For two and a half years, I’ve been traveling solo around the world. I’m not going to lie, it does get lonely. However, there are a handful of reasons why traveling solo is a great option.
You have more time to yourself
This is unquestionably the biggest benefit to traveling solo; having time to yourself is sometimes sorely needed. With nearly 7.5 billion people on the planet, perhaps you occasionally feel like you just need to get away from them all and tuck yourself away into your own private, cozy corner. There’s nothing better than finding a boutique cafe in some fairy tale village to sip at a hot apple cider while reading a book and stealing glances at the snow-capped mountains outside the window.
As amicable and extroverted as I try to be, I highly value my personal time. I spend hours every week, or rather every day, working on the blog, and that gets really difficult when I have to deal with other people. One of my favorite activities in life will always be having that hot apple cider in a picturesque valley, although I might go for a winter spice hot chocolate if it’s on the menu.
It’s true that you’re always meeting people when you travel. Whether in hostels, on walking tours, your couchsurfing host or having family and friends flying in to meet you, chances are you will have very little time to yourself when you travel, unless you actively try to keep to yourself.
At the same time, possibly the biggest disadvantage about traveling solo is that it gets really, really lonely. After two and a half years of traveling solo, I’m more than ready to find a longer-term travel buddy.
You set your own schedule
Waking up whenever you want to is a great feeling. You can rise with the sun, or even before to take photos of the sunrise. You can sleep in and then stay in bed on your laptop until you’re ready for breakfast..or lunch. Your travel plans are not dependent on anyone else. If you want to take a spontaneous road trip at a moment’s notice (as I did last week), the only person you have to coordinate with is yourself.
When I travel, I have a tendency to eat when I’m hungry, rather than on a schedule. If it’s an adventure-packed day and I’m having a blast, I’ll sometimes completely forget about food, and go all day without a meal. Then there was the day in Barcelona when I managed to have thirteen meals throughout the day. Barcelona is known for its tapas and small bites; I simply couldn’t get enough of them. Well…I just might be guilty of counting a large ice cream as one of those meals.
Often, I wish I had someone to gently wake me up in the morning and tell me it’s time for our morning run to see the sunrise along the cliffs. Having a schedule you follow in life can be very important, and sharing that schedule with someone else always makes it easier to follow.
You set your own pace
Aside from the schedule, there’s also the actual speed of moving through your travels. Not everyone moves at the same speed, and traveling with someone who is faster or slower than you can be extremely frustrating. Of course, that doesn’t apply to just travel. Any two people who aren’t operating at the same speed are going to make hell for each other, whether in a business, relationship or whatever.
I move extremely fast in life, and especially when I travel. Even when I spend more time in the same city, I’m still walking fast, going to all kinds of different attractions, or just writing fast. I also tend to absorb things very quickly, so I’ll walk through a museum at my normal, rapid pace while taking everything in.
Back in 2015, I went though 13 countries in a single month, from Albania to Poland. It had it’s ups and downs. Some cities I could have spent a month in (Budapest) while others could be seen in a day (Prizren). Sometimes I would simply show up at the bus station and book the city with the cheapest ticket. In Vienna, I did a walking tour in two hours which should have taken five. More times than I can count, I’ve been walking with someone who got upset because I was walking too fast. Believe me, I try to slow down, but I just can’t. There’s too much ahead that I want to see! And who whats to waste time moving slowly?
Every now and then, I end up with a travel buddy for a couple days who can match my pace. Cecile, Juliano, Grace and Payton (my bro) are just a couple examples that come to mind. Perhaps someday I’ll find someone who not only outpaces me, but will travel with me for more than just a few days.
You can enjoy your own activities
Who else likes hiking and outdoor activities, sushi dinners and sunsets? Well, maybe those are easy ones, but not everyone shares the same interests. After hundreds of castles, churches and museums around the world, it’s easy to get bored of them. Personally, it takes a rather special museum to catch my interest, but I always find churches beautiful, and I’ll never get tired of castles – EVER!
When you’re traveling solo, you never have to worry about doing something you’re not interested in. Personally, I don’t do drugs or smoke, and I only drink if I have to (when it would be socially awkward not to). I’d much rather prefer to spend my evening watching the sunset than in some bar or club. Unfortunately, more often than not my evenings are spent at a cafe or in my hostel bed writing on the blog.
Sometimes the best way to find a new activity is to tag along with others. Finding where your new mates at the hostel are going, joining a several-day tour around your country or just letting your travel buddy plan the route is a great way to explore new things and get out of your comfort zone.
Couchsurfing is easier
I’ve used Couchsurfing all over the world. It’s my favorite way to travel for several reasons, not the least of which is that I get to meet locals and learn great tips for the city I’m in. Several times, I’ve found an activity my host has never done in their home town and gone out to do it with them, like the Open Air Museum of Kaunas with Rūta.
Oftentimes Couchsurfing hosts will only accommodate one guest at a time, which caters perfectly to those traveling solo. Many of my Couchsurfing hosts have had only a couch barely big enough for me. Sometimes I’m using my bedroll on the floor; while I’m fine with that, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else. I’ll never forget the tiny couch I slept on my first night in Edinburgh which was so small that I draped my legs off the sides onto my backpack.
