I follow so many solo travel bloggers, and I’m always amazed at how confident and ‘out there’ they really put themselves. I think travelling solo is like an extreme version of eating out alone, it can spark all sorts of insecurities, and worries about how you appear to be billy no mates, but actually it can be a lot of fun and bring huge benefits, if you shake off the worries.
This post isn’t to tell you that solo travel is the most amazing thing ever, I’ll leave that to the real solo travelers, the ones that pack up their backpacks and fly off for months on end. I’m definitely not one of those. It’s more for people like me who aren’t sure, but even if they do it would probably only be for a weekend somewhere…maybe. People who might be plucking up the courage to try it, or those who wonder what it might be like.
I’ve yet to travel alone by choice, for a personal trip that I’ve booked and planned with the purpose of being on my own somewhere new, but over the last two years I’ve done a lot of solo travel with work. For me it’s been a great experience and eye opener to what it might be like to travel alone, but I’m still unsure whether it’s something I would ever do by choice. There’s a number of things that cross my mind and I know from speaking to people that others feel the same.
Being alone but surrounded by people…
I think the main difference with travelling for work, is the reason you are there. You know subconsciously that seeing somewhere new, or visiting tourist sights isn’t the primary purpose of your visit. If anyone asks why you’re there alone, you have an answer ready. I think it’s all in the mindset, and there are definite connotations associated with the idea of travelling alone.
That said, I’m just not the type of person to travel with work and spend all my time sat in the hotel after a day at the office to avoid feeling awkward. If I’m somewhere new then I’m going to get up early and have a walk around, especially in the summer, and when I’m done for the day I’m going to do the same. Early mornings are great for photos without tourists! It’s amazing how much you can actually see by doing this.
You’ll also be surprised how doing this gives you a totally different impression of a place. If you’re up with the locals, wandering around among the dog walkers, or the early runners, or the commuters you get a very different sense of a place that is actually quite nice. The same in an evening with everyone going home, and half the world stopping at any old bar for a post work drink. Nearly everyone else at that time is on their own too.
‘Table for one please’
The way I see this is that I have to eat, so I might as well try somewhere local for a vague bit of cultural experience. It’s very easy to fall into the take away, room service or fast food trap to avoid walking into a bar or restaurant on your own. I’d never dream of doing this at home, unless it was a cafe armed with my laptop, but abroad now I’ve got quite used to eating alone and it’s a lot less lonely if it’s somewhere decent.
All it takes is a bit of research into near where you’re staying and it’s an effort worth doing in my opinion. Nobody wants rubbish food night after night.
Personally, I find the days so much easier in situations like this. We would all potter around our home city quite happily, go shopping, maybe even grab a coffee alone. For some reason actual sit down meals are a more daunting task, and you do feel like people might pity/judge you for having no friends.
In the evenings there’s a lot less fun to be had alone, and it’s definitely the time that I miss home, or having some company with me. I deal with this by tiring myself out so much during the day that by the time I do get back to the hotel I just want to sleep.
Freedom to do what you like
It’s not just work travel that can throw up opportunities to see somewhere new alone. On a few occasions I’ve been travelling to meet up with friends, and due to flight times or cost differences I’ve ended up having a day or slightly longer to myself. What better way to ‘kill time’ than to see things you either didn’t have time to do when you were all together, or things that aren’t everyone else’s cup of tea?
I once had an entire day to myself in Copenhagen which I dedicated to sightseeing, and I’ve also gone off to museums on my own a couple of times, such as the Neon Graveyard in Vegas, and the Saatchi Gallery in London. I know this isn’t really solo travel in the sense that most people think. However it is still pushing yourself out of your comfort zone when you’re doing something different, somewhere new, alone. It’s a good way to get started to see if you might like it on a bigger scale. I like nothing more than a whole afternoon or day to myself at home so why not when I’m away?
You learn to manage your time a lot better to really make the most of it. Coupled with the flexibility and the freedom to see and do what you want without keeping anyone else happy, this to me is a massive perk of solo travel. It stops you feeling guilty for making others join in, and stops you having to miss out.
Is it for me?
Overall I’m going to say no to a solo trip in the larger sense. I think I’ll stick to solo travel when there’s another reason for me being there, and for very short time frames. I could definitely manage a solo trip now, without worrying due to the lessons I’ve learned over the past two years; stay in a central location, summer travel is easier, research the area, ask colleagues for advice etc… But fundamentally I just don’t think I want to. I much prefer to travel with people.
If I’m going to spend my own time, holiday and money on going somewhere, the best part of it for me is experiencing it with those close to me. For some, meeting new people is the pull of solo travel, or a confidence building challenge and I totally get how it would be.
But over the years I’ve had the best times and experiences with my friends, Kieran, family, and even long distance friendships through holiday reunions (see my luxury girls trip with Dani here). Places can be incredible, but it’s sharing it with others that makes me enjoy travel so much. None of the solo experiences I’ve had have come close to being anywhere near as much fun.
What about you? Could you book a solo trip just for you?
Other posts you might like – all ones I did alone…
For some perspectives of people I’d call ‘real’ solo travelers, this blogger has a great series called Women Who Wander which has accounts from female solo travelers all over the world.