I started out as an accidental solo traveler. It began innocently as a one-off deal. At sixteen, I was set to travel within the US to visit schools. When no family member was available, I found myself heading alone to Boston’s Logan Airport. Coming from the Deep South, I had never seen such an enormous airport. I immediately found my stride and was off to don a bib for my first authentic lobster dinner and explore the city via the fabled MTA. Well before the days of ride-sharing, I now marvel at how I navigated a new city, checked myself into hotels, and ran back and forth to and from airports.
By the time I was 18, I had graduated to worldwide travel by joining a community project off the coast of Venezuela. By then a confirmed solo traveler, I never looked back. Typically, the more distant or unexpected the destination, the better the fit for my travels.
Fast forward to 2021, and solo travel has become a global phenomenon for a wide range of age groups, from millennials to seniors – and it appears women are leading the pack! While adventure-seeking pioneers forged ahead alone initially, today individual solo travelers can join ready-made groups for tours and cruises.
Two key stumbling blocks remain. First, why “go it alone”? Secondly, how can solos afford to travel when bookings have traditionally been priced for doubles? With a little creativity, solo travelers can overcome both obstacles. Here are 5 easy ways to travel solo.
1. Be a volunteer
For my first solo travel abroad, I applied to join a YMCA summer project in the dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. It was a magical time. Daytime community service projects were combined with homestays. Evenings could be spent stargazing perched in the middle of Port-of-Spain’s savannah or trying out local music nightspots. In any case, being off the typical tourist route made it possible to see daily life beyond beachfront resorts.
2. Host your own traveling reunion
As a college student, I decided it was time to “See America”. Over five weeks, I made my way cross-country from coast to coast via a series of Greyhound and Trailways buses. In true student fashion, I managed to sleep soundly on the bus covering the 3,000 miles from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles. However, to break up my journey, I was armed with addresses and phone numbers of high school and college friends who dotted the US landscape. That gave me the opportunity to spend a few days in each spot sightseeing and getting to sleep in a real bed! As I renewed old friendships, I made my way cross-country exploring the Chicago Art Institute, swimming in the Salt Lake, and marveling at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Beyond seeing such famous sites, I had a chance to experience varied daily life in America. In Racine, Wisconsin, I saw a calf being born. In Lincoln, Nebraska, I viewed a Rembrandt in the regional art gallery. By the time I reached southern California, I needed to take a more creative approach. The friend I had planned to visit had already left for college. Undaunted, I made my way via a two-hour bus journey to join her. Luckily, the university never noticed they had acquired another “student” for a five-day stay with full cafeteria privileges!
3. Take advantage of old-fashioned bartering
This budget-friendly option also provides easy access to a ready-made community.
- Teaching English or a second language.
- Using a seasonal skill, such as giving skiing lessons in the opposite hemisphere.
- Becoming a vacationing nanny for a family abroad or while they travel.
- House sitting or dog sitting for fellow vacationers.
4. Mix business and pleasure
Both at home in the US and internationally, work travel is a great way to see more of the entire world. From suburban Detroit to Cape Town, South Africa, I have added on sightseeing to an otherwise mundane work trip. In many cases, I found that national airlines offered free stopovers. One of my greatest such “finds” was in the Middle East. En route to a Dubai conference, my travel budget was nearly depleted. To the rescue: Royal Jordanian Airlines! I had a trip of a lifetime albeit on a compressed schedule. I toured Jordan from Jerash to Petra and the Dead Sea, with no extra airfare charge. In Dubai, there was just enough time for a city tour and to try out “Ski Dubai” where snow is definitely guaranteed!
Ways to work this strategy if your job has no travel opportunities:
Surf the internet to find an association or conference in your field. Better yet, see if you can get a stipend/reduced cost for being part of a program they are offering. If you have the expertise, you can ask to join a panel or be a guest speaker. Alternatively, check out whether short-term support staff will be needed for practical operational tasks from distributing materials to connecting the audio and video equipment.
There is an added benefit. Whether you are a student or working full-time, this option may result in academic or a continuing education credit. If nothing else, add it to your resume and check off another item on your bucket list.
5. Find a swap mate
Bed and breakfasts have attracted solo travelers because of their lower prices and the opportunity to meet fellow travelers. Better yet:
- Arrange a vacation home or apartment exchange. Since teachers typically have summers off, check out university online bulletin boards for vacation housing offers or to post your own listing.
- If you want real savings, look beyond conventional short-term rentals to see if dormitory rooms are available at a daily or weekly rate.
As pandemic travel restrictions are easing and prices are at unheard of low levels, take advantage of next year’s solo travel deals before they disappear.