Author Topic: Solo Travel?  (Read 771 times)

lexde

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Solo Travel?
« on: March 13, 2019, 07:53:21 AM »
I would really like to do more traveling but am not sure how to go about doing it as a solo female traveler.
Ideally I would like to go to Japan for 2-3 weeks at the end of this year. I've read that Japan in general is a safe country, so that was a relief.

Does anyone have advice, anecdotes, etc. regarding traveling alone? I'm already a bit nervous about it, but feel like it would truly be a life-changing experience and an exercise in self confidence and personal growth.

Hirondelle

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2019, 08:18:07 AM »
I did a lot of solo travel on 3 different continents, both short (weekend) trips and multi-month trips.

First advice: DO IT. It's easy. You won't be alone. Stay in hostels, either the private rooms or the dorms. There'll be people and tons of them. If you have any normal amount of social skills you'll make friends in a matter of seconds. The cool part about traveling solo is that many others do it and people get into a certain mindset. You're not expected to join someone continuously. You can spend the whole day exploring stuff by yourself and group up with a bunch of others for dinner/drinks later on. You can completely change your plans to hang onto someone (in the good way) or decide to say goodbye and go to the next destination on your list.

Some of my best friends are from my solo travels. They're the best. To be honest, I barely consider traveling with my 'normal' friends anymore because they want too many plans and too much dependence on each other. I mostly visit (travel) friends or travel with my travel friends nowadays if I go somewhere :p.

I'm not sure what kind of questions you have, but feel free to ask them all! It's like, my favorite topic to talk about :p.

OliveFI

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2019, 08:24:40 AM »
I have a good friend who spent two weeks alone in Japan. She loved it. She writes for this site ... https://www.japlanning.com/blog/japlanning-101-travelling-solo?rq=solo

Japan is known for being friendly towards solo travelers. It isn't unusual to be alone at restaurants, etc.

Other tips I have - that I use when I travel solo for work - I make sure a trusted person (mom, partner, etc.) knows where I am staying, my flights, etc.

LifeHappens

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2019, 08:36:14 AM »
I did a fair amount of solo travel before I met my DH. My first trip to Europe was a solo work trip to Barcelona, so I started off pretty big!

As a solo female traveler you do need to take responsibility for your own safety and know what the highest risks are in a particular location. In some places pickpockets are common. In others it might be scam taxi drivers. Just do your research on traveler forums and know what to look for or avoid.

Staying in a hostel or a backpackers' hotel would be a great way to meet people. You can also join guided day tours, look for meetups and find cafes where backpackers tend to eat.

I would definitely not hesitate to travel solo again if I needed to. It's lots of fun and very liberating in a way traveling with a partner is not.

PoutineLover

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2019, 08:39:53 AM »
I loved my solo trips, I met a lot of people and had lots of fun by myself. There are definitely some safety concerns, especially if you are partying and don't have trusted people with you to look out for each other, but if you stay in control of yourself and stay vigilant it's not much more dangerous than being out at home. Hostels are great, free walking tours are good places to meet people, and my favourite is just taking a map, marking some landmarks, and wandering around taking in the sights, eating where it looks good, and enjoying the vibe of a new city.

lexde

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2019, 08:40:51 AM »
I did a lot of solo travel on 3 different continents, both short (weekend) trips and multi-month trips.

First advice: DO IT. It's easy. You won't be alone. Stay in hostels, either the private rooms or the dorms. There'll be people and tons of them. If you have any normal amount of social skills you'll make friends in a matter of seconds. The cool part about traveling solo is that many others do it and people get into a certain mindset. You're not expected to join someone continuously. You can spend the whole day exploring stuff by yourself and group up with a bunch of others for dinner/drinks later on. You can completely change your plans to hang onto someone (in the good way) or decide to say goodbye and go to the next destination on your list.

Some of my best friends are from my solo travels. They're the best. To be honest, I barely consider traveling with my 'normal' friends anymore because they want too many plans and too much dependence on each other. I mostly visit (travel) friends or travel with my travel friends nowadays if I go somewhere :p.

