When reader Shannon wrote me two months ago about solo travel, my first instinct was that her hesitation to travel alone was a mix of concern on safety, practicality and loneliness. These are all legitimate and frequently covered by travel writers.
I asked for more on what precisely is her main concern and she said the fear of eating alone. She shared How to Eat Alone and Enjoy It from Twenty-Something Travel:
For me, I realized one of my fears is that random people are going to come over and start talking to me because I’m alone. Being bothered by people I don’t know gives me a lot of anxiety (true introvert here).
This is so far from my nature that I have struggled for these two months in how to say anything of value.
On my solo travels, I love the solitude of my thoughts during quiet stretches. At mealtime I enjoy a book or podcast. Thinking about it, though, I realized I am hardly alone. When traveling solo you must have interactions with people all day to move forward on the trip.
To be really alone, join a tour group. Sitting in the back of a tour bus you can choose to be removed from all that is happening.
A different kind of alone is when traveling with others. The focus is on your internal group relations, with the outside world at a distance. The people with you create a bubble that outsiders hesitate to penetrate.
When alone on a trip there is no bubble and people will approach. You are pulled into local’s lives.
My one practical suggestion that I don’t see elsewhere will seem counter-intuitive: go to places without much tourism.
Locals in places with heavy tourist numbers block out the crowds as they get on with their lives. Tourists in Manhattan are sidewalk obstacles to dodge. In Aruba you may never meet a local not engaged in the tourist industry. Mass tourism leads to superficiality and alienation.
When you instead visit a place without tourism you almost assuredly attract friendly attention. People take you under their wing.
This week I entered a country with one of the worst reputations in the world, from corruption to violence. When the customs officer heard I am a tourist he broke into a big smile and shook my hand. That was Nigeria.
Here are a few countries and regions that come to mind as especially outgoing to visitors:
- Small town US and Canada, in the summer when events are on
- Central America, particularly Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua
- Dominica, Nevis, Saba, Montserrat and Haiti in the Caribbean
- Middle East for women (you get dotted on by local women), not so for men except for the outgoing Iranians
- Much of Eastern Europe into the Caucasus (Georgia is a personal favorite)
- North Africa
- Bangladesh and Pakistan
Just by being out and about in these places and more you will quickly feel part of a community.