Didn't Sartre say something about hell being other people?
Sure, it can be fun to travel with your partner or a group of friends. I personally prefer having my husband there to share the experience and enjoyment of traveling together.
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But I firmly believe that everybody should travel solo — sometimes. There’s a lot you can get out of a solo trip that just doesn’t happen when you’re not on your own. Let me give you some reasons why traveling solo can be so worthwhile.
Fit In and Immerse Yourself
If your goal is to really interact with the culture you’re visiting, then solo trips will give you a much greater chance of doing this. A single person slips into the background; you often won’t look like a tourist, and you’ll be able to stand and observe the locals without drawing much attention.
Shopkeepers and bus drivers naturally offer more to the solo traveler. I’ve even had free restaurant meals simply because I turned up alone, squeezed into a table in the corner and chatted with a friendly waiter.
Meet Other Travelers More Easily
This almost goes without saying, but it’s also very true. Just imagine that you’re in a cafe or a pub, or staying at a hostel, and you see a couple in one corner and a girl sitting by herself in the other. Who are you going to talk to? Solo travelers simply invite company by being there alone.
And once you start meeting other travelers, you get a lot of options that you probably wouldn’t have had with your traveling companion by your side. A bunch of other single travelers decide to go sightseeing together and invite you, for example, and another group are going on a canoe trip. You make your choice and have fun with new friends. Doesn’t that sound great?
Do Exactly What You Want, When You Want
And that segues neatly into my next reason: if you’re traveling solo, you are the boss and decision maker. You can get up every morning — or afternoon, if you’re so inclined — and plan your day according to your own whims and fancies. Want to take in a museum or two? Go for it. Feel more like a shopping spree at the local markets? No problem.
Sometimes I forget how many compromises you make when traveling with a friend or group. I probably wouldn’t have visited that military museum in Ho Chi Minh City if I’d been alone; I definitely would have skipped the aeronautical display in Seattle. When I travel alone, I adore the prospect of choosing exactly the cafe or restaurant I’m going to splurge in for a great lunch, where I can sit with my book and enjoy my favorite food, uninterrupted.
Avoiding the conflict that often comes with traveling with others is another bonus of the solo trip. It’s inevitable that spending virtually all your time with another person, even your beloved partner, will produce a few sparks of conflict, especially in the sometimes stressful negotiations of budget travel. But most people won’t argue with themselves.
Reigniting Your “I Can Do Anything” Spirit
Something about making all my own choices in a foreign place seemed to be giving me that “I can do anything” attitude that I sometimes forget in daily life.
I’ve had a few real moments of clarity while traveling alone that never seem to occur when I’m traveling with someone else. Standing in an art gallery in Hamburg, I vividly remember staring at an exhibition about designer apartments in New York. “I could go and live in a place like that,” I remember thinking to myself, somewhat insanely. “In fact, I can go anywhere I want.” Something about making all my own choices in a foreign place seemed to be giving me that “I can do anything” attitude that I sometimes forget in daily life.
Traveling alone and independently also does wonders for your power of self-reliance and even your self-esteem. Taking responsibility for all the tasks involved in traveling, without having someone else to talk over the possibilities with or to make the decisions for you, is a really empowering thing. It’s especially powerful if you’re navigating through a foreign country, perhaps using some knowledge of a foreign language, and managing to find your way from place to place all alone.
But Don’t Travel Alone All the Time
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend being a 100% solo traveler. There are some experiences you might really want to share with someone special, be it a partner or a friend; and being able to reminisce about a trip is one of the long-lasting benefits. There are also some destinations where, as a woman, I’d feel more comfortable traveling with someone else. And finally, if you’re always on the road alone you do run the risk of developing some slightly selfish, hermit-like tendencies.
So where possible, mix up your travel mode. Travel with friends, family, partners, groups of strangers, whatever takes your fancy: but always remember to savor the trips you have the privilege of taking alone.