I'm not sure what kind of questions you have, but feel free to ask them all! It's like, my favorite topic to talk about :p.
That's awesome! Lots of questions -- Could you tell me about your experience with places with a language barrier? I am under the assumption that Japan is mostly English-speaking as well (although I will learn a number of phrases just to be polite), but as far as booking accommodations in advance, etc. I'm sure it won't be as bad as when I was in Beijing/Xi'an, but still!

Where do you find hostels? I was looking and found a bunch of capsule hotels which seem to be fairly cheap, but I'd perhaps like to mix it up a bit too. Do you just google [City] Hostels? Do you find a lot of English speakers stay at those places?

I'm also TERRIBLE with directions, but understand that there is a lot of free wifi in Japan so I could possibly still use Google Maps?

I have a rough idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, I just don't know exactly how I'm going to do it.

I've already looked into flights for 16 days and have enough airline miles to cover a roundtrip ticket, so that's one less thing to worry about!

lexde

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #6 on: March 13, 2019, 08:42:04 AM »
I have a good friend who spent two weeks alone in Japan. She loved it. She writes for this site ... https://www.japlanning.com/blog/japlanning-101-travelling-solo?rq=solo

Japan is known for being friendly towards solo travelers. It isn't unusual to be alone at restaurants, etc.

Other tips I have - that I use when I travel solo for work - I make sure a trusted person (mom, partner, etc.) knows where I am staying, my flights, etc.
I bookmarked that site and will be reading it over the weekend! Also, I don't mind being alone/eating alone, so it's nice that they don't see it as odd, either.

I will definitely be giving a full itinerary to one or more people just so they know where I am, and probably email/google voice SMS check-ins every day or so as well. Thanks for this!

lexde

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #7 on: March 13, 2019, 08:43:27 AM »
I did a fair amount of solo travel before I met my DH. My first trip to Europe was a solo work trip to Barcelona, so I started off pretty big!

As a solo female traveler you do need to take responsibility for your own safety and know what the highest risks are in a particular location. In some places pickpockets are common. In others it might be scam taxi drivers. Just do your research on traveler forums and know what to look for or avoid.

Staying in a hostel or a backpackers' hotel would be a great way to meet people. You can also join guided day tours, look for meetups and find cafes where backpackers tend to eat.

I would definitely not hesitate to travel solo again if I needed to. It's lots of fun and very liberating in a way traveling with a partner is not.
Great insights - thank you! Do you have any particular forum recommendations for travel? Or should I just google forums for a specific area? I appreciate your help!

LifeHappens

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2019, 08:52:13 AM »
Great insights - thank you! Do you have any particular forum recommendations for travel? Or should I just google forums for a specific area? I appreciate your help!
I would start with World Nomads. This is their current page on safety while traveling in Japan: https://www.worldnomads.com/travel-safety/eastern-asia/japan I've also found good info on Lonely Planet. Country specific forums might be good as well.

mckaylabaloney

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #9 on: March 13, 2019, 09:01:52 AM »
I did a few weeks alone in Europe a couple of years ago -- some friends were there for the first week (in France), then I was alone for three weeks (France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland), then my mom met me in Switzerland for the last week. It was so great. I'm really independent to begin with, but I really loved doing whatever I and only I wanted to do every single day. Traveling with other people is great too, but even if you have similar travel styles you are still probably not going to have the same preferences 100% of the time. So there is something incredibly freeing about being completely in control of your time, and I am so glad I did it. I plan to do it again a lot in the future (and already have on some shorter domestic trips).

That said, three weeks alone turned out to be a pretty long time! I was really glad to have the company when my mom arrived. I'm an introvert and am extremely not the type to make friends at my hostel and then bop around town with them, so I really did spend those three weeks quite alone. Which, again, was great in most ways, but it was long enough for me. (I do know women who have done much much longer solo trips -- like 6 months -- who ARE the type to make friends wherever they go and then wind up spending very little time alone, so YMMV.)

The other thing is that, other than France, I was in places where almost every single local I interacted with was fluent in English, lots of the important signs had English on them, etc. -- so it was an especially easy place to visit alone. Japan might be a bigger challenge, but in a good way! Europe was probably too easy tbh.

