Why I Don’t Like Solo Travel

I hadn’t considered solo travel as a viable travel option until last year, when I took advantage of an amazing deal and spent a week in Israel. Since then I’ve been on a couple more solo travel trips, giving me the opportunity to think more about this particular style of travel. While I do enjoy certain aspects of the experience, on the whole I can definitely say that I really don’t enjoy solo travel as much as traveling with my partner.

Jerusalem Dinner

 

One is the Loneliest Number
During normal sightseeing and exploration activities, I actually don’t mind being alone. In fact, it can be liberating to do whatever you want, go in any direction you choose and to not worry whether or not your travel companion is having a good time. No, sightseeing is fine, the worst is at mealtimes.

One of the great constants for any traveler is food. We all have to eat, and most times the culinary travel experience is just as, and sometimes more, enriching than touring around. I didn’t notice how much I depend on mealtime conversation though until it was absent.

Over the course of a week, there are at least 21 opportunities to eat, although I don’t usually eat breakfast, so that number is less for me personally. That’s a lot of time with little else to do other than sit at a table and pretend you’re not bored. Yes, I sometimes bring a book, but I get fairly self-conscious about it, interpreting every glance as an indictment about my personal life. I feel like wearing a placard that says, “I’m in a very happy, stable relationship, he’s just not here right now thank you very much.”

Aside from the imagined dispersions, I get bored when I eat alone. There are only so many times I can pretend to read the menu or play on my phone before I just want to get out of there. On more than one occasion I’ve gone to a takeaway or similarly speedy restaurant just to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of eating alone.

 

Matt at Petra - alone

Sharing is Caring
It’s not an overstatement to say that a significant part of the relationship with my partner is built on shared experiences, especially when traveling. Some of our most treasured memories and funny stories come from travel experiences. When I travel solo, I still have amazing experiences and memories that will last forever, but they seem a bit more shallow. I know that Scott won’t have these memories and it makes me sad that I haven’t been able to share everything with him. Yes, I always tell myself that we’ll return together, but I’m not sure how realistic that is. Some places, like New Zealand, we will absolutely revisit together, but I’m not so sure about other destinations. Even if we do return together, it won’t be the same experience for either of us. I have to confess, I feel like I’m travel cheating on him when I take these solo trips. That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to go on them, I will, but it is definitely an aspect of solo travel that doesn’t leave me with warm fuzzy feelings.

Solo travel can be a great way to explore the world. I’ve really enjoyed “being my own boss” on the road, going wherever I want, whenever I want. I have also had some fantastic interactions with people that I would never have had alone. In Jerusalem, I was invited to the table of a couple who felt bad that I was alone. That evening of frank and earnest conversation is a treasure that I will always remember, and it would not have happened had I been traveling with Scott. Solo travel also allows for unique moments of introspection, one of the most rewarding aspects of the travel experience. Instead of debating the next stop, I tend to slow down and enjoy my surroundings more.

So while I don’t deny the many positive aspects of solo travel, and I’ve enjoyed all of them, if I had to choose, I would always travel as one half of a couple. Sharing my travel experiences with my significant other is just too great a personal joy to relinquish for any reason.

Have you done solo travel? Do you prefer traveling alone, or with someone else?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

36 Responses

  1. Dean

    I agree with the meal thing, when my wife and I are travelling together some of our best times are at dinner sampling the local food with good conversation. When I’m travelling solo I have to miss out on that, it does feel weird sitting at a table by myself. The advantage of travelling alone though is that I seem to be more inclined to go and meet other people, so sometimes I don’t have to sit alone anyway.

    Reply
  2. JanPattersonRN

    Matt, I agree- while I can travel alone, I prefer not to. I’ve gotten past, for the most part, feeling that others look at me with my book and cast aspersions on my single state- if they’ve got disparaging comments to make, let them keep them in their own heads- I’m busy with Lonely Planet or someone else, making my plans for the next day.

    But the most fun is when I’m traveling with my girlfriend in Europe, or with my sons &/or grandson around California. It’s not just meal-times, though you’ve hit the nail on the head there- but the multiplied curiosity, the increased observation, that having more than one point of view leads to.

    I wish I were traveling this summer, but alas! between school and work, there are few opportunities to get away. But I’m already saving toward next year. I find your posts to be both encouraging and inspirational. So, thank you!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks for the feedback and you’re right. It’s important to see the destination through another person’s eyes as well.

