How I Learned to Love Traveling Solo

From meeting locals to ensuring your safety, tips for creating the perfect solo beach vacay.

Posted: 08/27/2014 10:52 AM EDT
woman on the beach

There’s a game I play with my three-year-old daughter where we give each other checkups using the teeny tools in her purple doctor’s bag. When it’s time to give her a shot, I tell her to close her eyes and think of something happy. Nearly every time, her response is the same: “I’m playing on the beach!” She’s a kid after my own heart.

Sure, I like craning my neck at architecture in another nation’s capital city and ducking into galleries in the afternoon heat to check out a local artist, but for my money, a beach vacation is the perfect trip. Whether it’s on the coast of Miami or Positano, there’s something rejuvenating about spending long stretches of time beside the water, sunglasses on, headphones in, book in hand.

But when you go to said beach with your girls, that peace is usually interrupted by a vote to head to some “can’t miss” restaurant for lunch or to make a mall run to buy an outfit for the evening’s club excursion. That’s why I advocate traveling alone: There’s a freedom that comes with doing exactly what you want to do, a peace that settles in when you can hear your own thoughts, and a sense of accomplishment that follows you all the way home.

It might sound a bit daunting, but with a little preparation and common sense, you can have a safe, fun vacation all by yourself. Here’s how:

Give yourself a chance. Worried you’ll be lonely? Dealing with other people’s quirks — and schedules — is overrated. Trust yourself to be the best traveling companion you’ll ever have. Who else knows exactly where you want to stay, what time you want to get up, where you want to post up on the sand, what you want to eat and how often you want to venture into the water?

Create — and share — a loose itinerary. Now is not the time to wing it. If your only plan is to lounge on the beach, that’s fine, but at the very least figure out where you will lay your head every night before you step onto a plane. Then share that information with your nearest and dearest so that they will know how to find you. Be sure to plan your travel and research the associated costs, too, so that you won’t end up overcharged or stranded at a rural airport when you discover that there is no taxi stand.

Open the lines of communication. It might cost a fortune to talk or even text on your cell, but using apps like FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp let you check in for free. Let your people know the best way to reach you at all times (and share the time difference so they won’t wake you!).

Use your brain. Would you walk down a dark street alone at 3:27 a.m. in your city? So don’t do it on vacay. Keep your ID on your body, rather than in your carry-on bag, and consider registering with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which connects you with the local U.S. Embassy in case of emergency. No matter what time you’re moving around, walk with a purpose, and go inside somewhere to consult your map app rather than coming to a stop on the street and broadcasting that you’re a tourist.

Unplug, literally. It’s tempting to post your selfies to IG as you go, but imagine what you could miss while you’re spending the next hour checking to see how many hearts you have. Resolve to only connect when it’s time to connect with your loved ones and save the trip recap for when you return.

Be smart about new friends. While one of the great things about traveling alone is that you’re more likely to meet the locals, be smart about what you share with your new friends. It’s OK to tell folks that you are on your way to meet a friend or that your husband is in the café down the street. Telling everyone you meet that you’re traveling alone could open you up to folks who want to take advantage of your perceived weakness. If you’d like to plan some safe meetups with locals, try a site like InviteForABite.com, which connects women who are traveling alone for meals.

Use technology. Traveling to a beach where everyone is speaking something other than English? Apps like Word Lens (which translates signs using your phone’s camera) and Google Translate (which translates text) can make communication a thousand times easier.

Happy (solo) travels!

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 (Photo: Hero Images/Corbis)

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