Then there are the times I’ve been surprised with a queen-size bed in a private room. It seems like such a waste to have the whole room to myself.
You can get the last seat
Buses and trains usually have two seats side by side, and these are perfect for people traveling in pairs. But then there are the people who do travel solo, and that leaves a single seat open next to them. If you’re a solo traveler yourself, you have a great chance to grab that empty seat.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made it into the very last seat of a bus, train or even plane. I’ve scored the last bed in a hostel numerous times, and even made it into shows and attractions when there was room for one last person. Just as many amusement parks have special lines for individual visitors, some attractions will have a special queue to accommodate those who are traveling solo.
Perhaps the worst part of traveling is going to attractions which are specifically designed for two people. My favorite movie theater in Edinburgh, the Dominion Cinema, only has double sofas. They routinely had Groupon specials where you could purchase two tickets for less than the price of one. Yet more than once I was unable to find someone to share the second ticket with me, and had to stretch out on the whole sofa by myself. Then again, having a friend to lean against on a train or bus is far better than a stranger snoring loudly or mansplaying.
Sleeping in hostels is easier
There are several advantages to traveling solo in a hostel, the least of which is getting the last bed. If you are traveling with your mate, you’ll probably want to get your own room, in which case Airbnb is probably a better and cheaper option. Besides, sometimes you want to meet someone new in your travels, and hostels are usually the best place to do that in.
I’ve met some of my best travel friends in hostels. Juliano, whom I met at the Pink Panther Hostel in Krakow, just goes to show how small the world is. We ended up running into each other two more times in different countries. Then there was Caro at the Falling Lakes Hostel in Korenica, Croatia, who just happened to be at the same tiny party I attended one weekend in Middelburg, Netherlands. I had such a great day with her and Brian exploring the Plitvice Lakes together.
As much as I love hostels…well, sometimes I don’t love them. They can be noisy, crowded, dirty and just about everything else you find in communal living. I primarily use them as either the cheapest option for accommodations, or to meet up with people to adventure with. Otherwise, I prefer couchsurfing or even camping, but by far my favorite is getting an Airbnb and splitting the cost with a travel buddy. In Stockholm last year, I met up with six other bloggers and booked a veritable mansion, completely with Jacuzzi and sauna, for which we each paid a whopping €15 per night.
Hitchhiking is easier
This one might not be entirely true. There’s definitely comfort in having a partner for security while you’re hitchhiking. But just as you can sometimes get the last seat on a bus or train, sometimes cars only have one seat available. While some travelers are intimidated by hitchhiking themselves, some drivers are intimidated by picking up two more passengers.
Also, sometimes when you’re traveling solo, your backpack is big enough to take up another seat. Once when I was hitchhiking in France, I was picked up in a car so small, I could barely fit my backpack between my knees and the ceiling. And that was traveling with my small backpack! Back in 2015 when I hitchhiked on the Isle of Skye with my REI Grand Tour 85 [liter], my backpack was almost too big, as the lady who picked me up was traveling with her two sons to school.
When you’re traveling with a partner, you always have the option to rent a car and share in those costs. Personally, I’ve dreamed for years of buying a van to convert into a tiny home so I can travel the world with a puppy and a partner in crime. With any luck, I’ll be getting the van this year. Not sure how soon after the puppy or the partner will follow.
You can find a travel buddy
This is simple math, really. If you don’t have someone to travel with, you can find find a travel buddy. Maybe there’s no one at home you really want to travel with. Well, there’s a very good chance you’ll find someone in your travels you can team up with, since they’re highly likely to be a traveler too.
When you’re traveling solo, you’re going to be missing that soul mate, that other half. Perhaps you’ve left your boyfriend or girlfriend at home while you travel, and they’re always at the other end of a Whatsapp call. But with all the advantages that exist for traveling solo, there are always the disadvantages I’ve mentioned above.
Meeting someone new isn’t awkward
When you’re traveling solo, you don’t have any obligations or restrictions on who you meet. Obviously, the biggest factor in this is meeting new, potential partners, sexual or otherwise. But when you’re traveling with a partner or even a friend, it can get really awkward when you run into someone and then have to explain your actions or reactions.
I once had a travel partner while visiting Sweden. We certainly didn’t consider each other a boyfriend or girlfriend, but she became furious with me and even refused to talk with me for the next day when I spent a few minutes getting more information about Stockholm from the guide of the walking tour. It was one of the few times when I felt I never wanted to have a travel partner. Of course, that feeling didn’t last for ever.
I’d love to have a stable partner to travel with. As much as I’ve loved traveling solo, I’m ready for something more. I keep thinking how much fun it would be to raise a couple kids on the road, helping them pick up languages all over the world and teaching them to talk to as many strangers as they can. But that’s another story for another blog post. Perhaps I’ll get around to writing that one someday (I once started it but couldn’t finish).
What do you think? Do you prefer to travel solo, or do you want that travel partner? If you ever want to meet up with me in my journey, I’m always looking for travel buddies…Erin… We can be solo travelers together!