      And thanks for the kind words, I appreciate it!

      Reply
  3. Alouise

    I really liked reading this post, and I appreciate your honesty. I love solo travel, but I know it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. For me as much as I like my friends and family, there isn’t anyone I know that I’d want to travel with for longer than a week. I need time to myself, every day to refocus – if I’m with other people all the time I feel like I lose myself. A lot of people don’t get this, my friends will want to hang out together all the time when we travel, which has lead to really stressful situations. So unless it’s a shorter trip I won’t travel with others.

    The eating alone thing was awkward at first, but I got over it. I’m past the age of caring that some stranger in a restaurant might be judging me for eating alone.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Well I’m definitely past that age, but I can’t help it I guess. :)

      And you’re right there is sometimes nothing better than being alone, I really enjoy it from time to time. But, when traveling for a week or more, the need for some human interaction outweighs I need for time alone.

      Reply
  4. Jeremy Branham

    I’ve done the solo travel and couple thing like you. There are pros and cons to both. The older I got, the less I enjoyed solo travel. There are still some great aspects of it but some of it gets old and it can be lonely. I think your view on this depends on where you are in life. If you have a partner, have a life together, and tend to be a little older, the solo travel life just has a different perspective and doesn’t feel the same as it did when you were younger. That’s just my feeling on it so maybe others feel differently.

    Reply
  5. mumun

    Here here to that! I enjoy traveling in a small group of people. It’s more intimate and you still can have some me time.

    “happiness is real when shared”

    Reply
  6. Beverly

    I have to agree with you too, Matt. Sharing travel experiences, both during and after, creates a bond with your companion. You can remember and relive the fun together. A companion offers a different perspective on the shared experience, sometimes one I would miss if left to my own analysis. Besides, I can never take a picture of myself at arm’s length! Good post :)

    Reply
  7. Sheila Gage

    My first trip to Ireland was solo. I agree with your post 100%. I did enjoy certain aspects of it, but I nearly starved to death! I basically lived on Starbucks, a place I rarely go at home. The other parts I don’t like…when you have to go to the bathroom at the airport, there’s no one to leave the carry-on crap with. LOL! And taking photos. I love landscape photography, but it’s nice to actually be IN a photo yourself once in a while. People offer to take pics of couples, but rarely do they offer, or even think to offer, to take pics of lone travelers next to, say, Blarney Castle. But on the other hand, I was free to, on a whim, catch a quick flight to Edinburgh and spend 2 unplanned days there in the middle of my Ireland trip. All in all, it’s better with a travel partner.

    Reply
  8. Erik

    I’ve gotten so spoiled about being able to plan my own schedule without having to compromise, that I actually enjoy traveling solo more than having someone with me. My wife doesn’t travel (I just wrote a blog post abut this yesterday) so that isn’t an option. I do enjoy having my dad with me, but only for part of the trip. I’m an on-the-go guy and my pace usually wears people looking for a relaxing vacation down. Like you, I have met some amazing people because they felt sorry for me eating alone. This has never bothered me. I usually bring something to read- or sometimes my laptop- and I use the time wisely.

    Reply
  9. Eurotrip Tips

    I’ve written about this recently (http://goo.gl/QXLzu) and I completely agree with you. I didn’t hate my experience as a solo traveller – I just feel it would’ve been way better if I had someone to share my discoveries with.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Great post and yup, that’s exactly how I feel.

      Reply
  10. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    I loooove solo travel. But I had my 1st experience on a solo trip last week that left me never wanting to travel solo again. I had a traumatic experience scuba diving and I didn’t have my husband, family member, or friend to sit there and old my hand or tell me that everything was going to be okay. In that moment, I would have paid a million dollars to not be on a solo trip. :(

    Reply
  11. Marsha

    Umm…is the dog wearing goggles in that picture? Anyway, I digress…

    Solo travel isn’t always cookies and rainbows–I’ll admit that–but the positives have outweighed the negatives in my experience. There’s always the attendant loneliness, the desire to share your experience with your loved ones and what not, but the immense freedom you experience when you travel alone coupled with the potential for life-changing personal encounters you just don’t get when you’re traveling with another person or group more than make up for it. Solo travel isn’t for everyone, but I’m a firm believer that you won’t know that until you’ve tried it at least once.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      LOL, no it’s just a bad photo of the poor pup.

