Traveling is all a matter of preference I guess: some people love to explore on their own, and some might feel safer or just have more fun when traveling in a group. I always find myself somewhere in the middle.
I’ve taken nine trips this semester, and on six I travelled alone. For one city I met up with family, so let’s call it an even five. Either way, there’s a lot that happens when you travel somewhere for the first time, whether you’re by yourself or traveling with other people. Sometimes traveling alone is awesome, and other times it’s (get this) lonely.
One of the biggest challenges (or “adventure”, as some people call it) when visiting a city is figuring out transportation. Just getting from the airport can be a chore, and even if you’re a native English-speaker, sometimes you can’t even rely on that. Sometimes, transportation in an English-speaking city is the most complicated you’ll run into (@London).
I find navigating my way around a city much easier when I’m alone. The reasons are pretty simple. For one, I never have to worry if who I’m with wants to walk so they can see more of the city, or they’re tired and want to use public transport instead. I gauge how I’m feeling at the time, and pretty much make it up as I go along. This means you don’t have worry about accommodating, and you can just set off on your own. As I said in my “Reflections” post, CityMapper and Transit will always be your friend.
Another thing to consider is planning. Now I know there is a huge contingency of humans that love just wandering around and seeing what’s up. I don’t find myself in that group very often. I like to go to a city having a pretty good idea of what I want to see, and a rough order of how I’ll go about it. That being said, even the best plan doesn’t make it past the first round. There are times when you have to improvise, and traveling alone is great in those situations. There’s no need to gather a consensus on changing the plan, or check on everyone to make sure their feelings aren’t hurt because we’re missing something. Just figure out what you want to do, and go do it.
Sightseeing alone is also great when it comes to time. When you’re alone, you can stay somewhere as long as you’d like or leave early if you’re not really feeling it. I spent 3 hours at one church once, and I could because I didn’t have to worry about wasting someone else’s time. If you value what you’re doing, then it can’t be considered a waste at all.
Food is great, I think we can all get on board with that. It’s one of my favorite things in fact, and when I go somewhere I try to eat at least one thing for which that city/country/culture is famous, for better or worse. It’s hard enough for you and your friends to choose between Moe’s and Chipotle (it’s Chipotle don’t @ me), let alone choose a restaurant in a place with possibly completely different cuisine than you’re accustomed to, in a language you don’t know. I’ve had some great culinary experiences traveling with friends, but some of my best ones have come alone. Getting a full Hungarian 3 course meal for a sketchy-low price is a lot easier to sell when you’re only convincing yourself. Eat wherever you want, whenever you want. As long as you like it, you can’t go wrong.
There’s a common theme here: freedom. If you’re someone who values freedom and independence in traveling, then going at it alone is probably going to be your best bet. Or, at least having the ability to split from your friends if two roads diverge in a wood.
Even though I’ve sung the praises of traveling solo, there are some drawbacks. Firstly, there’s the issue of taking pictures. Now personally, I’m not one for taking pictures of myself. Out of around 1100 pictures on my phone, maybe twelve are just of me. It wasn’t even super comfy to have a picture of me as the cover image for this post, but it illustrates a point. But, if you want to snap a picture to send home to mom and you’re not a fan of selfies, it is really hard when traveling alone. You have that awkward moment where you have to ask a perfect stranger to take the picture, and hope they don’t book it with your phone. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme, but something to think about.
There are some other miscellaneous drawbacks too. AirBnb’s are more expensive when you can’t split them with someone, your phone might not always work in other countries (better to have a friend for backup GPS), and in general you miss out on some shared experience.
Most of all, though, is the fact that sometimes it’s painfully obvious that you’re alone. I don’t mean to other people, but rather to yourself. You look at something and think, “Oh so-and-so would love that”, or you’re the only solo person in a tour group, or the lift to the top of the tower has an even number limit and you’re stuck at the bottom waiting for the next one. Talk about being the odd man out.
There are times where awesome and unexpected moments happen while traveling. Studying abroad also has a knack for making complete strangers best friends, and making friends as thick as thieves. It’s part of human nature to want to belong, to be a part of a group. So yes, sometimes traveling alone sucks. There are times when it’s lonely, you wish you were with friends or your significant other, or you just want to be able to share that moment with someone. That’s where your “famine” happens.
As with everything in life, though, it’s about balance. My time spent traveling alone makes me appreciate the group trips more, and vice versa. So go travel: alone, with friends, with roommates, or whomever. Roll with it, go with the flow, and see what happens. Mix it up, venture out, and you’ll come out the other side better for having set out either way.
Until next time,
More Blogs From This Author
<p>I am 21 years old, a rising senior at Wofford College, and I am pursuing a B.A. in Finance. My interests include cars, motorcycles (pretty much anything with wheels), and sports. I pass my free time by hanging out with family and friends, going to the movies, working out, and watching Netflix. A weird fact about me is that I enjoy philosophical discussions.</p>