dinners, as well as tours and activities. It’s a big hit in Asia, and is expanding in India, Nepal, and Europe.
Local friends for solo travelers via the “sharing economy”
Like the meal sharing sites, the find-a-local-friend sites will connect you with people who share your love of yoga, hiking, cooking, sailing, dancing, drinking wine and more. Trip4Real started in Spain and has subsequently become popular all across Europe. The site pairs travelers with locals who share their interests – and the result is a win-win where the hosts make some money and the guests have an authentic experience with a local. Good examples include a homemade pasta cooking class with a local chef in Florence, sailing along the coast of Barcelona, and a Dublin pub crawl with locals (“just to the pubs that don’t advertise to tourists”).
Vayable offers similar experiences with locals almost anywhere in the world.
Solo travelers and local tours
I have been known to join a half-day city tour as a way to get a brief overview of a place I plan to explore in depth on my own, but every time I do this I am driven nearly nuts by passengers who talk amongst themselves while the guide is talking. I also get frustrated waiting while folks file off and on the bus – and I really resent the practice of stopping so guests can shop (at a place where the guide gets a commission).
Tours By Locals offers a far better alternative: private or very small groups led by in-the-know locals that avoid the pitfalls mentioned above.
Likewise, Through Eternity is staffed by a team of English-speaking archaeologists, historians, and art historians who live in a half dozen Italian cities. They share their enthusiasm and knowledge on small group and private tours.
These sites are a real boon for folks who enjoy solo travel – but maybe not 24/7. Sharing a meal, hanging out, and touring with locals is a great way to connect with the local lifestyle without giving up the joy and freedom of independent travel. Maybe give it a try?
Have fun wherever you travel!
Category: Authentic Travel