Solo travelling: pros and cons
Updated: Mar 7
When adventure calls to you and the desire to see the unknown starts to lure you out the door, one of the most important questions you inevitably ask yourself is: whom should I go with? Do I want to travel with a group of friends? Perhaps just one buddy or boyfriend/girlfriend/partner? Or should I go alone? The decision you make with respect to this will heavily affect your experience of the entire trip, either positively or negatively. So think about it thoroughly, and choose carefully.
When I decided to go travelling for six months through south-east Asia, I knew the answer to the above question immediately: I wanted to go alone. In order to push myself out of my comfort zone, I deliberately deprived myself of any ties to home, or support in the form of a friend. I wanted to be completely free in choosing where to go, when to go, what to see and how to travel. I refused to make any compromises on destinations and itinerary. In retrospect, I don't regret deciding to go alone and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Perhaps you can relate to the above, then again, perhaps you can't. Although I consider myself to be quite social and enjoy company, on the other hand I have no problem being alone and I enjoy that too. But we are different and for some people, being alone can be stressful and unpleasant.
Solo travelling can be a liberating and empowering experience, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. So, to help you answer the agonizing dilemma whether solo travelling is the right choice for you or not, I am listing some of the advantages and disadvantages which I noticed and experienced in the course of my travels. Hopefully, it will serve you as a sort of guidance when deciding whether to venture in the world "solo" or with company.
Independence: When you travel alone, you have complete control over your itinerary and can make decisions on the fly, without having to seek anyone else's consent or approval. This allows for a sense of freedom and independence which is incredibly liberating. This was the main reason why I decided to go travelling solo. No compromises on which countries to visit. No bickering about which sight to see and which one not to see, where to eat, how long to stay on the beach, and where to go out in the evening. You are in complete control. This applies not only to decisions you make whilst travelling, but also when you are deciding when and where to start your journey. People have all sorts of plans and obligations, and it may be difficult to find a travel buddy who has the means and is free to go travelling for an extended period, at the same time as you.
Self-discovery: Traveling alone forces you to rely on yourself and your own abilities. If you've never traveled alone before, it throws you out of your comfort zone. This can be a great opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth. Resourcefulness, adaptability, ingenuity, willpower, etc. - these are all skills which are greatly honed and improved when solo traveling. Needless to say, these skills come in handy also when traveling with company, but solo travel requires more from you.
Meeting new people: When you travel solo, you may be more likely to strike up conversations with strangers and meet new people. This can be a great way to make new friends and learn about different cultures. For example I am quite shy and I find it difficult to just walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. But I was forced to do it, because I wanted to socialize and meet people. It was amazing practice for my social anxiety. If you are traveling with company, you are slightly more secluded and perhaps less open to meeting new people, since you don't necessarily have to.
Introspection, listening and watching: When traveling alone, you will inevitably spend a lot of time with yourself, in silence. It provides plenty of opportunity to think, to observe the world and people around you, and to listen. It is an incredible feeling of peace when you just sit down alone and watch the world, the people, and life unfold before your eyes and ears. Again, you don't have to necessarily be alone to do this, but it being solo makes the experience more intense, deeper and more soulful.
Flexibility: Without the need to coordinate with others, you have the flexibility to change your plans at a moment's notice and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. This happened to me more than once.
(Feeling of) loneliness: One of the biggest disadvantages of solo traveling is the potential for feeling lonely. Being alone for extended periods of time can be isolating and may lead to feelings of homesickness. This can vary greatly depending on what type of personality you are. Some people enjoy being alone, some less so. When I set off on my trip, the potential feeling of loneliness was the biggest concern. Knowing I am a bit introverted and shy when it comes to meeting new people, I was worried I might have difficulty making friends and that I'd end up being alone all the time. Fortunately, this concern turned out to be unfounded. To my relief, I quickly discovered that a lot of people are travelling solo, and that I was by far not the only one around which was alone and wanted to meet someone. It is easier to approach a solo stranger than it is to approach a group of friends. And of course everyone wants to meet and talk, so it really is as easy as walking up and saying "Hi, how are you doing?" In 99% of cases, the response will be friendly and welcoming. After all, they are also there to meet someone, and they might be even more shy than you, so they are super happy when someone says hi. Meeting new people is easier in some places than it is in others. Hostels are superb for this, since they usually have common areas where people chill and hang out, and some hostels even organize events and drinks for newcomers and solo travellers to meet. This makes the initiation of conversation much easier. Hotels and apartments are less suitable for this, because you are more isolated from other guests. Day trips and excursions, workshops, etc. are also very convenient ways to have a good time and make some new friends along the way. The first approach is always difficult, but each next one is easier, and pretty soon it becomes natural. I ended up meeting a lot of cool people, and with a few of them we even travelled together for a couple of days, when our itinerary happened to be the same.
Safety concerns: Traveling alone can make you more vulnerable to crime and other safety hazards. It's essential to take precautions such as avoiding dangerous areas, keeping a watchful eye on your belongings, being acutely aware of your surroundings and practice common sense. This last one sounds like a no-brainer, but you woudn't believe the stupid shit people do, and then complain about being robbed or harassed. This is also a more serious concern for female solo travellers than it is for male travellers. A big factor in this can be your choice of destination. For example, North America, Europe and Asia are generally safe, whereas South (and Central) America and Africa are inherently more dangerous. This is an over - generalization, as there can be huge differences even between neighbouring countries. Essentially, the less developed countries are riskier than more developed ones, and densely populated areas (cities) are riskier than countryside and smaller towns/villages. The most important rule I can think of with respect to this is: be prudent, don't be stupid, don't look for trouble and practice common sense.
Higher costs: Without a travel partner to split costs, solo traveling can be more expensive. Accommodation, transportation and activities can (and do) all cost more when you're on your own. This is something you should be aware of and take into account before you depart, so that you can properly calculate the amount needed to sustain you for the entire duration of your trip.
Lack of company: Without someone to share your experiences with, you may miss out on the joy of sharing memories and inside jokes with a travel companion. This is partly mitigated by the fact that you may make (temporary) travel companions as you go, and combine the travel experiences with the excitement of meeting new people.
(Lack of) a friend in need: If something goes wrong, you don't have anyone to depend on but yourself. In moments of distress, it kinda sucks being alone. Fortunately nothing really bad happened to me in the course of my travels, but for example when I got sick in Vietnam, I wished I had someone to help me with basic stuff like getting me some water, food and medicine from the pharmacy. But I didn't, so I had to force myself to get out of bed despite feeling terrible and get it myself. However, if things get serious, you can always ask people for help, such as your the receptionist at the hotel/hostel, the owner of your airbnb, or just your fellow guests at where you are staying. Travellers are generally a kind bunch and are willing to help if needed.
In conclusion: solo travelling can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it is not without disadvantages. It's important to weigh the pros and cons and decide if it's the right choice for you. If you do decide to travel alone, make sure to take necessary precautions, be aware of your surroundings and practice common sense. In the words of the great Douglas Noel Adams: "Don't panic." Just relax, stay safe and enjoy the journey.