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solo traveler on horsebackWe’ve written often about the joys of traveling alone, including the freedom to decide what you want to do and the greater opportunity to meet new people. But going solo always has an element of risk to it as well, and that’s where a new site called My Important Information can help.

One of the dangers of traveling by yourself is that if you’re in an emergency and unable to communicate with first responders or doctors, there’s no one else to convey your wishes or share pertinent information about your allergies and medical history. My Important Information is a subscription service that allows you to enter this type of personalized data into an online profile featuring as much or as little as you wish to share. Emergency contacts, medications, physician info, medical conditions, allergies and even the location of your living will can all be uploaded to the site.

The $30 annual membership fee includes a wallet-friendly card with a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone, as well as an emergency code that can be entered into the My Important Information website. Either option allows first responders, hospital staff and the like to access data that could save your life in an emergency.

The service isn’t just useful for travelers; you also get a window sticker and two refrigerator cards for your home, which are especially useful if you live by yourself.

Hotel Safety Tips

One caveat for international travelers: There’s currently no translation feature on the site, so if the person reading your profile doesn’t speak English, the information may not do him or her any good. A spokesperson for the site tells us that a translator is an enhancement that may be added in the future, with Spanish as the likely first option. In the meantime, because you can change your profile at any time, you may want to tailor it before each trip. If you’re headed to Brazil, for example, you can copy and paste the most important info into a service such as Google Translate and get a rough Portuguese translation to add to your profile.

You can cancel your membership at any time; if you don’t, the service will automatically renew (and charge your credit card) each year.

Want to give it a try? My Important Information is offering a special discount to IndependentTraveler.com readers. Enter the code IT10 when signing up, and you’ll get 10 percent off the $30 annual fee. (Future renewals will maintain the discount.)

15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Solo

– written by Sarah Schlichter

woman solo airportA few years ago I came across a really great travel deal to Ireland. It included flights, accommodations, a car rental and even a castle stay, all within my budget. I had recently moved home from college and was working at the time, but many of my friends didn’t have the finances for travel that I had saved. Apart from not knowing how to drive a manual (I still give my parents grief for not teaching me how), there was something holding me back that wasn’t price, availability or my desire to go — I just didn’t feel completely safe traveling alone.

My hesitation to pack my bags didn’t come from inexperience — I have traveled my whole life and spent four months overseas when I was 20 years old, in countries such as Brazil, South Africa, China and India (albeit while I was studying abroad, and always with a group).

Recent crimes against women in the news worldwide, coupled with an unsettling piece in the New York Times last week about violence against women traveling abroad, had me reflecting on my own position.

While Europe is considered a relative safe zone by many travelers, I still couldn’t picture tasting my first authentic Guinness, alone in an Irish bar, away from anyone I knew. It wasn’t the fear of loneliness — the beer would be just as delicious with or without a companion — it was purely concern of the unknown. This is because the question many women travelers have been asking for so long should be less a question about being abroad, and more about women’s safety on a global scale.

15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Solo

I think it’s so difficult for aspiring travelers (of any gender) to wander the world carefree, because the open-mindedness and welcoming attitude that serves as the cornerstone of independent travel, is in direct conflict with the disheartening reality of violent crime. In particular, women are not only targets for violence, but also sexual violence, which makes the decision to travel solo more poignant and more of a risk. This isn’t the reality in some distant, lawless land; this is the reality everywhere in the world — both at home and on foreign soil.

It then might not make sense for me to justify so much time spent wandering the streets of New York City alone, at all hours of the day or night, but context is a factor in my personal decision of whether I feel safe in a location. I am familiar with New York — I speak the language, I know the laws, I know how to get around, and in a pinch, I have familiar faces I can phone that are nearby. That’s not to say statistically, New York is any safer than Istanbul or any other city, but my comfort level and my instincts feel more refined there. I could just as easily become a victim of a hapless crime one block from where I live as I could halfway across the world, so in my eyes, it’s a matter of taking chances.

