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The pros and cons of solo travel

“What? You’re going all by yourself?”

This is the usual response I get when I tell people about the solo trip I’m planning this April. In a tone of voice that says they think I’m crazy.

I posted a couple of days ago about my first solo trip, and every solo trip since then has been like that one: solo, but not really.

For example, many years ago I took a two week trip to Guatemala. My husband had less vacation time than I did, and I heard about the language schools in Antigua, so I signed up. I spent two weeks staying with a host family and studied Spanish every morning. It was great.

But I wasn’t alone. I had my host family. I had my Spanish teacher for one-on-one lessons. I ended up meeting an Israeli girl I spent some time with.

In the last decade, I have led workshops for the International Baccalaureate in various cities throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Each workshop lasted three days, so I was busy with other people for those three days. But whenever I could, I added a day before the workshop and/or a day afterwards to explore the city on my own. I enjoyed it every time (except in Moscow when it happened to be a national holiday so I was unable to set foot on Red Square or see any of the Red Square sights for the entire day). Sometimes I spent that extra day with other people after all, often ones I’d met at the workshop, so this wasn’t solo travel either.

I had one free day before a workshop in Dubai, so I took a diving trip to Fujairah, another emirate in the UAE. There were others on the trip, so I wasn't alone there either.
I had one free day before a workshop in Dubai in 2008, so I took a diving trip to Fujairah, another emirate in the UAE. There were others on the trip, so I wasn’t alone there either.

I’ve gone to London by myself several times, but never for more than a few days.

Mostly, though, when I didn’t travel with family, I traveled with a friend, or went to visit friends or family, so that doesn’t really count as solo travel either, does it?

a traffic jam in Mombasa, where I led a workshop in 2010
a traffic jam in Mombasa, where I led a workshop in 2010

Now, though, I’m planning two trips, one to Guadeloupe and Martinique in April, and one to Asia, probably Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, in the summer. I’m on sabbatical and my husband isn’t, so they’ll both be truly solo trips.

These trips will be longer than any solo travel I’ve done before. I’m looking forward to them but, yes, I’m nervous about traveling for so long on my own.

What I like about solo travel

  1. Doing what I want, and only what I want, at whatever speed I want. That means that if I don’t want to visit that “must-see” museum, I don’t have to. Or I can move through it quickly, seeing what I’m interested in and skipping the rest. I can choose to just sit in a café and watch the people go by, or I can choose to eat as I walk so I can see more of the place. This is the main selling point for going solo, in my opinion.
What I like about solo travel: doing what I want and only what I want, at whatever speed I want. #solotravel #travel @rachelruminates Click To Tweet

The rest of this list, I realize, falls under number 1:

  1. Sleeping late or getting up early, depending on my mood.
  2. Taking a day off and just sitting and reading a book or writing.
  3. Lying on a beach and doing nothing if I feel like it.
  4. Packing a lot of sights into one day, if I feel like it.
  5. Not feeling embarrassed if I snack my way through the day instead of eating balanced meals.
  6. Skipping a meal if I’m enjoying what I’m doing.
  7. Talking to complete strangers if I want to, or not talking to anyone if I don’t want to.
  8. My internal monologue that turns into blog posts. It’s harder to carry out that monologue when I’m talking to people.

What I don’t like about solo travel

  1. Feeling lonely. While I don’t mind being alone, sometimes that turns to loneliness. Talking to strangers or just getting busy doing something helps reduce that feeling.
  2. Missing my husband and kids. There’s often so much I know they’d like to see, especially my husband, but they’re not there to share it with me. Even after 25 years of marriage, and more if you count the years we were together but not married, I still like traveling with my husband much better than traveling alone. (Except when it involves a museum, where he’ll read every single informational sign in the place, taking hours longer than I would. In museums, I don’t miss him.)
  3. Eating in restaurants. It’s awkward eating alone in a restaurant, especially in the time between ordering and receiving your food. I always bring a book with me so I have something to do.
  4. Possible dangers. I suppose in theory it’s not as safe to travel alone. I could get sick or injured or mugged. I’ve never felt like I’m at risk, but perhaps that’s because I’m not shy about talking to people and asking for help. And I’m pretty savvy about avoiding dangerous situations.

Number 2, missing people, especially my husband, is what makes me unsure about my upcoming trips. There’s no way I’ll cancel, though. It may be outside my comfort zone, but I love and even need to travel, so I’ll go anyway.

Yet many people talk to me like they think I’m crazy for planning solo travel.

Do you think I’m crazy? Have you ever traveled by yourself? How was it? Please add a comment below!

