A recent Fodor's survey reveals that a clear majority of Americans recognize the benefits of traveling alone. No news there. The kicker is that many of these same folks never travel because they're either too afraid of the unknown or they'd rather avoid the stigmas that often get attached to those who travel alone.
In her book, Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips, journalist and intrepid solo sojourner Lea Lane examines the bugaboos that keep solitary souls from packing suitcases and offers advice on how to overcome them. What to do about eating alone, becoming sick on the road, how to trust your own judgment, and getting lost while alone are just a few of the issues explored in the book, which also contains colorful anecdotes, advice, and tips on getting out there and seeing the world by yourself.
Lane also debunks the labels---loner and anti-social are among the many--- that are slapped on solo trekkers, showing that they're merely labels and should be ignored. "The best way to overcome the stigmas is to get out there and have fun traveling solo," says Lane. "Whether you're a woman or a man, forget about conventional wisdom, there is no better way to truly experience a destination than exploring it on your own."
We sat down with Lea Lane recently for an interview.
Why travel solo?
Soloing isn't just a different way to travel---it's the ultimate way. Undiluted. Totally in the moment. Undistracted. Just what you want, how you want it, and when you want it so you can experience all you can. You will have more freedom and meet more people. Just ask those who do it.
What's the most important advice?
Don't fall for the negatives you'll hear from those who can't imagine soloing. As a solo traveler you are special and will be able to deal with almost anything with thorough planning, good judgment, an open mind, and a smile. The world is filled with great people and things, and by soloing wisely you'll get to experience them to the fullest. Just trust your instincts and use your head.
How do I avoid loneliness?
It's a cliche by now, but "alone" and "lonely" are different words. Separate them. You can be far lonelier with an incompatible travel partner. Just do what you enjoy, go where you want to go, and try to seek out like-minded, interesting people as you travel. A smile and a question work wonders. Seek out places with lots to do and lots of other soloists, like cities, or spas or cruises. Or join groups for all or part of your trip.
What tips do you have for eating alone?
Eat in informal places, like cafes or pubs. Have your main meal at lunch. Stay at lodgings with dining on premises. If you go to a fancy place, reserve ahead if possible, arrive early, and don't settle for a bad table. Bring something to read, do some writing, and enjoy being in the spotlight. This is your chance to be a diva---so dress up and act as special as you are. You'll have others envying your free spirit.
How can a soloist save money?
A big problem for solo travelers is the single supplement, a surcharge often tacked on to a room when you travel alone. To avoid this, look for special deals, off-season times, and groups that offer discounts or roommates. You can compensate by trying for upgrades, bargaining in the marketplace, and focusing on what's important: Should you spend on food or film? Room or shopping? When you're on your own you can budget the way you want, without an argument.
What is the key safety issue for women traveling solo?
The same as anywhere---people who have bad motives, and who will try and take advantage of you in some way. Try to blend in as much as possible, and remain cautious and skeptical. Don't let a cute accent and smooth line fool you. Keep a low profile, don't be flashy, and stay in public places. Safety trumps truth---have a line ready that will discourage jerks.
What is the most unexpected experience you've had on a solo trip?
One of the joys of soloing is that options are endless, and you'll have many wonderful, surprising experiences. I was gazing at a painting in a museum in Erfurt Germany. A director of a European travel show saw me and was so impressed that I was on my own he decided to shoot a segment around me, on the spot. So for the rest of the day I was a star, and was treated to dinner as guest of honor at a medieval banquet. You never know!