10 rules for solo travelers

Written by admin on November 3, 2008 – 1:09 pm -

Friends ask me about possible difficulties for those traveling alone. My answer is they should go and not let allow the unknown stop them. Sure there might be some scary and even lonely moments. But there will be many unanticipated compensations and wonderful adventures.

I meet new people I would never meet if traveling with an entourage or a partner. I get to travel at my own pace. I can go where I want to go when I want to go there. I can indulge my curiosity gene. Once, solo women travelers take the plunge, it can be habit-forming.

Here is a collection of 10 rules for solo travelers. With a positive attitude people will return home more confident, with plenty of new friends and enough stories to fill a year of cocktail party chitchat.

1. Plan ahead. Do some extra research about your destination. There are planners and there are people who prefer to be surprised. The latter approach isn’t such a good idea if you’re alone.

2. See what colleagues you may already have at your destination. If you’re a member of a professional or social organization, chances are there’s the equivalent or a chapter in the city you are visiting. If there’s an event taking place during your stay, attending it will give you insights in addition to introductions to others who share your interests.

3. Meet new people at your destination by enrolling in a class. Depending on how long you stay, language classes can be ideal. There are frequently courses for as short as a week and these classes offer an opportunity to become fully immersed in the culture. Other options: classes in European history or art history.

4. Sign up for a tour of a city (ask at the tourist information office). You’ll learn about the town and meet other travelers. I’ve found walking tours are best for meeting other travelers.

5. Ask friends with acquaintances abroad to make introductions to people who live in cities you plan to visit. In these days of the Internet, it’s not all that difficult to fire off an email to people in every part of the world announcing a friend’s arrival. But, understand not everyone is going to be receptive to meeting you. Don’t take it personally.

Having lived in Paris for 20+ years, an email announcing a friend of a friend is headed to the City of Light can invoke fear and dread. I live and work in Paris. I have trouble keeping up with my real friends and a visiting fireman isn’t always welcome. On the other hand, I’ve met some fascinating people with whom I still maintain friendships.

6. Use your big city smarts. Carry a moderate amount of cash and one credit card to charge purchases or access cash from an ATM. Leave your diamonds and Rolex at home in your safe deposit box. Photocopy the main page of your passport. Losing a passport can turn a sightseeing vacation into one spent at the consulate that is invariably many miles from your base.

7. Register your credit cards. Pay a few dollars and register credit cards so only one call needs to be made in case they disappear. Leave a copy of the information in your hotel’s safe deposit box and with a friend at home who is willing to make a call to the credit card registry service.

8. Stay at B&B’s that are run by a host family. It is like having a friend in town that can show you the ropes.

9. Go to restaurants where you can dine at the bar. Restaurants with wine bars, tapas bars and sushi bars are a boon for the solo traveler. The experience can be almost like a communal table. Some restaurants even have communal tables, especially in Germany. If people aren’t able to strike up a conversation over food — well, that’s a sad commentary.

10. Most foreign cities have English language publications that list activities targeted at Expats. In Paris, many of the bookstores sponsor readings (in English) that are free and frequently fascinating. Ditto for universities as well as the Anglophone library. Before you know it, you’ll be trying to figure out whether or not you can fit in all of the activities that interest you.

Walk along well-lit streets when many natives do their window-shopping. Enjoy the scenery and sit down at a cafe and watch the world go by. Take advantage of evening entertainment: concerts, movies and “after dark tours.”

Western Europe is a piece of cake since the hospitality industry is tourist friendly and wants the business. I’m heading for Dubai this week and yes, I’m going alone. It’s going to be a different experience. If you have any tips, please post them. Know they’ll be carefully read.

Karen Fawcett is president BonjourParis; with a travel bug that knows few boundaries.

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