Safety-wise, I didn't do anything reckless, obviously, but I never felt concerned for my safety, even while spending plenty of time walking alone at night. I'm sure there are places in the world that are not a good idea for solo female travelers, but most places are genuinely fine. I never felt more unsafe than I do in my own neighborhood (where I feel perfectly safe, to be clear). Honestly, the only time I felt like being a solo woman was a bad thing was when some Parisian dudes on the Champ de Mars would not take the hint that I just wanted to read my book and eat my cheese in peace, goddamnit.

So, in terms of how to go about being a solo female traveler: you just go! Haha. But really! I am an obsessive planner when it comes to travel, and even when I go somewhere with friends, I am usually the person handling most of the logistics etc. So that helps when I travel solo -- I already feel very capable and confident doing all the planning. (If you have specific questions about planning, I might have tips there?) And I find that the more I plan, the more prepared I feel for various contingencies etc. But that's the case whether I'm traveling solo or alone. Really, I can't think of anything specific that I do differently when I travel alone. I just do a lot of organizational groundwork (I use a lot of Google docs/maps/sheets) and make sure to have both digital and paper copies of any information I might need (tickets, hotel/Airbnb info, etc.)

There are also about 239587245 blogs out there about solo female travel. I spent a lot of time reading those while I was planning for Europe. Not sure I learned anything groundbreaking (because again, it's a lot easier than you think!), but it was nice to get some reassurance that plenty of other women do this and it's fine and good.

Hirondelle

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #10 on: March 13, 2019, 09:45:22 AM »
I did a lot of solo travel on 3 different continents, both short (weekend) trips and multi-month trips.

First advice: DO IT. It's easy. You won't be alone. Stay in hostels, either the private rooms or the dorms. There'll be people and tons of them. If you have any normal amount of social skills you'll make friends in a matter of seconds. The cool part about traveling solo is that many others do it and people get into a certain mindset. You're not expected to join someone continuously. You can spend the whole day exploring stuff by yourself and group up with a bunch of others for dinner/drinks later on. You can completely change your plans to hang onto someone (in the good way) or decide to say goodbye and go to the next destination on your list.

Some of my best friends are from my solo travels. They're the best. To be honest, I barely consider traveling with my 'normal' friends anymore because they want too many plans and too much dependence on each other. I mostly visit (travel) friends or travel with my travel friends nowadays if I go somewhere :p.

I'm not sure what kind of questions you have, but feel free to ask them all! It's like, my favorite topic to talk about :p.
That's awesome! Lots of questions -- Could you tell me about your experience with places with a language barrier? I am under the assumption that Japan is mostly English-speaking as well (although I will learn a number of phrases just to be polite), but as far as booking accommodations in advance, etc. I'm sure it won't be as bad as when I was in Beijing/Xi'an, but still!

Where do you find hostels? I was looking and found a bunch of capsule hotels which seem to be fairly cheap, but I'd perhaps like to mix it up a bit too. Do you just google [City] Hostels? Do you find a lot of English speakers stay at those places?

I'm also TERRIBLE with directions, but understand that there is a lot of free wifi in Japan so I could possibly still use Google Maps?

I have a rough idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, I just don't know exactly how I'm going to do it.

I've already looked into flights for 16 days and have enough airline miles to cover a roundtrip ticket, so that's one less thing to worry about!

OK I have never personally been to Japan so on the Japan-specific questions I'll admit I'm not an expert, but I heard stories.

Language barrier:
General: Honestly I often feel like it's mostly native English speakers who are worried about this (particularly Americans, not sure why). I don't understand why because you're the lucky ones speaking the language that's literally the most widespread! I cannot even drive for an hour before hitting a language barrier, yet that doesn't stop me roaming Europe and beyond. Learning a few phrases in a language is always a plus!
Japan specific: Japan is known for little to no English. The alphabet is a next step that can make things harder (e.g. no 'guessing' at how to pronounce things). I wouldn't let that stop you though. Probably 99% of people who travel there know little to no Japanese so you should be able to work it out somehow. Probably reading some blogs about this will help you.