      And I agree with you, certain aspects of solo travel can be great. But for me, personally, I really enjoy sharing the experience with someone else.

      Reply
  12. Gray

    Hey, solo travel isn’t for everyone. I totally support that, even though I personally love it. I’m sure if I had a significant other, I’d want to travel with him, too (providing I chose better than the last time I had a SO). It’s like going to see a movie: I enjoy the movie alone, but I miss out on the ability afterwards to discuss it with someone else. So I do understand where you’re coming from. It’s just that, to date, my solo travel experiences have been far better than my travel experiences with others. Maybe if those experiences had been different, I’d feel the way you do.

    Reply
  13. Jessica

    I have never personally travelled solo, not sure I would want to. Ironically though my husband and I are both people who enjoy a lot of alone time. This because rather interesting when we spent 6 weeks 24hours a day with each travelling Europe. There were quite a few squabbles as we got used to spending time with each other!
    However while we were travelling there were times when I didn’t feel like socalising with the tour group we were on and he would go without me. Also he did the Manchester United tour by himself because I suspect I would have whinged the entire way round about how bored I was!
    When you are travelling together you can have the best of both worlds, you don’t have to see the same things each day as there may be different things you want to see, but you still have someone with you to share everything else with.

    Reply
  14. Dave

    I’ve been on both sides of the fence, I guess – travelled for years with a girlfriend, and have now travelled solo for a while as well. There’s pros and cons to both … the shared experiences thing was a huge benefit of being one half of a couple, as was having someone to watch your back. Even just the small things like being able to go to the toilet in a train station without having to cart all your worldly possessions into the cubicle with you… ;-)

    I have to say, though, that there’s equally as many benefits for me for travelling solo – I wrote a post about it last year (http://whatsdavedoing.com/flying-solo/) and it still holds true now. The freedom and flexibility were like nothing I ever experienced when travelling with someone else, and being forced to put myself out there a lot more meant that I met some incredible people and had some crazy experiences that I would never have had if I’d had a plus-one.

    There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but given the choice I have to say that solo travel is probably my preference – it just works remarkably well for me.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Dave for sharing, I think I struggle with a lot of the same conflicting emotions. I really do value the freedom of solo travel, but when push comes to shove, I really regret that my partner isn’t there to experience with me. That outweighs the freedom for me.

      Reply
  15. Liv

    People hail solo travel as the ultimate liberating experience, but ultimately, we are all different and what is wonderful for one person will only be traumatic for another. I congratulate you on your honesty Matt and hope there are many company-filled travels in your future!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks Liv! Yeah I don’t understand why people think solo travel is a more pure experience, seems like a sad way to look at things.

      Reply
      • SFish

        Well, for myself at least, solo travel is really liberating for me because once you do it for the first time, you realize that you don’t HAVE to have someone with you in order to have amazing travel experiences–and for those of us who are single (and not by choice!) It’s a very empowering knowledge to have. I wish I had a significant other to travel with, but I don’t, and I wasted YEARS trying to persuade various friends to plan trips with me (for the record, everyone in a relationship prioritizes travel with their SO over travel with their friends–I get it, but it does make one feel awfully unimportant sometimes) until I finally bit the bullet and planned a week in Italy by myself last summer. Now that my traveling life doesn’t feel dependent on my dating life, I’m free to enjoy both a lot more! And for the record, eating alone at home and in restaurants in my own city was great preparation for eating alone on trips–my main problem is that I like to try a lot of things, and without someone else there to eat half I can’t order as much!

      • Matt Long

        solo travel can definitely be liberating and there’s no better feeling than that sense of accomplishment when you figure out a travel puzzle on your own. I vacillate between the two, but ultimately I prefer traveling as a couple I think.

  16. Steph

    I love traveling alone but the eating thing is definitely tricky. I’ve gotten pretty okay with sitting by myself in a restaurant (I don’t think about the patrons around me so why should they notice me?), but I also tend ot eat more meals on the go. I’ll grab something at a bakery or a street vendor instead of sitting down for a whole meal. It’s more cost effective and I don’t eat as much on my own anyways. I also make buddies at the hostel sometimes, so I’ll eat with them.

    For me the worst part of solo travel is navigation/when things go wrong. I HATE asking for directions or talking to authority figures so when I’m with someone I can make THEM deal with that icky stuff. When you travel alone and something happens, it’s all on you.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      LOL, you don’t like to talk to ‘authority figures’? You’re right though, everything is your responsibility when you travel alone, the good and the bad. I’m have a horrible sense of direction and really need someone with me to make sure I don’t fall of a cliff or something.

