Though it may sound like something you'd find inside a fortune cookie, sometimes the best travel companion you can have is yourself. As a travel editor, I spend a lot of time on the road, often by myself, and I've learned that solo travel is easier than you might think, totally liberating, and completely rewarding in a way few other experiences in life can match. Like many travelers, I used to never go anywhere alone, but after a few eye-opening, life-changing experiences, I'm hooked on solo travel--and I'm not the only one.
In recent years, interest in traveling alone has skyrocketed, and those in the travel industry all over the world have come up with ways to cater to this growing segment. If you've ever wanted to travel alone but been too afraid, if it's something you did once and vowed never to do again, if you absolutely hate the idea of going somewhere without someone you know, now's the time to reconsider. Think of it this way: You have a limited amount of time and money to spend on travel, so why not customize it to your individual preferences so that you can maximize your satisfaction? If that's not enough to convince you, here are ten reasons why you should consider solo travel.
1. IT MAKES TRIP PLANNING EASIER
We all have bucket lists of places we want to travel to in our lifetime, but all too often we hold ourselves back from experiences because we have no one to share them with. Everyone has different schedules, budgets, and traveling interests, so waiting around for the right time or the right person to join you for a train trip to Niagara Falls, gourmet dining in Lyon, or backpacking around Southeast Asia is a waste. When you travel alone, only your needs matter, and you can plan something at the last minute if you desire.
So go ahead and take a day trip to a nearby town or a month-long jaunt across Europe--this is your life to live and you deserve to have the travel experiences you want. I'm not suggesting you go on every vacation alone, but it would be a shame to skip local and far-flung destinations just because you don't feel like going by yourself.
2. YOU'LL GET TO ENJOY "ME TIME"
In our ever-connected world filled with digital distractions, it can be a challenge to take the time that's necessary to recharge one's battery. Fortunately, solo travel offers the time and space that's necessary for valuable alone time. Even if you're not the type of person who goes off the grid when traveling, being alone on the road will give you the opportunity to reflect on life and enjoy your own company. Some people have an innate aversion to doing things individually, but giving yourself alone time, especially for an extended period, is a gift that you will eventually learn to relish.
What's more, you'll learn a lot about yourself in a way that's simply impossible when you're in the midst of your normal daily routine. I often surprise myself by the new interests I develop when I'm traveling or the way I interact with strangers differently than I would when I'm home. I'm also able to look at my life with some distance and think about my future goals with a fresh set of eyes. Often when I'm on the road alone, I'll have vivid dreams about issues that are affecting me, and these can lead to meaningful solutions. Everyone should have the opportunity to check in with himself or herself from time to time, and solo travel offers the perfect conditions for introspection.
3. YOU'RE THE MASTER OF YOUR ITINERARY
If you've ever planned a vacation with another person or a group of people, you know that picking the dates alone can be a hassle, and that's just the beginning. Where will you stay? What will you eat? Who's planning the itinerary? Is everyone onboard with this plan? What if you can't do everything that you want to do? Simply put, planning a trip with anyone else is an exercise in compromise and negotiation.
Instead, why not make the most of your time and money by planning the getaway of your dreams without any interference? Whether you want to spend three days on a beach doing absolutely nothing or visit ten museums in one weekend, there's no one to stand in your way when you're traveling alone. You can sleep as little or as much as you want, eat what your heart desires, and indulge yourself with whatever makes you happy. Traveling is supposed to be relaxing, and it's never more so than when you are your own trip planner. You don't even have to plan if you don't want to--be spontaneous if that's your thing. The whole point is getting what you want out of a vacation.
4. YOU'LL MAKE NEW FRIENDS (IF YOU WANT)
Without a doubt, one of the biggest deterrents from solo travel is the fear of feeling lonely. The truth, however, is that you'll never feel this way if you make the right choices. For meals, find restaurants where you can dine at the bar and interact with the bartender or skip restaurants altogether and stick to street food or groceries. Want to meet some locals? Research lively cafes or bars that appeal to your tastes; if you're in a foreign country, try to find spots that are popular with expats. Sign up for cooking classes or museum tours to meet people with similar interests.
If you are overseas, speaking the local tongue will be a great help in interacting with strangers. But keep in mind that English is as close to a universal language as we've got, so you're already in good shape. Also bear in mind that being a solo traveler automatically makes you an interesting person with a story to tell anyone you meet, so capitalize on that. Of course, if you're not looking to build your social network, being a solo traveler allows you to be as antisocial as you want to be. It's all about knowing what works for you.
