A while back, our staff photographer gave us some wise advice on things to do while traveling alone. Like her, I’ve done plenty of traveling on my own, for various reasons that all boil down to, I had no one to go with, but I needed to go. I had a conversation earlier this week with a friend who’s considering taking a solo trip but was concerned about whether she’d have as much fun alone or whether it might be lonely. The answers to those concerns are, of course, maybe and maybe. But there are plenty of things to love about traveling alone.
1) You make your own schedule.
For me, this involves waking up many hours before most people would choose to roll out of bed on vacation, doing a lot of wandering with no particular destination in mind, and skipping a lot of the main “attractions” in any given town because I hate standing in long lines to see crowded places. For you, it’s probably something else entirely, but that’s just fine–because you’re going solo, and you don’t have to compromise one bit.
2) You make your own budget.
When traveling with other people, whether it’s a friend or a significant other or even family, you have to take different financial situations into account. Travel with someone wealthier than you (or with fewer problems with taking on loads of debt) and you might feel pressured into spending more than you want. Travel with someone who’s not as well off as you are and you might feel like you’re missing out or that you should pay for them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. When you’re on your own, you know what you feel comfortable paying, what you want to splurge on, and where you want to go the cheap route.
3) It’s no pressure.
Traveling with another person puts a huge strain on your relationship with that person. Presumably, in your real life, you don’t spend twenty-four hours a day with him or her, even if it’s your significant other. Constant exposure to another person, especially in unfamiliar circumstances, and especially especially when things go wrong (you get lost, dinner was awful and overpriced, you have to wait in an eternal and chaotic mob to get through immigration) can take its toll. Sure, it might be a bonding experience and bring you together, but just as likely, you’ll have some tense moments, and you’ll look at the person sitting next to you on the plane home and wonder if you’ll ever talk again. (Don’t worry, I’m sure you will.) But when you’re by yourself, you don’t have to worry about those high-stress moments, because there’s no one for you to snipe at or to snipe at you.
4) You blend.
Well, you blend better, anyway. I hate being singled out as a tourist while I’m traveling. By not being part of a group of people, especially a group of people possibly speaking loudly in a foreign language and/or with a strange accent who seem confused about where they’re going, you instantly seem more like you belong wherever you are. Even if, by appearance, it’s obvious that you’re not a local, you’re less likely to draw attention to yourself as A Tourist when you’re on your own. And because you’re not trying to follow anyone else’s schedule, if you do get lost, you don’t have to immediately whip out a map and have an argument about it. You can just stroll along for a bit through the crowd, like you belong there. Because you do.
5) You seem completely awesome.
I’m a little surprised by this one, but it appears that people are really impressed with solo travelers. “Wow, you did that by yourself?” To me, this is a little patronizing–the sort of thing you usually say to a child. But it happens frequently. People who travel alone seem more daring than your average Joe–braver, more driven, less concerned with what the world thinks about them. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know that lots of people think it’s true, which is almost as good. I have photos of myself on top of Montserrat and in Aya Sofia because I decided I didn’t need to wait around for a friend or a dude or whoever to show up and help me go somewhere, but that I could just go. It’s not hard, but to the people around you who didn’t make that decision, it will seem a little like a superpower.
Later this week I’ll give you some tips on how, if you really want to, you can meet people on the road, in case the silence and/or loneliness starts to weigh on you.
What are your favorite perks of solo travel?