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Traveling Solo in the United States

If you google traveling solo, all of these articles and blog posts will come up showing how easy it is and how empowering it is. I am right there with those articles by the way, don’t start thinking this is one of thoooose articles. Kudos to all the solo female travelers out there! {{Enter hand clapping emoji}}

The thing that those articles don’t talk about, however, is traveling on your home turf solo.

In the past, most of my trips within the confines of the country on my passport have been to visit friends or with friends. It’s only been recently that I’ve begun exploring on my own.

Now, after having gone on a few trips around the US solo, I feel like I have a good understanding of the concept and I’m here to shine some light on the topic.

First thing’s first: It’s VERY different.

I’ve traveled around Southeast Asia and Mexico solo and found it really enjoyable. In backpacker communities it is extremely easy to meet other people to travel with for a few days if you’re itching for company. Hang out in the hostel common room for long enough and I am sure you will be able to make a friend or 100. Go to a bar and you’ll be swapping travel stories with a group of vagabonds in no time. You also have the option of alone time if you want.

You’d think traveling in the US as an American would be even easier then? Right? WRONG.

The United States is not a friendly climate for travelers from its own borders. It’s very difficult to meet people, there aren’t really backpacker areas, there aren’t great accommodation options that tailor to travelers and wandering around solo just gets you stared at.

This country needs more hostels. As a twenty-something, there aren’t many backpacker options in the US. You can choose from a stuffy hotel, a cheap hotel, an Airbnb, a bed and breakfast, an inn or in very few circumstances couch surfing.

What is the common thread between all of these options? Single rooms, no common rooms, and not much opportunity for socializing. The exception is bed and breakfasts, as most encourage social hours during breakfast or in the afternoons but unfortunately they haven’t really caught on with the younger generations and often carry a heavy price tag.

I do love that Airbnbs are gaining a lot of traction here, because they allow you to at least stay with a local and have someone right out of the gate who knows the area and who wants to get to know travelers. But they also carry a slight sense of unease for solo female travelers anywhere you go. I only use Airbnbs when I am solo when they are monstrously and overwhelmingly vetted. I’m talking like hundreds of reviews explaining how I won’t get raped if I stay with the host. Although I haven’t tried it personally, I feel like couch surfing has similar benefits and cautions.

For the most part, though, accommodations in the US are based on checking in at a desk where there are friendly people but who are not usually open to going to get a beer when they are off, throwing your bags in a room where only you will be sleeping, and then choosing what to do and where to go on your own. It’s a pretty secluding situation.

Not only are your living arrangements not always the most welcoming thing but the people around you aren’t always the most welcoming thing either.

For some weird reason, there’s this stigma attached to being alone and seeing people alone. I’m even guilty of it. If I see an older person dining alone, I assume they are widowed or divorced or there’s a real reason behind it. If I see a younger person dining alone I automatically think they are either really weird or something is wrong with them. Which is really hilarious because that is me quite frequently.

I’m comfortable eating alone but I still can’t help but notice the looks I get and how weird servers act with me. I do try to eat at the bar at restaurants as much as possible, which gives me a little bit of a buffer.

Don’t even get me started on nightlife. First of all, I don’t typically make a habit of going out to a bar or club by myself anywhere in the world for safety concerns. I have gone to see live music or to grab a nightcap at a quiet bar alone in other countries. But if I wanted to go see a band or something at night, it would be very weird for me to do in the US. Unless I am getting hit on, strangers don’t really strike up a conversation with solo bar goers. I try my best to not even get to a bar five minutes before my friends for fear of standing awkwardly alone in a corner.

If you happen to be traveling in a big city it will be a little easier but try visiting smaller towns or nature-centered areas and you are SOL.

I think another difficult aspect is that it isn’t easy to pick out who the travelers are in the US. I know, I personally just assume everyone I see is American and local to the area. In Thailand, it’s pretty easy to pick out who are the locals and who are the tourists. Same with Mexico. America is a melting pot, though, and seeing people of all different shapes, sizes and colors is normal. Accents are sometimes a giveaway but for some reason I still usually assume they just transplanted to the place instead of them being visitors.

Yes, it’s nice having an understanding of local customs and transportation and the language. But, honestly, there are so many regional differences in customs, transportation and language that makes visiting Louisiana and New York and Seattle all very different experiences. The public transportation systems are vastly different in each city and in non-cities it often doesn’t exist. A hoagie, a sub, a hero, and a po’ boy are all the same freaking thing!

Bottom line, America, we need a change. We need to embrace a traveler culture and get some more social accommodation options and we need to stop judging solo diners. It’d be nice to get a little more infrastructure, but hey, I am a reasonable person, I know that’s not an easy feat, I’ll settle for a change in mindset.

I can’t really talk about traveling around other countries as a native to those places; I’ll always be American. I’d love to hear your perspectives as a local of another country, is it easier or harder than traveling elsewhere? Why do you think that is?

