Lessons Learned: How to Have the Best Solo Travel Experience Possible

Going on a trip all by yourself? Here are some tips for solo travelling. (Learn from my mistakes!)
Photo by  Wanaporn Yangsiri.

Last week, I got home from a ten-day trip to Montreal and Toronto. While I have travelled on my own to different places many times, it's always been to meet up with people, go to a conference, or take a course. This was the first time that I was travelling entirely on my own, and while I had a few meetings and some friends to see along the way, I was, for the most part, left to my own devices.

Guys, I learned some stuff.

Lesson #1: I learned that when I am alone and plan-less, I lose all my nerve and sense of direction. 

When left entirely to myself with no real agenda and nobody to bounce ideas around with or to accompany places, I became a sad, indecisive version of myself. I literally walked halfway down one block, changed my mind, turned back, went a few blocks in another direction, and then looped back around to the first direction again before sitting down in a park to regroup. WHAT?

Lesson #2: I learned that I default to being wildly basic without plans, guidance, or support.

I was in Montreal and I ate poutine in a mall food court. I repeat: a mall food court. Not because I made a conscious choice in that direction, just because... it's where I wound up. I also needed to pop into a dollar store to pick up some safety pins and wound up wandering the aisles for too long looking at all the usual dollar store crap. I think the familiarity was comforting? Sigh.

Lesson #3: I learned that I get pretty lonely after about six days on my own.

It got worse the less direction/focus I had. When I was meeting up with a friend, getting some work done in a coffee shop, or going on a specific mission, I was fine. When I was just out in the world on my own, I felt the "on my own" very strongly. Sure, it's survivable, but it's not pleasant.

Lesson #4: For all of the above reasons, I learned that solo travel makes it more important than ever to research things in advance and make plans.

This has been confirmed by a few other people in my life who do lots of solo travel. (If only I had consulted with them before I left!) Do lots of research of things to see and book some stuff that is scheduled and you're going to have to do, whether it's a play, concert, tour, or something else entirely.

Having some set plans in advance seems to prevent the feeling of aimlessness and emptiness that can easily wash over you (or me) when alone in an unfamiliar place with nothing to do. It also means you won't miss the cool show you wanted to see because you didn't really plan for it and accidentally spent the one night you could have gone "strolling around", eating mall poutine, and then giving up and going back to your room early.

Lesson #5: I learned that I need to start spending a little more on my accommodations.

I stayed in Airbnb's and went as cheap as I could. (This is generally how I live my life, going as cheap as I can.) Both places were totally acceptable in terms of a place to sleep, make toast in the morning, and do a little work. Yet the little touches made the whole thing feel less-than-ideal. Both were in neighbourhoods that are edge-of-sketch (not quite sketchy, but getting close). Both had those shower heads that send a powerful, uneven, needle-like spray in all directions. One had plastic under the sheets on the bed. One had a kitchen sink that barely drained.

They were fine in the purest sense of the word, but I did think multiple times throughout the trip that the consistency of service in hotels is nice.

Lesson #6: I learned to feel pretty comfortable taking pictures of myself or weird things I like without the buffer of friends.

If you want the pic, take the pic!

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