It is hard to travel as an adult, and when you do get time off it can be hard to coordinate with friends and family who also need to balance work responsibilities as well as their own budgets.
So, rather than sit at home, (or pretend to enjoy a dreaded "staycation"), you can learn to enjoy to travel solo almost anywhere in the world. There are plenty of reasons why you should, but here are some tips on how to take advantage of your vacation days flying solo:
1. Join a Community
The most obvious answer is to stay at a hostel. There, you will find an international community that is expecting to meet new, interesting people. At a typical hostel you'll find cheap drinks, free-wifi, chill common areas, and shared (or private) bedrooms that allow you to strike up a conversation with just about anyone at anytime.
There are, however, plenty of other options. Couch-surfing, Airbnb, and volunteerism (like WWOOF), all serve to bring you closer with locals and other travelers alike. What's most important is that you are open to meeting new people and are genuinely curious about others.
Pro tip: The same three questions will inevitably be asked over and over again by everyone.
1. Where are you from/what do you do?
2. How long are you traveling?
3. Where are you going next?
Take the lead in conversations so everyone can be more engaged. What's their favorite place so far? Do they have any hobbies they pursue while traveling? Any questions outside the three listed above can help to keep things interesting and allow you to find more compelling common ground.
2. Bring Ammunition
There will be times where you are unavoidably by yourself, (which can be a relief), but the need for stimulation doesn't need to come from others. I have a kindle that I always keep fully loaded with books I can read whenever and wherever I like. My personal preference is to read books about or from the country or city I'm in, that way I can share information with other travelers, and to simply gain a deeper appreciation for the people, places, and history around me. I can't read on long bus or car rides however, and that's when I turn to my podcasts. There I can watch the country whizzing by while catching up on news, or listening to an engrossing story.
You don't need an internet connection for either, and when on airplane mode their battery life is exceptional. Just make sure that you don't leave these electronics out when you fall asleep or walk away. I tend to place my iPhone in my bag and zip it mostly closed just in case, and with a kindle it's best to buy a cover so it becomes less conspicuous.
3. Become Aware of Your Surroundings
Especially as a woman, the last thing I want to do is wander into a bad neighborhood or go to the wrong building at the wrong time. I can avoid this by using a little common sense and a little more preparation than a man might.
For instance, in Panama City there is an old section of the city called Casco Viejo that is absolutely beautiful. It is littered with old, dilapidated buildings full of history as well as modern, expensive restaurants. However, just one block over is one of the worst slums I had ever heard of. It is so dangerous that even during the day people are mugged and killed--even the police do not go there, and taxis won't drive through at night even at 50 mph. Without having struck up a conversation with a local, however, I would not have known until it was too late. On the border, it didn't look very different from the rest of the city, but because I asked I knew to stay safely away.
You learn through travel that most people really are friendly, good people. Tourism is a financially lucrative industry, and locals want travelers to return and to bring their friends after having a good experience. With a little forethought and planning (always land in a foreign city in the morning, when possible), you can stay safe but also have the confidence to explore new places on your own.