5. YOUR EXPERIENCES WILL BE MORE MEANINGFUL
Obviously there are many benefits to traveling with friends or loved ones, but other people can often serve as distractions from the destination you're visiting. Whether you make a new international friend or discover your favorite new museum, the experiences you have when traveling alone tend to feel more profound, and those memories tend to last longer.
When you travel with someone else, the trip is more about your shared experiences, which can be a great thing in some cases, but not always. If a vacation is about having a great time with someone you know, by all means go forth, but if you're really looking to connect with a place and its people, consider going there alone.
6. IT WILL BOOST YOUR CONFIDENCE
I still feel a bit nervous when I'm kicking off a solo trip, but in the end, nothing makes me feel more confident or capable than conquering the world on my own. Successfully ordering a meal in botched German, picking up the latest British slang, chatting up locals at a farmers' market in Vermont, making new friends in Hong Kong, navigating the idiosyncrasies of train systems all over the world--these are some of the rewards I've gained from my solo adventures. It's nice to have someone to rely on, but it's particularly satisfying when that someone is you.
The more you travel alone, the more likely you are to feel the same way, like you can tackle any challenge with aplomb. No English menu at a Bangkok restaurant? Not a problem. Transit strike in France? No sweat. Stuck overnight at O'Hare? You can deal with that. Of course, the more confident you feel when traveling alone, the more confident you'll feel at home. Whenever one of life's little challenges emerge, you can simply remind yourself of all that you've handled on your own all over the world--it'll put your problems in perspective.
7. IT WILL MAKE YOU A BETTER TRAVELER
Traveling alone makes you a better observer of people and places around you, which in turn has the power to make you more compassionate and a better person overall. Being an outsider, however slight or extreme, automatically changes the way you interact with others, and these changes are positive when it comes to travel. In addition to making you kinder and more patient, solo travel increases your curiosity about your surroundings, and chances are you'll learn a lot about others simply by paying more attention than you would if you were with a travel companion.
Being alone also affords you the time to properly document and reflect on your travels. If you want to spend an afternoon photographing your favorite neighborhood in Montréal, you can do that. If you want to spend thirty minutes every night writing about what you ate that day, you'll have time for that. In the future, these travel mementos will be just as valuable as the trips.
8. YOU CAN STAY WITHIN YOUR BUDGET
Money is always a pressure point when it comes to travel, and everyone has different spending habits and attitudes. So it's much easier to figure out your budget for a trip and plan accordingly. Even if you have shared finances with a spouse or travel with someone in the same tax bracket, the two of you may have completely different ideas of how much to spend on a hotel, for example.
And you yourself may spend differently from one trip to another. For instance, if you want to embark on a Michelin-starred gastronomic adventure in Tokyo, you may be willing to settle for less posh accommodations than you would choose if you were, say, spending a long weekend on the beach in Tulum. It's simply much easier to create your own budget and stick to it rather than overspending because you travel with someone with expensive taste.
9. YOU'LL FEEL MORE SATISFIED IN THE END
I'm willing to bet that everyone who has ever traveled with at least one other person has experienced some level of disappointment on vacation. Perhaps you got into a fight in Beijing because you couldn't find a certain restaurant, it was late, you were both hungry, and you had already been traveling for a week and a half and that's a lot of time to spend with anyone. Or maybe you were a little annoyed to discover, in Berlin, that your boyfriend's study of German did not actually make him useful at communicating in the language. No matter how big or small, problems can and do arise when people travel together.
When you travel alone, the stakes are lower because you only have to worry about keeping yourself happy. Are you going to feel bitter because you slept in one morning? Highly unlikely. Will you hold a grudge because you spent too much time at a museum? Nope. Will you feel like you're wasting time if you just want to sit in a café for a few hours? Not a chance. When you make yourself the sole arbiter of what to do on vacation, you remove the risk of disappointment and you keep things drama-free, which is a good way to keep your trip feeling both relaxing and satisfying.
10. YOU'LL FIND THE ANSWER TO AN IMPORTANT QUESTION
If you've never traveled alone because your first thought is, "What would I even do with myself?" I implore you to plan a solo trip immediately. In addition to everything I've mentioned above, you will daydream, you will read, you will have exciting adventures, you will encounter funny things to tell your friends about, you will sleep well, you will eat new things, you will discover new neighborhoods, you will want to learn new languages, you will think about your next trip, you will talk to strangers, you will take risks, you will buy new clothes, you will learn about history and culture, you will go to concerts, you will stroll through parks, you will explore cities by bike, you will think about moving, and so much more. In fact, there's so much you can do when you travel alone that you'll wonder how you ever managed to travel with someone else in the past.
By: Michael Alan Connelly