There are advantages and disadvantages to traveling solo versus traveling with companions, and it is certainly worth your while to try both styles of travel. All too often, however, people’s travel experiences are very lopsided in this regard. Most people I’ve met travel exclusively with their companions and have not given solo travel a try. This is a mistake, because solo travel is one of the most exhilarating, enriching, and personally challenging experiences you can have. If you haven’t given solo travel a try, I seriously recommend that you do. Consider some of the following reasons why traveling alone is totally awesome:
1. Meeting fellow travelers: There are plenty of characters when you’re out there on the travel scene. In fact, some of the most interesting people I’ve met were fellow travelers. These people often have rare knowledge, a great sense of humor, a unique state of mind, and experience traveling to far-flung corners of the world. Just talking to them upgrades your knowledge and challenges your old ways of thinking. However, if you are already traveling with a companion, it is sometimes more difficult to socialize with new people. The tendency, instead, is to stick with your friends, so you may be less likely to mingle with others.
2. Befriending local people: In most countries you will visit, local people are extremely interested in speaking with you. However, if you are already engaged in conversation with a friend, local people may be hesitant to strike up a conversation. This is unfortunate, because the opportunity to befriend a local can give you huge insight into the country you’re visiting and help you to really understand the underlying culture. In many cases, you will be invited for dinner, meet the local person’s family or friends, and may even be invited to stay at a person’s house. By spending time with a local, you can gain a unique and unforgettable experience that the majority of travelers simple never have.
3. Having total freedom to do anything (or nothing): When you travel alone, you’ve got the freedom to do what you want, when you want to. This includes what date of departure you choose, the countries you plan to visit, the activities you engage in, the foods that you eat, the time you wake up every day, and so many other aspects of travel. If you’re feeling stressed out, you can totally opt to have some rest and relaxation for the whole day – the call is all yours. Traveling alone is also a much more efficient mode of travel, as any decision you make can be executed immediately. You need not consult with others or compromise.
4. Learning new languages: If you travel with companions or as part of a group, you will probably be less motivated to practice the local language or you will have fewer opportunities to do so. This would be to your detriment, because aside from befriending English-speaking locals, another gateway to understanding a culture is by learning its language. Locals that speak English well tend to be of an upper or more privileged class of people, so improving your language skills allows you to interact with more ordinary folks, giving you a more accurate perception of the country. Furthermore, local people usually love and respect travelers who try to speak their language, so your language efforts can greatly improve your overall travel experience.
5. Rising to the challenge: Being alone in a foreign country makes you vulnerable and forces your mind to work in a heightened state of awareness. You have to develop street smarts, assertiveness, the ability to read people, and a healthy level of skepticism about everything people tell you. After some time, you will become a much stronger person and will be amazed at your ability to deal with difficult situations completely on your own. Suddenly, the obstacles and hurdles you previously dealt with in your workplace and in your life seem but trifling matters compared to the everyday travel tribulations that you navigate with ease. Simply put, traveling alone is a huge character builder.
6. Trying new things and becoming a new person: Why travel alone? Quite simply, it’s great not having any witnesses around you, nor any connections to your past. When you’re with a companion, there are already a set of expectations for what type of person you are. Unconsciously, you are going to stay in your old frame of mind because of the presence of an familiar observer. When you’re traveling alone, however, it is much easier to come out of your shell and grow in new directions, since you are essentially starting with a clean slate at every new social interaction. So you will be more inclined to try new things like learning salsa dancing, drinking and singing with locals, or approaching and speaking to random attractive women (or men). Likewise, since there are no connections to your past life, you ultimately control the travel story that is told back at home.
7. Not having a major fallout with old friends: I haven’t experienced this one myself because I usually travel solo. However, I’ve met many groups of travel companions who – although they had been great friends at home – got into serious arguments or conflicts that risked permanently damaging their friendship once they returned home. Being with someone all the time can really wear on you, especially in travel situations where you start to notice a person’s bizarre mannerisms, social ineptitude, or unwillingness to try new things. There may also be a feeling of being trapped, because unlike back at home, you are pretty much stuck with your companion for the duration of your trip.
8. Observations, insights, and introspection: When you travel alone, you are not distracted by your friend’s amusing asides or the usual banter. Instead, you have the opportunity to observe completely the foreign world that is unfolding around you. You will notice minute details and will become attuned to the invisible mood that permeates a place. In addition, traveling alone allows you more time to reflect on the day’s experiences and you will often reach epiphanies about the nature of the foreign culture and your own.
What are other advantages of traveling solo?
Do you typically travel solo or with friends? If you’ve traveled both ways, I’d love to hear your ideas about the strengths and weaknesses of solo travel. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.