 

15 Responses to Traveling Solo in the United States

  1. Noelle March 9, 2016 at 6:44 AM #

    I totally agree! A lot of people in the US seem to think its odd to travel alone, even though its not odd at all in many places in the world. When I can, I try to sign up to do walking tours or bar crawls in the US to meet people/not feel as alone (in Boston and NYC), but if you are somewhere smaller it can be harder to find. I hope that people learn to embrace solo travel; I know a lot of people who hold back on traveling sometimes because they aren’t willing to go at it alone.

    • ForksandFootprints April 3, 2016 at 3:08 PM #

      Exactly Noelle! There are a ton of tour options in bigger cities or more touristed areas which definitely provide more options for meeting people but as a whole it is really difficult. Even just dining alone, I find I get judged or gawked at. I have found that bed and breakfasts are a great way to get a little human contact! I haven’t met many other travelers my own age that way but I’ve had some great conversations!

  2. Wandering Minimalist March 14, 2016 at 8:22 PM #

    A lot of these issues can be expanded to other countries when using private accommodation as a solo traveller. If you value your sleep, hostels can really drain you after a while, but if you stick to private accommodation, it’s usually much harder to meet people. There are private rooms in a hostel, so you get the best of both worlds, but they are often twice the price or more of a budget hotel room elsewhere. And I totally share your concerns about Airbnb as a solo female, which is why I haven’t tried them out yet.

    • ForksandFootprints April 3, 2016 at 3:09 PM #

      I agree with staying in private accommodations but in most places outside of Western Europe, it’s easier to spot other travelers, because well, they stick out!

  3. Farebucket March 15, 2016 at 3:16 AM #

    solo travel is some times best way but its difficult to be alone

  4. Rosie Kelly March 15, 2016 at 5:11 AM #

    I’ve found similar travelling in the UK – and I’d never go to a gig alone again after a rubbish experience… 🙁 it’s a real shame there’s such a stigma attached to it.

  5. Kayti Clayton March 16, 2016 at 9:58 PM #

    Yes to everything. There is no easy or simple way to get from point A to point B in America. There is not national railway, the bus systems are slow and unreliable and run short routes, hostels are hard to come by and the ones that you can find don’t feel safe, etc. I honestly feel like our country intentionally tries to make travel difficult! So frustrating.

    • ForksandFootprints April 3, 2016 at 3:15 PM #

      I hate that about the US! It is sooooo difficult to find public transportation options! In my own hometown city, I would NEVER take the bus system because it is mostly used by those in the lower income or inner city neighborhoods.

  6. Sarah Moss March 22, 2016 at 5:00 AM #

    I love to travel alone. but i think its too difficult to travel alone

  7. Kristen March 30, 2016 at 9:35 AM #

    Great post! Solo travel is such an eye-opening experience. When you travel alone, you are able to find out who you really are. New Orleans has many hostels in some of the best parts of the city. Have you ever been? With friendly locals, it’s really an easy place to travel alone.

    Trust us; we’re locals 😉

    • ForksandFootprints April 3, 2016 at 3:12 PM #

      Thanks Kristen! I’ve been to NOLA but as a part of a service trip to help after Hurricane Katrina, so a slightly different experience! I actually just stayed at a hostel in San Diego and still didn’t find the same friendliness and openness to becoming travel buddies like I do outside of the US! I love traveling alone, and won’t be stopping anytime soon, it’s just a very different experience when I am traveling alone in the US and I am ok with that.

    • Supriya May 13, 2016 at 3:55 AM #

      Hi there, I’m planning a solo trip to New Orleans and Austin in March next year and feeling a little nervous. I’ve never travelled on my own, usually I have at least one companion. I’m a woman in my early thirties, a Malaysian who is now settled in Scotland so my ‘foreign’ accent should stick out as it has the last couple of times I’ve visited the States. Do you have any tips for visiting New Orleans solo? I hope to stay in a hostel to meet people but it’s something I haven’t done before either! Any advice would be much appreciated! 🙂

  8. Jennifer @ Wading in Big Shoes April 27, 2016 at 11:15 PM #

    I don’t have much experience traveling out of the country, so I can’t really weigh in there…but it’s really interesting that you point out the stigma we as Americans have with traveling alone, dining alone, seeing a movie alone, etc. There are so many things I think that many people (myself included) limit ourselves from mostly because society sees solo activities as taboo. And of course, that’s crazy! I’m a bit of an introvert, so it can be difficult to strike up conversation with strangers, but that should provide even more reason to feel comfortable taking new journeys alone. Hey, maybe I’ll try it tomorrow! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  9. maggie September 21, 2016 at 12:58 AM #

    You judge single people eating alone and won’t take public transportation because of the poor people? I hope you’re very young and still have time to develop as a human being. Your mindset is incredibly sad, good luck to you in this world.

  10. Julie Love November 1, 2016 at 3:39 PM #

    I would check out local wine events and local wine tastings at major liquor stores. It’s very comfortable and it’s impossible not to speak to the person next to you as you express your opinions on the wine and food. Great idea for singles

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