I’m an Aquarius through and through: Independent, spontaneous, inquisitive and stubborn. So when my cousin’s plans fell through for a weekend trip to Canada with me, I decided to just go by myself! I’ve read a lot about solo travel and have always been intrigued by the idea of it, so I figured a quick trip over the border would be a great opportunity to test it out.
I drove up to Niagara Falls on the Canadian side and spent the day and evening in that city. I then woke up first thing then next morning and traveled up to Toronto to spend a full day there as well. As expected, I loved every minute of my short weekend alone!
When you choose to attempt solo travel, you have plenty of time alone with just you and your thoughts. Here is just a small selection of some of the thoughts that crossed my mind during my weekend away to Niagara Falls and Toronto.
“Do those people think I’m weird for wandering alone by myself at the Falls?”
Nope, no one cares. Everyone is so absorbed in their own lives and their phones to even notice you wandering around by yourself. Chances are, if you look around in between the crowds, you’ll see other solo travelers and photographers as well. It’s not all that weird at all!
ProTip: Make eye contact and smile. Makes you approachable and people will be more likely to start up conversation with you!
“Do I look like I’m pondering nature enough? Should I be smiling or serious?”
Yes, sadly these thoughts actually went through my head. Concerned about how my face actually looks. Do you think other people will be looking at your face and judging you while you’re standing next to Niagara Freakin’ Falls? I don’t think so. Relax and don’t stress about little things like that! One of the best things about solo travel is the ability to really take in everything around you without the distraction of a travel partner!
“I wonder if they’ll take my photo for me..?”
Took me over 30 minutes to get the courage to ask someone to take my photo. I was afraid they wouldn’t speak English, or wouldn’t know how to work my phone, or would drop it, or judge me, or align my photo weird. Chances are everyone and their mother knows how to work a camera phone, and most people would be more than glad to help out! If you want a specific shot, tell them exactly how you want it lined up and set up the zoom ahead of time so they don’t have to mess with it.
ProTip: Offer to take their photo in return. Chances are they would love to have something other than a selfie to remember their trip by as well!
“My mother is probably freaking out.. I should find WiFi and check in.”
Rule #1 of a successful solo travel trip: Do not forget about the people concerned for your safety back home. It is simple to find WiFi in most cities. Almost all Starbucks’ or coffee shops will offer it. And it is rare to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t offer it as well. Some cities even offer general WiFi throughout the city! If nothing else, hotels, hostels and AirBnbs almost always have WiFi. Give your poor mother a break and check in as often as possible 🙂
If you find yourself traveling for long periods of time, there are long term options for phone service. Many phone plans offer International options and it’s sometimes worth purchasing a Sim card in the country you’ll be traveling to. Look into the options available. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to rely on just WiFi during your travels.
“Ooooh, look at this gorgeous garden! And there’s no one here! Time to try to figure out my tripod.”
It’s okay to get sidetracked or stop for something you weren’t intending to. The best part about solo travel is that you don’t have to answer to anyone. If you keep your schedule flexible, you’ll have the opportunity to wander a little more and detour off the beaten path to find some of the hidden treasures of the area.
Also if there is an opportunity to break away from the crowds and get a shot with no one in it, take it! These are far and few between these days!
“Is it weird to sit down at this brewery by myself? I’ll sit at the bar… less lonely.”
I’m sure people notice you sitting by yourself but it is in no way, shape, or form, weird. Sitting at the bar will give you the opportunity to chat with bar staff who often will be willing to give you advice on things to do and see. If you also sit with room on either side of you, it is quite easy to start up conversations with people who may sit down beside you. I found myself chatting with people at every single bar and restaurant that I went into that weekend. Never felt lonely!
If you are a female solo traveler, be weary of your drink and how much you are drinking. I have an appreciation for local breweries so I didn’t want to miss out on them, but it’s important to keep safety in mind. You know the drill: don’t leave a drink unattended, don’t get drunk when you’re on your own, stay hydrated and drink your water in between alcoholic beverages, and if you ever feel unsafe, don’t hesitate to ask staff for help.
“Another solo traveler! I feel more comfortable already!”
In the first brewery I walked into in Niagara Falls, I started chatting with a man I sat down next to at the bar. Come to find out he was a solo travel trip as well and this wasn’t his first time doing it! When you have a chance to chat with a like-minded person about your travels, it helps to feel more confident in your decision and often they will have suggestions and are interested in swapping stories of travels!
“Ah the falls are beautiful at night. So glad I can stand here as long as I want in silence.”
When you are lucky to find yourself somewhere as beautiful as Niagara Falls at night, it has the tendency to make you reflect and think about life. Moments where you’re able to really take in your surroundings in silence, are one of the biggest benefits to solo travel. When you are with other people, it’s easy to feel so rushed or distracted that you don’t get a chance to notice the small details.
“Okay girl, turn off your light, I’m trying to sleep.”
Ahhh the joys of hostels. For one easy payment of $37.99, I was given a top bunk in a room of 8 beds with girls of all ages and countries. Upsides: Cheap, easy, convenient, and social. Downsides: There’s always that one person who will be loud or leave lights on. It happens.
