Open TicketWould You Travel Solo?Stephanie Spitler

I’ve done lots of things, travel-wise. I’ve backpacked and bedded down in dodgy hostels, but I’ve also lived it up in boutique hotels. I’ve hopped on guided bus tours and planned my own city tours. I’ve figured out train systems and trams and subways in places where I didn’t speak the language. I’ve tried local foods and, I admit it, I’ve given in and eaten at McDonald’s in more than one foreign country. (Don’t judge; sometimes you need the blessed relief of a familiar Big Mac).

But there’s one major travel experience I haven’t had yet: I’ve never traveled alone. Entire blogs are dedicated to this specific form of travel, and you’ll find the “go somewhere solo” recommendation on most “lists of things to do before you’re 30” and the like. Travelers who’ve done it wax poetic about how freeing and empowering it is. And I’ll admit, I’m intrigued.

Sometimes, when your travel buddy wants to check out a museum and you want to check out some “retail exploration,” it can get uncomfortable. Sure, you can split up, but differing expectations can, at best, involve awkward conversations and, at worst, lead to hurt feelings and awkward tension for the rest of the trip. So I can definitely see the appeal of doing exactly what you want, when you want.

I don’t really know why I’ve never traveled solo before. I’ve been lucky enough to always have enthusiastic and willing companions to come along. And the truth is, I like having someone with me. I like having someone to people-watch with in the airport, and get lost with in the streets of Venice (map? I thought you had the map?). And I really like having someone to take pictures of me posing awkwardly in front of famous landmarks.

Especially on longer trips, it’s nice to have someone there to keep you in a good mood when you get down (and vice versa), to take the reins and find a hotel when you’re exhausted (and vice versa), and to encourage you to climb that mountain when you want to quit. But the biggest reason I like traveling with a friend is that, once it’s over, you have someone who knows exactly what you’re talking about when you reminisce about that crazy bar crawl in Rome.

On the other hand, all those reasons I listed could just as easily be seen as drawbacks. When someone else is there with you, you have the luxury of deciding to be in a bad mood, or deciding to throw your hands in the air and dump the responsibility of booking a hotel on them. I’m not saying it’s right, but the option is there; you know there’s someone else who could take care of whatever it is, so you can decide not to. I think that must be one of the most eye-opening things about traveling alone: while you discover another country, you also discover a lot about yourself.

Having said all that, I do feel like a solo trip is something everyone should do. If travel is about adventure, then the biggest adventures for me include things I haven’t tried yet.

Would you (or have you ever) traveled alone?

Let’s talk about travel: follow me @StephSpitler

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  1. I took a gap year last year to live and travel around Europe, so all up, including weekends away and such, I must have spent nearly 3 months travelling alone.

    I think the main thing is that you are /never actually alone/. If you stay in hostels, go out, are in tourist areas, and speak English, there will always be someone to pair up with. I have met so many people by just by saying “can I tag along with you?” that I might not have been able to do, had I been travelling with a friend or partner. For example, I never would have gone to the Filmhaus in Potsdamer Platz, gone caving in the Buda Hills, or started my fleamarket obsession in Amsterdam if not for the friendly suggestion of hostel friends. I’m actually so used to being alone, I’m hesitant to ever travel with anyone else again! It just seems like a huge hassle, and I have heard so many stories of holidays gone sour because their friend was out of sorts.

  2. I live in Australia and decided in 2011 to travel alone and visit my family in Europe. I liked the idea because I wanted to do my own thing and not follow somebody else’s plans – after all, I’m the one paying for my trip. My family in Greece were quite busy at the time so I spent a lot of time by myself – walking around the city that they lived in, eating by myself and exploring and it was so lovely. On the other hand, you do want to share that time with other people as well so I met up with some friends and we toured the Greek Islands then went to London – which was an amazing time with great memories. I also visited my family a bit outside of London for a few days but once everyone had left, it was just me and the big city. Again, I loved being alone. I visited all the sights I wanted to see, went to dinner by myself and didn’t even feel uncomfortable. I walked the streets at night (probably not that safe in hindsight but great fun) and explored the city. The next day, I went on a day tour to Paris. The guide picked me up at 6am from my hotel and took myself and the rest of the group on the train to Paris. Admittedly, I was surrounded by Australian people on the day tour but I didn’t know any of them beforehand. We did a bus and river tour, lunch at the Eiffel Tower then we were sent on our own. I loved it. There was so much to do and the best thing was that I could do all of it because it was my day and nobody could tell me otherwise. We arrived back to London at 10pm and again, I went solo around the city and loved every minute. I’ve always been someone who loves to be surrounded by familiar people but this trip was fantastic for me. It can be stressful at times to arrange flights, trains, taxis, tours and not have anyone there to help you but it’s also really exciting. I found that I’m comfortable being alone even if it’s in a massive city that is very unfamiliar and loved being able to take care of myself. Yes, I was constantly texting/emailing/blogging so that my family and friends knew I was alive but travelling alone (at least, for part of the trip) is something I suggest everyone does at least once in their lives. I’d definitely do it again. Go for it!

