I travel alone often, for both business and personal vacation. The former, nothing can be done. I signed up to my job knowing full well travel was part of the requirement. In fact, that appealed to me.
For vacation, I don’t expect people to take off their hard-earned time and money just to accompany me. So I don’t ask them to. Sometimes, friends will mention strong interest in a destination and I’d ask if they would like to go together but, more often than not, it just doesn’t work out. I can hardly expect to wait until I have a significant other, a travel buddy, or a relative to become available to act as chaperon. So I don’t.
Over the years, in addition to all the usual travel tips and cautions, I’ve developed a personal travel strategy that helps me enjoy my trip and feel more comfortable in my skin and shoes.
Avoid getting into potentially bad situations. I exercise caution perhaps more than normal. I rarely go out at night, usually just to dinner or an event and immediately back. I don’t go clubbing. I don’t bar hop. In fact, I almost never drink. The best way to get out of trouble is to avoid the potential of getting into any.
I make people remember me. I make a point of tipping the bellhop well or checking in with the front desk regularly. As a result, they are sure to keep an eye on me and they will be the first to notice if I’m being hassled. I once had a taxi driver that tried to bully me into paying an exorbitant amount, and I finally agreed that I’ll get money at the hotel. As soon as we pulled up, the hotel knew something was up, helped me out, and kicked the taxi off its premises out without pay.
I keep a pocket knife on me. It only took 30 minutes in one third world airport for me to decide to pick up the habit. Fortunately, I’ve never used one for more than opening boxes, but I have it. Carrying one has become second nature to the point I often forget to take out before going through security screening. Yes, TSA has benefited.
I treat myself to at least one three-course dinner in a nice restaurant. Eating alone is intimidating. I know men traveling alone for 40+ years who still cannot eat out alone. I force myself to go out, but to a more expensive establishment. The good wait staff will service me promptly but leave me to my privacy. By eating out, I give myself at least that one chance to sample the local specialties as well as that one meal where I slow down, sit down, and savor a meal slowly.
I shop in a local store. In the age of global marketing, destinations are beginning to loose its local flavor. I seek out unique stores that specialize in local products. Sometimes it’s not a souvenir store, but a regular grocer’s corner.
I go to their supermarket. Or their market. Where they do their regular grocery shopping, I visit. What better way to get a flavor of their lifestyle? Supermarkets are also great sources of packaged local brand fare/spices/candies at the more local prices. Jakarta’s airport has duty free stores selling Indonesian coffee for as much as $15 for 250 grams of beans. The supermarkets sell nicely packaged tins of 200g for 85,000 rupiah (approx. $8.5)
Send myself a postcard. Nothing like a locally postmarked postcard to remind myself of a wonderful trip.
I always bring a camera. So many missed moments. But so many great caught on film moments and experiences! It is also the source of some entertainment. And carrying one always reminds me to look from a fresh perspective, a sense of seeking discovery.
Read the local events listing. This is my one exception to not staying out at night rule. Sporting events, performing arts, fairs all offer entertainment, often with a local flavor. One of my most memorable events was watching the All Blacks play the Wallabies.
I write a journal. Depending on the destination, the purpose, the mood, sometimes it’s as simple as a listing of where I ate and what I thought of the food. I have great memory, but human, and I find details are fading over time. I often re-read my journals to refresh my memory or just to talk a nostalgic trip down the memory lane. In some countries that are truly depressing to be in, I always start my daily entry with five things I am grateful of to remind myself that life is good.