(This is a subject that deserves serious thought. Who you decide to travel with affects your trip experience in many large and small ways. Traveling in a group, traveling in a pair and traveling alone, I’ve done all three and will give you my personal advice over the next week. On Sunday I wrote about why traveling in a group might drive you nuts, on Tuesday I wrote about finding a good travel buddy. Today I discuss the dizzying terror of solo travel.)
Travelling completely alone is an arrangement that many experienced travelers prefer and most novice travelers fear. To be perfectly honest: going it alone IS scary, especially the first time. However, like so many challenges in life, it’s also empowering and highly rewarding.
If you are traveling for an extended period or planning to live abroad, I would argue that this is probably the best option. Traveling on your own forces you out of your comfort zone and makes you really engage with the city and people around you.
When I decided to go work in London post-graduation, I didn’t know a soul in the city. This, coupled with the facts that I didn’t actually have a job, or a place to live, led to more than a couple of cold-sweat nights. I was excited of course, but also terrified. “You can always come home if it’s terrible,” my mother reminded me, but I knew I would have to push through.
As soon as I set down in the city that terror turned into adrenaline. I made an effort to get to know the people at my hostel and to take advantage of the resources offered by my visa program. And you know what? Within a month I had moves into a great little townhouse with three hilariously adorable Australian boys. I’d found a job, friends, and, amazingly enough, a boyfriend. I ended up extending my stay and backpacking around Eastern Europe. You never know what you are capable of unless you push yourself.
There are some practical benefits to traveling alone. You don’t need to depend on anyone else when making travel plans. You can eat dinner at 4pm if you are hungry, or spend an entire day wandering an archeological museum because you feel like it. The only person’s opinion you have to consider is your own. It’s extremely liberating.
There are downsides of course: eating dinner by yourself or navigating a strange bus system using only your wits. For me the worst thing is asking directions (I can’t stand it). However, traveling alone almost never really means travelling alone if you don’t want it to. Community is everywhere, it’s just a matter of finding it via hostels, couch surfing, ex-pat groups etc. You will be shocked how easy it is to actually meet people.
Often times it takes some trial and error to figure out what travel arrangements work best for you. I tend to vacillate between traveling alone and travelling with a friend depending on when and where I’m going and who wants to meet up with me. The most important point is that not having a travel companion is really not a good excuse for not putting yourself out into the world.
If you have a preferred travel style please post in the comments!