Sarai Sierra was one woman among many who travel solo. Unfortunately, Sierra did not return home from her trip to Turkey last year, when unlike many solo travelers, she was murdered after her assailant made unwanted advances towards her. Media attention steeped in fear may be to blame for putting many societal issues in a negative light — the one- in-a-hundred chance — but the fact is things can and do happen while traveling abroad (being alone and a woman doesn’t help your case) and for a time they can outshine the many fulfilling experiences people do have. (Jodi Ettenberg wrote a very balanced blog on the subject for Legal Nomads in February 2013 – – the same month Sierra was found dead.)

So are women safe abroad? I would say just about as safe as they are anywhere. Travel is a risk, and one everyone should take, but the circumstances regarding solo travel are especially personal (and as a woman, more vulnerable). I am sad to say that while the prospect of traveling alone isn’t an impossible feat, as a woman, I must admit it makes me nervous. As with anything in life, stepping outside your door is a daily gamble — it’s up to you if the benefit of having meaningful travel experiences outweighs the potential challenges.

I had the chance to travel solo to Ireland, and in the end I was too unsure about it. With everything going on in the world, my fears weren’t exactly unfounded. However, the point is women are at risk anywhere, and a lot of women travelers understand that and go anyway. If I can roam the streets of the City that Never Sleeps, then maybe one day I can pick up and do the same independently in the Emerald Isle.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

dining soloSolo travel can be reflective, rewarding and exhilarating, but it also presents challenges. For some, eating alone is an experience that takes getting used to. (See Terror at the Table for One.)

Luckily, the times may be changing for solo diners. At Eenmaal, a restaurant in Amsterdam, you can feel secure in asking for a table of one because that’s all that’s available; you and your fellow diners all are eating alone, together.

Hailed as the first one-person restaurant in the world, Eenmaal (which means “one time” as well as “one meal” in Dutch) describes itself as “an attractive place for temporary disconnection.” The solo eatery takes its form as a pop-up restaurant, only open during select times in select locations, and it’s far from depressing — it’s always sold out, according to its website.

Marina van Goor, the social designer and mastermind behind Eenmaal, sought to create the restaurant as a social experiment to confront the concept of loneliness in the Internet Age. The idea has not only gained widespread media attention but has led to a rash of emerging pop-up eateries for one worldwide.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

The idea already exists in Japan, where space is limited but ideas for unique eateries are plenty. Take this restaurant where you can dine (alone?) with stuffed animals, for example.

As for myself, I generally forgo the fluff and face the plate without any companionship — teddy bear included — although I admit the urge to check my phone might reach an uncomfortable level. The one time I decided to go to a local brunch spot by myself, I came equipped with a book, a notebook, a pen and plenty of ways to look busy — and I wasn’t even abroad! However, I ended up enjoying my pot of tea without needing further distraction. In a world filled with constant stimulation, I found that to be an accomplishment.

Take a Bite Out of Solo Dining

Now that solo dining is “in,” we want to know: Is it still awkward? Have you dined independently, or would you try it? Share in the comments below.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

many handsYou know you’ve got it bad when all you want to do is run up to the nearest stranger and ask her for a hug. While I never actually did that, back in 2004, after six weeks traveling in New Zealand alone and about to start another five weeks solo in Australia, I was desperate for some human contact.

I’d never given it much thought before, but humans are by nature social creatures. We crave not just human interaction, but physical touch as well. And I’m not talking in-the-bedroom touch; I’m simply referring to the everyday casual brush of the arm, hand touches, half hugs and such, which we typically get from close friends and family. Take this away from us, and we start to feel lonely and cut off.

This leaves solo travelers in a bit of a bind. Try touching a stranger on the shoulder, and I bet you that person startles. Brush past a person and you’re bound to get a dirty look. So how do you get even a tiny bit of much-needed physical contact?

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

Shake Hands: Handshakes are the easiest way to ensure yourself physical contact because they are socially acceptable in most countries and you can offer your hand to most people you meet. There’s rarely much warmth in a handshake — but if you’ve gone two or three weeks without touching anyone, you’ll be surprised at how good it feels.

Ask Someone to Dance: While this may not be possible everywhere you go, there are certain countries where dancing is an important part of their evenings. In Ireland and Scotland, for example, ceilidhs are a popular forum for Celtic music and dancing, and the locals are always up for dancing with someone new.

