This article is a travel topic
Whilst traveling with friends or organized groups is fairly common, by choice or by necessity many people travel alone. Traveling alone is a unique experience and can be a very rewarding way of traveling, despite a few drawbacks.
People travel because of different reasons, some of which are personal, while others are job oriented. Traveling alone is a growing trend and almost 60% of Americans say they would travel alone to another US city.
Many people travel solo out of choice whereas others do so because they were not able to find a travel companion. According to Google, search volume for the term "solo travel" more than quadrupled from 2014 to 2020.
Solo female travel is, particularly on the rise. A survey found that 50% of the women worldwide had been on a holiday on their own and that they travel alone more than men.
Since 2015, when the first solo female travel group on Facebook was created, many more online communities have appeared to connect women traveling solo and the number of tour companies offering women-only tours has skyrocketed.
Advantages to traveling alone
- Your time and budget are your own. It's all up to you how much time to spend someplace, what your daily modes of travel will be, what places you visit, where you eat, how much you spend or when you wake up. Flexibility in your travel choices is often the number one reason people prefer to travel on their own.
- Reflection and personal growth. Solo travel gives you the ability to spend time with one-self, for introspection, self-actualization or for personal growth. You can travel on your own to a yoga retreat, to join a meditation program, to a surfing camp, or to a wellness resort. Transformative travel is a growing trend that is best enjoyed on your own.
- Build self-confidence. Many people decide to travel on their own to prove themselves they can do it or to overcome a fear or anxiety. Solo travel is seen as the ultimate bravery and being able to that means the encouragement and belief that anything is possible and helps a lot of people, especially women, build elf-confidence.
- It's easier to make friends. Many great opportunities to interact with the locals on a personal level can be found and enjoyed when you are not distracted by a conversation with your travel companion. When traveling alone, you make yourself more interesting and accessible to locals and to other travelers who might approach you and strike a conversation.
- More space to make your trip entirely your own. Solo travel can be a great opportunity for reflection and moving at an individual pace. Traveling by yourself, you only have to please yourself.
- Personal learning. When you are on your own without anyone to rely on or to blame, you have an opportunity to learn. This can be a new skill such as bargaining, a language that you spoke a little of, problem-solving unexpected setbacks and complications, or a new point of view on reality. Traveling alone gives you the mental and physical space to learn.
- Get over a traumatic event. Traveling is a form of escapism and many people take their first solo trip after a traumatic event like the loss of a loved one or a breakup. Being away from the regular environment and seeing the world through the lens of a different culture often provides perspective to our own difficulties.
Disadvantages to traveling alone
- Inconvenience. There is nobody to help you carry things, to split queueing with you, to ask for directions, or to help Google something, you are on your own.
- Affordability. It's more expensive, as there is no one to share costs with. Rooms are usually about the same price for one or for two. You'll need to budget a little bit more.
- Vulnerability and fear. One of the main disadvantages of traveling alone is the lack of someone who can help you feel safe and the perceived vulnerability of being on your own. This is also one of the main reasons why people don't travel on their own.
- Loneliness. Traveling alone means having meals on your own, seeing incredible places without someone to share them with, or experiencing once in a lifetime moments with nobody for company. Even those who love traveling solo will experience moments of solitude and loneliness on their travels.
- Boredom. Travel can often involve lots of waiting which may lead to boredom if we have nobody to play games with or converse.
- You have to plan everything on your own. Traveling alone also means the planning effort is all on you. You need to do all the research and all the bookings.
- Arguments with family and loved ones. As a relatively new trend, many travelers still have to convince family and loved ones that traveling alone is fine, especially women and younger travelers.
- Social stigma. In conservative societies, solo travel is not socially acceptable or condoned and, particularly women will have to fight the local stigmas to be able to travel on their own.
Some destinations lend themselves better to solo travel than others. You may find places where accommodations for a single traveler are less restrictive or expensive. There may also be places that cater to individual travelers.
