Choosing to Travel Solo

Christine has been a long time reader and commenter on this site, so I was really excited when she asked to write a blog post. As a big proponent of solo travel myself, I really like how Christine honestly weighs the pros and cons of deciding to go it alone. If you like this post, be sure to check out her newly launched blog C’est Christine.

I never intended to backpack for five weeks through Europe by myself. I spent months trying to convince friends to come with me, perfecting a persuasive spiel as to why it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. I was greeted with a litany of excuses: the economy is bad, it’s too expensive, the need to get a job. My then-boyfriend rented Hostel, Turistas and Taken, hoping that those (rather graphic and violent) tales of backpacking-gone-bad would knock some sense into me.

However, I felt like this was my one last stab at freedom before being trapped by a cubicle, a serious boyfriend and never-ending bills.  Once I made up my mind, no one could talk me out of it—and once I booked my ticket, they stopped trying to.

While this wasn’t my first time traveling by myself in Europe—I had taken a few solo weekend trips while studying in Paris for a summer—it was the first time I had traveled by myself outside of English- and French-speaking countries.

Sometimes I felt lonely, other times I felt independent.  Sometimes I desperately missed my boyfriend and friends, other times I was proud at just how capable I managed to be on my own. It was a roller coaster of emotions, but in the end, it was totally worth it.  If you’re thinking about traveling alone, I highly recommend it—but definitely take a moment to consider both the positives and the negatives.

The upsides:

  • Have it your way. Without having to compromise with another person on destinations, schedules and travel preferences, I was able to plan my trip exactly how I wanted it. When you’re in the mood for a museum, you go. If you’re craving Thai food, you find it. If you’re an early riser, you wake up and go without having to wait for someone else to roll out of bed and get ready.  If you’re as independent (read: impatient and stubborn) as I am, this is easily the greatest part of traveling alone.
  • Make new friends. On a bike tour in Munich, I struck up a conversation with an Australian who was also traveling alone and staying in the same hostel as me. We ended up convincing each other to go paragliding over the Bavarian Alps the next day—a spur-of-the-moment decision that resulted in the most unforgettable sensation of freedom (and the absolute best views of Neuschwanstein Castle). Plus, Facebook makes it insanely easy to keep in touch with people you meet.  Now, I have a built-in travel guide for when I visit Down Under.
  • Instant street cred. There aren’t that many American young women traveling by themselves in Europe—honestly, there aren’t that many people in general who travel for pleasure by themselves. People were alternately impressed that I was willing to take the risk and horrified that no one had managed to stop me from placing myself in such imminent danger. Either way, you get an instant reputation as being a little bad-ass. (Disclaimer: I didn’t shout it from the rooftops that I was traveling by myself. I kept that tidbit to people who I met in hostels and tour groups who did not look like they were likely to rob, rape or kill me. I had a backup story about a sick boyfriend who was waiting for me at the hostel.)
  • The chance to do something crazy. I was excited but a little terrified to try canyoning in Interlaken, Switzerland (it’s illegal in America). As I was signing the waiver that cleared the company of any responsibility in the death that could result from my rappelling down 130-foot canyons or jumping off jagged rocks into rushing water, I briefly debated with myself if I was being completely insane. I realized that this would have been the moment when my friends and I would have looked at each other and talked each other out of it. But when you’re the only person you need to convince, it’s a lot easier to say “what the hell” and just do it.

The downsides:

  • The “now what?” moment. When traveling, everything is new and exciting. A beautiful painting, the realization that you’re standing where Julius Caesar once stood or that absolutely perfect sunset over the Mediterranean can take your breath away. Whenever I saw something that particularly struck me, I kept looking next to me for someone to share it with. It took some time to get used to taking a deep breath, soaking it all up, and enjoying the moment within myself.
  • The “in” group. It was hard to see groups of friends chatting, laughing and taking pictures together. It made me miss my own friends, and wonder if I would be having more fun if I was with them.  It’s also much harder to break into a group than it is to strike up a conversation with another lonely person.  And it’s hit-or-miss once you do get in the group. You can feel uber left out if they keep giggling over inside jokes and whatever they did last night. But it can also be strangely comforting to sit and chat with three other people and not be the awkward girl standing by herself.
  • Going out. I rarely drank, partied, went to clubs or stayed out late. For me, this is a personal choice for when I travel alone: I don’t want to lose my inhibitions in an unknown city with people I just met. I also didn’t want to be waste any time being hungover when I had limited time in each city. There were plenty of other solo travelers who all went out together and had a ton of fun, but I would urge anyone to take extra precautions if you’re planning on drinking (particularly as a young woman).
  • Duh- you’re alone. I’m an only child and I’ve always been extremely independent. I don’t have a problem eating in a restaurant with only a book to keep me company, and I don’t worry about going to a movie alone—particularly when I know I’m not going to run into anyone I know. I would urge anyone considering solo travel to think long and hard (by yourself) about if you’re OK with only having “me, myself and I” as a companion.
  • You look like a loner in all your pictures. On the upside, you do get really good at going up to strangers and asking them to take your picture to send home to Mom and Dad.