ProTip: Sleeping Mask. Ear plugs. Enough said. I slept like a rock the whole night through.
“Don’t lock yourself out, don’t lock yourself out, don’t lock yourself out.”
Another thing to be cautious of while solo traveling is having to rely on only yourself. You are given one key to your room with all your things in it. The door to the room will lock behind you, therefore it is imperative that you have your key with you at all times. It would be very unfortunate to find yourself locked out of your room at some odd hour of night with no one at the front desk to help you. You are not going to make friends knocking on a hostel door at 3am, waking up a bunch of strangers to let you in!
“6am and ready for the sunrise. Got the beach to myself and I’m thrilled.”
If you are capable of waking up early, I’d highly recommend it. I woke up at 5am and hit the road so I could get to my destination in Toronto as the sun was coming up. What typically would have been a spot flooded with tourists trying to get their Instagram shot, was instead a peaceful beach with not a soul around.
ProTip: Sunrises always make for good lighting and photo ops. Try it every once in a while!
“FINALLY a moment to figure out my tripod.”
Attempt #2 at mastering the tripod and bluetooth remote to take photos. Semi successful! Another perk to getting up early and have the space and time to try to get your shots just right. When you’re fighting crowds of people, you’ll be much less likely to take the time to set up a tripod shot and risk someone swiping it!
ProTip: It’s worth investing in a remote so you can take the photos without racing a timer! This helped a lot!
“So glad I got up early to hit all the photo-ops before the crowds came out.”
I was able to drive around the city and hit a couple of the big well known photo-op destinations before most tourists even woke up. This is my #1 travel hack. If you have the will-power, set that alarm early and get exploring! By 9am, these spots will be covered in large tour groups, selfie-takers, and children running around.
“UGH I wish I had Wifi, maybe this nice old lady can help me figure out the street car…”
The downside of traveling out of the country is not having the internet readily available, so you are forced to ask the help of passing strangers. For me, this happened as I was trying to figure out how to get onto a street car to get across the city. As expected, the woman was more than happy to help me out and give me some pointers. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help!
ProTip: Find someone that speaks English! My first attempt was an Asian woman who looked at me like I had two heads!
“Should I take a bike? Nah I’m alone and don’t ride often, not risking it safety wise.”
A lot of the large cities have great bike share programs now where you can rent one in one location and drop it off in another location. I do not ride bikes often enough to feel comfortable navigating busy city streets so I opted against it. I didn’t want to risk getting injured somehow while being on my own. This is definitely something I will save until I’m traveling with a buddy or get myself out on a bike more often! There are plenty of other ways to get around!
“I hope no one is judging me for this BBQ Brisket Poutine…”
Nobody is looking. Nobody cares. Enjoy the food!
“I hope no one is judging me for the banana, peanut butter and Nutella crepe….”
But seriously… do not chicken out on getting something delicious out of fear that someone will be judging you for what you eat! You will never see any of these people again! And another perk to solo travel is that the food is so much more enjoyable when you aren’t trying to chat in between bites!
ProTip: Spend some time researching the local and traditional foods of whatever area you are traveling to. You won’t want to miss the chance to try them!
“There are so many nice people to talk to. You can strike up a conversation with anyone!”
Here is a list of all the kind people that I chatted with through my weekend in Canada:
- The other solo traveler at Niagara Brewing Company
- The bartender at Niagara Brewing Company
- The elevator operator at Skylon Tower in Niagara
- The nice old woman in my room at HI-Niagara Falls Youth Hostel
- The actor drinking coffee on a side street filled with street art
- The man I sat next to on the street car
- The older asian woman who’s AirBnb I was staying in
- The bartender at Mill St. Brew Pub
- The woman eating alone at the bar next to me at Mill St. Brew Pub
- The couple from Chicago sitting next to me at Spirit of York
- The bartenders at Goose Island
- Chris from Crepe it Up, who came and sat with me during his break!
- The Taxi driver on my way back to the AirBnb
- And believe it or not… the border control guy on my way back into the U.S. 🙂
“This city is beautiful, I’m so glad I don’t have someone complaining about this long walk across the city. Best way to see everything.”
In the last part of my day in Toronto, I decided to walk back from the Distillery District, all the way to the area where the CN Tower is, which is about 3 miles after already a full day of walking. I was able to stop multiple times along the way for food and drinks to break up the seemingly dauntless journey. Not everyone would be up for that kind of a walk across the city, but it gives you opportunity to see some of the hidden gems along the way that don’t pop up on your google searches!
“Is it lame that I’m back in the AirBnb and in bed by 8pm?”
When traveling with other people, it’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement and end up staying up too late. Because I had started my day at 5am that morning, I was ready to crash by 7pm. When you solo travel, you are allowed to do whatever you want, even if that means going to bed at 8pm! No shame.
“Yes Mr. Border Control, I was here alone. No, I didn’t meet anyone. No, I’m not smuggling drugs.”
Solo travelers still get a little bit of a side-eye from people who aren’t familiar with the concept. A lot of people still think you’re a bit crazy, or that it’s dangerous, or that you must be up to no good! But don’t let those naysayers bring you down. Be confident, it’s worth it 🙂
Get out of your comfort zone and get out in the world! Until next time…