      Reply
  17. Raf Kiss

    Well, I must say that I really love traveling alone. The total freedom to do whatever or go wherever you want for me is perfect.
    For me, traveling is about discovering new places and meeting local people. Maybe it has to do with the fact that my ex-wife, who was a little over-concened about safety (or was it jealousy?) never really “allowed” me to talk to “those weird strange people”.
    Anyways, eating alone is no problem either. I usually reflect about the things that happened during the day, write a little or plan the route for the next day…
    The one thing that really sucks about traveling alone, is SLEEPING alone… It’s always great to come home :)

    Reply
  18. Tom

    I have mixed feelings about solo travel….I recent went to Malaysia on vacation without my partner. He couldn’t come with me as it was a major family holiday here in South Korea, so he had to visit relatives for the duration.

    I loved experiencing new things, taking photos, trying the new food – but when I was by myself, I couldn’t help but wish I had him there to share my “ooh! aah!” moments and experience what I was experiencing. I totally identify with “travel cheating” as you put it, and wish that I could share it with him!

    Luckily, he’ll be coming with me on my next trip in December, and hopefully many more after that :)

    Reply
  19. Claus G

    Coming to New Zealand and Australia by myself was the first time I have ever traveled on my own.
    Looking back, I think coming alone was the best decision I could have made: it forced me to become more independent, a heck of a lot more outgoing, and it helped me meet people I would not have met had I come with a friend or my boyfriend at the time.

    Having said that, I don’t think I want to travel alone again. Would be open to it if I need to, but I might opt instead of going fully on my own in participating in a small group adventure tour instead, to get the feeling and freedom of solo-travel but the comfort of having people around to share conversations and make memories with!

    I agree 100% the worst times have been meals on my own… Eating Easter dinner alone at a pub in Nelson, New Zealand had to have been one of the loneliest times!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Even though I wrote this post, I do agree that solo travel at times can be great. It’s a matter of preference and the style of trip I think.

      Reply
  20. Earl Squirrelson

    I much prefer solo travel, but it is nice to travel with a mate for a few days but I find I usually have one idea of what to see and do and my mates have another. Never travelled with a partner but there have been times where would loved to of had some one special to share some experiences with.

    Reply
  21. elsie

    I’ve really only ever travelled alone and whilst I can see it’s good for independence, I happen to find it very lonely. I can see how if someone has always been dependent on others, solo travel is considered an acocmplishment but not everyone comes from the same ‘starting point’. I’m now thinking of travelling solo but involving myself in some kind of community or group project (not necessarily volunteering – it could be something to do with arts or a course). That way I get the best of both worlds.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Elsie, great point of view and thoughts, thank you for sharing! I also think that’s a great idea, to become involved in a larger project when you travel, it’s a way to open up the experience.

      Reply
  22. Christine

    I’ve been traveling by myself for the last two years, and absolutely love it. However, I do think it’s very different traveling solo when you’re single–I definitely think that I would miss having my partner around if I was traveling solo while in a relationship! Trying to enjoy all that freedom and flexibility now–surely there will come a day with a lot more compromise! As for the eating alone thing–barely even notice it until I eat with someone and realize how much reading I’m missing out on (joys of the Kindle!)

    Reply
  23. Jessica (@JessicaRawlins)

    When I went to Russia by myself the first few days were overwhelming and made me long for the comforts of home. But honestly by the end of the trip I had been messaged some friends of friends studying in Saint Petersburg and met with them for various meals, nightlife experiences, and a few day trips. I think when your 21 and single, solo travel is a different experience. Kind of like when you are at a bar 21 and single, you feel more inclined to flirt, make friends, and be social in general. I’d say when travelling solo remember what it was like to be in college and want to become friends with everyone you meet. I can’t imagine having no social contact on a trip though. That must be hard.

    Reply
  24. Talon

    Even though I love traveling with my son, I’m definitely a big lover of solo travel. I like being able to just up and go and see what I want without needing to be concerned about someone else’s enjoyment or go some place I have absolutely no desire to just because the other wants to. I like being able to come back to my room tired from the day’s adventures and have complete silence if I want it. I guess it just depends on how you’re wired. :)

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      As a sidenote, since I’ve written this I think I’ve changed my mind LOL

      Reply

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