Many of my travels have been solo throughout the years. I went around the country and even around the world all on my own starting at the age of 18. My parents hated it, my friends thought I was going to die, and everyone I met along the way acted like I was Amelia Earhart going on an impossible mission.
Look at me! I’m alive and still travel solo! I love doing it, and I will continue to do it until the apocalypse… or I find my soul mate. I’m betting on the former.
When I wasn’t traveling solo, most of the time I was traveling with my grandmother; my favourite person in the world. We were compatible together. She was yin and I was yang. Or, was I yang? Whatever the case, we knew how to travel together with compromise, patience, and fairness. Key point being: we liked each other. A lot. There are not many people I like that much. This is why I seldom travel with others.
I’ve also traveled with my 4 immediate family members; my brothers and parents. This was a few years back. My father rented an apartment and we lived in Paris for a week. The week felt like centuries due to incompatibility. Like most families, we fought most of the trip. We fought about where to go, what to do, what we didn’t like about each other, who wore it best… those sorts of things. No one was on the same page and no one wanted to compromise, sometimes out of spite. When we weren’t fighting, we had a great time for 20 minutes! Personally, I don’t think I’d do it again. I think we’d all agree on that. Not because of Paris or because we’re all terrible people (well, I won’t completely disregard the possibility) but because 5 people with very different personalities and interests living in a small space in a foreign country does not bode well.
About three years ago I went on a road trip with a close friend, and this went much better. Unfortunately, however, I had no money and no driver’s license. This left my poor amigo to do all the grunt work. I felt bad, and I can’t imagine he didn’t feel any resentment. I tried to pull my end by being good company, but it just didn’t feel right. Nonetheless, we had an amazing time. To this day, I think about that experience whenever I need a pick-me-up, and we reminisce when we chat. Why did that work? Because we’ve only spent time together in weird situations. We live far away from each other, so we’ve gotten used to being on the road or in less-that-ideal housing/eating/weather conditions.
We can go with the flow and recognize when we’re in a bad mood or an issue is not worth debating. If we got to that point we’d just go eat and drink and be merry! Or use social media playtime to lighten the mood. Our personalities are typically quite copacetic, so we are fortunate. This would not be the case for all buddies. Some people need things their way and to have a plan and for everything to be straight and narrow. If you’re an odd couple, in which case opposites attract, that’s great, but travel might be difficult. Unless, of course, one person wants to be the planner, while the other makes room and time for adventures. It’s not impossible!
I travel alone usually because I love the freedom. I don’t want someone else’s fears, dislikes, concerns, and obstacles to get in my way. Not to mention, planning and paying and arranging for one person is so much easier than two or three or a group of ten! If I want a ticket or a seat last second, there’s a good chance they can make room for me. If I want to stay at the home of a stranger or take an impromptu skydiving lesson, I don’t have to consult or deliberate. Everything is in my control.
Most people assume traveling alone is lonely. If you need constant companionship, then I suppose it would be. If you’re independent and willing to meet whomever you happen to meet along the way, then you’re rarely at a loss for compan…. if you want it. If you need to be alone, it’s much easier to leave the bar or cafe and self-reflect if you don’t have to make sure you know where Jimmy and Sue are at all times.
When it comes to self-reflection, this can go both ways. Some people travel alone in hopes of “finding” themselves or gaining personal insight. Something about spiritual connections and chugging Robitussin? I don’t know, everyone has their own habits and hobbies. I don’t believe in this, though. If there is a lesson or a moral, it’ll find me. Not that I’m opposed to keeping an open mind and open ears and whatnot, but I don’t recommend going out and seeking answers or the meaning and purpose to life. You’re likely to be disappointed. If you do find your OM, all the better! Whatever keeps you kickin’.
However, if you intend to travel just so you can put the stories online and tell a cute story, I will be the one kickin’ you. Hey, it’s your life, do whatever you need to do… But, that’s a whole lot of time, money, and forced smiling just so you can convince others that you’re interesting. I try to take at least one photo of myself on each trip, I admit. Sometimes it’s due to peer pressure-“Fine, mom, I’ll get a photo of me pretending to vomit out a pyramid…” and other times, I just feel like comparing my face to that of Mona Lisa. How else can one judge thine own true beauty? There has never been a time when I felt I had to pose in front of every rock and splinter on a trip, and that is because most landmarks are attractive and interesting enough on their own. You don’t need my goofy grin pointing to the entrance of the Holocaust museum or my fingers expressing peace and rock’n’roll in front of a mountain I saw for 10 seconds and never climbed.
What I also enjoy about not having a familiar face along for the ride is that I can be as weird or as normal or as out of my norm as I want. No matter how comfortable you are with someone, we all have a habit of remaining that same person when we’re with them. Maybe at home you’re the loud extrovert who sleeps in late and parties all night. What if you want a break? Maybe while in England, you want to get on a bus, put on headphones, and enjoy a long, educational tour. Alternatively, maybe the quiet book nerd needs a break from studying and wants to get all crunk up in there. Where? Wherever you want, ’cause you’re alone!
Solo traveling is not for everyone, that’s for sure. I probably shouldn’t even be trusted in my own home alone… But it also can be wonderful. Maybe you’re better company than you think! Each trip is a new mystery, adventure, and learning experience. It’s the best way to save money, avoid stress, focus on yourself, and make room for new friends and unexpected journeys.
However, know what you’re getting into. You will have to take care of yourself, so be sure to know where you’re going, and know what the locals will expect of you. Respect, safety, and awareness are absolutely necessary. I think you’re ready for it.
Michael Zullo says
Very good article, Ariel – pics too. I forwarded your article to all of our travel pals and friends who we’ve met traveling the globe non-stop for the past 8-years.
I love the freedom solo travel brings, I miss not being able to share things with someone I already know.