Finishing up a long round of book research, I’ve been on the road exploring by myself. Many people have commented about how brave I must be to travel the world alone, but I don’t really understand that. Solo travel is part of my job, it’s just the way my life is and that’s fine by me. Admittedly, I’m kind of an introvert and the only person who finds me funny, but still. Solo travel is fun.
Do you want to travel but can’t find anyone to go with? Are worries about going alone keeping you from hitting the road? I’d suggest you set aside your hesitations and fears and just GO. Here is why…
Solo Travel Doesn’t Cost More
Hitting the road by yourself means not paying the way for someone else, and that’s a big cost savings. If you’re used to splitting the tab for a trip, being alone means no argument about the dinner bill. If you don’t have any dependents, it may seem that travel alone will be more expensive, but that’s not necessarily true. Many hotels offer single rooms for less than a double, and hostelers will find great bargains. Some tours will cost more for a single supplement, but tour companies like mine will find you a roommate if you don’t want to pay extra. Solo travelers may find the food bill is lower as they probably eat in restaurants less frequently or order just the right amount of food. You also won’t end up spending money on activities chosen by a travel partner that perhaps don’t suit your interests.
Solo Travelers Do Exactly What They Want
One of the most pleasing aspects of solo travel is that you do what you want, whenever you want. Want to eat only a buffet of cake or a pile of fruit for dinner? Want to try the coffee shops in Amsterdam? Want to stay in a museum for 10 hours? How about sleeping in every day? Go for it, no judgment from anyone when you’re by yourself. It’s your time and your way, no matter how indulgent, experimental, lazy or silly. Solo travelers do what they want, when they want. Believe me, it’s liberating and a little addicting. You also have the leisure to change your plans spontaneously without consulting anyone.
Solo Travelers Get Benefits
Sometimes being on your own is a big help. Tickets to the theater or a tour may be sold out for couples, but will have singles available. I’ve seen any show I wanted in London, and at a low price, because I was alone and didn’t care where I sat. Special tours like the Scavi under Saint Peter’s can be hard to score as a pair or a group, but not hard for a single. I’ve also had great luck bumming tickets to the Papal Audience off of people at the gate, there is always one extra, rarely two. The best seats on airplanes also often don’t come in pairs, I’m happy to take a lonely bulkhead seat or that last place in Comfort Plus. See how lucky singles are?
Solo Travelers Meet More People
If you’re a sociable type, solo travel is a great way to meet people. When I travel with friends or family, I tend to stick with them, only chatting and experiencing the world in our little bubble. Particularly if I am with a partner, I tend to close up in my shell and leave the interacting to them. If you are alone, you are more motivated (or forced) to talk to others. Really outgoing solo travelers will stay in hostels, shared AirBnB apartments or guesthouses with a convivial vibe. I have met far more people when I’ve been alone, because everyone becomes my travel partner, from waiters to hotel staff, to the lady sitting next to me at the bus stop complaining about the Italian transport system.
Solo Travel is Productive
If there is nobody else to consider in travel plans, solo travel can be incredibly productive. Sometimes I want to see things at an inhuman pace that nobody else would put up with. I don’t know many people who would like to sit with me in a cafe for two hours while I paint or write, or to scour a church and read every little detail about its history, that would be pretty boring. If I’m being creatively productive, I’m in my mind palace focusing on my thoughts and am terribly antisocial. Traveling alone, there is no need to worry about that, and the creativity process can flow freely.
Solo Travel Doesn’t Have to be Alone
If you want to travel with someone but can’t find a travel partner, there are ways to find someone to go with. Organized tours are the obvious, easy way. There are always lots of single travelers on every tour I lead. They can spend free time alone or hang with others in the group, whatever works. The singles typically have no problem finding friends, and often find buddies they will travel with again in the future.
If you’d rather travel without an organized tour the whole time, walking tours and day trips give you temporary travel buddies for an hour or a day. While I was in Thailand, I booked a half-day tour each day to see some new things. I met people from all over the world and had a blast eating weird food and seeing the sights with temporary travel partners. The group was different every day and gave me a chance to chat with a wide variety of people.
Solo Travel is “Me Time”
A highlight of solo travel is to do the little self-care or pampering things that you couldn’t really do if you were with others. In England and Scotland, I like to go browse bookstores for hours, then take whatever trashy romance novel that catches my eye to high tea and read. In Thailand, I like to have a daily massage. In Rome, I’ll aimlessly stroll and pop into every church that has a door open.
In any city, I’ll occasionally spring for a bathtub and buy some lovely bubblebath, a nice bottle of wine and chocolates. I’m worth it, so why not? Spending your “Me Time” relaxing and taking good care of yourself is what a vacation should be about.
Traveling alone may seem dangerous or scary, but it shouldn’t. Unless you’re going somewhere dangerous and scary…good luck with that, but that’s a different story. Normal travel destinations are just fine, as long as you take some basic precautions:
- Be organized and give your itinerary to a loved one, and check in occasionally.
- Take a cell phone with international data (I recommend TMobile) and keep it charged and on hand at all times.
- Know emergency phone numbers.
- Keep enough local currency in your pocket for a cab ride back to your hotel, and a business card for the hotel.
- Take travel advice from your hotelier or host, they always know what’s up in their city.
- If you’re a woman, use common sense with friendly locals. Don’t let anyone buy you a drink without watching it being poured, or leave a drink on the table if you use the restroom.
- Be sensible about staying out late, and don’t go crazy with drinking or the party scene. You are responsible for putting yourself to bed!
For some reason, there seems to be a strange attitude towards solo travelers. It’s either pity, curiosity, suspicion or some combination of weird feelings. I occasionally get the feeling that people think I must be a spy or am up to something. I have no patience for this. Tell people you are a spy and they will probably leave you alone. Getting out and doing your thing on your own terms is great and should be no cause for worry, fear or guilt.
The prospect of doing things alone may seem intimidating, especially at meal times. The best way to avoid feeling awkward is by reading or writing. Bringing a book, tablet or notebook and pen with you will keep you occupied. I actually love writing while I’m dining alone. It’s a good moment for reflection on my day.
If anyone makes any remarks about the fact that you are alone, keep in mind that many people only wish they had the guts to go it alone. Any negative comments I’ve ever gotten, once I’ve asked more questions, have confirmed that there is a certain amount of jealousy about being a bold, adventurous solo traveler.
I would bet you $11.50 that a big reason that many people never realize their travel dreams is because they can’t find anyone with the time, money or motivation to go with them. How many travel dreams are dashed on the rocks by flaky friends or lazy lovers? There is no reason to wait. Don’t let anyone hold you back. The world is out there and it is calling you–just you. Go and experience it on your own, you may meet someone bold and brave that you didn’t know existed before…yourself.