Hostels:
Hostels.com, booking.com, hostelworld.com are the most common websites I think. Agoda is another one but more hotel-focussed. AirBnB occasionally also offers group accomodation. People in hostels are usually tourists and at least western tourists/travelers will always speak English. I find it hard to say for Japan what to expect in terms of crowd. I've mostly been in SE-Asia and felt like Asian tourists (bad/no English) tend to stay in more fancy places, European backpacker crowd stays in anything between the dirt-cheap hostels and the mid-class hostels and then there's the 'odd folks' that are always in the dirt cheap hostels. I personally prefer the cheap ass places because I find the people there more interesting than the 'British gap year boys' that you find in the mid-range hostels with high ratings. I always say: 'the fancy/party hostels let you meet people, the dirt cheap places force you to make actual friends'. However, this is very SE-Asia specific info, I have no clue on Japan regarding this. Couchsurfing is also great if you're not afraid to sleep at the house of a random stranger.

Directions:
I once managed to get lost on a straight road so I get you there :). Lifesaver: maps.me. Offline maps. You download it prior to leaving your wifi and then you're good to go. Also has great marks for all highlights and lets you mark/save locations. I prefer it over offline google maps. You don't have to know all the things in advance. Often it's super easy to figure it out on the spot as you meet people who just did that exact same thing or you can just ask it at the hostel (granted that the receptionist speaks English).

One more thing; I don't know how much time you can get off work, but I would recommend you to go as long as possible unless you have homesickness issues/work restrictions. That is because 1. Japan is HUGE. Don't underestimate travel time between places. 2. Once you're there you will discover another 100 things to visit. 3. Jetlags should not be underestimated. Now I'm a huge fan of slowish travel, taking your time to see spots beyond the major tourist checklist and being able to randomly adjust my plans to tag along with people I meet, so here you might wanna rely on your self-knowledge. I know people who think they can see a country like Japan within 2 weeks. I firmly disagree.
« Last Edit: March 13, 2019, 10:09:14 AM by Hirondelle »

mlipps

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2019, 09:54:28 AM »
I did a solo 10 day trip to Japan in Fall of 2016. One thing that really helped was that I rented a WiFi hotspot. I found a company where I could pick it up & drop it off at the airport in Tokyo. I think it was about $80/week, but that gave me unlimited data. My phone at the time made calls & sent texts over wifi, which most of them do these days. Personally I get really homesick when travelling sometimes, missing my friends and family. Since I had unlimited data everywhere I went, I video chatted with friends back home while strolling the streets. I spent an hour or two talking to people while out and about almost every day, and it made the experience much more enjoyable. Obviously it was also useful for Google translate, maps, and such as well, but I really loved being able to keep in close touch with my loved ones while away.

Two other things I really love to do when solo travelling are bike tours and cooking classes! I did bike tours in both Tokyo and Kyoto--completely different experiences but both phenomenal. It's a great way to cover a lot of ground while getting off your feet from walking everywhere. The cooking classes are an awesome way to get some quality time talking to other travelers if you like to cook--I did my cooking class in Tokyo with Bhudda Bellies and can't recommend it enough.

dougules

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #12 on: March 13, 2019, 11:33:06 AM »
One thing about traveling alone is it seems like it's easier to meet people whether that's local folks or other travelers.  You're more approachable, and the person you're talking to isn't automatically a third wheel.  It also forces you to meet people if you want any human interaction. 

sui generis

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2019, 03:38:44 PM »
I've also travelled alone a lot, almost to every continent!  I recommend it highly and think the amount of time you are looking about is about the right amount (for me - I'm not super extroverted, and I really do like my alone time), but maybe a smidge on the long-ish side?  I would definitely try to hook up with some cooking classes, biking tours, etc.  That makes it perfect!

I went with my SO at the time to Japan, but I would not worry about the language barrier.  So many things are written in English or at least using the Roman alphabet, so you can find where you need to go.  Also, station agents and younger people do tend to speak English to some degree at least, if not fluently, and anytime we looked at a map for like 2 seconds at a train station, someone would come by and ask if we needed help.  Seriously generous and friendly people!  Also, tourist offices are abundant and they speak English and also help you navigate if you are going to a place where English is not spoken.  At this ryokan we were going to where they didn't speak English, they did have a guest pamphlet in the room that had English and pictures so we could know how to use the on-sen and what way to wrap our kimono (I can't remember if it's left over right or right over left, but one way has something to do with death or funerals or something, so we appreciated the handbook!).

