I have never been accused of being shy. Keeping my tongue or refraining from offering what is (usually) a strong opinion is a talent I am good at, sometimes to my own chagrin. This was absolutely the case a few years ago (feels good to say that) when I wrote a post criticizing solo travel. While I don’t necessarily disagree with my points, I think it’s time to rethink my stance and offer my less than enthusiastic support for this travel style.
Purity of thought
In the past couple of years I’ve had many opportunities to travel by myself, from Cambodia to Canada and many places in between. What I’ve noticed most from these experiences is that due to one’s independence, there is little else to do except be left alone with one’s thoughts. For someone as naturally introspective as I am, this can sometimes have its drawbacks but on the whole I think it’s entirely positive.
It’s no great coincidence that all the great personal revelations I’ve had in my life have occurred while I’ve been deprived of all other stimuli, including other people with whom to converse. I don’t think that this can be achieved at home either, even if you try to force or mimic the experience. There’s just something so naturally philosophical and soul searching about travel, that I think it promotes a certain level of inward thought. Perhaps it’s the myriad new experiences or the foreignness of everything, but it creates a unique spiritual fishbowl effect – a chance to really examine oneself and take stock of our lives. Or you can just go out to a bar, it’s either-or really.
Seriously though, there is a deeper meaning to the travel experience that when kept to oneself, the result must necessarily be great personal revelations and for that I am thankful. That’s also why I think that embarking on a solo trip once in a while, perhaps every couple of years, isn’t just therapeutic, but absolutely necessary to our own personal development.
Aside from the metaphysical benefits of solo travel, there are also a lot of very practical ones. While I look forward to my trips with my partner more than any other travel adventure I take, I also can’t deny a certain level of stress involved with them. I’m almost always concerned about his enjoyment and when it comes time to finding a mutually acceptable restaurant, I think that Middle East peace negotiations have gone better. So while it is a joy and thrill to travel with others, sometimes solo travel is just easier.
It may seem like a silly or simple thing, but having the ability to do anything you want, whenever you want is freedom at its best. It’s a luxury that many people around the world don’t enjoy and when I travel alone I take full advantage of it. The best is when the journey is a road trip, like the one I just took in Alberta, Canada. I’ve done this in other parts of the world as well and I think it may be my favorite way of exploring the world. Driving along any route you wish and more importantly, stopping wherever you want is a wonderful luxury.
While driving in New Zealand I stopped at dozens of small, yet intensely scenic sights that I guarantee no tour covers. I turned left when I should have turned right and the trip was made all the richer for it. In fact, I think it was these short stops and moments of being lost that transformed the adventure from something nice into something truly extraordinary. That’s a feat only solo travel can achieve.
Travel can be intimidating, no matter where you go. And if you haven’t traveled very much, feelings of fear and apprehension are even more prevalent. Like learning how to swim, the only way to assuage these ghouls is to take the plunge into the deep end. While it may be frightening at first, there is perhaps no better way to quickly improve your self-confidence and sense of bravery than to face the wide world alone. Simple things, like learning how to read a train schedule in Europe, or more difficult endeavors, like navigating the chaotic markets of Asia; they both equally not only make us better travelers, but I believe better people.
Still some drawbacks
The title of this post is a lukewarm endorsement, and I stand by that. When given the choice, I prefer to travel with others, hopefully my partner. I think the travel experience is so much more fun when you can share it with others. I love seeing moments of wonder and awe reflected on the faces of those around me; it’s a small joy that is true gold. The travel experience is also more interesting with others; you are exposed to places and things you wouldn’t find on your own. Ideally your travel companion(s) have different interests than you do, so that the sights and places you visit are not what you would have selected. Sometimes this fails miserably, but I’ve always enjoyed finding these small spots I wouldn’t have seen alone. Practically, eating alone is frankly depressing and I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read on my iPhone while waiting for dinner to arrive; avoiding the curious stares of those around me. I hate it and will go out of my way to avoid eating at a sit-down restaurant if I’m traveling alone. That’s sad because food is arguably the most important aspect of the travel experience.
So while I do acknowledge the many drawbacks of solo travel, I also believe it is an important experience for everyone to try at least once, and hopefully many more times, in their lives. There is a certain intangible benefit to this style of travel that only those who have done it can properly elucidate or understand, and they all are probably agreeing with me enthusiastically as they read this.
Have you traveled solo? What’s your take on the experience?