I have often traveled the flyways, highways, and byways of this great land by myself. It started when I traveled on business, primarily in the late 70s, 80s, and into the 90s. Business travel can get lonely, unless you learn how to use your spare time. It is easier when visiting a city that has wonderful attractions, like Washington, DC, Honolulu, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, or Seattle. It is a bit more difficult to find something interesting to do in Oklahoma City, Podunk, North Carolina, Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Elko, Nevada.
The solo traveler these days has a smart phone, and laptop computer (or netbook in my case). It is easy to stay in contact with friends and loved ones back home. But there may be times when you would prefer to stay out of contact, and just let your mind and feet wander in a new and strange place. My recent trip to Memphis was just such a trip, where I let my car or my legs take me to spaces and places most of you dared imagine.
Most of you who know me and my travel habits, know that I do some research before hitting a new city, state, or country. Back when I traveled on business, I did not have the luxury of having the time for advanced research and planning. I was scrambling to get plane tickets, a good hotel, and appointments that fit into the travel schedule. Any free time was completely left to chance.
Two events are always at the top of my list when I reach a city. This would be a professional sporting event, like a baseball game, and secondly, some music, whether a concert or a night club. Some people who travel as much as I do strongly discourage going to night clubs. They say nothing good can happen there. I disagree. Nothing bad has ever happened to me, and I plan to keep it that way!
My business travel was always in a suit. Perhaps that was a “safer” appearance than tourist gear. It provides a sense of belonging, whereas bermuda shorts and sunglasses shout “tourist” through and through. Now, I wear something in between, business casual as they say. It really does help to be neatly and well dressed, everywhere in the world.
Another big problem for some solo travelers is having to eat alone. Since I have been doing this since the 70’s, I do not feel self-conscious when entering a nice place to eat. Some people prefer to use room service, or buy take out food. But the essence of travel is to get out and experience the city and the culture. And food does that, whether you believe me or the food travel gurus like Bourdain and Zimmern, even Rachel. The meal time interactions and conversations provide great insight into the local psyche, the toughness of the economy, and the pulse on the happy meter of the locals.
But, as I said, some places are better than others. One such place is Chicago. They say it has the buzz of the big city, with the friendliness of the south. Additionally, it is a safe city, and has great public transportation. Dining and shopping options are plentiful, and rather exciting. Venture out into the neighborhoods, like Wicker Park, Ravenswood, or the near North for some really unique experiences.
Most people recommend one of Chicago’s fine museums, like the Field Museum or the Art Institute. But if you are like me, and prefer to be outside, the Magnificent Mile and Millennium Park make a great walk. And the Chicago architecture tour can be done on the water, in a tour boat on the Chicago River. It is also quite easy to grab a Chicago dog or deep dish pizza at one of thousands of city purveyors.
Who could ever get bored in a place like Dublin, Ireland that is. I imagine I could walk into just about any pub and be treated like a long lost Irishman. Famous Grafton Street has everything from books to shoes for you shoppers. There is a pub on every corner. Right now, Ireland is very affordable. You will be one of the gang by your second pint!
New Orleans is one of the friendliest cities in the universe. I have been there both for business, then later for pleasure. I plan to be there for the upcoming Super Bowl as well. Both the French Quarter and Garden District are safe. Food and drinks are plentiful, and easy to obtain for the solo traveler. All of the well know attractions, like Cafe du Monde, Johnny’s Po’ Boys, and Acme Oyster House are at your disposal. Both are filled with solo diners at all times of day and night.
So, why not head to Music City, Nashville? Besides the Grand Ole Opry, you can visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. And enjoy the southern cooking and barbecue of Nashville. Just about every bar in the city has music, played by hopeful musicians waiting to be discovered. Southern hospitality will take over as soon as you set foot in this city. And you may not want to leave. No comment about Dollywood, however.
I have not been to Austin, especially since their motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” So, when a city brags about their weirdness, you can expect a good time. They also proclaim their city to be the “Live Music Capital of the World.” And I would focus on the music and the barbecue should I ever go there. The city is cheap, actually the 12th most affordable place to live in the U.S. Zilker Park and the Congress Avenue Bridge are secret spots for tourists.
Who could not have a great time in Sydney? Only a fool. It must be just about the best place for a tourist to enjoy the sights and food. And Aussie culture is all over the place, front and center. It must be about the most interesting and friendliest city I have ever visited. There is so much people watching here that it has become a sport of sorts. One of the best places to hang out is Bondi Beach. Then when you tired of that, head to the Sydney harbor, as most attractions have no admission fee.
I am not so sure Costa Rica is such a great place for solo travel. Parts of the country are quite remote, roads are bad, and rules seem the be rather poorly enforced. The capital of San Jose is certainly nothing to enjoy. But the resorts up in the mountains and on the beaches are both interesting and beautiful. Ticos, the name for locals, are quite friendly. English is widely spoken, and coffee farms abound. Just make sure you like to eat red beans and rice.
I know many people who travel solo. For women, the biggest problems are pesty men looking for a hookup. For men, the biggest problem are pest men looking for a hookup. Ha-ha! Yes, pesty men are the problem! Rarely have I come across any pesty women, other than in Mendoza, Argentina. I think they just wanted a free meal.
When I see other solo travelers, it does provide an opportunity for both conversation and perhaps sharing a meal or adventure. That is how I met the fabulous Barry the V from Cape Town. We were hanging out in the internet room of our Santiago, Chile hotel. He joined us for dinner, and four hours later, we were best friends. We descended on him last summer in Cape Town for a two week stay. Little did he know that we were such freeloaders!