- YOU decide…everything. Want to stay an extra three days somewhere because you really like the effing delicious pastry you had at that café and want to eat it at least five more times? Done. Want to stay in a hostel that requires hauling your bag up a mountain because it sounds kind of rugged and romantic? Do it! Want to walk across an entire island for no reason aside from liking the idea of walking across an entire island? Nobody’s going to whine about how stupid an idea this is! You get to spend the exact amount of money you want to spend, stay exactly where you want to stay, and do exactly what you want to do, with no compromises. It’s not always easy to find truly compatible travel buddies, even among the best of friends.
- Making last-minute reservations isn’t as risky. One person is a lot easier to find room for than two, three, four, five…
- It’s character and confidence-building. Yeah, corny, but traveling alone requires you to step up to the plate over and over again, to make mistakes, embarrass yourself, figure out how be self-sufficient, develop common sense, and make decisions independently. You eventually learn that being alone in a public place can feel more empowering and relaxing than uncomfortable and nerve-wracking. As someone who is naturally a bit unsure of herself, traveling alone has helped me to become more self-assured and less concerned about what other people think.
- You can really absorb your surroundings. Friends are distractions. Nice distractions, but distractions all the same. A friend’s perspective might help me process a place in a different way, and their presence might make me a little braver in certain social travel situations, but I also find that friends make my surroundings fade to background. I focus on my companions to the exclusion of other stimuli and find that it creates a little friend-bubble that keeps me floating just at the edge of things. Alone, I can become a part of the scene around me and really notice how it feels to be there.
- You foot the whooole bill. Divide accommodation rates by one and forget about group rates for anything, unless you join forces with strangers.
- The full enjoyment of some experiences is contingent on group make-up (tours, some outdoor activities, classes, interactive events). If you bring your own group, you know you’ll like everybody. If you don’t, you could end up passive-aggressively fighting with a dude who keeps stealing your seat, trying to talk down a lady who’s actually terrified of the activity she’s paid to do, or dodging a seven-year old monster who’s for some reason dead-set on pinching your ass. There are also some activities that you’re less likely to enjoy (unless you’re really outgoing) on your own, e.g. (for me at least): most nightlife.
- There may be more at stake if you don’t stay vigilant. A lone person (especially a woman, though I will defend to the death my right to travel solo and the fact that it is worth it and not a “stupid” idea tantamount to “asking for trouble,” but that’s a rant for another day) is more of a target than a group. It’s scary when you find yourself in an ambiguous or threatening situation without a group to rely on for support. Traveling alone means being on constant low-level alert (which means you’ll also probably be the one to save the next group you travel with from being scammed or robbed or harassed, because this type of vigilance quickly becomes second nature). It also means that you may need more of a back-up plan when heading into remote areas (such as hiking up a mountain on which there is poor cell service, for example), because ideally you don’t want to have to saw off your hand.
- There’s no one to shake and ask, “how lucky are we? can you believe this? do you see that? does your food taste as good as mine does?” No one to reminisce with about “that time…” No one to commiserate with if things go hilariously wrong and you end up screaming and pounding the gate barrier at the airport, demanding release. The experience is just yours, and that can be lonely. Companionship is fun!
There are obviously plusses and minuses to solo and group travel, and the dynamic completely changes the feel of a trip. I love travel of both kinds, and sometimes I’ve even had a bit of the best of both worlds, meeting a temporary travel companion while on a solo trip. However, I get the sense that many people can’t imagine enjoying a solo trip as much as a group one, if at all. So in my next post I’ll talk about how to travel alone, if you think the prospect sounds maybe-kind-of-fun-but-mostly-terrifying.