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.

Standing Outside a BnB - Traveling Solo in the United States

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 traveling solo in the United States a few times, 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.

Ornate Windows and Arches - Traveling Solo in the United States

You’d think traveling solo in the United States 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 Airbnb 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 when traveling solo in the United States.

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.

Reading Alone in a BnB - Traveling Solo in the United States

Don’t even get me started on nightlife when traveling solo in the United States. 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 when traveling solo in the United States. 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 which causes its own problems traveling solo in the United States. 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?

 

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Traveling Solo in the United States

Megan Stetzel

Megan is a girl that shouldn’t travel. She’s gluten free, allergic to everything else, falls off motorcycles, poops her pants, gets bit by stray dogs and yet she’s still been traveling the world. She's the co-founder and editor of Why Wait. Read More About Megan here.

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21 thoughts on “Traveling Solo in the United States”

  1. 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.

    1. 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. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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 😉

    1. 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.

    2. 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! 🙂

  6. 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. 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. SoloBackPacker

    Ive been planning a solo back packing adventure from southern utah to south western/central Colorado. . im a 31 year old male.. This is a multi day trek, close to 600 miles .. If anyone would like to join me ill be leaving memorial day weekendish..
    Must be honest and trustworthy. . someone who is willing to enjoy this adventure with me..

  10. Great post and comments everyone! I actually have been googling traveling female solo as I’d like to do a solo trip within the United States. I’d love to go abroad, but my funds don’t allow me. I’ve done solo travel to Europe and loved it. If anyone has any suggestions where I could go in the U.S. I’d be appreciative. I’ve looked at Nashville and Albuquerque. Cheera!

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