When I first started traveling as an adult I thought I had to travel with friends or family to truly enjoy myself and so I missed out on going to lots of places because I didn’t have someone to go with me. The first country I traveled to on my own was St. Thomas in 2010 because I was hoping to secure a job there. After I moved abroad I started to focus more on solo travel and I learned that while it takes a lot of research and planning, it can be fun and relaxing. For the past 4 years I have been primarily traveling alone because as an expat and an international educator my schedule and interest doesn’t often fit with my friends. While it was hard at first I have come to enjoy it. First off, solo travel can be expensive because you don’t have someone to share the costs of accommodation or tours and companies tend to charge more if you are alone. If the idea of eating alone make you anxious then it can be rough initially. This part I don’t mind so much anymore because I can watch people but I am strategic about where I sit. It can be lonely if you’re on a long trip so you have to be prepared for this. As someone who lives alone, I tend to hang out in the hotel lobby or watch Netflix so this is not as much as a factor for me. As a single woman you of course have to be careful going out late at night alone in an unfamiliar area but if you use the same awareness that you would in any big city in the US, you will be just fine. I haven’t had any problems with safety but it’s important to be aware. Most places are safe and the people at your accommodations will let you know what areas to avoid.
Most people who travel solo enjoy the freedom of choosing how to spend a day without the pressure of planning around the schedule of others. For me this is the best reason to travel solo because while I want to explore a new city I am not necessarily interested in doing the the 8 am tour or even a full day tour. I often prefer to wake up whenever and explore the city at my own pace. Often this means, using a hop on hop off bus, doing a free walking tour or using public transportation. However if I am in a city where planning ahead is essential due to hours of a museum or art gallery then I can still choose the time frame of what I want to see and how I want to spend my day. I can decide daily how I feel and what I want to do based on that feeling. Sometimes this has meant just relaxing at the hotel by the pool or going to the beach because I am exhausted physically and emotionally and I need to rejuvenate. Sometimes this means going to a museum or art gallery which I really enjoy and working my way slowly through the exhibits, then eating lunch and being done for the day. If I am traveling alone then I don’t have to worry about someone waiting on me to go or having to go on a tour after I have changed my mind this happens a lot 🤷🏾♀️.
When I moved to Jamaica although I did some traveling with co workers, I had my first real solo travel experience when I decided to take the bus to Negril for a long weekend. When I look back, this was a crazy decision 🤦🏾♀️because there were closer places I could have chosen to go to and it required me to take 2 buses and several hours to get there. But I was determined to do it because I was anxious about traveling alone and I wanted to conquer that fear. Despite the extremely long ride and yucky pit stop bathrooms, I had a good time at the hotel because I was on the beach #myhappyplace. Once I moved to Ethiopia it was somewhat the same where sometimes I traveled with co workers but sometimes my list of African countries to visit did not always match up with the plans of others. I won’t lie, I was nervous at first about leaving Ethiopia and going to a new country to explore on my own. My first solo trip at that time was to Zanzibar, I stayed at a small boutique hotel and hung out a couple of days with some coworkers who were also in town. Fortunately Stone Town was pretty small, and the people were friendly but not in a “I am trying to pick you up” way and my hotel was in walking distance to a couple of bars and restaurants. I really enjoyed Zanzibar because it felt like the Caribbean. My next solo trip was to to Johannesburg despite warnings by co-workers about how unsafe it was there. I stayed at the Protea Fire and Ice hotel in Melrose Arch and I fell in love with the city and the area. The hop on hop off bus allowed me to safely explore the surrounding areas. Because there were a variety of restaurants and bars in Melrose Arch I had a great time and I learned how to be more comfortable exploring a new city on my own terms. I quickly learned that I could enjoy solo travel as long as I planned the basics by staying at a hotel where I would be close to places in walking distance and used hop on hop off buses when they are available. If I’m in a city like Paris or Istanbul where there’s a reliable subway system I am good to go as a city gal.
The most interesting aspect of traveling solo for me is people asking me where is my boyfriend/husband and being perplexed that I don’t have a man and that I choose to travel alone. This has happened in Cambodia, Laos, Bali, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Oman…you get the picture, it happens a lot. And although I don’t mind the conversations that this typically leads to, it is interesting that this is often the first question people ask me especially when I check in or go to the restaurant to eat alone. The other thing that has happened to me often is having men 😳 act friendly towards me and then try to proposition me just because I am alone.😳 Geesh, just stop it. No I am not interested in hooking up with you just because I happen to be alone. I always trust my gut in instances like this and if someone makes me uncomfortable at a bar, I make up an excuse to leave and I never tell them where I am staying especially if I am not at the hotel bar.
My advice to you if you are new to solo travel:
do it, but do your research on accommodations, the area, must see places and events
plan loosely what you want to see/explore
chose accommodation that is close to other places – I have heard good things about hostels
get on public transportation and use hop on hop off buses if they are offered
ask lots of questions of your hotel/airbnb/host/travel groups about the best places in the city
follow your instincts: if something makes you feel uncomfortable get out of there
explore the area – do the walking tours, visit museums, art galleries
So while I don’t prefer to travel solo, I have done it enough times where I can do it without stress. I have a system that works and I don’t get as nervous as I used to. Of the thirty something countries I have traveled to, I have traveled solo to about 20 of them and enjoyed my time in those countries especially the ones with public transportation because I am a city gal. Some of my favorite places to travel solo include Zanzibar, Paris, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Zimbabwe, Istanbul, Rome, and Bangkok. The goal now is to work on making friends when I travel. A lot of people who travel alone do this as a way not to feel lonely on their trips or they stay in hostels. These are things that I have not tried because as an introvert talking to strangers has always been kind of hard for me. As a loner, I tend to be in my own world mostly even when I travel so I have not had the pleasure of meeting up with other solo travelers and deciding to explore a place together. I have had people offer to take me around but I tend to decline these offers because they make me uncomfortable. But I have three more trips planned before June so there is some opportunity to practice making new friends in the near future😉. I am not saying that I will definitely do this but I will be open if I see an opportunity. As for trying hostels, that will come later…much later because I have to work up the nerve and choose the right city to do this.
Solo travel can be hard and strange at first but it is an adventure and I hope you try it and enjoy it even if it is not something that you plan to do often. For me it was a necessity but it also allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and get over some of my fears about traveling alone.
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