I am a huge enthusiast, pusher, enabler and recommender* of solo travel. Personally, I find solo travel is the best way for me to travel, and I will happily answer any and all questions regarding solo travel. I feel a great deal of pride in the fact that my female relatives travel. My great-grandmother on my mom’s side travelled to Israel on her own with my great-aunt. That same great-aunt wandered around Quebec extensively. My grandmother travelled frequently on her own. When she couldn’t find a travel buddy, she would travel on a tour. One year, she never made it home for Christmas because she decided to stay an extra week in Fiji. My paternal grandmother visited Cuba for weeks to do a study on the health care system in the 1950s.
I have found there is a sense of freedom when your travel on your own. Even if you and another person are completely and utterly in sync, where you don’t know where one of you ends and the other begins, you will worry about the other person. It’s only natural. Your idea of a good time is very different than someone else’s. One person will become the de facto leader, the other one as a follower, etc. So, if someone were to ask me, I would recommend solo travel.
BUT. There’s a but. There’s a catch.
I’ll try to explain using an analogy. You wouldn’t run a marathon without first training for at least a few weeks. You wouldn’t become an Olympic race walker without attempting to do it a few times. Mostly because that sport is crazy, the placement of your feet and legs can get you disqualified and if you are accidentally bumped with only a few kilometres from the finish line, you will lose your stride and can lodge an appeal. (which is accepted and then denied. Don’t worry Evan, I still love you!).
I wouldn’t recommend that anyone travel to a rough or dangerous place without first getting some experience in a safer area. And absolutely, I wouldn’t recommend that your first solo travel is in a place that can fall apart in mere minutes. The guy above this agrees.
Some people don’t like travelling on their own. And that is totally fine. Everyone has a different style and it is so obnoxious to say that solo travel is better than tours, travelling with a partner or with friends. But it’s something you need to figure it out. If, after a few days, you hate it, it’s easier to find travel buddies in places that have a well-worn out backpacker trail. Europe. South East Asia (so I’ve been told – I’ve never been). Parts of Central America. Go to one of these places first. They are generally safer, have a bigger crowd, more backpackers and they will generally speak English. If you hate solo travel, you can still have a good time. If you love solo travel, then you will have a great time. But figure it out first.
Apart from calling your bank before taking off, leaving an itinerary with your parents/friends and registering your travel with your government, this is really the only advice I want to give. Everything else is subjective.
Which brings me to tacos.
My friend A, who is lovely and wonderful, wanted to travel to Turkey. And while I normally I would say yes, yes, yes and buy you a Lonely Planet guidebook**, this time I hesitated. I had a hard time coming up with an answer. In the end, I settled with the truth. And while I felt guilt and awful for saying it, especially since I am going to Turkey in November, it was the truth. I advised him to travel somewhere else. Somewhere more stable that has more backpackers. A place that is more conducive to first-time solo travel trips. I still feel awful. But, like I would tell all aspiring race walkers, start small. Practice. Learn the rules. You will be much more comfortable.
So, in order to talk about these types of things, and introduce him to a few other destinations he could go to, we met for tacos at my favourite Mexican place in Ottawa, Ahora. Ahora is a bright and festive-looking-basement-cafeteria-style restaurant located on Dalhousie Street. They have a salsa bar where there is a variety of mild, medium and hot sauces that you can put on your food. They have tons of vegetarian options. The margaritas are huge and amazing and it is always packed. No matter what time I have gone, we always struggle to find a table and quiet, which makes it even better. Because as R says, if there ain’t a line, don’t bother going. It is probably the best Mexican place in Ottawa. Bonus – you can practice your Spanish.
So, while I can’t always soften the blow with Mexican food, I think it was a pretty good place to chat. And if you ever need travel advice, call me up. We’ll go for tacos.
*The red squiggle underneath this says this is not a word. I do not agree.
** I also don’t understand people who hate on guidebooks. I bring them along – they give useful information about the country, the cities, the language, and often include maps. I don’t do everything that they list but it’s always a good starting point.