Particularly when the weather is not so hot, I enjoy reminiscing about my sunnier travels. Today I’m going to take a look back at my 2 trips to Okinawa as a solo traveler.
I was really worried about traveling alone in Okinawa. It was my first time traveling to a destination with no set plans aside from flights. I find that safety is not as much of an issue in Japan as it is in other parts of the world. However, I also find that the Japanese tend to be culturally less likely to become friendly with strangers.
It turns out that Okinawa is both very much “Japan” and very much not. Most of all, in Okinawa, they don’t let you travel alone. Solo, perhaps, but never alone. I’d even go as far as to say that going without a travel buddy actually enhanced my trip.
I was free to roam around as I pleased, attempt to bike ride, talk to a cafe owner for 2 hours, and it really forced me to get out of my shell and talk to other travelers and locals alike. After all, you do become a bit more approachable when you’re not perpetually engrossed in conversation with someone in your own party.
When I expressed uncertainty in where to stay on the rest of my trip, the person I was talking to suggested that I simply ask the other guests at the hostel. Many people who travel in Okinawa travel around to different islands so they are your best resource. The people who work at guesthouses are also a great resource. Many of them work in exchange for a place to stay while they travel around the islands.
Okinawa is known for their yuntaku, getting together and drinking awamori after dinner, a great way to meet fellow travelers and locals who might stop by. The guesthouses also often offer group meals and/or outings for a nominal fee. I’ve found that this is the case less for the money and more because everyone- travelers and lodging owners/workers alike- just want to have a good time.
One of the hostel owners that I met even took pity on me and took me on a tour to see all the observatories on the island we were on, out to sea to snorkel, and just generally hung out- often making new drink recipes involving awamori.
I rented a car with 3 other solo traveling gals to explore Ishigaki island and am still in touch with them. As a natural introvert, it was so nice to not only be forced into coming out of my shell, but also to be surrounded by so many welcoming extroverts.
That’s not to say that you should completely let your guard down and go all out. There are some seedier sides to the island that should be noted- especially for women. Many people have the “anything goes when I’m on vacation” mentality and I have observed very disappointing expat conduct. Okinawa is also especially susceptible to typhoons during typhoon season.
That being said, if you’re generally careful and out to have a good time enjoying the sun and learning about Okinawa’s unique history and culture, you’re bound to find yourself in good company, even if you arrive solo.
Stay in hostels or guesthouses that offer yuntaku. Check to see if they provide the drinks. If you don’t drink, bring a beverage of your choice. Most of the time the purpose of these are to share experiences, not to get shwasted.
Go out to the smaller islands. This is where you will meet Okinawa fanatics who repeatedly travel around the islands until they inevitably decide to move there. Remember, in Okinawa, less is more. Enjoy making connections and enjoying the natural beauty of the islands.
Ask other travelers for advice re: lodging and activity operators.
// What is your favorite solo travel location?
// Have you ever gone on a trip solo before? Share your experience below!