  3. I had an assignment for class where we had to write a response to some article online. (a conversational type of paper reply. Rogerian.) I chose this article because I love traveling alone, here was my submitted breif 2 paragraphs.

    In response to “Would you travel solo?” by Stephanie Spitler.

    Most people enjoy travel. What isn’t fun about jetting off to New York for a girls weekend or a laid back beach day in Miami? I particularly love to travel; there is something about getting up and leaving your life for a few days and leaving everything; my job, my worries, and all of those other burdens behind. While some people enjoy trips with besties and large groups, there are others who enjoy an occasional solo trip. The food, the culture, the mere break from life is the best parts of traveling.
    I enjoy being on a vacation with a few friends, or even just one. You get to reminisce years later about a girl’s weekend, and you have someone to keep you motivated during the inevitable rainy day when you were supposed to go to the beach. I have such fond memories of spending days with my friends as we ate ice cream from boutique ice cream shops or stayed at a restaurant for hours because we heard someone famous would be there. While those memories are cherished I really love going on trips solo. While leaving work, school, problems, and other things behind is great there is nothing like leaving everything and everyONE behind. We all love our best friends but sometimes you need a break from them; their face, their voice, their little habits that eat at your patience. I once went on 3 vacations in a row once where we did nothing that I had my heart set on. Why? It was because I was a part of the losing vote. Then I went on vacation on my own and saw all the museums I wanted, went on all the tours I wanted, no complaining in tow. What’s worse is when you’re on a vacation with a friend and you get into a tiff and there is no way out… you’re stuck with that person for the rest of the vacation.
    Friends on vacation are fun; I could never stop going on road trips and spontaneous trips with my best friend. When it comes down to it though, I cherish and appreciate the trips by myself, where I can be me, do what I want to do, eat where I want to eat, see what I want to see with no guilt. It’s selfish but maybe we all need a week out of the year to be selfish. So to sum it up, in response to your article, I would travel solo, and I think everyone should at least once in a while. Take a break from the world, leave it all behind, it feels good. You’d love it!

  4. I do quite a bit of solo travel. My first trip ever overseas was 2 years ago, 5 weeks in Vietnam & Cambodia, but a friend met up with me for one week… I preferred the 4 weeks when I was alone! I’ve also spent 2 weeks in Japan alone, and did a month in India working and went off for a week alone to spend in a yoga ashram in Rishikesh. Recently I spent 2 weeks in Bali with a friend and yes, there were definitely pros to being with a friend, I think I definitely prefer solo travel. I am just a loner I think!
    When you’re alone, it’s much easier to meet people, outgoing people are more likely to approach you in a hostel/cafe/bar in a touristy area whereas if you are with a friend you definitely have to go looking to make new friends. So you’re not really alone as you can usually find someone to spend time with if you want to. There’s always other tourists/staff/locals to take photos of you (if you trust them with your camera) and I’m comfortable eating alone at home so it doesn’t bother me on holidays either.
    I enjoy the feeling of independence and it’s a nice feeling when people gush about how “brave” I must be for travelling alone – when in my head I think that it wasn’t really a big deal at all.

  5. I have traveled alone and with friends, and let me say that there are pros to both. Yes, when you travel with a friend, you get the inside jokes and the shared experiences. You have someone to take pictures with, and you’re not solely responsible for deciding what to do (which is less of a responsibility thing and more of a “Hey, I didn’t know about that” thing).

    But when you travel alone, you can decide exactly what to do and when, and you can have other people take your picture (or do a self-portrait) especially in touristy areas. When traveling alone, it’s freeing and empowering. I decided to randomly travel to the far end of town, and I could do it. I decided that I was done with a museum within 10 minutes, and I could leave.

  6. I did two weeks solo in Paris & London as a present to myself for my 30th and it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.
    The Pros:
    - I did exactly what I wanted, when I wanted. Tourist attractions, concerts, shows on the West End, day drinking, salsa dancing, crying at how beautiful the Eiffel Tower is… all on my own schedule.
    - I was never alone when I didn’t want to be. I’m a super outgoing person; I’ll talk to anyone and I met so many interesting people!
    The Cons
    - A fair number of awkward self-taken photos.
    - It’s probably not for everyone? Like, if it makes you nervous to think about spending time with complete strangers or you think it’s awkward to eat in restaurants alone, it’s probably tough.