And you know, if it gets a little challenging, that's what makes it fun (AKA Retrospective Fun, since it may not be so fun ATM).  On a solo hiking trip, my boots fell apart 70 miles from my exit point and I had to solve the problem myself.  On my solo trip to Patagonia, my bus got into town late, making me miss my connecting bus and I had no hotel reservation, no map of the town I was in, and my phone had about 5% battery.  It definitely is a little less fun to deal with stuff like that alone than if you have another mind to help solve and commiserate with, but you will be really proud of yourself when you get through it!

I think I saw in your journal that you have since booked the trip, so I'm excited for you and hope you lots of fun, retrospective and otherwise!

sparkytheop

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Re: Solo Travel?
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2019, 04:23:33 PM »
So far, most of my travels have been just my son and me.  Parts count a little toward "solo travel" (it was up to me to figure it all out, plus I needed to be responsible for a little human), other parts don't (had another person around almost all the time, so the "lonely" stuff never applied).  Last summer I did a solo 5 day road trip, and later this month I'm headed to Sweden and Finland by myself (first trip where I don't take my son).

I agree that providing someone with your itinerary is a smart idea, but as someone who completely winged 5 weeks in Europe, never knowing where we were staying until the night before, and purposely not getting data for my phone (would just take advantage of wifi when I was around it), well, it's not really advice I've followed, just because I didn't have an itinerary.  My dad requested that I "email him every day".  I told him no.  One, I'm an adult and I don't contact him every day of normal life.  Two, I might go days without access to wifi, and the day I don't email him it will cause him to freak out and that doesn't help anything.  He got my flight details, and an email here and there throughout the trip.

I actually tried to look up some cooking classes for this next trip, but I've only found one baking class (I will try to go to it, but it's only offered once a week, and I can't find any price details on it.  There was one cooking class, but the price was $850, so that's not happening (you can sign up to four people for the one price, but I don't have four people).

Overall, just do it.  Do some research and get a few "must sees", then some "would be nice to see while I'm there".  Give yourself some down days (or not, I guess it depends on how you travel).

Getting lost...  Some of my best finds were when I was walking around, completely lost.  Keep a relaxed attitude about it, and it just becomes an adventure (and hopefully you don't need to be somewhere at an exact time).  If you can, get a local area map from your hotel/hostel/whatever with your hotel/hostel/whatever clearly marked (or, if no map available, at minimum, have the address of the hotel written on a piece of paper, in the local language).  When I've tried to find my way back to my room, more than once I'd just approach someone who looked local, show them the map, and ask directions.  Sometimes they'd be able to get me to something halfway there, and just let me know "when you get here, ask someone else for the rest".  When I wanted to get somewhere on a bus, in a remote area, I would show the bus stop and address (or site name, again, in the local language) to the bus driver, and they'd stop at my stop, let me know I wanted to get off there, then point me in the general direction of what I wanted to get to. 

Language barriers...  When I would arrive in a new country, the first thing I would do is go to "information" and ask how to say "hello", "please", "thank you", and "Do you speak English" in the local language.  I'd write it down phonetically so that I could check it again if needed.  I found that no matter where I was, if I at least tried to great someone in their local language, they would automatically switch over to English for me (if they could, and the one or two times they couldn't, they grabbed someone for me who could).  This time, I've also found a translator app that will work offline (by typing only, but that's more than I've had on past trips).

It's also good to look up some of the local "social rules".  For example-- in France, always greet someone when you walk into a store, hotel, restaurant, etc.  In other countries/cities, it's not considered rude to just let go of a door and not hold it for the next person.  If you expect that, you'll be prepared not to let it hit you.  Just little things like that.

So far, I've used booking.com for most of my rooms.  I book with the combo of "cheap, well rated, near public transportation".  I haven't had a bad experience yet.  You can look for hostels, hotels, apartments, etc.