The Arm Touch: This one’s probably easier for men, who are generally comfortable clapping another guy on the arm when saying hello, even if it’s just the hotel doorman. My tricky tactic: gently bump someone “by accident” in a store or a line, then place my hand on their arm to steady them, while I apologize. It may sound silly, but it works.

Risk a Hug: Slightly less problematic for women, hugs are the ultimate casual physical touch, but usually require at least a little familiarity with the person you’re hugging. Not so easy when you’re traveling, but it can be done. If you’re staying in a bed and breakfast, give your host a quick hug in the evening to say thank you for all she (or he) has done for you. On a tour or cruise, make friends and offer half-hugs in the evening. If you’re a really comfortable hugger, wear a “Free Hugs” T-shirt out and about. Someone will take you up on the offer!

Have you ever noticed you’re missing physical touch when traveling alone? How have you handled it?

10 Things You Should Never Wear When Traveling Abroad

– written by Dori Saltzman

amsterdam solo travel womanI recently returned from a marvelous trip to Amsterdam, where I toured museums, ogled tulips, sipped jenever, ate pickled herring and explored the city’s canals and historical monuments — by myself.

I was informed early on that I’d be on my own for the trip, which was my first to the Netherlands. To put it mildly, I was terrified. I’d heard horror stories about pickpockets and districts of the red-light variety, and I’ll do just about anything to avoid dining by myself. But, as someone who has an abysmal sense of direction, I was most worried about finding my own way through the city without the help of a travel companion.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

Some people cringe at the idea of traveling alone, but overall, I was relieved to discover that in Amsterdam nearly everyone speaks English, maps are plentiful and the train system is easy to use. (I only got lost twice!)

The most important takeaway for me, however, was that I was able to do the trip at my own pace. In addition to spreading myself out in my non-shared hotel room, I went to sleep when I wanted, I woke up when I wanted, I walked everywhere, and I saw/toured/tasted more than 20 of Amsterdam’s most popular landmarks/museums/foods and beverages in just four days. The freedom to go at such a break-neck pace is something I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d brought a friend.

Have you traveled alone? If not, would you consider it? If so, what are some of the fun experiences you’ve had solo? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

dining alone restaurantAnyone who’s traveled solo knows that it can be both rewarding and stressful. If you’re like me, you’ve probably discovered that dining sans companions can be one of the most awkward aspects of venturing out alone. (Let’s just say I was pretty discouraged when I ended up eating by myself during the first four nights of a six-night cruise last year.)

In a recent Independent Traveler poll, about 35 percent of voters said they either try not to dine alone or absolutely avoid it at all costs. Females who fall into either of those camps may want to check out Invite for a Bite, a Web site that allows women traveling alone to meet up for meals.

Founder Cressida Howard says on the company’s “about” page that she came up with the idea after listening to a radio broadcast during which several women lamented dining solo. Women who join the site can set up invitations asking for other female dining partners to join them for a bite … or a movie or whatever.

The site includes safety tips (after all, you’ll likely be meeting up with complete strangers), and according to the frequently asked questions section, it’s limited to females for safety reasons — and so as not to be confused with a dating site.

Would having dinner with someone you’ve never met be less uncomfortable than dining alone? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Want more tips on traveling by yourself? Check out our Tips for Going Solo.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

airplane women laptopDutch airline KLM recently launched “Meet and Seat,” an opt-in program whereby would-be fliers can share their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, which are integrated into an airplane seating chart. The social benefits are easy to grasp: Agree to meet for a pre-flight beer (or non-alcoholic beverage), share a taxi after the flight or even choose a like-languaged seatmate, who may in turn choose to sit elsewhere based on your profile pic, triggering a virtual game of cat and mouse.

The program is currently only offered to solo fliers booked on three flights — Amsterdam to New York, San Francisco and Sao Paulo — but KLM says there are expansion plans in the works.

We’re all for an airline offering a free means to enhance the experience of being wedged into seat for seven hours — and it got us musing: Which other travel scenarios could benefit from a little pre-trip social engagement?

