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14 Ways to Enjoy Nights Alone as a Solo Traveler

vientiane carnival night

14 Ways to Enjoy your Nights Alone as a Solo Traveler

I’ll admit, there are times being a solo traveler at night can feel like… well, a single gal alone on a Friday night!

All the world is aglow with friends and drunken laughter.  Meanwhile, you’re either standing outside in the cold envying the social fun indoors or in your guesthouse painting your toenails the color of ‘wishful thinking’!  Times like this, it’s hard not to occasionally feel… lame.

Well, it doesn’t have to be this way.

In fact, would you believe that when I travel alone, I often don’t return to my pad until midnight? That’s right.

You see, while I love being a solo traveler most of the time, I have my moments when it doesn’t feel easy and I can occasionally feel like I have a gimp leg. The last thing I want is to envy others’ fun, feel pathetic or like I’m missing out on “living”!   As such, I’m challenged to be more creative and resourceful with my leisure time.  I shoot for fun experiences, unique adventures and local variety, which will let me experience a lot of what the culture has to offer.

 

Here’s 14 ways to have fun when you’re alone: 

 

1.   Take a romantic stroll through the city

Maybe it’s not always the safest venture, but at night I like to romance the city and fall in love.

Whether shops are open or closed, a place takes on a magical face in the evening, as it’s veiled in light and shadow. Explore streets lined with lights and crowded sidewalk cafes, observe how locals come out to play, let crickets be your background music and unwind through the smells wafting from restaurants and homes.

Romance isn’t only for couples, but are for soloists too. Go ahead, make a date with the city!

walking ho chi minh

Walking the streets of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

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2.   Make your own city bus tour at night

Some tour agencies and cities offer city bus tours at night and these tours are like cheap all inclusive holidays, taking you around the city to all the major landmarks lit by light. But if you can’t find one, go ahead and make your own! I’m a big fan of D.I.Y. (aka do-it-yourself) tours.

Public transportation services such as city buses, ferries and monorails make perfect and cheap way to see the city lights at a slow pace. (Read my post on Bangkok’s transit options to get an idea of ways to see a city through its transportation)

Tour boat through the waterways of Malaysia’s artsy town of Melacca

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3. Sightsee, sightsee, sightsee!

When I lived in New York City, I used to hate walking. Friends often suggested walking to places (vs taking the bus, cab or subway); meanwhile, I’d respond with a look saying- “Why don’t you jump off the Brooklyn Bridge!

Somehow, travel changed me and my shoes developed a mind of their own. It could be because when I travel, I like to make the most of my sightseeing time.

Who says everything closes when the sun goes down? Museums, theme parks and government attractions typically clock out when it hits sunset, but temples,  churches, shopping malls, night markets and shops are open.

As long as there are things to see, these shoes will go until it closes the town down.

Chiang Mai wat

Visiting the main wat in Chiang Mai

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4.   Explore night markets and indulge in street fairs

These are by far my favorite evening pastimes!  Night market, night bazaar, walking streets, block parties, street fairs… they’re all pretty much the same fun. Haggle for cool local craftwork and souvenirs or dive into the local foods and snacks, watch street performers jangling for change or fuel up with local cuisine at an outdoor restaurant.

Night markets for local folk can get a little more gritty, less sparkly with a feeling more foreign. Foods are authentically made for local taste and shopper’s items are aimed at more practical and household variety. Interesting nonetheless!

Watch your money though, it’s sure to drain fast.

night market

(above) Night market in Siem Reap, Cambodianight market Night Bazaar in Luang Prabang offers tourists a chance to buy local Hmong tribe crafts and souvenirs from rows of local vendors.   street fairs Street fairs, Melacca, Malaysia

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5. Dinner shows and cultural performances

Did you know that Vietnamese water puppet shows originated as a form of entertainment in villages, when rice fields got flooded? …Or that in Bali, Legong dancers are played music, while still in the womb and taught the hand gestures before they can walk? I saw a Legong dinner show on the beach and it was included on an all-day sightsee- snorkel- and-beach tour package I got…for $40. Snap, don’t you love great budget tour deals!

A culture’s art is very indicative of  its people’s history and many places offer engaging dinner shows and cultural performances to showcase their local talents and give tourists a vibrant understanding of who they are.

bali legong dance

Balinese Legong dance performance

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6.   Follow your curiosity and go off-the-grid 

Curiosity pays and occasionally, wandering off-the-grid can lead to discoveries, which are more rewarding than seeing the Taj Mahal. Never underestimate off-the-beaten path places, even if at first glance it looks… too grassroots for your taste!

