Tips For Solo Travel On A Budget
If you think it's too expensive, unsafe or difficult for singles to travel alone, think again! Below, we share the best insider tips and resources to help you plan a budget-friendly vacation.
h, the joys of traveling alone on the cheap! I'll never forget being in Amsterdam during my pre-Internet (i.e. pre-Yelp) college days and hearing of a great, cheap hostel only to arrive near midnight and discover that it was actually a floating barge with bunk beds and cockroaches the size of VW Beetles. Worse, they had only one bed left, so I took it and barely slept. (I didn't care — it made
for a great story.) But stories are not the only things worth collecting when you're participating in the glories of road-tripping solo. You can also make a few lifelong friends — and sometimes a lover or two, as travel tends to throw people together in some heady situations. (In my case, there was Vicente in Spain… ah, the full moon, the sangria and the whisker burn!)
|When you're on your own, you have many more opportunities to meet people.|
Solo travel makes it easier to meet people
"When you're on your own, you have many more opportunities to meet people, either locals or other travelers," says Beth Whitman, author of Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo. "You're far more approachable and you're far more likely to come out of your shell because, quite simply, you have to. Without your friends or family there, you must talk to strangers." Whitman is a big advocate of going on a budget not just to save money, but because it provides the traveler with many more opportunities to interact with other people. "An example would be if you were to take a bus as opposed to a taxi. You're going to see how the local people get around, interact and live. And think of the difference between staying in a five-star hotel and a family-run inn or bed and breakfast. There are so many more chances to meet people and have a more authentic experience with more affordable accommodations."
Is it a good time to travel right now?
Because of the recession, Americans are getting much more careful about pouring their money into expensive trips at home and abroad. A poll by Travelocity.com showed that people are watching their vacation dollars closely this year, with 60 percent of respondents having set aside a predetermined travel budget for 2011, up from 44 percent in 2010. But that doesn't mean people shouldn't travel! Even if you're single and don't have someone to share expenses with, it's not a bad time to sally forth. Remember, the recession has also hit the travel industry, and vacancy rates for both airplanes and hotels are high. That means it's a great time to consider taking that journey you've always dreamed of. Having always wanted to see where my ancestors came from (Ballycastle, Northern Ireland), I'm currently hip-deep in planning my own solo trip this summer.
But there are always questions, such as: How to do it on a budget without going the hostel route? How to prepare for the unexpected? What's the best way to meet someone interesting without putting yourself at risk? And what parts of the world are best for running into other unattached travelers?
Common routes followed by other single travelers
"You can meet single travelers pretty much anywhere in the world that has a tourism infrastructure, but you'll find more of them in places that are on the well-worn backpacker circuits," says Tim Leffel, budget-travel guru and the author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and The World's Cheapest Destinations. "If money is no object, clubbing your way through Western Europe's capital cities or Australia is a sure bet, but for those who have to be careful with their spending, there are popular spots around the world that won't break the budget [that are] filled with single travelers. The most popular region is probably Southeast Asia. This area combines fantastic sites and interesting food with affordable places to stay and a good set-up for backpackers: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. There are smaller clusters in other parts of the world, like Nepal and India, Central America, and Peru/Ecuador/Bolivia."
But be warned: travel is a lot less challenging when you've got money for taxis and four-star hotels. "Unless you find someone to share rooms with along the way, traveling alone is more costly than traveling as part of a couple or threesome," says Leffel. "In many countries, a single room is the same price or barely cheaper than a double. You don't have anyone to share costs with for taxis, shared meals or a bottle of wine, for instance. You can end up eating dinner alone more often than you would like sometimes. On the other hand, you don't get lonely nearly as much as most people [would] expect because there are so many other travelers on the same routes. Often, you end up going the same direction as people you meet for days or weeks on end and build up solid friendships." Traveling solo also does wonders for your self-confidence, says Whitman. "If you are met with challenges while traveling — and we all are — when we figure out our own solution, it's a great and empowering moment."
