One of the main purposes of travel is to gain experiences that allow us to grow and develop as individuals and it is important that people travel the way that bests suits them at a particular time. For example, I like to go on adventure holidays and this invariably includes a small group and expert guide, and I frequently participate in writing retreats around the world with like-minded people. However, for me the real joy of travelling has always been to take off on my own and just ‘see’ what comes along the way. Of course, this can sometimes be fraught with frustrations, difficulties and even dangers.
Most people who travel alone generally cite freedom as the great motivating factor: freedom to please themselves, go where and when they want, change their plans on a whim when they hear about something that is a ‘must’ to see and to accept spontaneous invitations by locals.
- No compromises
This is associated with the previous point. Travelling with one other person, be it friend, colleague, lover or spouse, there will always be some compromises required. Not everyone has the same interests or the same energy levels, some people need to be emotionally supported all the time, others are apathetic, some have different attitudes to time. With solo travel, there is no peer pressure over finances, the unspoken need to divide up restaurant bills equally, or guilt trips when you want to go off on your own for a while.
- Meeting people
Travelling solo does not mean that you will always be alone. In fact, it allows you to meet more people because other tourists and locals find an individual traveller more approachable than those in a tightly-knit group. Also, people in groups have very little need to reach out to others for communication. I have met more people, had more interesting conversations and invitations and made more long-term friends while eating alone in foreign restaurants or sitting alone at bars. But then I am gregarious. Travelling alone allows you to choose the people you wish to spend time with rather than having to face the day-after-day annoyances of the inevitable clowns and whingers found in any large group.
There is a real sense of discovery involved in travelling on your own, and that includes self-discovery. You don’t have to rely on an often ill-informed guide to lead you around on a leash, and there’s the surprise and thrill when you find something you weren’t expecting, like the time I became lost and ended up in a small Bavarian village with a monastery that contained a library with tens of thousands of Medieval manuscripts. Travelling alone allows you to discover more about yourself as you overcome simple challenges such as missing a bus or boat and realizing there is no other for a day or a week. Then there is the sense of achievement when solving much more challenging problems like finding yourself lost in a strange town at midnight or running out of money on a holiday weekend with no ATM in sight and the banks closed.
- The single supplement
For those who like to stay in decent hotels, there is an unfair single supplement that can add thousands to the cost of your trip.
- Lack of help
There is no one to watch your luggage while you go to the restrooms at airports or train stations, no one to help with persistent touts, no one to be there for you if you get sick or if you are being stalked or harassed by a determined male in the street.
There are times when I would like to have had more taken of myself in certain places, but there again, there are always people willing to snap one or two for you.
I know there will be times in the future when I will travel as part of a group out of choice because I want to visit areas where it is just not possible or sensible for a woman alone, or because I wish to be with family or like-minded people. However, due to my particular personality traits, my preference is to travel alone. I guess it really doesn’t matter how people travel, but that they travel.