Just when I was scraping the barrel of ideas for evening activities  in the little Indian town of Gokarna, I came across a community theater blasting Bollywood music in a shoddy dirt lot. I dismissed it on several passes. It looked too… how to say this without sounding offensive… local.  Experience the authentic ways of a culture leads to insight and adventure, but sometimes as tourists, we can be sissies about toe-dipping into something “too authentic”, uncertain if it will present us with culture shock we’re unable to handle.

Finally, out of boredom and curiosity, I gave in.

Turned out, taking a peek inside the local culture (and its make-shift artistic ways) was the coolest experience of the entire town!  I thought I’d seen community theater, I’d studied a bit of its history and how it began in other countries, I’d seen dance performances and puppet shows when I’ve traveled (all in venues for tourists). But I’ve never experienced community theater in a rural town before. This was entertainment put on for the locals, not its tourists. Those type of authentic experiences are hard to find these days as more places are discovered and put on the travel map. For me, it was like taking a trip back in time and being in a movie. It  shed insights on how small rural town and its modern day Indian artisans pull off unique entertainment for the local masses, in the best way they can!  It was a treasure of a find and right under my nose!

Keep an open mind and follow your curiosity. It may lead to adventures that most tourists don’t think to try and you’ll be glad you did.

Gokarna local community theater in India

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7.   Brave creepy crawlers on a night safari

Flashlights out everyone and don’t forget to hit yourself with insect repellent before you start!  Night safaris lead you on tours of the jungle, to point out the type of animals and critters that come out after dark.  It’s fun, eye opening and enough to give you the heebie-jeebies!

night safari

I took a night safari tour. We were guided through Malaysia’s oldest rainforest, Taman Negara,  holding only flashlights. The guide pointed out creatures that would only come out at night.

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8.   Dine alone

There’s a myth that many soloists hold around solo dining; and it’s that others will see you as lonely or pathetic. Well, have you ever noticed someone dining alone? Likelihood is… not really, unless you’re another soloist or the only person in the joint. But ordinarily, our eyes are drawn to movement and activity (i.e. many vs. one).

Sorry soloist, hate to burst the bubble, but you’re not exciting enough to catch attention. In a busy restaurant, you’re actually wallpaper! So lose the self-consciousness.

Alternate ways to get over the fear of dining alone:

•   Look for other solo diners in the restaurant. They’re immediate validation that you’re not an anomaly and if you have the fortune of getting seated next to another soloist, use it as an opportunity for possible conversation.
•   Ask for a table near a window or outside, so you can people-watch and experience your surroundings.
•   Bring a book, magazine or journal to occupy yourself as you wait for your food to arrive.

night restaurants

Riverside restaurants in Vientiane, Laos

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9.   Eat on the streets 

The marvelous thing about travel is the variety of ways you can sample street dining. With street food, you can eat standing up, sitting on a plastic stool on the sidewalk as motorbikes zip past you or amidst the cluck of foreign chatter. It’s real dining just the way locals do it:  authentic food and cheap prices!  Next time you visit a place, dare to step outside the tourist box and experience it local style. Check out my post and travel survival tip on How to Eat Street Food if you’re an unadventurous eater.

butterworth malaysian hawker food

Eating street food from a hawker stand in Butterworth, Malaysia.   
street food  Outdoor street market restaurants in Bangkok (near Victory Point)

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10. Explore the local shopping experience

Do you like like visiting a Mc Donalds in each country just to see the menu and how it changes to draw the local palette? I do.

So this is very similar…

I absolutely love exploring grocery and convenience stores when I travel.   I ooh and aaah at unique products, raise my eyebrow at strange ones and even pick up souvenirs for friends, which might have them guessing…  I’m always curious about how a country is different from my own. For example, in Asia, you can get a lot of skin care products with whitening in it (even underarm deodorant!), in India they sell a lot of Ayurvedic products.

Or sometimes, I find a country sells similar brands, but either place a different importance on them or have different choices available to their country that I don’t have in mine.

spam koreaSpam by the gift box sold in Korea

Pringles in Vientiane, Laos

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11.   Hang out at your hostel and find travel friends

The fallacy about solo travel is that you’re always alone. On the contrary, often I find it’s quite the opposite.  You’re almost always meeting people on the road.

But occasionally, you have to know where to look.