14 Comments

  • Anneke

    February 7, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Even truly “alone” travel never remains alone. I did two weeks alone in Massachusetts, with a combination of hostels/hotels and host families. I was invited to the neighbourhood BBQ or taken to a basketball game when I was staying with hosts, and when I was in the hostel, I watched an old Batman film with someone also staying there. Hell, even just doing tourist-y things and ending up walking the Freedom Trail in Boston with a vicar from Alabama is not a rare experience. (Although maybe the vicar from Alabama is).
    I do find it is a whole different experience when you’re travelling alone in a country where you do not understand the language – it makes me significantly more uncomfortable. I tend to make sure I have someone to meet or a specific English language activity about once a week to fight off the home sickness. After being in a foreign language for some time, even having a familiar language makes being away from home easier.
    As for eating alone at restaurants – I tend to write in my journal or read a book/local newspaper. I don’t mind being alone at a restaurant though; I do that at home as well as when travelling.
    At the end of the day, travelling solo makes me more open to the experiences, because I’m not worried about other peoples needs. I remember more, I indulge more often, and I become more fearless. I will never meet the people who judge me for my choices again.

    You’re far from crazy, Rachel. I think you have exactly the right idea!

    Reply
    • rachel75

      February 8, 2015 at 9:06 am

      Thanks, Anneke! I should have mentioned that in my list of things I like: not having to worry about anyone else’s needs! There’s real freedom in that! And I appreciate the tip about scheduling something in English now and then. That would help me meet people as well. Thanks!

      Reply
  • hans

    February 7, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    Coming to think of it, I have travelled alone a lot in my earlier life. What I remember is the unexpected encounters with absolute strangers. All these were positive and I never felt lonely.

    Reply
  • Christy@SweetandSavoring

    February 10, 2015 at 4:48 am

    I identify with this a lot- “It may be outside my comfort zone, but I love and even need to travel, so I’ll go anyway.” That’s me! I identify with this whole post and have been working on my called ‘Why I Travel Without My Husband’, haha. One of the things I love most about traveling solo is the independence I feel and the confidence I gain. Also, it’s where my inspiration blooms when I’m on the road, like I step out onto center stage.

    Reply
  • Doreen Pendgracs

    February 10, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    Hi Rachel. I don’t enjoy travelling alone, but often have to do so for my work. Like you, one of the things I don’t like about it is eating alone in restaurants. To me, eating is a social occasion, so eating alone just doesn’t provide the enjoyment for me– even if the food is exquisite. But there certainly are some benefits to solo travel as you have mentioned, and it;’s certainly becoming much more popular for women to do so! Enjoy your trips.

    Reply
    • rachel75

      February 11, 2015 at 7:37 am

      Thanks, Doreen! On this trip to the Caribbean I don’t think I’ll be eating in restaurants much. I need to keep my spending down as much as possible! And when I’m alone, you’re right, it becomes much more about sustenance than enjoyment.

      Reply
  • Tracie Howe

    February 12, 2015 at 12:29 am

    You’re going to have SO much fun! There is no use worrying about ALL of your fears now, just take them each as they come when and if they happen. The other great thing about solo travel is that it’s much easier to meet other people, people like you who are traveling alone. Keep that in mind. I always get lonely when I first arrive somewhere, but I always end up meeting people. You’ll be fine! 🙂

    Reply
  • Chris

    February 13, 2015 at 4:39 am

    You’re certainly not crazy!

    As you’ve quite thoroughly pointed out, there are Pros & Cons to travelling solo, but there is an element of bravery to it as well, so pat yourself on the back! 🙂

    Reply
  • Cyra | Gastronomic Nomad

    February 14, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Great post Rachel! I often travel with friends or my boyfriend – at least, meeting friends at some point in the destination, but the times when I have gone truly solo, I have always ended up connecting with other travellers or even locals somehow.

    It’s true that eating in restaurants can be a bit awkward, thankfully after a long time on the road now (and wanting some “me” time in the evenings as I travel for 6 months of the year for work) I have gotten comfortably used to being the girl with no friends.

    You are right, a good book always helps, and thankfully in Spain, where I am travelling mostly for work, the culture can be very casual when eating out – just some tapas alongside drinks in the bar. This means I always end up chatting with the bar person or other people also hanging out at the same bar, I never truly feel like I have no company unless I really don’t want any.

    Reply
    • rachel75

      February 15, 2015 at 12:52 am

      Thanks, Cyra! You’re right: there are lots of opportunities to find people to talk to, and I’m not shy about talking to strangers. I’ll just be a bit nervous at the beginning of the trip, I think. We’ll see. I’m sure I’ll post about it here at some point during the trip.

      Reply

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