You can do what you want, when you want, how you want, where you want. You pick your own pace, budget, itinerary and change your mind on a whim, never having to negotiate. The experience can be liberating and thrilling, igniting a rewarding sense of accomplishment, and the detachment from your "real" life is often therapeutic.
When entering a new place on your own, you may notice more than you do when you travel with others. But not all destinations are right for solo travelers. Here are some tips.
•Visit walkable destinations connected by trains, buses, ferries and flights. Prices will be per person, and you increase your odds of meeting others, unlike destinations best seen or reached by car, where there may be fewer interactions. Youth hostels are great for 20somethings and travelers of any age on tight budgets who crave conversation and don't need upscale accommodations.
•Traveling offseason can save a lot of money. In Octorber, for example, it may be cheaper to spend a week in Costa Rica than to visit the Adirondacks in upstate New York. The off-peak flight, local transport and single accommodation in Costa Rica are less than the car rental and pricier double rooms during fall foliage season in New York.
•If you can't fly nonstop, turn your stopovers into perks. Visit places such as Fiji, Iceland, London, Paris and Rome at no extra cost on extended layovers.
•Ask others about their vacations to get ideas for your own trips, and read up online and in guidebooks. Publishers can vary tremendously so look at a variety of brands in a bookstore or library, then travel with a guidebook that best suits your priorities.
•Keep expectations minimal so you're not disappointed. Be flexible, go with the flow and treasure the unexpected.
•Be prepared for the occasional bad day. Temporary misery is part of travel, and can help you enjoy the magnificent moments that much more. And sometimes the worst experiences generate great stories later on.
•Write in a journal every night. It records your adventures while also giving you the conversational outlet to express and process the details of your day.
•When dining alone, bring a book or journal. Eating at the bar may feel more comfortable than a table for one.
•Be respectful, inconspicuous and dress to blend in. Local fashion norms vary, but jeans with subdued colors, dark shoes and subtle accessories attract less attention.
•English has become the world's second language, but learning to say hello and thank you in the local tongue goes a long way.
•Be cautious, but not paranoid. If there's a site that piques your interest, but it's out of the way or you have concerns about personal safety, take a day tour or a guide.
•Ignoring verbal aggressors - whether beggars, vendors or passers-by - is frequently the best defense, although in some cultures, such as in the markets in Istanbul, a simple "no, thank you" works better. Intimidation and harassment are never fun; feel empowered by your ability to say no.
•Check guidebooks and consult with local tourist offices and hotel staff for advice on what to watch out for. Take special care after dark, in dense crowds, and with likable strangers. The freedom of being far from home can release inhibitions in wonderful ways, try to do something new every trip. But have an exit strategy, inform the hotel staff of your whereabouts, or make sure you're in a place where you can shout out.
•Don't let societal pressures rattle you. Don't let loneliness paralyze you. Educate yourself so you know what you can, and cannot, do.