    Overall? Amazing!

  7. I recently backpacked through Europe (mostly the east) by myself for 2 months. Originally I was going with someone but those plans fell through, so I was a little apprehensive when I did go. However, I wouldn’t change it. I went to places I never thought of going to including Latvia and Lithuania and these turned out to be my favourite places of all. And the main reason I could do that was I now had no one there to change my mind! Some weeks were great and you met the most amazing people and then there were other times when it coud be quite lonely, especially at night, but hostels are great places to meet people. I also was lucky enough to meet locals who I then stayed with at various parts of my trip. I think one the main things is to embrace it all and become that ‘yes’ person – you’ll get to experience so much more of a place..

    And language was never too much of a barrier, a good sense of humour is a must!

    Also a great way to meet people is through free walking tours, most main cities with have one. It also gives you a good insight into a country and the city you are staying in.

    Good luck Steph, you should give it a go!

    • Excellent tips, Emily! I especially love the idea of taking a free walking tour; you can get some local history and meet other travelers at the same time!

  8. I did a 4 month internship in Edinburgh, Scotland and frequently went on little spontaneous trips around Scotland by myself when I had most of the day free but a friend didnt. They really are some of my most memorable trips that I went on! I could take as much time as I wanted somewhere, decide to go walk down a random road that looked awesome (even if it was a detour), and engage more with the friendly locals!
    However, I also spend 4 months living in Kiev, Ukraine and did maybe only one trip out of the city by myself. Ukraine was iffy and I didnt feel super comfortable doing trips by myself. I felt wary being by myself just around the city after 10pm. I definitely think the location matters!
    Western Europe would be my pick for solo trips!!

  9. In two weeks I’m leaving for my first solo trip. Its to australia, new zealand, cook islands, america and then back to my country, Holland. Although I was getting a little worried about going on my own this article has given me new hopes that is will be awesome!! :)

  10. When I was 20 I went on a 5 week solo trip around Ireland and Scotland. A friend had originally planed on making the trip with me and at the last minute she had to cancel her plans. I decided to go on without her and I have to say it was the best decision of my life so far. I met amazing people, saw beautiful places and was able to learn a lot about myself through my solo experiences. If you get the chance to go somewhere, go. It can be frustrating at times and you’ll definitely wish someone was with you at times but you will never forget the amazing experiences that come with traveling solo.

  11. I got to spend a 30 hour layover in Japan, and I headed to Tokyo for a day. A friend who’d lived there before was able to recommend a great, cozy, and safe hostel for me, and she gave me plenty ideas of what to do in the area. I loved getting to take my time and getting to choose just what I wanted to do from my list of ideas. I do wish I’d known the language or had someone to tell me which foods were good and to share about the culture, but it was wonderful being on my own schedule and being able to completely relax.

  12. Though I was just traveling in the states, I went to New York City (from LA) when I was 19 and I could honestly say it was the best trip I’ve taken in my 20.5 years of living. Being able to do what I wanted when I wanted was extremely refreshing. Not that I hate traveling with people, but I have to admit that I love to people-please, so when I can tell someone is not having as much fun as me, I feel extremely bad and bummed. So not having to worry about someone not having as good a time as you is so nice!

  13. I have never taken a really long road trip by myself yet, thought it’s definitely on my to-do list, and soon! The longest trip I’ve ever taken was an 8 hour solo drive, and that was pretty incredible in and of itself! I am certainly looking forward to more soul-searching opportunities: just me, some music, and the open road. As a writer, I think it’s a necessary means of tapping into the soul. Also, my favorite movies of all time list include both Elizabethtown and One Week :)

    • Good for you, Crystal! A solo road trip sounds even more daunting to me than a regular trip (I’m not the world’s greatest driver).

  14. I traveled to Amsterdam by myself for a week, it was amazing! Wandered for hours taking pictures of buildings and cute little european cars. Have also been to NYC and Toronto a few times by myself and I got so many comments of “You’re here by yourself, arent you scared?” and even from one of the douchey old men at customs coming home “You’re traveling alone? your husband let you?” wth? Yes, my husband let me…am I twelve? I’ve never had any problems with safety, as long as you walk with purpose and look like you know what you’re doing… nobody will bother you.

    • OMG, “your husband let you?”! It’s comments like that that make me want to grab my bag and go. I agree, walking with purpose (and looking like you know where you’re going, even when you don’t) is a great trick.

