In 2018 I traveled alone. I wandered through a terrible contemporary art museum in Maastricht, kite-surfed in Sicily, ate rabbit paella in Barcelona, and celebrated Founder’s Day with a church in Copenhagen. All of these memories were good; even the terrible art museum, which that day featured an exhibition partly titled “How to unmodernize yourself and become an elf in 12 steps” was good for a laugh.
I was hesitant to travel alone. What would I do all day? Whom would I speak with? If I ate a good meal or became good at kitesurfing, would it even be real? I process thoughts and emotion in conversation. Without a tourist companion, would the revelations and discoveries that come with travel escape me?
But I’ve found solo travel to be a rewarding experience. Here’s what I learned.
Plan one activity a day. Do your homework and plan in advance. Find local attractions and good restaurants; study histories and public transportation systems; solicit tips from friends. But do not overplan. You can’t craft the perfect agenda from a 400-mile distance. Allow room in your plans for recommendations from locals.
Bring entertainment. Download podcasts, bring books and movies. You’ll have down time. Spend it reading the novel you’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t. Listen to a podcast while walking down a pedestrian street. Find a movie shot about or in the destination you’re visiting.
Ask questions. People, especially locals, are proud of where they are from. They are often eager to share their thoughts and experiences with tourists. Ask why the voice on the metro sounds so strange, or why so many people have flags hanging from their windows, or where to eat lunch. The answers will take you places you won’t otherwise reach.
Journal. You will meet people. You will eat strange meals and see remarkable sights. Take pictures and write about them. Save your thoughts so they can be shared later.
Say yes. Even if you hate Aperol Spritzer, it’s a good idea to let Daniel, the 18-year-old bartending apprentice, mix you one. If the museum gets crowded later in the day, wake up early to have it to yourself. Choose to walk through a new neighborhood instead of staying in for the night.
I often say that traveling is the best way—for better or for worse—to get to know someone. Following the tips above is not just a great way to learn about a new place, it’s a great way to get to know yourself.