Solo Travel: The Pros and Cons

 

I couldn’t possibly spend another night sharing a hostel room with Amanda, who insisted on sleeping naked between the dirty sheets of the rented bed. Having a travel partner had, in the past, proven to be beneficial and fun, but I was definitely questioning whether this trip would have been better off on my own.

Deciding whether to travel solo or with another person is an essential question to ask—and a decision not to be taken lightly. If you aren’t sure whether your next trip is fit for a one-man show or if you’d be better off with a buddy, here are nine things to keep in mind before you pack your bags.

1 – The Ultimate Freedom

PRO: Your vacation is your vacation—it is the ultimate self-indulgence. You don’t have to follow anyone else’s rules. What better way to find yourself than to immerse yourself in a new cultures and experiences and make them all your own? Once your initial fear and self-consciousness has passed, realizing how empowering solo travel can be is an exciting reason to go it alone. A trip plagued with uncertainty when you first arrive at your destination can be a huge confidence booster once you’ve completed your journey.

CON: It is common for first-time solo travelers to feel a bit hesitant about globetrotting alone. It can be scary negotiating a taxi ride or eating a meal by yourself, especially when you are used to being around other people. Traveling to a place where you don’t speak the local language can compound that fear. If being alone keeps you from fully exploring your destination, you may be better off with a partner.

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2 – Shed Your Shell

PRO: Solo travel opens doors to meeting people you normally wouldn’t have noticed or visiting places that wouldn’t have been on your itinerary because you define your trip. On your own you will quickly come to realize you aren’t the only one-man show, and the opportunities to mix and mingle are wide open. The only person stopping you … is you.

CON: Traveling alone can be especially intimidating if you tend to be shy or rely on others. When there is a language barrier, it may take you a longer to warm up to other people on the road, and when you travel with another person, there is a built-in sense of comfort from day one.

3 – Language Game

PRO: If you travel on your own, you are much more likely to learn a foreign language faster. You have no choice but to speak the language—or at least give it your best shot. Solo travel puts you in a better position to socialize with the local population and, conversely, makes it easier to learn how to say what you want to say.

CON: Traveling to a place with a foreign language always offers up its challenges, but with a travel partner, you can work together to creatively communicate with the locals. It is convenient to have someone else as you work your way through a local language, and you may even be lucky enough to have a travel partner who has a flair for the foreign tongue. If you know some Spanish and she speaks German, touring Europe is a lot easier.

4 – Conquer and Divide

PRO: When traveling with a buddy, you need to be at least willing to listen to her suggestions, even if you have no interest in what she wants to see or do. As a solo traveler, you may have to do a little more legwork to plan your trip but the decisions you make are your own. While it is nice to have the back-and-forth camaraderie and help of a friend, it also means she might begin to rely on you too much. She just bought another pair of shoes, but that’s not a big deal because you have extra room in your bag, right?

CON: With two people, you essentially have to do half the work. Brainstorming sessions open up doors to things you didn’t know about or places you’d never heard of before. Together you can find the best deals, scope out great restaurant reviews and pick the brains of people you both know separately for suggestions and ideas. One of you can pick up the luggage while the other flags down a ride. You can also get away with packing just one tube of toothpaste between the two of you.

5 – Setting the Schedule

PRO: You are a morning person, but your partner prefers to party through the night. Do you really want to sit around waiting for your friend to wake up or would you rather get up and go when you are ready? One of the biggest benefits of traveling on your own is that you make all of your decisions, especially when it comes to deciding what you want to do and when. If you want to breeze through a museum or skip it altogether for an afternoon relaxing with a cappuccino people watching … you can!

CON: Together you and your travel partner can bounce ideas off of each other as you plan the perfect day. She may open your eyes to a backdoor experience she heard about from a friend, and you might convince her that you should take the time to hit up some great restaurants you read about. As you build your travel schedule together, you might devise a unique plan that neither one of you could have created on your own.