  15. Travelling alone is the best type of personal development you can gift yourself. I traveled through Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru solo after my study abroad in Argentina and it was amazing. Staying in hostels, meeting new people, being completely immersed in your own emotions, loneliness, awe, and excitement.–I felt my truest and rawest emotions sitting in bus stations, seeing monuments, and stepping off airplanes. When I traveled through Costa Rica, I met a ton of super nice Canadians (the place is swarming with them) and surrendered to their ever-adventurous spirits and wonderful planning skills.

    Places you shouldn’t travel as a single female are obviously the best places–Egypt, Iran, Venezuela (per the New Yorker’s recent article about a slumlord…scary!). But other mildly dangerous places, like Turkey, Colombia, Ukraine, etc. are definitely places I think I’d have the most rich and rewarding solo travel experience. I’ve actually been to Ukraine to visit a friend in the Peace Corps so I wasn’t totally alone, but it was a crazy experience. If you haven’t been, go go go.

  16. I really want to go to Paris on my own, despite the fact that my French isn’t the best. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do as there are so many things I want to discover that I know my friends wouldn’t be interested in.
    Being in a large group of friends means that there is a lot of compromise a lot of the time; it would be nice to be able to decide what I want to do, when I want to do it.

  17. I spent a month in Thailand on my own and it was the best thing I have ever done! The first part was a gap-year type tour group, so all total strangers, and the second part I met up with a friend who was working as a scuba instructor at the time, so while she was ‘working’ (hardly a horrible job!) I would busy myself at the spa, or taking a rock climbing course, or just lazing on the beach.

    People always tell me I was brave to do it, but it was booked on an almost-whim so I didn’t have the chance to think about the fact that I was “alone”. You get to plan your days and see what you want to see without compromise. I’d have another adventure like that in a heartbeat.

  18. I’m a very independent person. I have no problem going to movies and the theater alone or eating dinner by myself on a Friday night out. (I promise I’m not a loner!) But I went on my first solo adventure to Austria and Germany last year, and I thought I would love the ability to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and for how much money I wanted. But I was surprised by how much I hated it. Travel to me is such a communal experience. I want someone to tell inside jokes to. I want someone to share the memories. I kind of felt like the tree that fell in the woods. If one falls and no one hears it, did it really happen? If no one saw me traveling, did I really go on a trip? Sure I have the pictures, my journals, and the memories, but for someone who is independent to an extreme, traveling alone was not for me.

    • Thanks for sharing! It’s always interesting to hear a different side. I suspect I’d feel the same way as you, but I definitely think solo travel is something everyone should try once!

  19. I traveled to Scotland for three weeks by myself when I was 22. It was the best thing I have ever done for myself. It was intimidating the first day, but I loved it. I loved setting my own schedule and being responsible for myself. I am a huge museum buff, so I could spend 3 hours there and no one would pester me to go. I could go to bed early or stay up late. I also find that the desire for companionship is more easily met when you travel with someone, but when you get to know your cab driver or the guy who serves you a late lunch or some other random person, you can have such fun adventures and really get to know the people who live in that country in a way that is much harder when you are with someone else (not that it’s impossible). You have to be keenly aware of your safety and you have to plan for some things when it’s just you and your luggage, but it’s completely possible. I honestly think every one (especially every girl/woman!) should do it. It’s so empowering, which sounds silly, but it’s awesome. I was blown away by Scotland, so perhaps that’s where you should take your next trip! It’s beautiful and the people are so kind. Go for it!

    • Lauren, Scotland is so beautiful. I’ve only been to Edinburgh (and it was a trip with friends) but it’s definitely a possibility to go back and see more of the country for my first solo trip!

    • I’m so excited you posted this!! I’m studying abroad in Ireland right now and I really want to spend some time in Scotland when we have our break – you’ve inspired me to actually consider making it a solo trip! Any recommendations on where to go, what to do, where to stay?? (I definitely want to go to Glasgow but I would love to see more of the country too!)

      • Shannon, if you make it Edinburgh definitely check out Edinburgh Castle and the Baked Potato Shop in the Old Town! Best baked potatoes ever.

  20. Last year I’ve travelled to Europe; 2 weeks in London with friends and 1 week alone in Paris. Both were great experiences, I learned to share and be patient (in London) and then I learned to manage myself in a big city without speaking their language. It was quite an adventure, funny, amazing and unforgetable. I also had time to think and connect to myself; and do all the things I wanted when I wanted.
    It’s agood experience, you should try at least once…