In my last article, A-lonely, I spoke about the differences between being alone and loneliness. Today, we’re talking about solo travel.
The politically appropriate term is “solo traveler”. But that’s just a warm and fuzzy phrase to describe being alone in an unfamiliar place. Sometimes we do it for business and sometimes we do it for pleasure. Whatever phrase you use to describe it, the way you mentally approach the concept of travelling by yourself plays a big part in determining how much you enjoy it.
I’ve known people who never take trips, simply because they have no one to join them. Personally, I think there’s nothing better than arriving on foreign soil with a bag, a passport and a whole new environment in front of you waiting to be explored.
You don’t need to be the adventurer-type to enjoy the experience either. Just tailor your journey to match your comfort level. If a week by a pool knocking down a few slabs of lager is your thing, the only organising you need to do is finding a taxi from the airport to your resort and back (and maybe learning the local lingo for beer!)
On the other hand, you can be as exotic and adventurous as you like, and there’s no need to negotiate with a pesky travel companion where to go and what to do. You can climb mountains, watch the sun rise up an empty New York street or take a ghost tour and never once ask anyone if they think it is a fun idea. You’ll never have to spend valuable vacation time enduring an experience that you are less than enthusiastic about as a result of some travel trade-off (well, I haven’t since that time I went button shopping in the back streets of Kowloon).
Travelling on your own can be a liberating, confidence-building experience. You make your own arrangements, solve problems and tweak them along the way as you become more familiar with your new surroundings. Every time I come back from a trip I feel more empowered. It’s not unusual to return home having come up with a new idea or a problem solved. And it seems like I’m not the only one. Back in the 18th century Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying “I think one travels more usefully when they travel alone, because they reflect more”.
But it’s not all about solitary reflection and staring wistfully into a misty green valley. We are actually forced to interact more if we travel alone. We end up having more conversations with new people and consequently often find that new opportunities present themselves. It might be as simple as talking to a local in a bar and hearing about a new spot to visit or chatting to a fellow passenger on a train and learning what it’s really like to live in a place.
Sure, it has moments that can be less than ideal, but so does travelling with a companion. A great meal is often better if you have someone to share the experience with. For me, that one’s easily solved. I just take a book to dinner with me to help fill those uncomfortable moments while you are waiting for your meal and find yourself staring at all the other diners. Alternatively, with a travelling companion you may miss out on eating a fantastic Texas barbecue because the other half isn’t in the mood for steak. There are very few downsides of travelling alone that you can’t solve without a bit of planning and ingenuity.
And don’t forget that nowadays, friends and family aren’t far away. Thanks to social media we can easily get in touch. Seeking out hotels that offer free wi-fi makes it really simple.
Unfortunately, the cost of travelling alone can be much higher, and we can’t do much about that. Accommodation and car hire charges are the same for two people as for one, and single supplements even apply to some travel such as cabins on cruise ships where fewer people means each cabin spends less on board. Public transport becomes more attractive than car hire, and maybe you have to drop a star or two when choosing your hotel.
Travelling alone is different to travelling with a companion and you just need to find your own groove. For me, I take shorter trips. I find that after a couple of weeks I want to be back with friends and family. I also choose my locations wisely. I’m less inclined to want to recline beside a pool if I’m by myself so I opt for destinations where there is plenty to do. And maybe I’m delaying trips to some of those more remote locations until I find someone who is willing to come along and watch my back. Your groove might be completely different.
But there is a large chunk of the world still waiting to be explored without or without another person at your side.