“You’re going by yourself?” That’s typically what I hear when I mention during casual conversation that I am planning on taking a trip by myself. Almost anyone other than an extremely close friend that has similar experiences looks at me with shock and even sometimes misplaced pity.
They seem utterly confused at the idea as if it’s something they have never considered not would ever give thought to. But, I absolutely love traveling solo.
However, I understand that there is a not a one size fits all approach to traveling. I fully admit that while I love the great things about hitting the road alone, there are some drawbacks as well.
Let’s take a close look at both sides of the coin.
Why it Can Be Great
I am writing this from firsthand experience. Most of the pros are coming from my point of view. That means, we might not agree that these are all good things.
Here are the top benefits of traveling solo in my opinion, but it certainly isn’t a comprehensive list.
You Can Do What You Want
I was going to save the best for last, but I could not help myself. The main benefit in my opinion is so massive it’s better to just highlight it right away.
When you travel without friends or family, you can be 100% selfish. That means you can go where you went, when you want. You can eat whatever food you want from whatever street side stands or restaurants. You can go to any shop, bar, or nightclub. You can participate in any activity you want.
For example, if you really want to go on a guided tour of the jungle of Malaysia but your traveling companion wants to spend the day at the beach, you don’t have to argue, negotiate, or compromise. When you are alone, it’s all about you all of the time.
Traveling is not cheap even if you are a budget traveler. It still requires a certain amount of resources. And, when you have to split your time and money with what others want to do, it limits your fun.
You Almost Have to Meet New People
When you head off to a new destination with a family member or a group of friends, you almost never take a leap of faith and dive into a new group of people. You stay in your social comfort zone and at best make some small talk with another couple or group of tourists at a bar or restaurant.
When you are alone, you will experience some lonely times. While that is certainly not a benefit, the normal response of wanting to get to know some others you run into is.
You’ll notice that after a short time you are much more willing to strike up a conversation with other travelers you cross paths with, people you are waiting in line with, or locals at the beach or in shops.
And, with the plethora of messaging apps available today, you might actually make new friends you’ll keep in touch with long after you first crossed paths during a trip.
You’ll Grow as a Person
There’s something special that happens when you are on your own in a new place. You don’t have an identity you need to keep up with like you do when you are around your normal day-to-day peer groups and family.
You’ll learn a lot about yourself that you otherwise wouldn’t. You’ll probably develop a certain amount of confidence you never knew you had. You might even start to question if you are spending time with the right people when home.
Another perk is that as you see more and more and have to kind of throw yourself out there in order to socialize, you’ll learn a lot about different cultures. You’ll often find you view the world as a different place than you did before you made your solo trip.
It’s Often Less Expensive
This isn’t always the case depending on your travel preferences, but since I am a bit of a budget traveler, I can focus on value when I’m looking for airfare and accommodation.
When I travel with others, they might want a nicer hotel than I do, which ends up costing me more money than if I went myself. The same goes for food expenses. I love to mix in cheap eats with nice restaurants while visiting new places, but some folks only want to eat out in high end restaurants. If you’re stuck with that type of person, then you’re stuck with a more expensive trip.
When you travel alone you can also tend to be much more flexible on your travel dates. That allows you to snipe the very best flight deals possible since you aren’t building your trip around another person’s availability.
Why it’s Not Always Suitable
Sometimes it’s just not the best idea to go at it alone. Or, there might be a certain benefit to having a travel companion.
Here are some of the main reasons you might want to have someone with you on your next trip.
There is Safety in Numbers
The very real fact of the matter is there are plenty of spots in the world that are just not all that safe. I try my best to keep an eye open on current events and avoid anywhere that’s super dangerous, but even when you are cautious you can run it to trouble.
For example, traveling to the Philippines can be risky if you’re not careful. If you stick to the main tourist areas and aren’t out alone at 4AM, you’ll probably be fine.
But, as a white man in an Asian country, I stick out like a sore thumb. I wouldn’t want to wander off the beaten path in Manila in the middle of the night alone. It would be risky enough with a few friends, but doing so alone is asking for trouble.
Having a group to wander around with does two things. A friend might talk you out of doing something stupid that you otherwise would have done if you were alone. And, if you do find yourself in a semi-dangerous situation, a lone trouble maker is much less likely to start something with a group of people than with a solo tourist in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You Might Get a Deal
There is the rare circumstance that you might actually save some money while traveling with a friend or family member. Those deals are few and far between to my knowledge, but they do exist.
For instance, there are certain all inclusive resort packages that offer free airfare and accommodation for a child under twelve if you book for two adults, making this a bargain for couples with a child, but not great for single parents.
Another example would be people traveling domestically for a sporting event like to run in a marathon. Carpooling and then sharing a hotel room with another runner is going to basically cut your expenses in half.
I find group travel usually more expensive overall, but as the above examples show, there are certainly exceptions.
You Can Leverage a Companion’s Skills
If you are lucky enough to have a friend or family member with a certain knowledge of where you plan to travel to, it can make a very big difference on your experience. You can research a place online until your eyes fall out, but you aren’t going to know what it’s really like until you have boots on the ground. Having a travel companion that has that experience can make for an amazing time.
Another very big plus that can outweigh the drawbacks of traveling with a companion is if you’re headed somewhere language will be a potential problem and they happen to speak the local tongue. I was lucky enough to be with a Cantonese speaker when I visited Hong Kong, and it made the trip much different than if I would have been solo.
I’m sure there might be other skills to piggyback off of, like perhaps teaming up with an extremely charismatic friend that’s a magnet for meeting new people, but knowledge of an area and language skills are the big ones.
You’ll Have Shared Experiences to Reminisce
If you are new to traveling, especially solo traveling, one thing you will quickly learn is that your friends and family most likely won’t really care or want to hear about your experiences. They may feign interest for a short while out of politeness, but they won’t want to hear the details.
It can be really frustrating if all of your friends are the type of person that never left their home town. You want to share all of your new experiences and won’t have anyone to share them with.
If you start to make travel a major part of your life, you’ll probably find yourself with a new set of friends that share your interests after a couple of years. But, if you are just making one big trip, or want to head somewhere new every couple of years, including your friends allows you to share the experiences and discuss them when you’re home.
What’s Right for Me?
I’m a huge fan of solo travel for the reasons I mention above. In particular, I have wasted enough time and money on trips spent trying to make other people I’m traveling with happy for the rest of my life.
That being said, everyone is different. If you prefer the safety and comfort of having a peer group with you, you might not enjoy going somewhere on your own. And, safety is always something to think about.
One thing is certain though. If you have never traveled alone somewhere, it’s something you really should try at least once. You don’t need to make a massive 3 month multi-country journey out of it. But, you should at least consider heading somewhere new by yourself for a few days just to see what it’s like.