For my friends who don’t travel well, ever, the fact that I travel almost exclusively by myself is confounding. ”Doesn’t it get lonely?” Some will ask. “And scary, too?”
Others put in their two cents. “What do you do the whole time? Who do you talk to?” Well, other travelers obviously. Of course, I don’t expect people who don’t travel to “get it.”
You, prospective solo traveler, are a different story. If you’re thinking about taking a trip alone, don’t feel discouraged by the Haterade of your stationary friends: Traveling solo is (generally) a wonderful experience.
Advantages of Traveling Alone
The Logistics of Solo Travel
The number one reason I tend to travel solo is that it’s easier. When you travel with a partner or in a group, logistical matters such as lodging, transportation and even sorting out the day’s activities become complicated and sometimes even downright stressful.
When I took my second trip to Europe in 2007, I traveled with with friend Bianca and Sara, from Switzerland and Sweden, respectively. Sara had taken care of booking all the hotels, while Bianca had sorted out transport. Prior to departing, I’d sent both of them my share of what we all owed for transport and lodging.
Unfortunately, we realized in Amsterdam that Sara had only charged us for one third of one night in our hotel, rather than one third of the entire stay. In Copenhagen a couple weeks later, she’d accidentally booked the hotel for May, instead of June — we nearly found ourselves homeless.
Not surprisingly, I found my feathers a bit ruffled. You could almost say I was a bit angry. As the old saying goes, if you want something done right, do it yourself. My favorite thing about traveling solo is that if something goes wrong, you have only yourself to blame.
Freedom and Flexibility
That flying solo offers more freedom and flexibility goes hand in hand with the logistical simplicity of traveling alone. Indeed, another frustrating aspect of the aforementioned trip through Europe was that we always seemed to want to do different things. While Bianca and I loved smoking marijuana in Amsterdam, Sara seemed only to want to go to museums.
Likewise when I visited India with my friend Dora in 2009, we both had wildly different ideas of what the pace of the trip should be. While I’d planned to for us to fly from Goa up to Calcutta and then up into India’s Himalaya region within the span of a week, Dora simply couldn’t handle travel that fast and thought it would be best to stay on Palolem Beach in Goa.
I decided to stay with her because after all, we’d flown to the other side of the planet together. But I’d be lying if I said at least part of me didn’t want to continue on my own breakneck itinerary.
The fact is that when you travel with someone else, only a portion of the trip is really yours. This isn’t inherently bad: Sharing is caring, after all. But if it’s important for you to call the shots when you travel, it’s better that you just go alone.
Meeting People is Easy
I won’t deny that traveling solo can get lonely, but what people fail to consider is that being by yourself makes you a target for other people to come talk to you. It’s kind of like going to a bar by yourself, only people (thankfully) don’t assume you’re just trying to get laid.
A classic example of this played itself out in the Loki Hostel in Cusco, Peru last March. By the end of my first day, I’d made the acquaintance of two Americans and an Israeli. Katy, one of the Americans, accompanied me on a tour around Cusco that day; Assaf, the Israeli, came to the Sacred Valley of the Incas with me the next morning.
Another person I met in the hostel, Ben from England, would travel to Machu Picchu with me that weekend. When I departed to Bolivia the next week, it was with Bethan and Danielle, two British girls I’d met playing trivia in the Loki bar — I would meet up with them again in Buenos Aires a few weeks later. I even spent a few days with Assaf when I returned to Israel that September.
Although you may start out your solo travel feeling lonely, give it a few days. By the time you head home, you’ll have added so many new friends on Facebook you might not even remember how you know all of them.
Of course, being alone isn’t always lonely. Indeed, it’s when I’ve been alone that I’ve experienced some of my greatest revelations about life and about the world.
Some of these have been extremely uplifting. Strolling around Lima’s Miraflores district at the beginning of my trip to South America last year, I began to feel a sense of empowerment and triumph that I’d all but stifled during the doomed relationship that proceeded my departure.
You don’t have to be heartbroken to benefit from this alone time, either. The week I spent alone in Mykonos, Greece this past September was wonderful because it afforded me time to relax, explore and wander without feeling any sort of strain or stress. It was enough just to wake up every morning, enjoy myself every day and go to bed every night.
Disadvantages of Traveling Alone
Of course, traveling solo isn’t always the way to go. You shouldn’t, for example, tell a good friend or family member you don’t want them to come with you if they express interest. I’ve traveled with friends several times and group travel is also a priceless experience, in its way.
And let’s face it: Some of the concerns non-travelers and even other travelers raise about solo travel are legitimate.
Is it lonely? Sure, it can be. I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t have been nice to cuddle up to someone when I spent a night in the Moroccan Sahara desert. Can it be scary? You bet — and I doubt my crazy driver would’ve even tried to double charge me for a day tour of a national park in Sinai, Egypt (much less threaten me with a large stone for refusing to pay) if I’d had someone else with me.
Also true is the fact that I sometimes go days at a time without speaking more than a few words to a single other person. That can, not surprisingly, be kind of maddening.
But the fact is that for every potential downfall of traveling by yourself, there is an opposite and usually equal benefit. Is traveling alone for everyone? Absolutely not! But the only way to find out which group you fall into is to try it for yourself.