The looks and stares that I get eating by myself, asking for a table of one, and drinking alone is astounding. Haven't these hotel staffers ever seen someone travel alone? Granted, I was at a resort. A fairly posh resort. A resort that would be perfect for a honeymoon or major couple mile marker. But, it's a resort. It should cater to all people, regardless if they are with someone or not.
Either way, it's annoying when they are like "oh, is your husband joining you later?". No, he's not. It's just me and only me. I will take up a table for four because you have no tables left on the beach. Yes, I would like reservations for one even though there are two chairs. Can't a girl just want to get away from it all and enjoy the sun!? I mean, really.
I don't mind traveling alone. I don't mind being alone. For most of my adult life I have traveled alone for work. I don't have a boyfriend (unless you count all the gay ones who would happily accompany me to any resort, dinner reservation, or beach.) So, unless I can convince someone to spend the money, get on the plane, take the vacation time and go--I am pretty much on my own. I have learned to like it. And I have also learned that traveling with someone else is not always a great thing, and if I want to do what I want when I want, I had better find a good travel buddy or go at it alone.
Traveling solo has its downfalls. You have to pay for the whole room yourself, you can't split the cost of the tour, and for the overly cautious solo traveler like myself, I tend to keep it safe. I ask around before hiring a driver, I try and make friends by the pool so we can share a bottle of wine over dinner, and I tend not to go into the ocean if I can help it and find a freshwater pool instead. I am usually in bed by 10 pm, up by 7am. I capitalize on the free breakfast and usually find something to do in the morning until I am ready for my 2pm nap and rest. Then I head back to the pool, or into town, find an early dinner and write/watch movies/plan my next day until I am tired. It's a good life being a solo traveler, but it can also be very lonely.
My trip to Bali/Lombok was my first all-in solo traveler experience. I went alone, booked everything alone, and went for it. It was an experiment for me to see if I could really do it. Yes, I have traveled alone before, but it was always for business. I would talk to people during the day and then be tuckered out by dinner and frankly not want to talk anybody. But in Bali it was different, I was there for R and R, all alone.
So how did I do? I think I did pretty damn well. I didn't go there with any particular plans. I had my flights booked, places to stay booked, and a general idea of what I wanted to do. For the most part I stuck to the plan, do something in the morning, come back for a nap, then venture out and do something in the evening. Sometimes I didn't do that and it really made a huge difference. I found myself more tired, on the brink of tears, and just down on myself. That's when I would write an email to a friend and just generally complain. I did make friends while I was here, those were the days where I was tired by the end of the day and didn't depend on movies to entertain me. I didn't stay at places that really helped with the whole "community" feel, and I didn't help myself by having breakfast in my room. Indonesia was a great travel experience. I probably wouldn’t put it at the best trip of all time, but it is up there on the “I learned the most from this trip” list. As an extrovert I now know that a balance between people and quiet time is the way to go.
Now that I have Indonesia under my belt, here are Tall Girl Travels tips for traveling solo for fun (not on business):
1. Have a plan. Have something in mind for every day that you are there. I learned while working at a sleepaway camp that routine helps with homesickness, and it does.
2. If you are traveling alone, always get the hotel to pick you up. Now, this may be overly cautious, but I really don't feel like negotiating a taxi (in Japan you can just jump in and know they are going to take you for the same price as the other taxi) nor do I feel like going with some stranger who may or may not know where my hotel is. I would say: cough up the extra money and ride with ease. It takes some time to navigate a new country, and you don't want to start off by getting a bad taxi driver.
3. Take your breakfast in the common area, and smile and be friendly. Sometimes I am not so good at this (with your smile?! you say? Yes, even with my smile) sometimes I really can't be bothered with being friendly in the morning. I am not a morning person and never will be. BUT, you can find out a lot of things around the area from others and you could also find someone to have dinner with.
4. Be adventurous (with caution). I am an adventurer. But, sometimes I feel like I am overly cautious. I would rather spend a couple of extra dollars on a tour the hotel offers with someone they know, then go on a tour with a random person no one knows. I don't have a cell phone when I am traveling, who knows when I will come across a wi-fi network, and I can blame the hotel for a bad experience. I would rather pay the extra money to know who I am going with.
5. Use the hotel resources. They are in the tourism business, they know how to take care of guests. They are usually there to help you! Like I tell my students, use your resources.
6. Go with your instinct. If your gut is telling you that this is a bad idea, then it probably is. It's hard to hone in on your inner voice/instinct, but you need to use it. Don't let yourself feel like you are being a girl because you don't feel right about something, it's probably not right. Like my dad always says: it's better to be safe that sorry.
9. Stand up for yourself. Just because you are traveling alone doesn't mean that you deserve half of the treatment of other guests. You are entitled to the ocean front dining just like everyone else is. You deserve the driver to be on time, you deserve a nice welcome, and you deserve to be treated like any other guests. If you are going to a tourist trap by yourself don't feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to. Be polite, but firm. If you don’t want to buy that sarong for a dollar, don’t, if you want a bottle of water then get it. Don’t feel like you have to do anything because you are the only one there.
10. Most of all have fun. Sit back and enjoy your vacation. You earned it.
7. Check in with someone every day. It doesn't have to be much, you don't have to gab on the phone or send miles of emails. Just write something that says: Hey, I am alive. Having a great time. Tell the person you are going to send it to that if they don't hear from you every 24 hours, that they need to track you down. You are traveling by yourself! What if you were kidnapped and no one ever knew until you were suppose to show up to work after two weeks.
8. Always send someone all of your documents, and PRINT them all out for yourself too. Don't just use your phone, PRINT THEM. Put them in a folder, keep a copy for yourself and send them to someone who you can trust along with a copy of your passport and drivers license (or gaijin card in my case). I can't tell you how many times I have saved my own ass by having PRINTED copies of my hotel confirmations, car confirmations, airline ticket confirmations. Some trips I use them a lot, some I never even pull them out of my bag. For instance, when you are flying out of Bali (Denpasar) Airport, you can't even get through the gate without a print out of your e-ticket. Not your boarding pass, your e-ticket which they send you when you buy your ticket. if I hadn't had had that, I would have had to wait in line and fight with people who don't speak English in order to get through the first round of security on a domestic flight! At my next stop I arrived and the car wasn't there to pick me up! Needless to say TGT was a little peeved, but I had printed proof that they were in the wrong.