When people find out that I’ve traveled alone, they always react in awe, “You went there alone…but how? Weren’t you scared?” That’s the classic reaction. And my response is always the same, “No, I loooooove traveling alone!”
Solo travel is friggin’ awesome because it’s so liberating! In my daily life, I have a bunch of people to answer to at home and at work. When I travel alone, I plan the trip the way I want and I sign up for the things I want to do and I go for however long I want.
I love traveling with friends, too, but it’s different when I travel alone. Not only is it personally liberating, but it’s so much more eye opening of a travel experience because there’s no one to distract me from living in the now when I’m traveling. I have more time to reflect on life and I have more opportunities to meet other travelers and locals – where’s the downside in all this? Additionally, because I’m willing to travel solo, I am free to go anywhere in the world that calls to me. My travel plans don’t hinge on a friend’s plans nor do I have to deal with friends who flake on travel plans at the last minute or friends who wish they could go but don’t have the time or money (I’m sure we all have friends like this).
If you’ve had to turn down travel plans because you didn’t have anyone to go with you, if you’ve put off visiting a bunch of places on your bucket list because you’re waiting for the perfect person to go with, or if the thought of solo travel scares you to death, let me give you 17 reasons why you should travel solo:
- With only yourself to answer to, you’re on your own schedule. You could sleep in, stay out all night, or add a last minute day trip – without needing to consult anyone prior to making that decision. I relish this fact whenever I travel alone. I love that if I’m tired from walking around all day, I can go back to my hotel early. I can check out local shows for no other reason than “because I feel like it”. I can go back to the same restaurant two days in a row because I thought the food was so damn good.
- You can spend more time observing the culture than you could if you were chatting with travel buddies. When I travel with a friend, we can catch up on life and share inside jokes. But, when I’m doing that, my focus is on my friend and less on my immediate surroundings. When I travel alone, I can’t help but observe everything that is going on around me – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the customs. I can take it all in.
- You increase your chances of befriending locals. Who else would you ask if you have questions, need directions, or want recommendations? I normally keep to myself when I’m at home, but when I’m abroad, I’m more outgoing version of myself. I love to talk to locals to enrich my own travel experience. They are the perfect group to ask for recommendations or just to strike up a chat at a cafe. It works both ways, too! Locals are sometimes curious when they see that you’re traveling alone and may strike up a conversation with you, too. When I was in Paris, a French waiter who realized my French pronunciation needed work actually offered to help me practice French whenever I came back to the cafe!
- You’re more likely to meet other travelers along the way who often have their own interesting stories, tips, and experiences to share. This is similar to the point I just made, but in addition to talking to locals, you’ll find that it’s easier to meet other travelers, too. I love meeting other travelers on the road and hearing their travel stories. It’s an opportunity to not only swap travel tips but to learn about the culture where that traveler is from, too. And it’s so easy to make friends with other travelers when you’re both in an foreign destination and going through the same travel experiences.
- You can devote as much time as you want to your guilty travel pleasure – shopping for souvenirs, lingering over an art exhibit, wandering the markets, hunting down the best food joints, snapping perfect photos – without having to worry about boring your travel companions. I love taking photos of random observations when I travel – whether it’s a funny sign, a weird looking animal, a beautiful view, etc. I often take multiple shots of the same thing so that I can sort through my photos later and pick out my favorite. I also have the patience to wait for the “perfect” shot. My travel companions, however, are generally happy to snap one photo and be done with it. When I travel alone, I can be snap happy without concern that my friend is waiting for me to finish.
- You’re more likely to pick up on the local language. If you don’t have anyone to speak English to, you’ll have the time to learn the key phrases and even to practice them! It was amazing how fast I picked up Swedish after being in Sweden for just a couple of weeks (and Swedes even speak English). I could read menus, say the numbers, and find my way around reading the Swedish signs.
- You’ll have time to finally catch up on old books you’ve been telling yourself you’d read “one day”. There’s no better time to read all those books on your Kindle than when you’re traveling alone. I love reading in flight, on the train, while dining out – any time I have some time to kill. In fact, I get most recreational reading done while traveling!
- You can go to all those exotic places on your bucket list now that you don’t have to find a travel companion to go with you. “Africa, anyone? No? Ok, I’ll just go by myself!” Many years ago, I was dying to go to Africa but with friends whose travel desires are less, um, adventurous, any attempts at finding willing travel companions was futile. I didn’t want to wait around forever until I found a travel partner because I had so many more places on my travel hit list still! I wanted to go to Africa that year. So, I bought my ticket and went – solo – and never looked back.
- You can travel for as long or as little as you want since you’re not coordinating schedules with others. Speaking of Africa, I wanted to go for five weeks. Even if I found a friend who was interested in going, do you know how hard it would be to convince someone to go for five weeks?! Especially given that the average number of vacation days in the U.S. is ten a year?! By committing to solo travel, I experienced Africa on my terms and for the whole five weeks (it takes that long to truly experience the beauty of the continent and even then I only hit up Southern Africa).
- You don’t have to keep track of who is paying for what and who owes who money like you would if you traveled with a friend. When I travel with friends, there are so many things to split – the hotel bill, the restaurant bills, the tour company deposits, taxi fees, rental cars – it all adds up, and one of us ends up keeping a log so that we can settle everything later. Obviously, this minor administrative task is unnecessary when I travel alone since I only need to keep track of my own expenses.
