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
Featured image via ShutterStock