Which is why I’ll never pooh-pooh hostels and guesthouses. They’re a soloist’s salvation and these days, it’s not just for the young, but for the budget-minded in general!   Some joints host nightly events, book budget tours and often it attracts open-minded and friendly compadres, who are willing to share advice and recommendations of where to go and what you shouldn’t waste your time seeing. You can find a dinner companion or more or even strike up a group of friends to go to a bar with. It happens all the time. Sometimes, you’ll wish you were actually alone. (Read about my experience in finding friends to go to Bangkok’s X-rated ping pong shows).

hostel friends

Returning to Cat’s Hostel with new travel companions (Madrid, Spain)

 

12.  Hitting an internet café

Skype your family, update your Facebook status, write a new post on your travel blog and… unload your photo card so you have something new to work with the next day.

An extremely unflattering photo of me on Skype to my family (Pai, Thailand)

 

13.    Spend quiet time reading a book or writing in your journal

We all need downtime to rest and absorb our day. Reading a book about (or inspired by) the country you’re visiting, helps you open your eyes and notice more of what’s going on around you.  In India, I found a copy of Superstar India: From Incredible to Unstoppableby my favorite Indian writer, Shobha De (you wanna read about India from a gal with razor grrrit, Shobha’s your dame).

Journalling is also great for taking notes on your observations and putting all your experiences into perspective.

sunset hampi

sunset hampi

 

14.   Do take long-distance journeys at night

You might think you want to watch the passing landscape from the train during the day, but in reality, you might just watch half an hour of it before slogging off! You’ll maximize your sightseeing, by scheduling your long-distance travels for night instead. Some buses and trains accommodate comfortable sleeping, while others may challenge your make-shift abilities.

crashed out

What are some ways you spend your evenings as a solo traveler?

48 Comments

  1. ivettte says:

    Right. When Im alone in a new city i dont sit on bed at evening but eplore explore explore…i love to just walk throught busy streets at night:)

  2. Jim says:

    I have read this several times. It has been a helpful reminder every time, thanks.

    One thing I like to do is rent a motorbike and just go cruising. The key is to keep a keen balance between enjoying the scenery and paying attention to the road. The motorbike opens up a wider variety of possible adventures.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      That’s an excellent idea @Jim! Love motorbikes- they grant so much freedom and yet, a sense of control to what you want to see! =D

  3. agnesstramp says:

    Even when I travel solo, I never feel lonely. I always meet people who want to join me for a walk, dinner, sightseeing or shopping. I hate romantic walks on my own, so depressing! 😛 Great tips :)!!

  4. It is cute and cutting off the visual night-destinations..

  5. Nights are the worst for me so I might read or journal, take a nighttime tour of the city, talk to friends/family back home, or watch TV.

  6. My vote is for going to night markets alone! The best ones I have experienced are in the Australian Northern Territory and Malaysia. I loved your comments on dining alone as I have come to quite enjoy it. Its an excellent opportunity to get to know the waiter/waitress and get some tips on the local area!

  7. Lauren says:

    I love the list. Traveling has inspired me to do some of these things like dine solo, when I’m not on the road!

    And yes, making journal time is important and Iove going over the grid, and trying to do what the locals do…

  8. Ashleen Moreen says:

    Sounds like you are doing a lot and you really enjoy a lot. One thing that I can’t do is to become brave those creepy crawlies at your hand. By the way your post is very inspiring and I learn a lot. Great share!

    • @Ashleen: Thanks for the read! BTW- that wasn’t my hand that touched the crawlies…the only part of me that touch any of that stuff was my flashlight’s light! Those night safaris are thoroughly entertaining but it’s slightly like walking through a haunted house!

  9. Jarmo says:

    Yeah, you usually find enough new friends from hostels, but it’s just great walking around a new city by yourself. Take a camera with you and see what you can find. And I don’t mind eating by yourself in a restaurant, just bring along a notebook or a book.

  10. Man I need to send this to my friend who’s doing her RTW solo. And damn.. those are some interesting Pringles flavors. =P

  11. Nigh time can be difficult when you are traveling solo. I like to walk around and see the city at night. Most of the time though I have done so much during the day that I am too tired to do much.

  12. Gray says:

    Great post, Christine! I like going out to listen to live music at night.

  13. Ekua says:

    Nice list! I’m writing this comment from a private room in a hostel… I’ve chosen option 13 tonight after staying up way later than intended with option 11 last night 😛

  14. Waegook Tom says:

    Great tips here, Christine. You’re totally right about dining alone – nobody notices you really! The same with seeing a movie alone, which could be an activity to add to your list. Gotta say that night markets are definitely my favourite on this list – absolutely love them! 🙂

    • @Tom: Movie, good one! I actually took myself to Pirates of the Carribean III? in Bangkok last year… at the time though, I was like.. is this the best I could think of doing? When you’re in a place for a long time… Yes. =-)

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