Five joys of traveling solo

By Marnie Hunter, CNNPublished 14th February 2012
Traveling alone can create more opportunities for new connections and personal discovery.
Heard enough about romantic retreats? Yep, you're in good company.
Keep in mind that cocooning lovers miss out on some of the experiences only a lone, exposed individual invites. (Nope, not a mugging ... more on safety below.)
Janice Waugh, 54, has had her share of independent adventures. She traveled solo in her 20s, and she's been traveling alone again since her husband passed away in 2006 and her kids left home. She shares what she's learned through her blog, Solo Traveler, and in her self-published "Solo Traveler's Handbook."
Waugh is in the middle of her first trip to India. CNN chatted with her via Skype and e-mail about the benefits of an itinerary built for one.
There is no itinerary
You're the boss. You can spend the day in a café or check off six major tourist spots in 12 hours. "You aren't dragged places you don't want to go, and you don't feel like you're dragging people places either," Waugh said.
Before her trip, Waugh met the owner of an Indian restaurant while dining in her hometown of Toronto. The new acquaintance invited her to attend a family wedding in India, so Waugh moved up her trip by a week and spent five days celebrating the marriage with the family. "They treated me like a sister," Waugh said.
You meet more people traveling solo
After the unexpected wedding portion of her trip, Waugh met a British woman taking her first big solo trip to celebrate turning 40. The two have paired up for part of their travels. Waugh's experience is helpful to the first-timer, and her new friend is good company, she said.
Linking up with interesting new people happens all the time, Waugh said. "Because you aren't focused on another person, you are open to the world."
Waugh encounters a lot of solo travelers in non-Western countries, where wanderers tend to be on much longer trips with a more open-ended mentality about the experience and the people they meet along the way.
You're also more likely to meet locals with your attention turned outward instead of on a familiar traveling partner.
You discover new confidence
Waugh still misses her husband, but she has discovered she's stronger and more capable than she ever imagined through navigating and discovering the world alone. Plus, solo travelers find ways to be themselves more authentically.
"You discover who you are when no one is looking," Waugh said. "At home people expect you to act a certain way. When you travel solo, you can be whoever you want to be with no one to judge."
In that vein, on this trip to India she worked in a week on an ashram, doing 3½ hours a day of yoga and meditation.
It's more exciting
An event such as Valentine's Day doesn't really register when you're traveling the world on your own. Waugh's new English friend, who is also single, told Waugh the day means nothing to her this year. Adventures in India are far more exciting than Valentine's Day, her companion told her.
Calling all the shots, setting your own pace and making unique discoveries provide thrills you're less likely to experience wrapped in the safety blanket of a partner or friend.
You're laying the groundwork for lasting connections
But let's not kid ourselves: Solo travel can be lonely. Still, by traveling independently you're gathering ingredients for a possible romance and lasting connections, whether on the road or at home. The confidence that comes from creating your own adventure is a powerful force. "With more confidence, your love for yourself grows, which gives you more love to offer others," Waugh said.
Plus, we all know someone who's entered a long love affair -- or a sizzling fling -- far from home.
Waugh said she's been on dates during her travels but found no lasting romances yet. She said she's careful about whom she meets and where, which brings us to safety.
Caution is key
Always stay in public with new acquaintances, Waugh cautioned. A public place is always safer than a private place. She said to be careful even when riding in taxis. And don't tell unfamiliar people where you're staying.
You should choose the people you interact with instead of the other way around, Waugh said. "The odds of you choosing the wrong person are much smaller than the odds of the wrong person choosing you."
And don't be afraid to be rude. We're trained be polite, which is important as a traveler, but speaking loudly and firmly to let someone know that you're getting out of a situation or conversation is important for your safety. People around you also can help when you feel uneasy, Waugh said.
"Smile and engage other people in your safety," Waugh said. Ask for help when you need it.
Waugh offers more safety tips on her blog.
Have you traveled alone? Share your tips below. Are you tempted but reluctant to travel solo? What's holding you back?