For smart travelers, preparing for adversity in advance is key
Still, there are ways for a single traveler to prepare in advance for adversity. Travel expert and blogger Nicole Hockin recommends the following: "Before your trip, make arrangements to regularly contact someone you trust. Give your contact a copy of your schedule — especially contact numbers for hotels. Also, make sure you leave that person [your] bank and credit card information." Cynthia Clampitt — who took a six-month, 20,000-mile journey around Australia and wrote about it in a book, Waltzing Australia — says that when in doubt, trust your government. T
he U.S. State Department has a great site where you can get up-to-the-minute news about any location you might be visiting. "You can also register your travel plans so that if some international incident occurs, the U.S. Embassy in that country will know you're there," Clampitt adds.
|There are numerous creative and safe ways to travel within a limited budget.|
To save cash, get creative
There are numerous creative and safe ways to travel within a limited budget. Lodging, which always plays a big part in planning any trip, is a little bit easier to deal with nowadays thanks to many new, modern options. And always remember to drive a hard bargain; the distressed world economy has may travel companies willing to cut deals. Consumers should feel free to haggle over hotel prices.
Lodging options for budget-minded travelers
I've learned in my own limited solo travel jaunts that bed-and-breakfast types of accommodations allow for more security than a big hotel typically would, and there's something nice about communing with your fellow tourists over breakfast that gets your day of exploring off to a nice start. Check BnBFinder.com, Bedandbreakfast.com and Bbonline.com for listings worldwide.
Likewise, boutique hotels are often more conducive to meeting other singles than giant chains might be thanks to their organized wine tastings and such. Or you might consider joining a homestay organization, such as Servas and/or CouchSurfing. "Not only do you get to stay in private homes all around the world at no cost, you also get a much richer travel experience," says Shel Horowitz, owner of FrugalFun.com and the author of eight books, including The Penny-Pinching Hedonist. "I have stayed in touch with some of my homestay hosts and guests for years afterward." Servas is an international, non-governmental, multicultural peace association run by volunteers in over 100 countries, while CouchSurfing.org helps people find a place to crash for free — nothing but good manners is required in return.
Hospitality Club members worldwide also offer to host travelers in their own homes or show them around town. If you prefer to swap your home with someone in a country you'd like to visit, try HomeExchange.com. Nothing could make a single traveler feel safer than being ensconced in a private home, and the site features over 40,000 listings in 140 countries. Often referred to as the "new couchsurfing," Tripping.com also gives solo travelers a safe and easy way to connect with local people for homestay options in over 130 countries around the world.
4 ways to work the budget-travel system:
1. Book your plans at the last minute. If you're flexible and ready to go at a moment's notice, you could save money by booking your trip at the last possible minute. Many hotels and tour operators are eager to sell out their last few open spots, so they may be willing to reduce their rates.
2. Sign up for any relevant newsletters. To keep track of the latest deals, sign up for newsletters that focus on solo travel and regularly visit any sites that specifically cater to singles. A resource list can be found at IndependentTraveler.com.
3. Watch the web for hot deals. Twitter hosts "Travel Tuesdays" each week, which allows professionals and amateur enthusiasts from the travel industry alike to discuss the best deals going online together.
4. Take advantage of companies' loyalty promotions. Choosing to book exclusively through one a particular hotel group (IHG, Hilton, Marriott, Inter-Continental, etc.) can help you reap generous rewards.
How to find your way around once you're there
Often, you can find free live music festivals and concerts in major tourist towns worth attending. Check the calendar listings in local media outlets (whether it's the city's daily newspaper or an alternative weekly publication). If history's your thing, local historical societies can help you pinpoint a town's most notable buildings — or even help you create a customized walking tour. And don't forget to consult the locals, says solo traveler Carly Cylinder: "I just returned from traveling around Costa Rica on a budget. I found places to stay and visit once I was in the city, as opposed to making reservations before. I consulted with the local tour guides (which have places all over), and they steered me to two or three choices within my budget."
And if you're interested in meeting other singles once you've arrived? "Restaurants, coffee shops and Internet cafes can be a gold mine for meeting other solo travelers," says Whitman. "Also, no matter your budget, when you're traveling, consider going to a meeting or taking a class. For example, join a small tour group of kayakers or hikers through a local outdoor organization, or go on a wine-tasting tour. Go to a meditation class, if that's your thing. The point is to pursue an interest that you already have, but do it while you're traveling. You'll have more fun, bring meaning to your travels and, hopefully, meet interesting people along the way."
Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age, journalist of two decades, and codirector of San Francisco's Litquake literary festival.