And as to my friends’ worries about the terrible economy? I landed my first-choice job within two weeks of coming home. And now I have a built-in interview story now about my personal initiative, independence and drive to get what I want. My advice: go travel, whether you can find someone to go with you or not. You’ll only regret it if you don’t.

After graduating from California State University, Chico with a degree in journalism, Christine backpacked for five weeks through Europe to get the travel bug out of her before settling into the “real world.” Alas, at 21, she’s not ready to succumb to cubicle life quite yet. After six months working in high-tech PR and social media in Silicon Valley, Christine is ready to embark on her next adventure: blogging, soaking up the sun and attempting to parler Français in Nice, France. You can read more at www.cestchristine.com and follow her at @camorose.

60 thoughts on “Choosing to Travel Solo”

  1. Hi!
    I stumbled across your blog as I’m hoping to travel around Eastern Europe come September, the first time I’ll be going away alone.
    I’m a little nervous, but excited as I map my route. However, my parents are drilling into my head that I may not enjoy it, and that I’ll be alone and unsafe, and may not meet people.
    Do you have any suggestions for safety, or any positive words?!
    I saw you had a back up story if anyone was asking about whether travelling alone, what did that consist of?

    Thanks
    Caitlin

  2. Wow, your boyfriend rented Hostel and other “travel” movies to scare you away from following your dreams? That is a tragedy of epic proportions. Angry rant time!

    If you’re planning on murdering people, the LAST place you’re going to do it is in a hostel full of able-bodied young men and women in the peak of their physical condition, half of them experiencing dulled senses due to alcohol-induced intoxication. That is an indestructible hive mind no idiot would mess with.

    You know what that movie should have been called? Hotel. A big empty room with no one around and thick walls for sonic privacy? Perfect for evil deeds! They could have called that movie Bed and Breakfast and it would have made more sense.

  3. Christine-great post. Your writing is so honest and true. I did a solo trip to Thailand and Bali last year and loved every moment of it. Your writing inspires me to continue more trips solo and to not fear being alone while on the road.

  4. really glad i found this….sitting at my desk at work in a call centre with my soul slowly dieing at the impending and scary trip i just booked by myself due to lazy/unwilling friends and boyfriend…super excited at the same time but just wondering about the drinking as im heading to oktoberfest this year as a solo young woman with not so good german, not drinking seems ludacris, any suggestions from experience?

  5. awesome post! canyoning was SO amazing! i did the same one @ interlaken in 07.

    ever since going solo, i’ve been going on a lot of trips by myself, and i love it! you definitely learn a lot about yourself and get a different perspective about life. i agree with your 2nd downside bulletpoint – seeing others in the “in” crowd. it took some time, but after while you get more comfortable with not always being part of the crowd, which i’ve learned has carried over in my relationships in general. i notice i don’t seek acceptance as much as i used to, which is a good thing.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I totally agree with the seeking acceptance thing. I’ve found that if people like me, that’s fabulous–and if not, it doesn’t really matter!

  6. Great post and you touched a lot of the key pros and cons of solo backpacking. I’ve done it on three trips (3 weeks, 7 weeks, 8 weeks) and it just might be the best way to backpack. I think the biggest takeaway is really just finding who you really are.

    I also recently wrote an article on solo backpacking and my advice is to definitely do it if you’ve never done it before.

    http://lifeinasack.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/backpacking-solo/
    .-= Paul´s last blog ..5 Things to Bring on a Backpacking Trip =-.

    1. I definitely think you learn a lot about yourself–especially if you like yourself! When you’re your only companion, I find that I become a much better person. No one to blame bad behavior on!

  7. I absolutely love this post! I’ve actually been working on a blog regarding this topic as well.
    I’ve been a solo traveler off an on for months in Europe so I can relate to a lot of it. At the end of the day, I like traveling solo too! I’m also an only child, so it doesn’t bother me to have “me” time, but it’s definitely something most people should consider before committing to it.

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