Buzzfeed & Solo Travel- Thinking Matters!
Yesterday Buzzfeed.com posted a less than enlightening article: “26 Remarkable Places for Solo Travel.” (Article here) While the places listed might be, the only thing that made the article itself remarkable, was how embarrassingly bad it was. Now I’m not saying that the author should be embarrassed to put her name to it (maybe…), I’m merely suggesting that it leaves a lot to be desired for anyone actually looking to travel alone.
It seems Buzzfeed’s content model is this: Let’s make a hap-hazard list of things only vaguely related to the title so we don’t need to do a lot of actual work to “write” the article. Places for solo travel? More like a list of places the author could find cool pictures of that her readers have probably not been to. (For my pics check out the galleries!) Apparently exploring Fiji “wont break the bank” while it “might be considered pricey,” since “it is an island.” Brilliant. How about getting there? The expert author has three places on the list where she suggests to “avoid walking alone at night,” even more great advice for a solo traveler! She adds in some general sightseeing common knowledge, some cost commentary from wiki-travel, and provides thoughtful travel gems like “take usual safety precautions.” Still, despite this, it was liked over 9,000 times on Facebook (I’ll be lucky if this gets 100 reads).
In a frantic effort to fill space (only 26 suggestions?) the intrepid author missed the whole point of travelling alone. Her sub title (finding yourself) touched on this theme, but the content didn’t deliver. The blissful experience of a perfect solo trip doesn’t require fancy pictures, money, or exotic and new locations. Successfully traveling alone requires the right frame of mind. Having traveled solo, extensively, on 5 of the 6 continents where it’s possible, let me provide some brief thoughts on both the article and traveling alone.
For me, traveling alone allows great flexibility (I can stop for pictures where ever I please!). Though I frequently took solo weekend trips to various cities and countries, on the long end, I spent 3 weeks in Ireland alone. And it was great! No, I’m not a hermit, but if you haven’t tried it, everyone should definitely give it a shot (it’s like living by yourself- everyone needs to do it). You need to set the right expectations for the trip and your experience: with travel it isn’t as much as the Who, Where, How, it is more the Why. What are you looking to get out of your trip? How can you best prepare for it.
To help our fledgling Buzzfeed author, here are some better ideas for solo travel. They are arranged by theme, instead of location, because that is what matters most. What do you want to get out of your trip? The thought process behind the travel matters. I am going to ignore the typical US locations, since they are all easy to get to, safe, cheap, etc… you don’t need me giving you advice on their merits (note- don’t pick Camden, NJ). Further, I am going to ignore cost. With all of the options out there today in terms of hostels, rental apartments, yelp-ing cheap food, etc…. I firmly believe you can go just about anywhere on a budget (exceptions: Moscow, Oslo, Maldives… you get the idea, you are smart).
Pick somewhere social!
For you, part of traveling alone might be meeting new people, and certain cities are better suited for this than others. In this category I would recommend Amsterdam, Barcelona, and the South Island of New Zealand. For example, Queenstown, NZ, is packed with solo travelers and groups of friends who are all looking for the same thing- shared experiences. I was there for 4 days and never ate a meal alone. Amsterdam is also jam packed with young people from all over Europe looking to take in the city.
Pick somewhere dense….
Find somewhere full of things to do. Maybe you want to see famous landmarks and works of art- to add checks to the sightseeing bucket list. Solo travel is great, but you don’t want to be spending your hard earned vacation sitting alone on a train, or in a car (unless you want to, see below); you want to be seeing cool stuff! Cities like Rome and London have tons of things to do and see all right in one place. Getting around is fast, easy, and engaging- you are never more than 5 minutes from a major place of interest.
Pick somewhere spread out…
Maybe you want to enjoy a beautiful drive in the country side, to hike, or to take in the sights on your own. You need to lose yourself to find yourself. Traveling alone, and truly alone, can be very reflective. Renting a car and driving around Ireland or the Scottish Highlands fits this perfectly (for me). These places have friendly people, good beer, and little towns when you want to stop, but miles of scenery (to take pictures of) and amazing roads when you want to be alone. One of the most special experiences I have ever had while travelling was while driving around the Nurburgring. For most people, it might not be a big deal, for me, it was perfection in travel (again, it is all about your mindset and expectations). For hiking fans, try the Milford Track in NZ. For beach fans, try the out islands of the Bahamas or South Africa.
Pick somewhere safe…
Having briefly traveled alone in Russia and the Philippines, two amazing places to visit, I can tell you that it isn’t always as comfortable as you would want it to be when alone. Sure Barcelona has sketchy neighborhoods, but so does New York. Be smart about it. If you aren’t comfortable or experienced going somewhere “overly exotic” in terms of safety, don’t, there are plenty of places you haven’t been that are exotic and also safe. Singapore and Dubai (yes, you can do them on a budget), are both hugely interesting for a solo traveler, and they are two of the safest cities anywhere.
Plan, Research, and Plan some more.
All of the above: cost, safety, travel time, meeting people – can all be effectively managed with careful planning. With all of the online information available there is no excuse to not get an amazing hotel deal, find a great restaurant frequented by solo travelers from your country, stick to the safe parts of town, see everything on your checklist, and fulfill all of your solo travel dreams. You will get out of your trip what you put into it.
A few other thoughts for traveling alone:
- Grab a hotel business card, helps you to get home when you don’t speak the local language
- Ask the bar tender or doorman where they would go for food/drinks
- Eat outside, give yourself something to look at; don’t be afraid to eat alone
- Say hi to others. Offer to take their picture for them. Most people (especially other solo travelers), are generally friendly and love to meet like minded people
- Dress like the locals. No need to call extra attention to yourself. For example, wearing shorts in Europe, even in the summer, isn’t very common. (Want to wear the French man purse or the Italian man-capris? Do so at your own risk!)
- Only pack what you can easily carry/travel with, don’t slow yourself down
- Don’t be afraid to take it all in. Find a bench, people watch, observe the locals and the culture, see who stops by to chat.
The author’s sub title suggests by traveling alone you can “go find yourself.” You want to “find yourself” as the article suggests? Go anywhere. Sure some places are more exotic, safe, or expensive than others, but that does not matter. If you plan appropriately, do lots of research, and go with the right mindset, all of those facts and figures can be managed and even out. You can do your “self finding” while walking around Manhattan or driving an unknown NJ road in autumn as easily as you can from a safari lodge in South Africa, or the top of a mountain in New Zealand. Trust me. Travel is what you make of it.