Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take. ~ Joshua 1:9
You? Afraid of solo travel?
No one would ever think you were afraid of anything.
You’ve been succeeding on your own for a long time now, managing a household, paying bills. Maybe you’ve even helped raise a child or two through their teen years, and now, years later, both are responsible, self-supporting adults and you’re still sane.
No doubt about it ~ you are FEARLESS!
Yet the idea of traveling by yourself scares you.
For instance, you really want to see unusual and beautiful places, but you’re convinced you’d feel awkward on your own among the people who live in those places.
How does THAT work?
But never fear ~ you can have a GREAT time traveling on your own, especially in the great American Southwest. Even if you consider yourself shy.
Today, I’m sharing some simple practices you can adopt to help you bridge that “fear of talking to strangers” gap and others.
These are practices I’ve developed from years of travel experience. They center on the 5 basic fears that can be particularly troublesome for first-time solo travelers.
While reading, you may discover there is one scary solo travel situation you may never have to face at all. And another you hadn’t realized existed.
So grab a cuppa and read on. It’s time to kick your fears of solo travel to the curb.
5 Big Solo Travel Fears (& How You Can Defeat Them)
1) THE FEAR OF ASKING FOR INFORMATION
Ask and you will receive, sometimes more than you ask for.
We often feel as if we’re bothering the people we ask when that’s not the case at all.
Most people are pleased to help you with directions and other kinds of local information. Many are happy for the chance to show you their town, so to speak. Plus, they don’t want you to get lost.
Some go out of their way to make sure you reach your destination. To show you just HOW far they’ll go, let’s go to Sweden.
To Gothenburg, Sweden, to be exact ~ a city I didn’t know, in a country I’d never been before, where they spoke a language I didn’t understand.
I was living in the U.K. at the time and had arrived in Gothenburg only the day before to pick up a new car from the local SAAB factory.
I’d taken a taxi to the factory, but now I was driving my pretty new car and couldn’t find my way back to the hotel.
That was when I saw this guy come out of a building and walk to his car. I ran over to him and asked for directions to the hotel ~ in English.
He nodded and said, “I understand.”
If I said a silent prayer of thanks for mandatory English education in Sweden, I don’t remember, but I should have.
However, Swedish Guy didn’t speak English as well as he understood it and his directions had too many twists and turns for me to follow.
So the only way to get me where I wanted to go was for him to drive to the hotel and for me to follow behind.
And that’s just what we did. Both my new car and I arrived without incident at the hotel, and eventually, the U.K.
Even with the language barrier, THAT was easy!
And in the Southwest, since you both will be speaking the same language fluently, it’ll be easier for you than it was for me in Sweden. (Even if you do end up approaching the odd cranky local.)
This is especially the case in New Mexico, a state so friendly, travelers have rated its capital, Santa Fe, among the 10 friendliest cities in the U.S. *
YOUR SOLO TRAVEL TAKEAWAYS
- Most people all around the world, even big city dwellers, are happy to give directions, restaurant recommendations, or other information when you ask for it.
- In most of the Southwest, from Marathon, TX to Victorville, CA and from Durango, CO to Tombstone, AZ, the population is so low, whoever you ask will likely be thrilled for someone new to talk to.
2) FEAR OF STARTING CONVERSATIONS WITH STRANGERS
Conversation flows easier when the words come from the heart, not just from your head.
Starting conversations with people you don’t know becomes natural when you’re sincerely curious about them, something they’re doing, or something you’re both experiencing at the same time.
Like when you and another person are staring at the same piece of contemporary art and you can read on her face the same question mark you’ve got on yours:
What WERE they thinking (or drinking) when they created this?
Or, just like you’ve done in restaurants when you’ve yet to order and the server sets an incredible-looking dish in front of the diner sitting near you. What is that? you ask. Is it really good?
A conversation similar to this introduced me to the delicious caldo at La Nueva Casita Restaurant in Las Cruces.
SOLO TRAVEL SUCCESS TAKEAWAYS
- What are your major interests? Use them as a jumping-off point to connect with others.
- Guidebooks are good basic travel resources, but detailed recommendations from someone who, just last week, did exactly what you want to do right now are better. More entertaining, too.
- Be confident that the combination of a good appetite and the nearness of good food will overcome our natural reserve most every time.
3) FEAR OF BURNOUT
If “fear of burn out” wasn’t on your personal list of travel concerns, it should be.
Travel fatigue is real.
By running around trying to do and see too many things because we think This is all the time I have, I’ll never come this way again we run ourselves down.
It’s why people come home from vacation feeling like they need a vacation.
And when travel fatigue hits you in the middle of your trip, SUPER bummer.
So don’t blow your opportunity.
Take it slow and treat yourself.
You don’t need four-star lodging since you’ll spend more time out of your room than in it. But do stay somewhere that speaks “clean, comfy & cozy” to you.
Book a slow-moving afternoon tea. Or stop by that amazing looking bakery-café for coffee and something sweet and buy a few pastries for later.
Then, curl up in your comfy room with those pastries and watch TV. Read one of those good books you never, until now, had time for.
So often when we travel solo, we tend to cut corners on how much we spend on ourselves.
It’s just me, we say.
As much as your resources allow, resist that tendency.
Splurge on a luxe cafe luncheon. (Lunch is less costly than dinner but just as filling.)
