Right now, I’m sitting in the middle of one of the most romantic destinations in the world, and I’m totally alone. Let’s be honest, this could be really weird.
Santorini is not known as one of the best solo female travel destinations. For every solo woman here, there are 100 bachelorette parties and couples celebrating their recent wedding or 25th anniversary.
“Just you?” All the cute waiters ask as I curl into a comfy booth overlooking the caldera for my afternoon freddo espresso. Yep, thanks, just me, alone, this is the fifth time I’ve been asked today, not feeling sensitive!! (Sometimes they then ask if I’m married with a flirtatious grin, which turns that sensitivity right back into excitement.)
The solo survival plan
I love super-romantic destinations and hotels, in a way that probably seems odd for a super-independent, very single solo traveler. This is not just because I love a good bathtub and for some reason, romantic hotels have that game on lockdown.
But romance is also associated with coziness, charm, and decadence. All things I adore. Also lots of romantic places, like Greece, are great for solo female travelers (just ask Hannah). If I avoided places like beautiful and historic Santorini, my Burgundy chateau, or Paris, all filled with honeymooners and the occasional and exciting people having affairs, my life would be less beautiful.
So what do I recommend for the solo traveler stranded on an island (literal, in my case, but sometimes metaphorical) full of couples taking pictures of themselves making out for their instagrams?
Here’s my 5-step guide.
1. Make friends
While a place full of twosomes can seem like an unfriendly place, there are loads of very sociable couples who come out of hiding from their romance lairs occasionally. After all, you can only spend so much time gazing into each other’s eyes.
Watching a beautiful sunset alone at a swank bar? Strike up a convo about how time-lapse photos work with the couple next to you and see if they’re feeing chatty (they were, and they were so lovely! Got a bunch of book recommendations).
Bond over becoming insta-famous with the friendly Australian girls on your catamaran cruise where you’re the only single person, and chat up the pair of friends from DC too, and the hilarious honeymooning couples. The free-flowing wine helps!
2. Shamelessly people-watch
This is one of my all-time favorite activities, and it’s even better in famously romantic places. You would not believe how many couples get in wonderfully petty fights on the steps of Santorini or lost in the twisting Paris alleys.
As a single person in these places, you can often feel a little invisible. Use this to your advantage and get some free but priceless entertainment.
Find that cozy corner (I have a real thing about tucking into corners when I’m traveling alone, I feel like Harriet the Spy), order that coffee or glass of Assyrtiko, and just take it all in – the wandering cats greeting each other with a sniff, the woman having the world’s most extra photo shoot running along the sidewalk with her billowing scarf and her very patient photographer friend, the elderly Greek men gathered to spend three hours drinking one coffee each and clearly sharing the good gossip.
When there’s no one to distract you (except sometimes a friendly cat), you can take in everything around with a deep but light awareness. You get to know the rhythms of a place in a way you wouldn’t if you were one of those girls screaming woohoo at the future bride at the next bar. Hone those powers of silence and observation.
3. Treat your own damn self
Luxury, decadence, and pampering are not limited to the honeymooners. While a couple’s massage is out of the question, how else can you treat yourself well on your trip?
Buy that pricey catamaran cruise for yourself. Order room service and eat breakfast in your enormous, comfy bed. Drink that second glass of €7 wine before dinner just because the view is too good to leave. Go look at old stuff just because it’s there.
Eat baklava on your adorable pool deck while petting the hotel dog, Milo, and planning how to get out of Santorini when the ferry to Crete suddenly stops running (a live view of my life today).
Go slow. Read in bed for three hours. Spend another three window shopping while eating gelato. Treat yo’self.
This is one of the true beauties of traveling alone as a woman.
4. Lean into the solitude
That sulking couple I mentioned earlier fighting on the steps? They probably just planned a 150-person wedding and flew through the night to get to Santorini, where they spent a ton of cash and feel like they have to have the perfect honeymoon (and show all this on Instagram). Quelle stress.
But you? You’re free and footloose. No jet-lag induced arguments, no pressure, no rules. Do whatever you want, even if what you want would seem lame to another person (personally, my favorite is reading the new translation of the Odyssey in bed at 6:30 am when I have insomnia).
Throw yourself fully into that freedom. Into the inherent awkwardness too occasionally, but into the hours of the days that belong entirely to you.
5. Flirt. Shamelessly.
So you’re the only solo person on a sunset cruise in the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean Sea, which is staffed by gorgeous people who want nothing more than to bring you spaghetti and wine.
In case you were wondering, my love language is pasta.
Those honeymooners and the young parents can’t smile winningly and guiltlessly at every beautiful person they see. You can. They’re everywhere and you’re relaxed and a couple glasses of wine in and warm from toasting in the rays of the strong Aegean sun all day – a recipe for feeling sexy and strong if there ever was one.
And you’re on vacation! This is precious and should not be wasted. Live your best life!
Romance for one
If you skip going to places where you will be surrounded by couples, you’ll miss out on so much beauty. Don’t wait until you’re on your own honeymoon to see these beautiful places.
Just acknowledge those occasional awkward moments (and laugh at yourself a little), take in the scenery and people, and eat a waffle in bed.
You’re deserving of lovely moments when you’re solo, too.