Ready to go it alone? Kate Silver's top tips for easing into solo travel.
Since 2012, Kristin Addis has been travelling the world. More often than not, she's solo.
The former investment banker decided to sell her belongings five years ago and hit the road. She since has lived in silence at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, trekked to see gorillas in Uganda and hiked on glaciers in Patagonia.
For Addis - who blogs about her experiences at bemytravelmuse.com, and wrote a book, Conquering Mountains: How to Solo Travel the World Fearlessly - travelling solo is easier than negotiating with a travel companion.
"You make all the decisions," she says. "You get to just wake up that day and say 'I want to go somewhere.' Or 'I really like it here, I think I'll stay five more days.' And you don't need to ask anyone if it's okay with them."
She says travelling alone is a great way to learn about yourself and put your skills to the test.
"You'll become so much better at problem-solving, because you learn very quickly that there is absolutely zero point in sitting around crying about it," she says. "Because no one is going to come fix it."
Here are her tips for travelling solo.
If you've never travelled by yourself and are considering a lengthy solo trip, it might help to test the waters - and calm anxious friends and family members - by going on a small trip first. "If you're going to go on a big solo trip, your friends and family might be trying to talk you out of it. [A smaller trip] is a good way to show them, 'Hey I can do this just fine,' "Addis says.
CHOOSE A SOCIAL (BUT NOT ROMANTIC) DESTINATION
If you're concerned about getting lonely, Addis suggests visiting a place popular with solo travellers, such as Southeast Asia, Central America or South Africa. There, you can meet people of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom are also looking to connect with others. Whatever you do, Addis says, avoid places that are known for being particularly romantic. "I would pick a part of the world where it's not going to be all honeymooners," she says. "As a first-time solo traveller, that can be kind of tough."
TALK TO THE LOCAL
SWant to know the must-see/must-eat spots in a town? Ask someone who lives there. If you're shy about striking up a conversation with a stranger, Addis suggests heading to a local pub or getting involved in an endeavour where you might meet others, such as rock climbing, scuba diving, surfing or hiking.
CONNECT USING TECHNOLOGY
Addis says she knows many people who use the Tinder app when they travel and specify that they're a tourist and looking for people to hang out with (rather than looking for a date). Accommodation options such as Airbnb.com and Couchsurfing.com can also be a good way to meet locals (and save money), and sites such as mealsharing.com and eatwith.com offer the chance to break bread in a local's home. Meetup.com is a site that connects like-minded people in cities around the world for an array of interests - including biking, spirituality, art, yoga, games and drinks.
GET READY FOR DINNER
Even after five years of travelling the world on her own, dining solo still gets to Addis. "That never gets easier," she says. Sometimes, she'll head to the bar at the local hostel and see if there are other travellers interested in going out to eat together. Other times, she'll feast on street food or grab something on the go. Or there's always the bar option within a restaurant, where it can be easier to strike up conversations with other diners and the bartender. A number of times, she says, as she was reading a book in a restaurant, other solo travellers spotted her and asked if they could join. "The cool thing is if you're travelling in a place that attracts a lot of other travellers, there will be other people by themselves. That's what really surprised me, how many other solo travellers there are out there," she says.
CHOOSE PLACES WHERE THE DOLLAR
IS STRONG Since you're not splitting costs with another traveller, solo travel can get expensive. Opt for places where you'll get a good exchange rate for your New Zealand dollar. It's a good time to book a trip to Canada, for example, where a Kiwi dollar equals about $0.95, or Australia, where it's about $0.96. The Singapore dollar has fallen in recent years, and your dollar will exchange for about $1 in Singapore. Addis says by travelling to economically developing areas, such as Costa Rica, Cambodia, Bali and others, you can really stretch your cash. "It's amazing how your money doubles or triples in value," she says.
USE COMMON SENSE WHEN IT COMES TO SAFETY
Addis is often asked about safety. Her advice: "The things you do at home to stay alive make a lot of sense abroad." Don't drink too much, don't walk by yourself at night if it's not safe, don't be afraid to splurge on Uber (on which information is recorded and your journey will be tracked, unlike in a cab), and trust your intuition. She says when travelling solo she sometimes feels safer than when she's with others. "The great thing about travelling alone is that you're hyperaware. Nobody is distracting you," Addis says. "A lot of people think this makes you a target. I find I'm able to say yes more. When locals notice me by myself, they tend to want to take me under their wing or invite me to a meal."
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
Addis says she encounters a lot of misconceptions about solo travel. She says people assume solo travellers don't have friends, or that they can't travel alone if they have a partner and/or kids. She says travelling alone is an empowering, enlightening experience, and encourages everyone to do it: "It's all right to go off and do your own thing even if no one around you understands or agrees with it. You really just get one chance at life. You don't need to wait for somebody to come with you."