In college, I made at least two solo trips from Pittsburgh to Virginia every year. I had a friend who lived there and occasionally I visited some extended family, which made for good excuses to get out of town for a few days. Throughout my 20s, I made the trip back less often and started traveling to different cities alone for work conferences. I’ve always loved traveling solo, and after having the opportunity to do so again after having kids, I remembered why: it’s freeing. It’s relaxing. Exciting. All at once. And, for the most part, safe.
Making the Case for Solo Trips
When it comes up in conversation, there are always a couple of people who seem surprised that I not only enjoy traveling alone but that the majority of my traveling up to this point has been by myself. I love going places with my husband — he’s one of the few people I actually enjoy vacationing with! — but his available PTO usually doesn’t line up with my travel commitments with work, or these days someone needs to stay home to watch the kids.
So why have I (almost) never given it a second thought, even when I was younger?
I get to do what I want, on my own schedule. There’s no need to coordinate interests, budget, timeframe, etc with anyone else.
If I want to go somewhere, and I’m able to, I can just go. Except now we’ve got, you know, kids and stuff. So there are fewer opportunities.
I get to experience a destination on my own first, and then decide if I want to go back and explore more with my husband or kids.
Interestingly, the majority of global solo travelers are women. Surprised? I was, but then I wasn’t. I get it. Yet, pre-COVID, it’s estimated that only 14% of travelers were planning a trip on their own. That’s changed since early 2020; now, almost a quarter of 40,000+ respondents (link to survey results) plan to travel by themselves. Guess COVID has all us feeling a little cramped. Once again, I get it!
Especially for moms, traveling solo is so important to do. You get away for awhile — whether it’s a weekend or a week — and get to remember what it was like not having little people relying on you for everything. No one’s demanding your attention or screaming your name, and your schedule can be your own. Want to sleep all day? Go for it. Want to wake up at 6 am and go exploring all day? Go out until 2 am? Decide at the last minute to get a massage at the hotel spa? You decide! It’s amazing to have that kind of flexibility and freedom when your daily life is all about what you need to do for others.
Tips for Traveling Alone
I am by no means well-traveled (I do know a great travel agent who can hook you up anywhere you want to go!), but throughout the last 16 years, I’ve sort of kept a mental checklist of ways to make solo trips a little better. Besides just winging it, which I’ve also done and don’t quite recommend in a post-COVID world (travel restrictions and business closures and all).
If you decide you want to plan a trip for yourself, maybe some of these insights will help.
Research the area where you plan to stay. When I was 20, I was perfectly fine staying in a cheap motel because the cost was a priority. Unless it’s a really cute, boutique motel with great ratings, that’s a no-go these days. Price isn’t my top factor by a long shot anymore. I look at the surrounding area for safety, accessibility, and nearby attractions. Once, I stayed at a cheap motel to visit my cousin, and it turns out my motel was inexpensive because it shared a parking lot with a porn store and was known for accommodating certain types of, uh, visitors. I didn’t have any issues, but I could have.
I always choose hotels now, not just because of the amenities, but also because the doors are only accessible from indoor hallways. And I make sure they don’t share a parking lot with a porn store or are located in a seedy area. You live and learn. Plus, you can’t beat the free hot breakfast.
Now that we have Uber and Lyft, when I’m out on my own, I always put the route into my phone first and follow along to make sure we’re going in the right direction. Call me paranoid, but it’s my own personal safety net in case the worst-case scenario might become a possibility. For some women, it has. That’s also why I don’t talk about my travel plans openly when other people are nearby, or with the driver. Again, call me paranoid, but just in case.
Speaking of safety, I’m all for exploring and being adventurous, but on a solo trip, don’t do anything that would potentially put you in danger. For example, last month I took a side trip to Phoenix. I was already in the Midwest for work, so I figured why not — we already had childcare lined up anyway. I love to hike, but the one mountain I wanted to hike had one of its two trails closed for maintenance — the trail with the gradual ascent versus the steep, extremely challenging one that went straight to the top. I nixed that plan after I arrived. I didn’t want to twist an ankle or get a more serious injury attempting to do something I wasn’t confident I could safely do on my own.
Later during that same trip, I took another little side trip (my side trip within a side trip) up to the Grand Canyon. It was a 3.5-hour drive each way from Phoenix, which is a lot in one day but was so worth it. While there, and especially once I started hiking down into the canyon, I stopped to take pictures every 10 minutes or so. The landscape was gorgeous, but I had another reason: just in case something happened to me, my phone automatically backs up to the cloud. My husband would have been able to log into my Google account and see the time and location of any photos in real-time to see where I was. 🙂
I also always made sure to tell someone at home where I was going before I went. Always make sure someone you trust knows your whereabouts and general itinerary, even if you’re not sure what you want to do until you get there.
And, purchase the travel insurance! If you get sick, injured, have to cancel for some other reason, or you get delayed or stuck with an overbooked hotel, you’ll get your money back or get reimbursed, depending on the policy you choose. During one of my last trips, I was supposed to go from Wichita to Oklahoma but had to cancel the second half of the trip a week beforehand. That’s when I pivoted and booked Phoenix instead. Without travel insurance, changing the flights would have been harder.
Some of my favorite ways to see a new place for the first or second time are to walk the city/area, go hiking, or take a bus tour. Any city I’ve ever gone to, I always go walking, whether by myself or part of a guided tour. Sidenote: a haunted ghost tour is a great way to see New Orleans by foot and learn about the history of the area!
I also try to find out if there’s an activity or destination that a particular area is well-known for. In New Orleans, I also did a swamp tour. In Austin, I made sure to see all the murals I could and hung out near the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk to hopefully see the bats. In Philadelphia, I booked a tour of the historical area and purchased a ticket to see the Liberty Bell up close. In Las Vegas, I hiked in the Mojave Desert (with both my husband and my mom, on separate trips) and visited the Hoover Dam, and did plenty of people watching at outdoor bars on the Strip. I’ve also visited Chicago, Orlando, Washington, DC, New York City, Wichita, and Virginia Beach on my own. Usually, I don’t stay in the hotel too long, except to sleep in on one of the days!
If you’re on the fence about planning a trip by yourself, just do it! Even if you feel guilty in the beginning for leaving your family for a few days, trust me, it’ll pass. They’ll be fine! You’ll value the time to yourself and return to your family a little more refreshed and energized with new stories to share. Maybe you can use that experience to plan the next trip with your family. That’s actually one of the ways my husband and I like to travel: we try out a destination first before diving in more with our kids or friends.
Now that travel restrictions are being lifted and it’s becoming safer to travel again, where do you plan to go? Maybe you’ll be among the growing number of travelers going it alone. One final piece of advice: if you’re flying on your solo trip, pack a wine bottle opener WITHOUT a knife so it doesn’t get confiscated in airport security!