Ah, the glam of solo travel! Sunday was yet another Valentine’s Day I spent as a single. I was sitting in a nice bungalow on a hill in the Tuscan countryside, surrounded by a dozen dogs, binging on romantic movies and endless “Ooh, my sweetheart surprised me with…” Facebook posts.
Don’t get me wrong: I quite enjoy traveling on my own. Hell, I’m good at it. However, days like this get me thinking about the perks of traveling with others.
So here’s my ultimate preliminary list of reasons why solo travel is the best and why not traveling alone rocks:
The Price is Right
Traveling on your own, it’s often easier to find space when you’re car sharing, couch surfing or WorkAwaying as opposed to when you’re a couple or even in a group. Besides, you can stick to the budget you have (chosen)–no hard feelings when you skip lunch or treat yourself to a four-star hotel, no disapproving looks giving the waiter an extra tip, no need to explain why you won’t shell out “only” 50 bucks for that night safari.
Shared travel is cheaper travel. In many places, using apps like Booking.com or AirBnB, you can easily find decent private rooms for less than the cost of two dorm beds. If you’re self-catering bulk items like rice, oil and spices will tear less of a hole into your budget. Car rental becomes cheaper when you can split the cost. You can organize special tours and are less dependent on strangers looking to do the same safari at the same time.
Traveling is as much about seeing new places as it is about meeting new people. The thing is: I tend to not approach couples for fear of imposing myself on two people sharing a special moment. But when I see somebody on their own I will chat with them, we exchange tips, might even go exploring the city together. Locals will invite me to join their table in the osteria
, to visit them in their homes, they’ll tell personal stories, and they will say: “I would never do that if you weren’t solo.”
Let’s face it: eating and drinking alone sucks. Waiters are rude, fellow patrons give you pitying looks. And discovering a marvelous city is more fun when you can share that discovery. Back home, it is one of the great frustrations of (long-term) travelers that barely anyone of their friends and family is really interested in their stories. They don’t care? They just don’t understand? But you and your travel companion have created these memories together. So you can recall them with each other.
Traveling solo equals independent decision making. You call the shots. There will be no regret for not doing something because you are the only one stopping you. No need to compromise just so your travel companion stays happy. No need to slow down when you’re on a roll, to pretend that this cold is really nothing, to explain why you’ll go into this museum but aren’t the least interest in the other, to sound excited about getting a public bus into the Sahara in July even though you really just want to stay in front of the A/C.
Some days you just can’t be bothered to do anything. Other days, for an abundance of options, you can’t make up your mind about what to do. Your travel companion is there to remind you about why you travel, to make a decision for you, to get all excited about your next stop when you don’t have the energy, to go buy tissues when a cold has struck you down, to pull you away from the fight with the cab driver about that tourist fare he’s demanding, to convince you that taking a public bus into the Sahara in July is a great idea.
I am a passionate amateur photographer and
quite often stop to photograph random street corners, trees or just one more cat. As a solo traveler, there is nobody who’d be annoyed by that and I don’t feel guilty or compelled to speed up my way of discovering a place. And when I do want a photo of myself I might even make new friends asking strangers to snap me in front of a sight.
Having a travel partner means having a trusty photography partner to snap snaps of each other. You can document each other’s life. Traveling. If you’re lucky your companion is good at snapping you beyond the usual posing, and will surprise you with shots of your delighted face at the sight of the Kilimanjaro. Or you take turns photographing, the other leaving the camera behind to just take in the moments.
Yes We Can
I remember the awesome feeling I had when I managed to go shopping in a local market in Rabat, Morrocco for the first time. The boost in general self-confidence I gained from traveling on my own, especially as a member of the perceived “weaker sex”, being always told what I can’t do because I’m a woman, is invaluable. The strength you build from expanding your comfort zones is a tool you can then also apply to other areas in life–career, learning, hobbies,…
You can’t know everything, so following conventional wisdom, more people will have more random knowledge helping to get more out of the places you visit, to get involuntarily lost less frequently. Plus, four eyes see more than two. Especially, when you’ve never traveled before having another person at your side, regardless whether that person is a man or a woman, not only adds security looking after bags and valuables, it also helps to slowly move each other out of comfort zones.