- Got lost for two hours walking in the wrong direction? Accidentally ordered pigs feet when you thought you were ordering a steak? Walked into the wrong bathroom? No one will tease you about your travel mishaps if no one is there to witness them! Sometimes it is fun to share travel mishaps with your travel companions especially when neither one of you knew the better. Sometimes, it’s just embarrassing. If you travel alone, you make the call about what stories you want to share with your friends and family when you regale them later with all your travel tales.
- You won’t run the risk of getting sick of your travel companions if you don’t have any. Even the best of friends get on each others nerves after spending day in and day out together for days on end. And you know this happens to married couples. Why put a friendship through that awkwardness if you don’t have to?
- You are more likely to enrich your travel experience with unexpected adventures. This is one of the best reasons for traveling alone. When you’re alone in a foreign country, you’re more open to engaging in conversations which could turn into invitations for unplanned travel detours that will ultimately make your experience there so much more memorable. The first day I arrived in Dubrovnik, my host set up a group dinner for everyone staying at this guesthouse. If I were with a friend, I probably would have declined that dinner invitation and opted to dine in the old town for dinner instead, but since I was by myself with no dinner plans, I decided to go. It ended up being an unexpectedly fun night – my host surprised the group with a gorgeous night time view of the city from Mount Surge, we learned about traditional Croatian foods, I met other guests who I ended up enjoying drinks with later during the stay, I heard first hand accounts of what it was like to live through the Croatian War of Independence, and I indulged in a delicious and real, traditional, Croatian meal. You can’t pay for experiences like that when you’re traveling and you definitely can’t plan for them – but it’s those unique, random, unplanned travel experiences that make traveling worthwhile.
- You’ll learn a lot about yourself. When you travel alone you’re forced to plan the itinerary yourself and figure out what you really like and what you really don’t like. Then when you’re actually traveling, you’ll have only yourself to rely on to get around. In the process, you’ll uncover your hidden strengths and weakness. The first time I traveled alone, I was on a ten day trip to Cologne, Amsterdam, and Paris. I figured I had lived abroad, how hard could this be? I was looking forward to having ten days of “alone time”. In reality, however, I quickly learned that about three days was as long as I could go without any sort of meaningful conversation so I started engaging in conversations with everyone I came across! Up until that experience, I always thought I loved alone time, but now I know that I can only handle a small amount of it, which in turn made me appreciate the company I had at home in a new way.
- You don’t have to plan activities around anyone’s budget except your own. If you’ve ever traveled with friends who are “on a budget” while you have money to spare, you’ll know all that all the decisions you have to jointly make are surrounded by “how much does that cost?” Alternatively, maybe you have a friend who only is willing to pay a premium for certain travel experiences that you wouldn’t want to do even if it were free. When you’re traveling with others who have different budgets, conversations about what to do and how much to spend get old real quick. Luckily, when you travel alone, you can choose to blow your budget or save every penny depending on the travel experiences that you and only you value the most!
- You can eat the type of meals you want. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing awkward about dining solo. Any awkwardness is in your head. I love dining solo because of the freedom that comes with it. I can try the hottest restaurant or the famed local eatery on a whim and I don’t have to concern myself with a travel companion’s selective, allergic, or less adventurous food palate. My dining choices also aren’t limited to anyone’s budget but my own. At dinner, I can also read a good book, plan my next day’s adventures, or sit back and people watch.
- You’ll realize there’s nothing to be afraid of. This is always one of the main things that hinder people from solo travel and I’d like to dispel any fears now:
- If you’re afraid of safety, sign up for day tours or figure out ahead of time which neighborhoods to avoid.
- If you’re afraid of getting lost, bring a map and ask locals for directions. If all else fails, take taxis.
- If you’re afraid of not having anyone there to watch out for you, give a copy of your itinerary to a loved one back home and check in with them daily so they know you’re safe.
- If you’re afraid of being scammed, do your research ahead of time so you’ll know the scams to watch out for.
- If you’re afraid of being lonely, you won’t be! You may be in a foreign country but you’ll have plenty of opportunities to interact with locals and meet other travelers.
- If you’re afraid you’ll be “disconnected” from what’s going on at home or at work, sign up for a global data plan on your cell, bring a laptop, or pop into an internet cafe.
- If you’re afraid you don’t know the language, learn one phrase in the language: “Do you speak English?” People are overwhelmingly friendly and will help you if they can. Guidebooks often have other key phrases in the back of the book that you can refer to if you’re stuck, but I’ve been able to go to six continents and 60 countries without learning much more than, “Do you speak English?”
- If you’re afraid you won’t know what there is to do, invest in a good guide book and ask for recommendations from locals.
- If you’re afraid because you don’t know what to expect, that is a totally normal fear and one that’s easily alleviated with upfront planning and the acceptance that you can’t plan for everything – there will be travel challenges and you’ll likely overpay for something along the way, but that’s true whether you travel with a friend or alone! Rest assured, however, that the longer you’re into your trip, the more comfortable you get (even if it’s being more comfortable with being uncomfortable), and when you come to the end of your travels, you’ll realize it wasn’t so hard after all! In fact, you’ll realize you had nothing to be afraid of and everything to look forward to!
Have you traveled solo before? What was the best part?