Want to know that it’s really like to travel alone? For the past four years I’ve been travelling the world on my own. Many solo travellers will tell you it’s the BEST. THING. EVER. And most of the time it is. But sometimes, and not that infrequently, it can really suck to wander the world on your lonesome.
Here I will share with you my 10 reasons to travel alone…and 10 reasons not to.
In there interests of ending on a happy note, let’s start with…
10 Reasons it Sucks to Travel Alone
- When you need the bathroom at a bus station in Asia and you have nobody to mind your bag…resulting in you manoeuvring your body and 15kg bag over a filthy squat toilet while simultaneously crossing your fingers that you won’t topple into the brown “sludge” on the floor. You might think being lonely is the biggest potential downside to when you travel alone. It’s not. I get lonely less than a handful of times a year. Conversely, I wish I wasn’t travelling alone every time I have to take a bathroom break at a bus station.
When you can’t find a tour or affordable transport because there’s a 4 person minimum to hire the jeep/take a guide to that remote waterfall you’re desperate to see.
When you want to stray beyond the main sights of a location but you’re in one of those places where you’d be safer with company. Although I don’t come across this very often, I’ve definitely curtailed my plans to venture further afield in some locations when a solo trip hasn’t seemed so sensible. (You may also want to read my article: Is it safe for women to travel alone?).
When you get off the bus or train at the wrong stop or station and you have to wait on your own for hours. I do this a lot. I’ve done it alone and I’ve done it with travel friends – the latter is always less stressful and definitely more fun.
When you turn up at a popular restaurant at 8pm on a Saturday night and the waiter winces when you ask for a table for one. (You may want to read my 20 tips for eating out alone).
When you have to check into a double room in a hotel, a private room in a hostel, a beach cabana in Thailand, all guesthouses in India, the casa particulars in Cuba… and have to foot the entire bill for two people. Airport taxis are the same deal. Same with ordering “2 person minimum” dished like paella (for some ridiculous reason). If you travel alone a lot you’ll quickly reach the point where you realise it would be nice to split the cost (or dish) once in a while.
When you’re lost – two map reading minds are ALWAYS better than (my) one. Okay, I probably get lost more than most people but if you’re hopping towns every few days, it’s nice to share the burden of figuring out your new turf day after day, which can get pretty exhausting on your own over the long-term.
When creepy guys start hitting on you, following you or cat-calling you….or, from a guy’s perspective (as I hear from my guy traveller friends), when you’re approached by ladies wanting your company AND payment when you really just want to enjoy the sights.
- When you’re in the mood for a party but you’re all on your own…in your private guesthouse room…that you’ve had to spend all your party money on because there’s only one of you. All that said, I’ve been know to start a party in an empty room – a skill that solo travel has taught me and a skill I’m kind of proud of.
When you look back and realise all your photos are selfies – bad, bad, does-my-chin-really-look-like-that selfies.
A word on loneliness: you’ll notice that being lonely doesn’t make the list. Why? Because most of the time when I travel (and most likely when you travel), there is barely any time to get lonely. If you’re opting for hostels (dorms of a private room in a hostel), you’ll have access to other travellers 24/7. When loneliness does hit, it’s more a case of homesickness and missing particular people (family and friends) than not having any company. Although homesickness if horrible, it can usually be cured by getting out, meeting people and keeping your day busy.
So, that’s how it sucks to travel alone. But, before you rip up your plans…dreams…hopes…around the world ticket, here’s the flip side of the story…
10 Reasons it Rocks to Travel Alone
Photo by: luis angel.
- You can go where you want, when you want and you never have to compromise. Ever. Feel hungry at 3pm? Take yourself for a late lunch without wondering if you’re travel partner is ready to eat despite chomping on a slice of pizza 10 minutes ago. Fancy that kinda geeky/a bit out-there museum – go ahead and go. Don’t underestimate the power of being able to do exactly what you want to do and when you want to do it. Just think ME. ME. ME. Oh…and some more ME.
Your confidence and independence is going to increase ten-fold. Sure travelling alone can feel stressful at times but every time you stretch yourself you become better for it. Before you know it, out of the once fearful solo traveller will grow the most confident and independent butterfly who is able to fly free on a whim and without fear.
There’s usually at least one space left – on the bus, the train, in a café, on a tour. Yes, sometimes the words “only one” can be uttered in a positive way that can get you where you want to go (to the airport on the last bus you’re able to catch without missing your flight) while families of four have to wait (and run the risk of missing their flight). (The flight incident happened for real in Japan – bless my solo travel status).
People are much more likely to befriend you. From locals to other travellers, you’re much more approachable when you travel alone. And you’re more likely to mingle with others, too. Unless you plan to spend your entire trip alone, you’ll reach a point (very quickly) where you’ll just need to take a deep breath and learn how to strike up a conversation with complete strangers. It’s an excellent life skill to learn and one you’ll acquire quicker than your travel peers who have the comfort zone of their group, partner or travel friend to turn to. I’m certainly more social with strangers when I travel on my own. And isn’t that a huge part of travel – meeting other people?
- You don’t have to get embroiled in group decisions. Ever asked 12 people where they want to go for breakfast? I have and what follows is rarely smooth or fun. If you travel in a group you’ll spend a huge amount of your trip in time sucking discussions about the smallest of things. Either everyone will be so polite with their “I don’t mind…whatever” that no decisions will be taken (or at least not for half and hour) or there will be strongly conflicting views and chaos and shouting will ensue. Meanwhile, your lone traveller will have skipped off to do whatever it is that they want to do.
You can change your plans at a moment’s notice. If you click with another traveller and decide to take a clockwise route around a country with them instead of your original plan to go anticlockwise, or you decide to stay longer at the beach or choose to skip a country entirely, you can do it. Try and change plans when you have upwards of two people invested in the original itinerary and you’re probably going to hit a lot of road blocks.
You’re more likely to be given freebies. From free entry into sights, to a free tour of a museum to free cake, wine, and coffee, every time I’ve been given free stuff or treated to the best seat in the house/on the bus, it’s happened when I’ve travelled alone. Oh, and those flight upgrades – much easier to get when you’re solo.
You don’t have to wait for anyone. EVER. I’m as impatient as hell but even if, like my dad, you possess the patience of a saint, waiting time can be multiplied by a factor of four for every additional person that a travel group has. I once recall having to wait over an hour as six people from my hostel readied themselves in various ways just to go out for lunch – from packing things away to checking something “quickly” (for the record, when someone says I’ll be quick, sit down and open your Kindle) to bathroom stops to chatting to people on the way, having travel friends means waiting. A LOT.
You don’t have to feel guilty for taking the last hammock, bottom bunk, sleeper on the train. I’ll say it one last time – all you need to think when you travel alone is ME. ME. ME.
Any more to add? Any other pros and cons when you travel alone? Let me know in the comments below.