Who Should You Travel With? Part 3 of 3: When Two is a Crowd (Going Solo)

(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.)
Coyote on the Hill
Creative Commons License photo credit: donjd2

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.

Polar bear
Creative Commons License photo credit: tinali778

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!

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6 thoughts on “Who Should You Travel With? Part 3 of 3: When Two is a Crowd (Going Solo)”

  1. The first time I ever travelled was with a school mate. Within 10 weeks of the 9 month trip we couldn’t stand each other. We travelled alone for most of the remaining trip and it was awesome. I got to do what I wanted and meet like minded people doing the same. Before it all i was very sceptical of doing it alone but it became the best part about travelling.

    Nice 3 part article. Enjoyed them all.

  2. My husband and I are soul mates in every sense of the words, including travel. We are planning 2 weeks of backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, etc in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Arizona with only 2 places we gotta be on any certain days. Should be a blast.
    But this fall I’m planning on going to England alone for 2 weeks, London for half the time then up to Newcastle-Upon-tyne to visit friends. Should be another blast.
    The only other time I have gone anywhere alone I took my dog and drove solo from Washington state to Kentucky with my horse trailer to pick up some horses. That was fun and as you said, liberating.

  3. The first time I went overseas it was by myself. It was so good, 3 weeks of doing what I wanted to do and going where I wanted to go. The only downside was mealtimes at night, which get pretty lonely, but apart from that it was great.

    The second time I went overseas it was with a group of 50 people, most of them loud abnd boisterous. A tour makes some things easier, but I much prefer solo travel

    1. wow 50 people! that sounds hectic. I think I could probably be happy in a small tour group 10-15, but generally i think the less people you are accountable to the better.

  4. I agree, traveling alone can be really exhilarating and empowering, but also a little lonely! I was in Paris for 4 days myself last summer and I don’t speak French. It was fun getting to explore all the sights during the day at my own pace, but the nights were the hardest part. I’m not really a bar person, so after eating dinner alone, I wasn’t really sure how to spend my time. I struggled to find a theater with American movies. I usually ended up going back to my hotel room and reading a ton! Anyway, I was really glad I did it because it gave me courage to know that I could navigate and stay in somewhere totally foreign all by myself. I am definitely interested in trying it again!

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