I get a lot of questions and comments about traveling alone. I have traveled with family, with a boyfriend, with friends, and of course alone, and I prefer the latter.
Traveling alone fits me personally for several reasons. Everyone has their own comfort level as far as risk and security go, but I have always been kind of a “high risk/high reward” type of person, and to be honest, I’m not really afraid of anything…except snakes and IV needles, neither of which have posed problems for me abroad. Anyway the times I have been robbed were always when I was with friends, so going in a group does not automatically keep you safe. I am very independent and I am perfectly happy alone or with company. I also am very social and since I stay in hostels, meeting people to go out and about with is never a problem. If you are not a bit of a risk-taker, not comfortable with solitude, and you’re not willing to strike up conversation with new people, traveling alone is not for you. Traveling might not be for you at all, actually.
That being said, I have compiled a list of Pros and Cons on the topic for you to ponder.
Reasons to Travel Alone:
- Traveling alone gives you the ultimate autonomy and flexibility. You will never need to compromise with another person on where to go, where to stay, what to do, etc. If you want to spend all day in a park with your feet in a fountain, no one will complain that they’re bored. If you want to speed through 3 museums in one day, no one will complain about being tired. You can go as fast or slow as you want.
- When you travel alone, most of the time you are actually choosing your level of solitude. Staying at a hostel, there is pretty much always someone to chat with or grab a beer with, but on the other hand, you’re free to wander aimlessly, or even stay in bed until 6pm. You are as alone as you want to be.
- Silence is a huge perk of traveling alone. In your day to day life, how often do you really get to enjoy silence? Travel provides time to lose yourself in thought, daydream, meditate, process, evaluate your existence, and mentally re-calibrate.
- I would think this goes without saying, but traveling alone is the best way to make new friends. Would I have formed such close friendships with Hayley, Elena, Nicolas, and the Peruanas, if I had been already locked into a friendship? Maybe, maybe not. I do know that when I was traveling with friends or family, I did not make deep connections with new people the way I have done going alone. And now I can’t imagine my life without them.
- Solo travel forces you out of your comfort zone. You have to think on your feet, stay alert, and above all be self-reliant. If you want to become more independent, go alone. If you want to test your sense of adventure, go alone. If you want to grow, go alone. I’m not saying you can’t do these things with a travel buddy; but the experience is MUCH more rewarding and empowering when it’s done as an army of one.
- Traveling alone also forces you to interact with strangers, which can lead to some fantastic conversations–the kind of conversations where your soul touches another soul and your brain wants to explode because you’ve reached some new metaphysical plane of intellect that you never knew existed, you never want to leave, and you know can never be repeated. A one-of-a-kind orgasm for your spirit.
- Traveling alone, you never have to worry about arguments or tension with your travel partner. If you make a friend and then discover you don’t enjoy their company anymore, you can just part ways, no problem. You’re not stuck with them for god knows how long. I have witnessed so many spats and tense moments between friends or lovers, and of course I have been in the middle of my own drama. If there were any cracks in your friendship or relationship before you left, those cracks will split wide open once you hit the road.
- I have found that once I do make friends and decide to go around with them, we fall into a bit of an “interaction bubble,” meaning that we end up mostly talking only to each other, and mostly in English. We don’t push ourselves as hard to communicate in the local language. I am especially guilty of doing this when I make friends who are native Spanish speakers in Latin America–even though my Spanish is excellent, I get lazy and let them do most of the talking.
- Finally, when you are alone, your experiences and opinions are not tainted by others’ perceptions. You are tuned in only to your own senses, and I think this creates a more clear, honest, and “raw” memory of the places you go.
Reasons to Travel With a Buddy:
- Eating alone can feel uncomfortable. It’s nice to have someone to share meals with. And someone to split food with, like pizza, dessert, or a carafe of wine.
- Solitude is lovely, but sharing experiences with someone you care about is also lovely. Creating unique shared memories, and especially inside jokes, is probably the best part of traveling with someone.
- Traveling in a duo or group can be cheaper, especially when sharing transportation such as taxis, or food and beverages, as mentioned above. Also, with a small group, you have some leverage when bargaining for tour prices.
- Sometimes I feel self-conscious traveling alone, especially when I stand out as a woman or a foreigner. Traveling with someone can reduce or eliminate the feeling that I don’t belong there. You can “not belong” together.
- It is nice to bounce ideas off of your travel partner and to have someone around for a second opinion. A travel buddy can be a great sounding board or co-decision-maker. Does it make more sense to take the early colectivo, or to get extra sleep in the morning? Which shirt looks nicer? Is this guy into me, or is he biding his time so he can rob me? An extra brain full of common sense is always useful, especially if you, like me, are prone to spontaneity.
- Your travel buddy is your built-in photographer. Welcome to the end of selfies. If you’re really lucky, as I was in Europe with BJ or in Guatemala with Nicolas, your travel buddy will even have a nice professional camera and will share their gorgeous photos with you to enhance your blog.
- Traveling with someone you trust is generally much safer than traveling alone. As we learned in Playa del Carmen, you can still get robbed in a group, but the chances are reduced significantly. You can keep an eye on each others’ stuff, provide support if someone is bothering you, and it’s just nice to have someone to check in with now and then.
- Travel buddies stave off boredom and loneliness. These can be real issues, especially on long rides on transportation. I would have had a psychological breakdown if I had been alone without Nicolas on the bus ride from Livingston to Antigua, where the bus completely stopped in traffic for 7 hours, turning a 4 hour ride into an 11 hour nightmare. If nothing else, it’s nice to have someone to commiserate with over the inevitable bumps in the road.
As you can see, for me, the Pros outweigh the Cons. What inspires you to travel alone?
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