Travelling solo is an amazingly self-affirming and brave thing to do. Facing the unknown, on your own, ignoring the nay-sayers can be tough, but the rewards are abundant. The freedom and flexibility of making every decision, and the experience of exploring a new place on your own is truly liberating. Here’s some tips so that you’re fully prepared to embark on your wonderful expedition. Plan ahead to make sure you have a good time in Uruguay.
What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you more extrovert or introvert?
If you are a very social person and not used to being alone, you might want to consider travelling to Uruguay in the Summer, during high season, to make sure you’ll meet fellow travelers like yourself. Likewise, you’ll probably thrive in busy spots, so make sure to research what cities are most popular at what times of the year. If it’s the other way around, you’ll probably want to avoid the party hostels and nightlife districts and choose a more peaceful setting. The good thing about Uruguay is that there’s a little bit of everything.
As with most countries, learning the basic phrases will go a long way towards feeling more comfortable as a solo traveler. A lot of people in Uruguay speak English, especially in the capital, but it can be quite broken. Either way, you’ll never know for sure if you’ll encounter a lot of English-speaking people so it’s better to have a few words to get around. In general, people will always try to understand you and will be friendly with you, so don’t be shy and show off whatever you have learnt!
Uruguayans of all ages are usually very curious when they meet travelers; as soon as they hear you speaking another language, or speaking with an accent, they will talk to you and ask plenty of questions. Getting a little bit freaked out by this is understandable, but just remember that it’s not unusual. People are used to talking to complete strangers in the middle of the street, asking a bunch of questions, giving advice or even inviting each other to hang out if they have had a good conversation. Couchsurfing is a great way of meeting friendly locals; if that’s not your thing, chat with the owners and staff at your accommodation.
What’s worse: to miss out on some good fun because you got overly paranoid, or to regret not having trusted your instincts? If you’re unsure of a situation, make plans for the next day in a public place. Trustworthy people won’t have a problem with that. If the person starts being too pushy, or you get a bad feeling, get a taxi back, ask staff members for help, or even pretend someone is calling you and walk away (towards a crowd if possible). Take basic precautions: don’t engage with people if you’re walking alone late at night, find out which neighborhoods are safe and which aren’t, and stay either in public places or your own accommodation (don’t go home with someone you just met, you won’t know where they’re taking you and if things get sour it’s better to kick them out of your own place anyway).
Solo travelers might feel awkward about going to a restaurant, a bar, a show or a gig by themselves. Don’t! No Uruguayans will judge you, in fact, they will generally start chatting to you, because most Uruguayans are extremely friendly and helpful. You’re unlikely to be in a dangerous situation if you’re in a public place, so don’t miss out on trying typical food or experiencing the local culture. If you find out you’re the only guest at your hotel, hostel or campsite, don’t freak out! Make the most of spending time with yourself, and rest assured knowing that the owners and staff will be there for you if you need anything.
Pack some exercise clothes, reading material, drawing tools, or whatever you need for the activities you’re into. Since you’re going to be spending a lot of time on your own, it’s good to focus that time into something that you enjoy, and get better at it. Go write, read or draw at the quaint little café you saw while you were exploring the city. Rent a bike or go running through the countryside, beach or promenade. Find out where you can rent gear to go rock climbing, surfing, or skateboarding. It’s refreshing to practice and exciting to start a hobby in a new environment; it’s also a great way to enjoy spending time with yourself.
Research the highlights of where you’re going and picture yourself in that environment. For example, Salto is famous for its hot springs and spas, so you should expect families and couples there; it’s not the best place to meet people and you’re probably going to be alone most of the time. If you go to the countryside or the beach during off-season, it’s probably going to be deserted. Montevideo is the capital city, so it’ll be busy all year round, but you should also check each neighborhood to know if you’re booking accommodation in a busy or quiet area. Think about what you expect from your holiday, and go places that match those expectations, or at least know what to expect so you aren’t disappointed.
The best advantage of travelling solo is that you are the only person that knows you anywhere you go; which means, you can literally do whatever you want! Living life without fear of what other people think is something we should all aim for, so take the opportunity to practice it with people you’ll probably never meet again. Dance at the bar! Talk to a complete stranger! Or even better yet, do things that you wouldn’t normally do where you live. Not a big football fan? Go see a match at the biggest stadium to feel the excitement. Try a new sport and be awful at it. Take tango dance lessons or join the parade of dancers and drummers in the streets of Montevideo. Try fernet, espinillar and grapamiel, terrible local alcoholic drinks that will make you squirm. Share mate with someone and eat achuras, the insides of the beef on the grill (Uruguayan specialties, such as calf’s glands, blood sausage, kidneys, calf’s small intestines, liver…) who knows? You might even discover something you love!