Traveling is a great thing. It allows us to see the world, experience new cultures, and meet interesting people. Most enjoy traveling in groups but I enjoy traveling solo and have for years.
The first question when I always get asked is why do you travel solo? There are 6 main reasons:
- Challenge myself to meet new people
- Figuring it out
The easy answer is selfishness. I get to do exactly what I want, when I want. If I want to get up at 3am to get to a site so I can be the first one there, I don’t have to wait around for others to get ready. I like that. I like having control over my time and activities. When traveling solo, I don’t have to make any compromises and that is incredibly freeing. But that isn’t the only reason. Of course I enjoy doing only the things I enjoy but solo travel is much more than just that.
Have you ever tried to plan an event for a group of people? Getting 2 people to agree on where to go for coffee can be frustrating enough. Now increase the number of people and the cost and the process can be unbearable. Trying to work out flights, hotels, location, activities, etc. is a lot. And what may be important for you may not be important to another. Some may not care about having room service and are perfectly happy staying in an airBNB. Others may find that to be a deal breaker.
Even before all this, you have to decide on a time frame where people can take time off together and agree on a destination. Solo travel eliminates all the noise and discussion with one simple question. Where do YOU want to go?
Another reason why I love solo travel so much is that it gives me a chance to unplug. Now I still send out emails to my friends and family every few days to let them know I’m ok and to keep them abreast of what I’m doing. But more importantly, solo travel allows me to unplug from my daily world. Sure I travel with my laptop and my phone but I’m not constantly looking at it since I’m too busy enjoying where I am. Most days I only use my phone for directions It’s really nice to put everything down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the scenery. A quiet dinner at a roadside food cart surrounded by people I don’t know and a language I don’t understand is preferable to a dinner surrounded by people who only want to gossip.
Self Reliance and Independence
Another reason I enjoy solo travel is it forces me to be self reliant and cautious. Of course if something happens medically, it would be easier to have someone there. But so many times, that extra person is no longer a helping hand but a crutch. I don’t think I ever want to be in a position where I can’t take care of myself and solo travel forces me into that situation.
To give an example, have you ever been in a situation where you thought your significant other was going to do something (like pick up the kids from school) and your significant other thought you were doing it so neither of you showed up? Now, if you were a single parent, what are the odds that you would have forgotten to pick up your kids?
Not having to babysit a travel partner makes my life easier when traveling solo and gives me independence. I only have to take care of myself and make sure my needs and wants are addressed. That kind of independence can really be freeing.
Solo travel is great for flexibility. I don’t think there has ever been a time where I’ve had to wait for the next bus/shuttle/ferry because there seems to always be 1 open seat. Sure, it might be the uncomfortable middle seat somewhere but if the trip is short enough, I certainly don’t care. I’d rather get there faster and enjoy my day. Couples or groups always want to sit next to each other so they have to wait until space is available. I have to flexibility to do anything. It especially becomes useful when everyone else is waiting for a table at a restaurant while I can just walk right in and sit at the bar and be eating in 15 mins.
Another aspect of being flexible is that I can have a fairly loose itinerary and keep it fluid. If I find I enjoy a certain location, I can stay longer (especially in Europe when train travel is so easy). If there are no more seats available or the timing doesn’t work, I can easily go somewhere else instead. I have the flexibility to do anything I want.
Meet New People and Step Out of My Comfort Zone
Traveling solo, you’re almost forced to meet people because you’ll have nothing else to do. I know a lot of people who only stay at hostels for exactly this reason. But there are ample opportunities to meet people when traveling. I’ve met some interesting people on a subway, plane, store, and even just waiting in line.
When we travel with others, rarely do we stray away from our group. We don’t meet new people because there isn’t a need to. We have our friends and our group and that’s we need. There’s an inherent safety in a group mentality, which is fine. But if I’m in a foreign country, why would I want to do the same things I can see, eat, and do at home? Why would I go to Singapore, only to eat at McDonalds? Or go to Morocco only to never leave the hotel where everyone speaks English? I wouldn’t.
Finally, solo travel gives me an opportunity to think outside of the box and do some on the spot, real time thinking. I take all my photos (yes even the ones with me in them) and the only piece of gear I travel with is a small 7 inch tripod. So to get the right angle on a shot, I may have to improvise with my camera placement or how I place it.
There was a time when I didn’t travel with a phone or laptop so when I needed directions and didn’t know the language, I would hop into an Apple store and use one of the laptops there. I could also send out quick emails and even make reservations.
I’ve also pretended to be married and acted like I didn’t have permission to buy anything if I was in an uncomfortable sales position or if I wanted to try and haggle the price down. Don’t know the language and charades isn’t working? I’ll try drawing it in my notebook.
All this is to say, if I weren’t traveling solo, I probably would have never figured out what to do. It isn’t about being perfect but about being understood and getting my point across. When in the moment, many would probably just look toward their traveling companion for help. But solo travel forces me to think outside the box and do whatever it takes to communicate or get results.
At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll ever want to travel any other way. But I understand the apprehension if you’ve never done it. If you’re curious, try doing something you wouldn’t normally do on your own. Go to a restaurant and have a meal by yourself. Go to the movies or a concert solo. Try something new. You might even surprise yourself.