Pack as light as possible. When traveling with friends the burdens can be shared; one person can watch the gear while another waits in line for train tickets, buy drinks, or goes to the toilet. By yourself, you'll probably have to bring your things everywhere you go and prepare for tasks on your own.
Take intercity trains instead of buses, you can move around freely and mingle with other passengers. On most long-distance trains the locals bring along a picnic, take some extra food to share with new friends.
Try not to look at maps in busy streets of foreign cities (which will mark you as an easy target for pickpockets) - do the map reading in a cafe, and unwind for a while, the refreshment will help you get your bearings. In many cities using a mobile device will blend better than standing on a street corner with a map.
Try to find places with a casual atmosphere in European cities, such as cafeterias in department stores, a pub, or an outdoor patio during warmer weather.
You can also try to connect with other travelers by using a free service called eatwithequals.net. It gives you the possibility to meet with interesting people, share good stories, and expand your network with other global travelers. The goal of eatwithequals.net is to allow small groups of about 4 people to meet over dinner, enjoy a good meal, and leave the table well-fed both in body and mind.
- In places where accommodation is expensive, you can try to team up with other single travelers to share a room and split costs. A good place to meet people for sharing is on the bus/train/plane into a new place. Be cautious about who you trust, obviously, but it can be a great way to save money.
- The more travel-friendly the accommodation, the easier it will be to make new friends. If you're feeling lonely, head to a hostel, not a five-star hotel. Hostels are normally filled with solo travelers, many of them looking to make a friend or two to enjoy a beer with.
- Tours can be a great way to meet other travelers. Especially for walking tours.
- Travel forums can also be a good way to meet other travelers who are in the same destination as you.
- Buy someone a beer! Start a conversation! Even if you're not outgoing at home, now is the time to start. Ask someone that looks like they've been there a while about cool things to see. Politely offer help to someone just arriving, if you know the hotspots (but don't be overbearing) Better yet -- talk to the locals. In some countries, guesthouses are staffed by young people who like making new friends. Ask a local to teach you a few phrases in her language. Ask a local how to make a toast in the local language. Don't be afraid: at worst, you'll never see these people again, at best -- you'll make a new friend.
- Ask people to take your picture or offer to take theirs. It is a great way to initiate a conversation.
- Try something like couch surfing to see if you can find some local to host you. You can get a much richer cultural experience that way.
- Appearance and courtesy matters. Because you meet a lot of people in a short amount of time when traveling, it helps to put "your best foot forward".
- Smoking may be out of fashion back at home, but in a lot of the world, offering up cigarettes is not a bad way to strike up a conversation.
Life is for the living, so don't go crazy with worrying, but a few simple measures can make your solo trip a lot safer:
- If at all possible, arrive at a new place in the daytime. This will give you time to scope out accommodations and get your bearings in the relative safety of daylight. Some places are fine in the day but dangerous at night. Some places are dangerous in the day, but imagine how much worse they are at night!
- Keep a spare stash of cash and other important things, in a different place than you normally keep your money, as you have no one to spot you if you lose your wallet or have your things stolen. See also pickpockets.
- Pay attention to your instincts. If your gut tells you not to get into that cab, take another one. If you have a bad feeling about a neighborhood, a hotel, a person, stay away. Your intuition often picks up on tiny signs of danger before you consciously identify them.
- Be careful about drugs and alcohol. You don't have anyone to watch your back/assist you, or drag you home if you get too drunk to walk. It's a lot harder to make good decisions about who to trust, where to go, what to do if you don't have your wits about you.
- If you're in a semi-dodgy place for more than a short time, try to develop relationships with locals you trust. If you find a good taxi driver (who isn't driving drunk), ask him if he's available to drive you on other days. If you find a good guesthouse/hotel where the staff seems reliable, stick with it. Find a favorite bar, make friends with the barman -- someone who will stick you in a cab when you're too drunk, and who won't set you up to be mugged in a back alley.