If you’ve ever dreamed of spending time in a foreign city, but didn’t want to do it alone, there are several ways to blaze a solo trail while making friends (and learning a thing or two) along the way.
Many people who choose to travel by themselves book guided tours or cruises to socialize while sojourning. But a lesser-known tactic and one of my favorite solo travel tips for connecting with fellow tourists – signing up for a short language, cooking or exercise class – is another opportunity to enrich your journey. Not only is it a great way to anchor your stay, but you’ll learn about a culture first-hand, rather than gathering tidbits of wanderlust wisdom along the way.
Language classes aren’t only fun, but can prove invaluable in navigating the rest of your journey. And you don’t need to be a linguist to go –amateurs welcome and wanted!
I’ve done several ‘language stays’ over the past 15 years, including in Aix en Provence, France, San Sebastián, Spain and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. And I’ve never been disappointed. No matter how inept you think you are, you will learn something, even it’s only, “Where’s the bathroom?” or “I’m hungry.” And you’ll have fun doing it.
My classes included students of every age and nationality, most with little or no serious language skills. In Mexico, one of my classmates was in his 70s. In Spain, the students ranged from 18 to 58 years old. And in France, the median age was about 40.
You may never lose your accent in a second language, but with a little time and work, you can become quite fluent. Best of all, you’ll make lots of new friends.
Finding language classes is easy – just Google the phrase and the city. I just did it for Lisbon and immediately found 20 listings. To narrow down the options, look at the size of the school, and the number of students per class. Groups of less than 10 students are the most engaging. You’ll also often have a choice of half-day classes, full-day classes, or private lessons.
In truth, a half day is about all that my brain can stand. But it also gives you the chance to immediately practice what you’ve learned. I also look for schools that offer afternoon activities. In San Miguel, my group learned how to cook mole; in Aix, we followed in the footsteps of Cézanne; and in San Sebastián, we swam out to Santa Clara Island, a lovely spot just off the coast (a short boat trip is also an option).
If learning languages isn’t your thing, maybe the language of food is. There’s nothing better than trying new dishes when you travel – except maybe learning how to make them.
There are various types of cooking classes, including learning with locals, hands-on experiences and established high-end (and high-priced) cooking schools. Just make sure to read the course description carefully, including the number of hours, and whether your class includes a shopping excursion. And if you don’t speak the language, you’ll want to ensure that your chef speaks English.
You can also ask your hotel about local cooking classes, which is what I did in Marrakesh several years ago and was rewarded with a day of shopping and cooking with the Chef at our own Riad hotel. The morning of the class, another guest at the hotel joined in and the three of us ventured into the alleys of Marrakesh and shopped like locals – greeting and negotiating prices with each vendor and sampling everything. An hour later, we brought home a bounty of seafood, meat, fruits and of course spices, including the amazing ras-el-hanout, a dark and earthy mixture of anywhere from eight to 50 spices.
That afternoon, we cooked, and tasted, and cooked some more, all under the watchful eye of chef Abdelwahed. We then sat down to a feast of seafood pastilla, tagine of lamb with figs and walnuts, date ‘cigars’ and of course, sweet tea. When I left Marrakesh, my new friend and I were both given a recipe book of all of our treats.So, remember to ask for something similar wherever you cook.
If you’re interested in exploring the world through a local lens, AAA’s newest travel company Club Adventures was made for you. Since cuisine is such a huge part of culture, food tours, cooking classes and more are frequently incorporated into their itineraries.
Yoga in the Sun
If you’re looking for more active ways to meet fellow travelers, there’s nothing better than taking lessons in the most popular native sports and activities, like surfing, snorkeling or even dog-sledding.
Want something a bit more Zen? Try yoga classes, which can be found the world over. If you’re interested in being pampered, try Canyon Ranch, a wellness and luxury spa with destinations in both Tucson, Arizona and Lenox, Massachusetts. You’ll find everything from 8 a.m. ‘sun salutes’ to afternoon HIIT cardio combined with mindful stretching and gourmet meals.
For a more down-to-earth experience, there’s the Kripalu Center, a 100-acre former Jesuit seminary located just across the street from Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Whether you prefer Vinyasa, Kundalini or simply Restorative Yoga, you’ll find a class here to fit your mood.
If a tropical getaway is more your thing, Tulum is the place to be. Just over two hours south of Cancun by car or bus, Tulum combines quaint hotels with stunning sea views. At least a dozen yoga studios have sprung up in the past few years, and some hotels offer ocean-front lessons. You can book daily classes, weekly classes or even whole yoga retreats, where you’re likely to find other solo travelers.
And when you get tired of yoga, you can always stroll the beaches, grab some great food, and visit the well-preserved Mayan ruins which dot the area.
Language, cooking and exercise classes satisfy my own unique interests, but the odds are good that there’s a class in a foreign land that addresses an area of your own curiosity.
What kind of class would you take if you were traveling alone? Do you have any other solo travel tips that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments below, or in the poll above.
Paula Levine is an Emmy Award-winning writer, producer and digital storyteller with over 20 years of experience ranging from broadcast to the web, focusing on health and lifestyle topics.