There’s nothing in the world quite like traveling alone. It’s scary, thrilling, liberating, lonely, inspiring, dangerous, all of the above. Many people shun the idea, afraid of being trapped in their own heads or worse — eating at a restaurant alone.
However, to me traveling alone is a highly underrated sport. There’s an incredible freedom to do anything you want, not having to worry at all about what someone else needs. This journey is all about you!
I have been traveling in the Netherlands for the past month alone. Although I’m here doing work exchange, I’m still often left to explore the city on my own. With the goal of making the most out of my budget traveling, here were some of my favorite things to do in Amsterdam, but it’s easily applicable to any major city in the world.
Join a Free Walking Tour
A nice underrated gem in tourism is the classic Walking Tour, which is offered for free in most major cities in the world. Prepare to get a crash course on the city’s history to add to your trivial pursuit points, while walking with people who are often also traveling alone. I like to do these tours at the beginning of my trip, and spend the rest of my trip returning to or further exploring some of those spots. The guides are usually locals, so they’re also the best person to ask for the best spots tourists don’t know about.
I went to Free Walking Tours Amsterdam. If the time slots don’t work for you, wait around in tourist attractions until a random guided tour approaches. Then casually walk in a slower pace until you inconspicuously immerse yourself into the group. Detach with stealth once suspicion is detected. But remember to tip the guides!
Explore the Magic of Museum Gift Shops
Don’t have a lot of time? Or don’t have an extra €10-€19 to spend? Get a free, miniature, express version of each museum through its extravagant gift shop. Heck, even throw down €1 on a post card so all your friends will THINK you actually went inside.
Many museums put as much time and effort into their gift shops as the real thing. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam even has tables and chairs set up for us shameless freeloaders to spend hours reading their massive €200 art books in their gorgeous gift shop. You’ll really get the bang for your free buck.
Other than finding cheap vintage clothes, thrift shopping to me is like a free museum of the city’s local fashion rejects. Get a taste of the weird fashion phases the city has gone through with decades-old clothes decked with sequins, military uniforms, leopard print, or fake fur. Whether you actually buy anything, these shops or pop-up markets are always a joy to sift through due to its rich history. Some of the antique spoons can look straight out of Downton Abbey, and might only cost 50 cents. In Amsterdam, the Waterlooplein Markt absolutely blew my mind.
Note to Self: Next time come to the Netherlands with empty bags.
Make the Tourists a Part of the Attraction
Other than the typical attractions, another thing that never ceases to be entertaining are the tourists themselves. Spend a few hours people watching and observing the obsessive selfie-takers, argumentative families, couples staring at their phones, iPad-photographers, and screaming children. If you have a lot of spare time, make a game out of counting the amount of selfie sticks and make a mental chart of the demographic correlating to the likeliness of selfie-stick usage. You never know, the data could be useful one day.
Pretend to be a Local
Find the local university campus library and pretend to be a student. Or whip out your laptop at a local cafe and start pounding out your imaginary book. You’ll look like you’ve been living in Amsterdam for years, with an up-and-coming career in remote work!
A note for fellow shameless budget travelers: the cheapest coffee in Amsterdam can be found at the Amsterdam Research Institute for Legal Studies. It’s also right by the Oudemanhuispoort Book Market, a peaceful arch hallway where the local elderly sell their antique books and vinyls for cheap.
Be Someone Else
Tired of being American, Canadian, or whatever you are? Being in a foreign country by yourself is just right thing for you! Take a break from your own ill-reputed or boring nationality and be Italian, British, or Indian for one day! Ask for directions in different accents, and prepare for the muse of confusing the heck out of locals. Get creative and think of a whole background story as to how you’re an Asian Italian with Turkish ancestry and 1/65th Cherokee. Heck, make up and an entirely fake country and just say it’s “somewhere in Eastern Europe.” Options are endless. It all begins with “Hello.”
Chat Up a Store Clerk
Bored and want someone to talk to? Good news, there are people out there who are paid to put up with “customers” like you. Go to any store, the fancier the better, and start off by pretending you might actually buy something, then discuss something completely unrelated. Of course, pick a shop that is quite depressingly empty, where the salespersons look like they could use some help to pass the time. You’ll make new friends in no time!
Travel safe, for your mind, body, soul, and wallet!