But I don't want to go by myself! I've heard this phrase hundreds of times from friends who want to travel, have the means to do so, but just can't seem to get on a plane and get started. While concerns about safety, language barriers, money and air travel top the list of most travelers' fears, one that's rarely discussed is the fear of going it alone. Here's why you shouldn't be scared.
Travel is the ultimate test of a relationship, after all; you can't just go on vacation with anyone. Sharing hotel rooms, cars, trains, and airline emergency exits can temper any friendship. If you get annoyed with your travel companion—too bad, so sad; you're stuck together until the end. Perhaps you like to get up early and sightsee while they like to sleep until noon. You might want to try exciting new cuisines but your partner wants to stick with American fast food chains. Maybe you love history and museums, but your traveling companion wants to lie around on the beach all day. You've got money to burn and they don't. In a nutshell, traveling with someone who doesn't share your interests can ruin your entire vacation—and this, to me, is a more realistic fear than any of the others above. So what happens if you don't know anyone who fits your travel criteria? Simple: Travel alone.
Being alone tops many lists in the fear department. It's bad enough being in a country where you don't know anyone or your way around, but doing it solo? No one really wants to feel like the Tom Hanks's character in Cast Away where your only friend is a volleyball. You might be someone who won't even go to the movies or eat lunch alone. Take heart. With today's technology, after all, you're never really alone. Below, my tips for traveling sans ami:
Facebook, Instagram and Other Forms of Social Media
I'm not recommending you spend all day on your phone rather than observing the things around you, but wherever you go, you can also take your list of Facebook friends along for the ride. People who don't travel often live vicariously through others' travels, which means you might be doing your homebody friends a solid by posting your daily adventures to Snapchat or Instagram.
It doesn't need to be a one-way street, however. Your friends can also help you with a wealth of information. I was traveling in Greece a few years ago and since it was off-season, the regular ferries weren't running. I was trying to get to Turkey from Santorini and the only way possible involved taking a ferry all the way back to Athens and starting over. I posted my dilemma on Facebook and within moments, Kostas, one of my friends from Greece, sent me a message detailing how I could use the local ferries to island hop and go straight to where I was going. His advice saved me time and money while allowing me to visit a few places I would have never chosen.
There have been many times where my Facebook friends have chimed in while I was overseas to recommend a great restaurant, weird market or other travel tidbit that has improved my trip.
Hostels have been on many peoples' no-no list since the series of horror movies of the same name came out. Take it from me, though: I've stayed at many hostels throughout the years and so far no one has tried to harvest my kidneys or slash me in the middle of the night. Hostels often provide a cheaper alternative to hotels since one is essentially renting a bed in a dormitory or a basic private room. There aren't usually a lot of frills, but you'll usually find a kitchen for those who want to prepare their own meals plus solo travelers just like you who are happy to meet someone new.
When you're traveling with someone, a "travel bubble" is often created, making it likely you'll end up ignoring others around you. If you're alone, that generally makes you more receptive to meeting new people. A hostel brings a group of like-minded souls together who might be more fun than anyone you know at home.
If you find someone you get along with and you're going the same direction, pair up to travel with them and share expenses. If it doesn't work, just move on at the next stop. You never have to see them again. Hostels also have incredibly up-to-date information about the sites you want to visit since they cater to travelers and not convention-goers or vacation package tourists.
Dating Sites and Couch Surfing
Couchsurfing is a website that allows its members to post their travel plans, with the ultimate goal of finding a host that lives in the area who'll let them crash at their place for free. The accommodation might just be an actual couch or maybe a three-story mansion with a private butler. But that's not all—Couchsurfing is also a social networking site that isn't just about getting a place, but also joining up with others for drinks or sightseeing.
There is security in reading others' reviews about the hosts and the travelers so you can be fairly certain you aren't lodging with a psycho killer. Hosts are often fellow travelers who either use the service themselves or those who are entertained by the thought of having random world travelers stay with them. Maybe you can't really afford a hotel or you don't want to be alone. A person in the town you're visiting may have a house with extra room, wants the company, or just likes to pay it forward. Put the two together and you have magic.
Meanwhile, dating sites like Tinder, Zoosk and POF are available in many other countries and can be a great way of meeting someone for coffee or drinks that you would never meet any other way. Why not plan a first date in Paris?
I started making travel videos a little over three years ago. It started when I was traveling alone, filming myself with my iPhone and posting my footage so my friends back home could get a glimpse of what I was seeing and experiencing. Soon, I started noticing a shift in my travel habits. I wasn't just on vacation anymore; I was documenting my experiences for others to watch.
My focus switched from being about me, to being a reporter. I felt that I needed to try new things so I could tell others about what there was to do. I had to take my viewers to the top of the tallest building, ride the fastest roller coaster, and eat the weirdest stuff. Not only did I get some great experiences and some great video to remember my adventures, but I was no longer alone. I had something important to do and I enlisted others—sometimes strangers—to hold my camera, help me with a funny bit, or talk to my camera like it was Wilson the volleyball. I see solo travelers doing this all the time now and there are probably a million YouTube channels with wannabe travel show hosts. There's always room for one more though: you.
Don't wait for the right time to start traveling or the right person to do it with. You might be waiting forever. Go where you want to go and take the person you get along with the best: yourself. Trust me, you'll find others who want to come along for the ride.