8 Tips for Staying Social When Traveling Solo
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain
Many of us over 60 are single or have husbands uninterested in touring the planet. Is that any reason to avoid the trips we yearn for?
I lived overseas, on my own, for seven years. Although I preferred traveling with friends, I also spent a week in Malta, and another one in Thailand, by myself. I managed, but I learned some things along the way.
At first, I sat alone with a book at dinner and ate ordered meals in my room. But once I reached just a bit out of my comfort zone, I found people were friendly and welcoming. I needed connections.
Tip #1: When Dining, Ask for Company
Tell restauranteurs that you’re alone and would appreciate being seated with another party. If that’s not an option, seat yourself near someone else who is alone or close to people who look friendly. Why not?
Last month, my husband suffered a back injury. As a result, I was waved off for two weeks in Norway without him. I would have cancelled the trip if it hadn’t been for a huge family reunion in the fishing village where my grandfather grew up.
Determined to make the most of things, I decided to be proactive. On my first night in Bodø, I wheedled my way into a busy seafood restaurant and was seated beside a couple from Lilljehammer.
It took me a minute to engage them, but they turned out to be charming as well as informative, giving me numerous ideas for activities in the coming weeks.
Tip #2: Make Connections at Breakfast Time
If breakfast is provided at your hotel, strike up a conversation as you stand in line. If the person seems friendly and talkative, ask if they’d mind if you join them at their table. Few people would refuse.
Once your day begins, you have other options for making connections, or perhaps you’d prefer to tour on your own, which is great, too. I like going through museums by myself, but I prefer company at meals.
Tip #3: Stay in Facilities That Offer Time for Socializing
On my last night in Lofoten, Norway, I moved from my studio apartment to a hostel-type room, where I was pleased to chat with a young Australian woman.
She happily joined me on a trip to a glassblower’s shop the next day. The drive was spectacular, and I enjoyed her company immensely, especially after five days by myself.
Tip #4: Plan at Least One Interesting Activity Each Day
Jerry and I had planned a kayak trip in the Lofotens for our second week in Norway. The Lofotens are spectacularly beautiful, with mountains jutting from the sea between adjacent fjords.
At the beginning of my solo week, I perused the tourist information books and chose one or two activities for each day. I booked a studio apartment in Å (pronounced “Oh”), a town of about 50-60 residents.
Å featured two fishing museums, and I visited them on separate days, making sure I was included in guided English tours. It was fascinating to learn about the life my grandfather must have lived as a fisherman.
One day, I arranged a kayak trip of the Reine Fjord, and my young guide Kaspar was an absolute delight. The two of us spent a fascinating four hours chatting and paddling some of the most breathtaking water on the planet.
Tip #5: Join Group Tours at Museums and Tourist Sites
It’s always a good idea to tour museums and other sites with a group. This also gives you the opportunity to engage others in conversation throughout each tour.
It might cost a little more for a spot with a tour guide, but you’ll learn a lot more and have the opportunity to connect with other English speakers. Of course, most Norwegians speak English, but they don’t tent to reach out to strangers. That was my job.
Another option is traveling on a tour, which offers you automatic companionship. I’ve given a few tours of Turkey myself and was amazed each time at how close members of the group became after spending a few weeks touring and eating together.
Tip #6: Engage Shop Owners or Assistants in Conversation
Whenever I felt lonesome in Turkey, I’d find a carpet shop to wander into. Carpet dealers always offer a cup of tea or bottle of cold water as well as friendly conversation.
Of course, I always looked at carpets, too, but I only bought one occasionally. I still treasure my relationships with Hussein Palyoğlu and Musa Başaran, who always seemed pleased to see me.
Western cultures might not be quite as welcoming, but most shop owners are eager to engage customers, and they can offer a wealth of information about the local area. Who knows? You might even find the perfect souvenir or gift to bring home.
Tip #7: Choose a Safe Bar/Pub and Enjoy a Chat Over a Glass of Wine or a Beer
Should you dare, you might also consider a stop into the hotel bar or a nearby pub, making sure you use good judgement and hang on to your purse. Though I’ve always found it difficult to step into a bar alone, it can be a good way to meet other solo travelers.
It’s important to keep your wits about you though and avoid being pulled into uncomfortable situations. But it’s also great fun to chat with other travelers or locals about activities they’ve enjoyed or recommend.
Tip #8: Take a Tour That Matches Your Age, Interest and Activity Level
There’s a wide variety of tour organizations geared for people of different interests and activity levels. Some arrange cruises, others do bus tours, and some offer high-energy active options.
The first time I took a group to Turkey, I arranged it through Go Ahead Tours, an adult affiliate of EF Tours (an international student tour organization). We were a group of 24, and everyone fell in love with our intelligent, fun and informative guide, Mehmet.
There wasn’t enough physical activity on that tour for some of us, though that was the only complaint. This year I’ve organized an independent tour through Sojourn Turkey Tours. It’s a similar tour, with fewer people and more activity. I’ve also scored Mehmet as a guide again – lucky us!
However you choose to connect with others while you travel, I wish you a fulfilling and interesting experience!
What’s the first image that the words ‘solo travel’ bring to your mind? Is it something fun, or something lonely? Have you traveled on your own? Where to? What was the experience like? Let us know if you have any valuable tips to share! Please use the comments below.