An expert’s guide to travelling solo with Kate Gibbs
Food and travel writer Kate Gibbs relishes the opportunity to hit the road on her own. Here she shares her top tips for solo travellers setting out on a new adventure.
Kate has been travelling the world on her own for many years for both work and pleasure – and she still regularly leaves her family behind for a solo jaunt. She relishes the freedom of travelling alone and the opportunities for growth. “Alone it’s all me, and that’s both selfish and invigorating in the most beautiful way.”
What’s the best thing about travelling solo?
Any avid solo traveller thrives off the uncharted territory of it all – both literally and figuratively. I think humans need more adventure, and the unique independence that comes with figuring it out by yourself, seeing new things. To me, this is an essential part of being, or at least becoming, who I am. I like to think I return home better for it.
Where do you like to travel in NSW when on your own?
It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, but pre-children I occasionally booked myself into a Sydney hotel just for fun. Sleeping in an enormous king bed, listening to the new sounds, swimming in the hotel pool.
I love staying at The Old Clare Hotel and Paramount House. Both are central and have wonderful restaurants almost downstairs. When at Paramount I eat at Poly, by the team behind Ester, which has the best snack menu that makes being solo much easier. The Old Clare has a rooftop pool, and I love to explore the White Rabbit Gallery nearby, then dine at Kyo-To for easy Japanese and grab a cocktail at Gin Lane.
Out of town I love visiting Mollymook on the South Coast, staying at Bannisters having breakfast at Milk Haus at Woodstock and taking a moment to recharge in nature. It’s a wonderful area to explore and swim, hike through national parks and then return to cocktails for one by the hotel pool.
What kind of tours or experiences are best for solo travellers?
Find tours that inspire and really engage you rather than touristy things you feel you should do, and you’re more likely to meet people who have the same interests. I love tours of gardens and I book into a few special restaurants; not necessarily expensive, but exciting to me. I love sailing so will hire a laser dinghy and take it out if I’m alone; I’ve done this on Balmoral Beach. And I’ve hired a small motor dinghy (that won’t capsize!) in Port Macquarie. It’s a great way to explore. I will hire kayaks as well, for exploring all the beautiful inlets in NSW, and in Byron Bay there are great group kayak tours where you explore and find dolphins – it’s great to join a tour when you don’t know the place well.
You’ve done plenty of travel for your work over the years, what are some of the benefits you’ve discovered on your solo journeys?
Food is always a huge drawcard for me, and when, for example, I’m slurping noodles in a market on the street, I become part of that place. The steam and fire and colour, the surrounding banter and noise; it overwhelms and envelops me.
You can also save a lot of money on your own by doing only what you really want to do. I love absorbing myself in local habits such as finding cheap eats and connecting with producers at food markets instead of dining in the hotel or fancy restaurants. I love the Saturday Carriageworks markets in Sydney – I go for AP Bread’s prosciutto and stracciatella sandwiches when they haven’t run out. When I’m far north I go to Brunswick Heads’ Saint Maries for happy hour pizza; the place has the best vibes ever, and a spicy coconut margarita cocktail I dream about.
How do you connect with other travellers when you’re out on your own?
You’ll find people of all ages are travelling on their own, and there’s something very self-respecting and indulgent about it. People in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond usually have the cash to do it better (or at least a little less gritty); the resilience and determination to be alone and know that it's actually a good thing; and, importantly, the appreciation of how lucky they are.
When I’m on my own, I’ll sometimes choose places that don’t allow kids for a little more solitude: I love Paperbark Camp in Jervis Bay. It’s barefoot, luxury bush glamping on the South Coast. I get involved in the various bush walking, creek kayaking, swimming and snorkelling the area offers, and often meet loads of active over-30s doing the same. Pretty Beach House on the Central Coast also has a real nature-first sensibility and I’ve tended to get on very well with other guests – especially when sampling the excellent wine list – when I stay there.
What are some of your tips for when you’re at a table for one at a restaurant?
Sit at the bar and chat to the chef, and order lots of snacks instead of one larger meal so the waiter returns often. My favourite countertop solo dining in Sydney includes Ester in Chippendale; they have an excellent menu and the staff are great company. I love ramen or omakase-style Japanese when dining solo as well – Gogyo in Surry Hills or Chaco Bar in Potts Point – you can just sit back and watch the chefs work their magic.
I am determined when dining alone not to look at my phone constantly, because we miss the experience when we do. Sometimes feeling awkward and out of place, the newness of that, is what makes dining alone so beautifully special.
What are some of your favourite NSW restaurants, hotels or experiences?
One of my favourite places ever is the far North Coast. I stay at an Airbnb on Cabarita Beach, or at the glamorous and eclectic Halcyon House. The in-house restaurant is impeccable, and almost impossible to get into if you’re not a guest. I run along the beach in the morning, return to a hotel swim, then arrange my day around eating at nearby No.35 Kitchen and Bar, meandering around Newrybar in the hinterland, and fitting in one extraordinary Japanese lunch at Doma cafe in Federal. I do a red-light sauna or book a massage at the very zen in Casuarina and make sure I have pizza at Jordy’s nearby at least once.
Get more tips on exploring NSW via Kate’s Instagram, @kategibbs.