If you do go out to dinner, make it a NICE local restaurant. Few experiences will be more memorable than a terrific meal with terrific service in the company of enthusiastic local diners.
Every day, as you start out with plans to see a new attraction, have a plan for rest and relaxation as well. The more creative the better.
After all, you may never come this way again.
SOLO TRAVEL SUCCESS TAKEAWAYS
- Slow down. Take L-O-N-G sips. Savor. You, just you, are worth it. Make this a trip you’ll remember for the right reasons.
- Makes no sense coming home from your vacation needing a vacation. When trying to see everything there is to see, taking regular breaks is a genius move.
4) FEAR OF GETTING LOST
Ah, that beautiful Southwestern desert sprawl!
This is a region where small cities and towns predominate, with places of interest spread out across large stretches of land. Most of the highways connecting these cities are no wider than four lanes if not two.
And within the cities ~ even in Phoenix, the region’s largest ~ most streets are two-way. So if you do miss a turn or find out you’re going the wrong way, it’s easy to turn around and get back in the right direction.
That’s why, for travelers in the Southwest, a fear of getting lost is rarely an issue.
But fear of getting caught without enough gas is.
It can happen to you anywhere, in New Mexico, Arizona…
It happened to me in West Texas.
L. and I were on our first scouting trip to the Southwest, deciding where we would live after he retired.
That morning, we were wrapping up our stay in Alamogordo, New Mexico. We had spent the previous few days in Truth or Consequences, another small New Mexican city, and now we were on our way to Alpine to begin the Texas portion of our tour.
This small Texas town, the relocation guides said, was pretty and had gorgeous weather. Okay, we would soon see for ourselves . . .
The plan was to take the US-54 West to the I-10 East which we’d take as far as Van Horn. Then from Van Horn, we’d get on the US-90 towards the town of Marfa, and, finally, Alpine.
With driving directions confirmed, we pulled off from our lodgings at Holloman Air Force Base.
We’d been driving for about three hours and estimated we’d be driving almost another two before arriving in Alpine when I asked out loud what I had been thinking:
Where IS everybody?
For miles in any direction, there was not a house in sight. And we hadn’t seen another car for the last 15 miles.
For a city girl used to bumper to bumper traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, this was fascinating.
After another 15 miles of truly zero traffic, my fascination had turned to alarm. That’s when we both asked out loud:
Where’s a gas station?
The gas gauge indicated we were almost empty and we had nearly 80 miles to go.
We prayed for a gas station to appear and for the next few miles, slowed to 30 miles an hour to help the little fuel we had last.
Then we saw a sign for a town called Valentine. Woo hoo, we thought, gas is just up ahead!
But the sign for Valentine was one of those road signs that lie. We had found a gas pump alright, but there was no one around to turn it on.
We crawled out of Valentine, now doing 25 miles an hour. Over an hour later we finally reached Marfa, a real town ~ with people and a gas station.
Only then did I stop muttering to myself, Why, oh, why didn’t we stop for gas in Van Horn when we had the chance?
Until we arrived in Alpine 25 minutes later, Marfa was the prettiest West Texas town I ever saw.
SOLO TRAVEL SUCCESS TAKEAWAYS
- Breathe easy. You may take a wrong turn but you will likely never get lost in the Southwest while driving.
- Getting caught without enough gas is another story. But the fix for that is easy: fill up EVERY CHANCE you get.
5) FEAR OF LONELINESS
There are pluses to traveling alone.
No one hurries you to move on to the next room in the exhibit. The only stomach grumblings dictating when it’s time to eat are your own.
Maybe the best part is this: if you want more time with that strawberry cheesecake, to study that painting, or to nurse a mocha cappuccino in that cool coffee bar, there is no one to tell you different.
But the time will come, on your solo trip, when you want to say, Hey, take a look at this.
And there will be no one to say it to.
So don’t be surprised with the bit of sadness that’s coming your way, but do be prepared.
The loneliness will pass quickly if you have alternative ways to “share” your travels. Here are three to consider:
- Keep a travel journal. It will come in handy post trip when you’re matching up photos and dates with places and trying to recall the high points to share with your friends.
- If communicating one-to-one is essential, you could use an app like WhatsApp, useful for rapid sending of text and photos to the key people in your life who can give you instant feedback. On an extended trip, you might also share your exploits with friends via snail mail. (You’re guaranteed to make them feel special with such a rare treat!)
- Another nice if not so personal way to share your trip is to post your photos on Instagram so friends can follow and comment. You get the idea. Any of these alone or in combination will help you feel less alone. They’ll also help you maintain close relationships with far away friends and family.
SOLO TRAVEL SUCCESS TAKEAWAYS
- Short periods of feeling lonely on a solo trip are normal and to be expected.
- Keeping a journal or staying in touch with someone back home helps you to feel less alone when traveling solo. Staying in contact with loved ones while you’re away can help maintain or even strengthen your relationships.
SO WHERE ARE YOU OFF TO?
Traveling on your own will be much more fun if you apply these 5 tips on a consistent basis. In time, you’ll be free of your solo travel fears and feel ready to travel almost anywhere in the world.
In the meantime, the American Southwest, where residents welcome strangers and the spaces are so wide and open that finding your way is easy, is an ideal place to start.
What has been your biggest concern about solo travel? Did you find it here? Share in the comments.