After spending months on the road alone researching Lonely Planet guidebooks – pondering art, eating dinners in busy restaurants, taking (and missing) trains, planes and buses – I’m convinced that solo travel is sort of the world’s great new destination. And it’s something -- like seeing the Mall in DC, Yosemite National Park or even the Great Wall of China – that everyone should aspire to experience at least once.
I’m more patient when I’m on my own, and find it easier to make new pals – both locals and like-minded travelers. And I’m not embarrassed to say I love the opportunity to do exactly what I want, when I want. No bickering about whether cousin Tim likes barbecue or not – you just dive into those ribs.
But many would-be solo travelers – who delay dream trips for a lack of travel partners -- worry about being lonely. Truth is, you probably will be – particularly with a bout of the ‘first day blues’ on arrival. But if you plan right, you won’t be alone long.
I start by trolling friends via email or Facebook to find friends of friends in places I go to – and set up a little ‘coffee date’ before I arrive. On a first trip to Bulgaria I learned I was only two degrees of separation from a former prime minister, who invited me for coffee and a chat at Dunkin’ Donuts in Sofia – certainly a memorable introduction to the Balkans.
Once in a place, I search for sticky places – where I’m likely to meet people. For starters, I stay in more intimate, family-run guesthouses – best if there’s a common room for TV or breakfast – where things are more social than giant business hotels.
You can meet new travel buddies too by taking organized day trips – a walking tour for example. That’s how I met a Belgian scientist in Burma and a Luxembourg bureaucrat motorcycling across South America.
I never walk past a visitor’s center without going in. Staff there are paid to talk to you – no matter how dumb my questions -- and can often direct you to local tours or cooking classes where you’re likely to find new friends too.