This is not a post to convince you that solo travel is better than regular couple/group travel. As I stated in my ‘About me‘ page, I would be happy to travel with my boyfriend if I had one, and I occasionally travel with friends/family too. It’s just that I need to travel full time and everyone else around me can’t, so my options are:
- Waiting for other people to have days off and travel together
- Going on my own
…as you all know, I chose #2 a long time ago and never went back.
What I want to do with this post is encouraging those who want to travel and keep waiting for friends to join them (result=you’ll never go anywhere). You don’t have to wait. You can just go on your own and you’ll be fine!
If you think that solo travel means feeling lonely and homesick, you may want to think again. After all, you know exactly that you can feel lonely even when you are surrounded by people, so that’s just some sort of excuse. You may just have to spend a couple extra hours comparing hotel reviews and available prices etc but this is not a big issue at all. It’s actually part of the fun!
Again, don’t worry. You’ll be fine. And… you’ll never be alone! Except of course when… you want to! This sounds like luxury to me.
Since I like to be persuasive, I will go through my solo trip across the Middle East (aka #MEtrip) again, and explain you why I was never alone even if I was technically travelling on my own.
What? A woman travelling solo across the Middle East? Well the answer is…
Day 1 to 4: Istanbul, Turkey
This was the easiest part. My father works in Turkey (among other places in the world) so I slept on the couch at one of his co-workers’ place. His name is Erhan and turned out he is also a guide, so he took me all around Istanbul explaining me stuff, letting me taste local food, showing me off the track places and introducing me to locals. He even took me to the TRT (Turkish Radio and Television) where he also works, and introduced me to the crew and some speakers. How cool is that?
Okay, okay. Maybe you don’t know anyone in particular at your destination, but you can ask other people who’s been there if they feel like sharing their contacts, or you can use websites such as Couchsurfing or Touringa to find a couch and someone to show you around.
Day 5 to 12: Cyprus
In Cyprus I was traveling in collaboration with the tourism board, so even if I was alone most of the time, I had an itinerary to follow and a bunch of telephone numbers to call in case I needed anything. I never called, but it’s nice to know you have an option ‘just in case’.
During my epic Cyprus road trip, I stayed at very nice hotels where the downside was lack of communication with other guests. Oh well. You know what? I actually enjoyed being on my own for a few days. Cyprus is extremely easy to explore and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Then of course I even met someone… because that’s what’s going to happen when you travel on your own! I spent my last two nights at the Alexander the Great Beach Hotel in Paphos and met the Customer Relations Manager, General Manager, his assistant and his wife. Giulia (yes, same name!) and I immediately started to talk and get along well, so I ended up spending my birthday with her! It was such a beautiful day. She gave me hospitality in her apartment before I headed to the airport. People are awesome…
You see? Traveling solo gives you the opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t get in touch with otherwise. I think this is one of the greatest and most mind-bogging things in travel.
Day 13 to 18: Jordan
Ok let’s be honest, I was a bit nervous about Jordan. I feel stupid now, but unfortunately back then I still didn’t know what to expect… you know… Middle East… solo female traveler… blah blah. Of course this truly beautiful country proved me wrong, but hey it’s always better to be safe than sorry so I decided to take it easy and booked a car transfer from the airport to the hotel. I landed at midnight and I absolutely didn’t feel like spending half an hour to figure out how to reach downtown Amman.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong in going for some extra comfort sometimes, when you feel like it. I actually enjoy riding taxis over buses so sometime I go for the most comfortable option. Also, since when on the way to/from the airport we tend to have all our valuables on us (passport, money, camera gear etc) I always go for taxis especially if I am alone. This is my personal tip for you!
Anyway, back to the topic. First off, Khaled, the driver who picked me up at the airport was such a gentleman that we are still in contact (and if you need an airport transfer feel free to ask me for his contact info!). After meeting him, I was already feeling much better.
The following day the guy at the reception of the hotel I was staying at literally took me to the mobile shop to help me get a simcard. Don’t expect people to do this in many countries out there…
I stepped out of the hotel and reached the Roman Theatre, and was welcomed by a group of kids who repeatedly asked me to take pictures of them, asked me ‘what’s your name’ and all. Their beautiful smiles warmed up my heart. I just don’t get how people can dislike/be afraid of traveling to the Middle East. People are so helpful, welcoming and friendly in the area!
Later on during the day (as it always happens when you travel solo *ahem*) I had a very big change in plans. I was on a taxi from the Citadel back to Downtown Amman and I found the taxi driver nice and friendly. He asked if there was something else I wanted to see. Well… we ended up in Jerash.
Mohammed took very good care of me and I am grateful I met him because I would have missed Jerash otherwise!
For the rest of my travels in Jordan, I was taken care of by an awesome man named Sabbah who organized my transportation to and from everywhere.
Also, thanks to my friend Sabina at solofemaletraveler.com I had a contact in Wadi Mousa (Petra): an extremely helpful guy named Muhammad who took care of my hotel reservation while I was probably bathing in the Dead Sea, welcomed me when I reached Wadi Mousa, and even took me out for a typical Arab dinner.
Do you still think I was all alone and homesick? (and in danger?)
So my tip here is: if you plan to visit a country, start telling people about your plans. You will be surprised by how many contacts you will find here and there! The world is small, take advantage of it!
Day 19 to 30: Israel/Palestine
Looking back at this part of my trip, I can say I was practically never alone… except when I stayed in private rooms, and I am a ‘private room person’, so I enjoy it. During my stay in Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Golan and the Negev, I met so many people I can’t even count them. Of course staying in hostels helped a lot (click here for my recommendations on where to stay in Israel) because of the common areas and the higher percentage of solo travelers you can come across there.
Also, for the first time in my trip I took part in organized tours with Abraham Tours and it was the best thing I could do. I visited a Kibbutz and had the ‘Best of the West Bank’ tour covering Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah… and left my heart in the West Bank. These tours only accept a few people, so it doesn’t feel like a touristy thing. Most of the people that were on the tours with me were also travelling solo and this made it very easy to get to know each other.
I remember when we came back from the West Bank tour we all went out for dinner and it was one of the coolest things of my trip… Why? Because we were 8 people coming from 8 different countries. Isn’t this just plain amazing?
So what I feel like saying here is that when you travel solo it’s actually a great idea to join tours, especially when they are fun and in small groups. I did the same in many countries such as Scotland and Singapore and never regretted it. On the contrary, I quickly found myself making friends and having a lot of fun.
There is no rule in travel. You may have heard that tours are for old people or for ‘tourists’ (not ‘travelers’), but since traveling solo is more challenging, sometimes it’s nice to sit on a minibus, pay a little extra for the comfort, and spend a day without thinking about how to do this and that.
Also, staying in hostels helps a lot because people there are keen on getting to know each other so you will definitely end up meeting someone faster than you think!
Well, I hope the above anecdotes and tips will help you in the planning of your upcoming trips. If you are thinking of going to the Middle East or any other area, but feel scared of going on your own, please feel free to ask me for info and tips. I am always very happy to help and to share my contacts.
If you happen to visit the countries I mentioned above, just shoot me a comment or email and I will make sure you won’t be alone too :)