I’ve hear it several times, from different people as I talk about travelling.
“I’d love to go,” they say wistfully. “But I don’t have anyone to go with.”
After years of travelling with my partner, my family, or friends, this year I have discovered travelling solo.
Much of it is not by choice, as it is often difficult to find someone who wants, and is able, to go to the same place at the same time as you. But I have also discovered the joys of being on my own.
Out of necessity, I have met a lot of people. When traveling with a companion, you always have someone to talk to, to discuss your day, to comment on what you see, to discuss where you will go next, what restaurant you will eat in. On your own, you have no choice but to talk to people. There is the necessary discussion of directions and transactions, but when you are alone you, and others, are open to wider conversation. And when you are the stranger, your outsider perspective and perhaps lack of discretion can lead to deep dives into cultural differences.
When I am perhaps a little lonely I am more open and likely to take a chance. This has lead to not just conversation but going out and even staying with strangers. I now understand the saying, “There are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet.”
Alone, you must take full responsibility for your decisions, even if they take you to the wrong place: a bad restaurant, an overpriced hotel, a long line, or the incorrect road, exit, gate. When you are in a car, you must navigate and drive at the same time, so you see less and stress more. On the other hand, there is no conflict between different people’s needs or preferences, and, never that nightmare phrase: “I told you we should have…”
If I want to change my plans, I change them. If I see a trail I want to hike, I go. There is no waiting for someone else, or hurrying to keep up. And with the responsibility of choices comes the pride of accomplishment. Even if there were difficulties along the way, I did it on my own: navigated a route or a purchase despite language difficulties; found company to eat or drink with; chose an interesting route or an excellent hotel.
Tour groups are the middle ground, and I did this in the Middle East, where I didn’t feel comfortable travelling alone. Someone else is taking care of the arrangements, and will deal with any issues that may arise. There is a built-in group of people to socialize with, but that means you’re not pushed to interact with locals. However, unlike travelling with a friend or partner, you can choose your level of friendliness, and you can avoid someone if you are irritated with them, or just want to be alone.
This month I am travelling with my two sisters as we visit relatives in Finland. It is the opposite of solo travel: we operate through consensus and our itinerary is set. Our time with family is comfortable and full of food and laughter. We may be travelling, but we bring the essence of home with us wherever we go.
So, do you travel with family or friends, in a tour group, or on your own? It doesn’t matter. Whichever way you choose, it will be worthwhile.
They are all brave travels.