SayWhatClub

SOLO TRAVEL: Getting Started

By Michele Linder

Training myself to be a better solo traveler — who happens to have a profound hearing loss — has been among the most valuable teachers in life. It has taught me how to cope with and embrace my deafness, and how to fit into a world I can’t hear.

Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with others, but some things you can only learn and experience by going solo. Traveling alone leaves you more open to unique discoveries and adventures, and there’s nothing that will make you feel more empowered.

Many would never consider traveling without a companion, even those who are fully-abled. We each are free to set our own limits — I’ve always supported each to their own — but for me, I am not willing to let anything take away my independence, or place limits on where I can go, and when. I want to control my own plans, not wait until someone can accompany me.

So, that is the first question you need to ask yourself: “Do I want my travel to be dependent on others?”

If your answer is “No,” then the next step is to take control and teach yourself to be a good solo traveler. That doesn’t mean you book a long and involved trip that includes flying to some far away land. It’s best to start in your own backyard.

The biggest deterrent, as with anything you undertake, is to fixate on what could go wrong. Shifting your focus on the goal — your destination — is essential. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to reach your destination.

PART I: WHAT SOLO travel CAN TEACH YOU

SELF-RELIANCE:  When there is no one else to depend on, you learn to depend on yourself. It’s up to you, and you alone, to make your trip a success. And by “success”, I don’t mean that everything went according to plan and was easy. You’ll learn the best lessons when things don’t go well, or when your trip takes an unexpected turn.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION:  When you travel alone there is no one else to hear or listen for you. It’s all on you, and it forces you to communicate effectively to get the information you need. You can’t fake anything when successfully reaching your destination depends on making yourself understood and getting specific information.

ADVOCACY:  Solo travel shines a big old spotlight on how we perceive ourself and our disability. If you want to learn how to shed diffidence, or that feeling of needing to apologize for the extra effort required to communicate with you, traveling alone is the cure. There is no better way to learn how to effectively ask for what you need.

PROBLEM SOLVING:  If I had to choose one point as the most important, problem solving would be my number one. Travel presents such a huge opportunity for the unknown — delays, cancellations, missed stops, etc. — and is so well suited to best laid plans going up in smoke. You’re forced to think on your feet and to figure out an alternative. 

CONFIDENCE:  Traveling solo takes you out of your comfort zone, and when you succeed at something that scares you, you can’t help but become more confident and capable.

PART II: FIVE SIMPLE RULES

These rules will become your commandments.

  1. DEFINE SUCCESS SIMPLY:  Reaching your destination safely.
    Bonus: If you focus on that one thing, all that happened on the way there becomes inconsequential.
  2. PANIC IS THE ENEMY Let go of irrational fear; it never improves a situation.
  3. ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED CONFIDENTLY:  Let go of the notion that asking for what you need is bothersome or equates to a favor. No one is doing you any favor by accommodating your difference.
    Bonus: You’re teaching them to interact with someone who is different; a win for all.
  4. LEAVE AS LITTLE TO CHANCE AS POSSIBLE: Do your homework, prepare, learn as much as you can about your route, mode of transportation, and destination. Think about what can go wrong beforehand, and plan for it.
  5. REMAIN POSITIVE If you can’t control it, exercise flexibility and tolerance.
    Bonus: That missed flight or delay is an opportunity to catch up on your reading, work on writing your next blog article, or chatting with someone in person or online.

PART III: TAKING THE PLUNGE

START SMALL:  Take a bus, trolley, light rail, or train in a city close to you.
POSITIVE FRAME OF MIND:  Choose a day and time when you’re in a good mood and feeling more confident.
BE PREPARED Familiarize yourself with routes and maps. Look online for this information or grab a bus or subway schedule the next time you’re in town.
BUY AN UNLIMITED OR DAY PASS OR TICKET Give yourself a cushion. A flexible ticket means a missed stop or wrong turn won’t be as big of a deal.

Once you’ve mastered a small trip, keep pushing yourself toward bigger and longer solo trips. Each success — arriving at your destination safely — builds your confidence, and before you know it you’ll be purchasing a Eurail pass and traveling Europe alone!

You might think learning to travel alone, while deaf, is something you’re doing for yourself. It is, but it also demonstrates to the world how capable people with disabilities are. When you do that, you’re making things better for all of us.

10 thoughts on “SOLO TRAVEL: Getting Started

  1. I think it’s awesome that someone is talking about this. I never found anyone that posted their experience of travelling solo with hearing impairment, though I did try. You’ve inspired me to do the same, but by keeping it local first. I’ve been actually toying with doing road trips locally and later further out, and I’ve been beginning to make plans to do it this year. This helps me become even more determined to do it as you listed some great benefits for people with disabilities. You’ve also given me some great advice to keep in mind when planning a trip.
    Thanks!

  2. This is a terrific article, Michele! I’ve done a great deal of traveling, but not solo since I’ve been needed a HA (and now an implant)….You’ve given me incentive to try it. Thanks.

  3. Thanks, Judy! I hope you do try traveling alone, it really does teach you a lot about the world and yourself.

  4. Hi A,

    You’re welcome! I’m so glad you can use the information in this article. I’m planning to get more into details as I write more about solo travel. Good luck with your trips and I’m always happy to see others pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. You learn some great things out there!

  5. Excellent article from a well experienced traveler!! I agree with Judy, your article is not only motivation; but gives great tips to lessen the worry. Thanks!

  6. Great article Michele! I have flown alone a lot within the US, and I’ve taken the train alone too. The biggest challenge can be changing gates in an unfamiliar airport if they don’t have good signage or taking a tram to the designated gate. Most of the airport trams I have used alert you to the stops visually. Usually there is a flight attendant you can ask if you can’t find your way. No one has ever refused to write something down when I didn’t understand. It’s good to carry along pen and paper just in case.

    The train is less stressful but if the signage is poor at the train station, it’s good to let them know you can’t hear. Sometimes it is better to start and stop at a smaller station if possible.

  7. This was like a coaching session, Michele — thanks! I use public transport a great deal, but I used to also freely & proudly — as you’ve noted regarding benefits — travel away until a couple of ‘bad trips’ that made me decide to cancel future unaccompanied-travel plans. Now I feel bolstered to simply prepare better using your guidelines.

  8. swc-kward and Heidi Ross,

    Sorry for the late reply here…

    Kim, thank you, I’m glad you like the post. It can sometimes be a challenge to navigate an airport you’re not familiar with, but I actually like the challenge of finding my way. I rarely schedule flights with a short window of time between flights. Being hurried and rushed makes my stress level go up and my skill level go down. I think that’s true for everyone, even those who are fully-abled.

    I travel so much that I clear on what I need to know to get me from here to there. When you look for the ways in all travel is the same, then you don’t have to think about the basics, you can shoot right to focusing on the specifics.

    You are right, if you’re stressed by the thought of traveling, start small and take a short trip and use it as a field trip.

    Heidi, I’m glad I was able to bolster you into being open to new travel adventures. Life is kind of like that… we have a bad experience and it makes us weary and leery of putting ourselves through it again, but how sad that we let negatives limit us in ways we rather not be limited. It’s okay to decide you no longer enjoy something, but only stop doing things on your own terms. I want to be who I am to the end, and I’ve always been a traveler.

    Happy Travels!

  9. Thanks, Michele. I did travel interstate again since my comment above, and it went quite smoothly. I stayed close to friends so I felt like I had a firm base, and allowed more money for taxis to save the day when I got too lost. Little things like that do help. Cheers!

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