1. At-sea meat and eat (note the pun). While more flexible alternatives are available, nearly all cruise ships still offer the popular set-time, set-seating model in their main dining rooms. Chatting with strangers over dinner can be an exciting prospect … until Ron drops a comment about “the liberal media,” and Steve, a journalist, turns his lobster tail into a weapon. Lines do try to match diners a bit by age, but it would be a novel concept to give the power to the passenger.

2. Bus buddy. Megabus and BoltBus, the U.S. coach companies touting $1 starting fares (alas, I haven’t landed one yet), could certainly adopt KLM’s model, minus the pre-assigned seating. Given the operators’ young audience of assumed Facebook users, we have every confidence that there’d be many takers. After all, it’s more enjoyable to mock the explosion of sound coming from a neighbor’s headphones when the laughter can be shared. The pre- and post-trip incentives — again, that beer and taxi share — are also built in.

Why You Should take the Bus on Your Next Trip

3. Tour with your new best friends. No doubt you want to take that full-day excursion from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and Masada. But as a travel writer who often flies solo or in tandem, I’ve been stuck too many times on the right tour with the wrong crowd. I’ll never forget an excursion in Cairo where fellow travelers had an hour-long conversation about which of their friends and acquaintances were obese. Others on the tour refused to de-bus a few hours in because they were sick of all these pyramids, “which look exactly the same.” Needless to say, the tour suffered from the lack of interest in the surrealistic profundity of a 5,000-year-old tomb rising 400 feet into the sky. Condescension aside, if we could only join a tour group based on common interests, every traveler would be a little happier.

Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours

Now it’s your turn: Is there a travel scenario you’d like to see socialized … or a company that’s already doing it?

– written by Dan Askin

eating alone I hate eating alone while traveling. If I have to do it, I seek out dark corner tables and I make sure I’m armed with a book or a laptop in which to bury my face.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to like dining alone, beaming confidently at the empty chair across from me while enjoying my food in peaceful silence. But a bad incident at Senor Frog’s in Myrtle Beach changed everything.

I know. Senor Frog’s, the hard-partying place that serves JELL-O shots and fish tacos to tank top-clad tourists in beachy destinations, isn’t exactly Shangri-La for the solo diner. Nevertheless, I was at Broadway at the Beach at the time (a vast Myrtle Beach shopping and entertainment complex), and my options included a Hard Rock Cafe shaped like an enormous Egyptian pyramid and various steakhouses and seafood spots. I’m a vegetarian. And it looked like the 70-foot-tall Hard Rock pyramid might swallow up a lonely unaccompanied traveler. So I took my chances with the frog.

In the same way that T.G.I. Friday’s displays vintage memorabilia and relics of Americana, Senor Frog’s posts smart-mouthed signs declaring “Save water. Drink tequila!” or “We don’t speak English, but we promise not to laugh at your Spanish!”

Sometimes, I noticed, Senor Frog’s staff placed signs next to patrons. As I waited for my nachos to make an appearance, I watched a waiter set up a sign next to a gaggle of giggling teens. It read “Supermodels at play!” with an arrow directing diners’ eyes to the girls.

“How sweet,” I thought. “But you better not put one of those things near me. You. Better. Not.” I sank my face into my novel and tried to blend in with the booth.

A server soon arrived and, with his left hand, slid a plate of cheesy nachos under my chin. In his right hand, he gripped a tall wooden sign, which he positioned next to my booth. “Needs a date,” it read. A fat arrow pointed mockingly to my head.

This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve always secretly feared when dining alone. Sharing a meal with a ghost in a restaurant stuffed with chatty quads and pairs, I’ve envisioned people whispering about me, wondering what happened to my date or whether I was some kind of socially marred loner. In reality, few people care about or even notice solo diners. Of course, there’s usually not a brazen sign broadcasting one’s lack of date.

“Take it away!” I hissed to the waiter. “No sign! Take it away!” The thing went down like a slap, but the damage was done. Thoroughly embarrassed, I choked down one or two triangle chips, signed the check and exited quickly.

Should I have laughed at the sign and taken myself a bit less seriously? Perhaps. But I was pretty embarrassed, and ever since that meal at Senor Frog’s, I’ve dreaded the table for one. How do you feel about dining alone?

— written by Caroline Costello