6 – Cash Question

PRO: As a solo traveler, you can find great deals, especially if you are patient and flexible. It may be easier to fly standby and reap the benefits doled out by the airlines when you are on your own schedule. Bunking in a dorm room at a hostel can save you a chunk of change and introduce you to travelers like yourself. And with a keen sense of observation, you can scope out other single travelers looking to share a cab or split the cost of a multiple-person entry fee.

CON: Traveling with another person allows you to share the cost of many expenses on a trip. You can share hotel rooms, large meals and transportation costs. From sharing a guidebook to talking vendors down at street markets for purchasing more than one of the same item, the two of you can jointly get by on a lot less cash than if you go it solo.

7 – Safety in Numbers

PRO: On your own, you are more likely to be aware of your surroundings and belongings. You may be hyper-sensitive about what is going on around you and consciously make smarter decisions knowing you are alone. With a buddy, it is easy to become comfortable with each other and let your guards down in situations where you should be more aware of your safety.

CON: After dark, at border crossings and in otherwise questionable situations, it is always better to be accompanied by another person. You are less likely to be singled out as a crime victim if someone else is present, especially if you are a woman. On a train or bus, one of you can sleep while the other keeps an eye on your luggage, and when you’re accosted by street hawkers, you can both work to diffuse the situation and move on.

8 – A Piece of Home

PRO: If you’re hoping to escape into oblivion, traveling with another person might remind you too much of home—especially if your partner insists on comparing everything (the food, the climate, the people, the smells) to something familiar. In fact, you may become the person your partner relies on for a piece of home. In our global world, it is simple to take a couple comfort items with you and stay in touch through e-mail—a piece of home isn’t far away if you want it.

CON: For people who have little travel experience, a travel buddy can help ease the transition into a foreign environment. Homesickness is kept at bay and a familiar face and voice can make frustrating or lonely moments more tolerable. And—no questions asked—it is always easier to have a friend with you if you become sick away from home.

9 – Nothing More Than Memories

PRO: One of the biggest benefits of solo travel is that you’ll have a whole host of friends from around the world who share your memories. Hook up on social media and your memories (and future travel destinations) will never be further than a mouse click away.

CON: You’ve awoken to a beautiful sunrise over an isolated beach in the South Pacific. Or you’ve found that perfect meal in a hidden bistro in Italy. Or you’ve had a blast at a nightclub in South Africa. Those experiences are yours, but when you travel with a buddy, you have someone who shares your stories and memories long after you’ve returned home.

Read more about solo travel:

About the author
JoAnna Haugen writes from Las Vegas, where she can often be found planning her next great adventure. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, her travels have taken her from the waters of the Nile River, up the Inca Trail and to the rainforests of Australia. One of her life goals is to touch all seven continents. You can find her online at www.joannahaugen.com.


Photos by: bingbing, EvanLovely, ashley rose,  douglemoine

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Older comments on Solo Travel: The Pros and Cons

rg
29 April 2009

“After dark, at border crossings and in otherwise questionable situations, it is always better to be accompanied by another person. You are less likely to be singled out as a crime victim if someone else is present, especially if you are a woman.”

Overall the article was okay but the above is rather ridiculous; I am a 25 year old woman and I pretty much always travel alone, I have never had problems at borders (and there are always lots of people around, why should there be problems??) I disagree that criminal activity is directed at lone travellers – often travellers who are in a group seem much less aware of their surroundings and its the lack of awareness that can be dangerous here.

I don’t see how being a woman has anything to do with it either, unless we are taking about rape, and even then men are victims even though it’s not discussed as frequently. I think a lot of this is a matter of psychology; women don’t believe they could be safe travelling alone and therefore when they try it they ‘feel’ unsafe a lot of the time, when actually they are safe, because they are assessing situations in a biased way.

Eleni Tzika
25 April 2009

Traveling with the right person to the right place is the most important thing to make a great trip. Even in paradise can be boring when all alone but better off alone rather than with someone with the wrong mentality… so think twice before you go…