I’ve been traveling for over eight months now. Eight months and eleven days to be exact. When people ask me how it’s been, I immediately say that I’ve loved every minute of it. But to be honest, this is not exactly true. Solo travel for me has (overall) been wonderful, but it’s far from perfect.
1. The best thing about traveling alone is being able to do whatever I want and whenever I want. I never have to deal with the conversation: “What do you want to do today?” “I don’t know what do you want to do today?” Or “I’d love to visit the museum of firearms.” Or “Another beach day, Laurie? Aren’t you tired of beaches?” (Um, no). It is completely freeing and liberating to wake up and do exactly what I want to do. Or to do exactly nothing.
2. The second best thing about traveling alone is the ease of meeting other people. When I traveled with my ex-boyfriend we rarely met other people. Occasionally we’d meet another couple, but mostly we were each other’s company. Traveling alone forces you to talk to strangers or at least a bartender. I personally think bars are great. My parents owned a bar when I was young, so I always say that I grew up in a bar. I’m comfortable on a bar stool, even if I’m alone. In fact I’m writing this from a bar stool at my hotel in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. My theory on bars is that people go there to socialize, if not they could just drink from home. If there’s an option, I’d rather eat at a bar than at a table for one. Best case scenario, you meet someone interesting and end up talking all night and they buy your dinner (which happened surprisingly often when I traveled in the US). Worst case scenario, the bar is dead, but you have a beer and write a blog and go home early.
3. For me, the third best thing about traveling alone is just like you aren’t counting on anyone else for your fun and enjoyment, no one is counting on you. You have no pressure to find the best hotel/tour/beach and you don’t have to worry about disappointing someone. I don’t like the pressure/responsibility of having control over someone else’s happiness…(hmm, maybe this is why I’m single…. ) When I’m traveling alone if the tour is a bust or the hotel has bedbugs, it was my decision and I never have to deal with someone else’s complaining/unhappiness/unmet expectations. And the biggest change I’ve found in myself over the last eight months is the lowering of my expectations and the increase in my patience. I told a new student (and now a friend) at my Spanish school in Colombia to be prepared for disappointment. I’ve found often in my travels (especially in South/Central America) that things
don’t often never go as planned. Buses are late, people are flaky, plans are canceled last minute, etc. For example, I’m currently in this small Guatemalan coastal village waiting to get on a sailboat for a week-long sailing trip to Belize that will never happen because it was canceled because not enough people signed up. So I’m going to try to head somewhere else tomorrow. Instead of my usual crushing disappointment, I just shrugged, and I’m moving on. I would feel awful if I convinced a friend or a travel partner to come on the sailing trip, and they were disappointed.
1. The worst thing about traveling alone, is yes, at times it is lonely. The bar is empty (or worse, full of couples holding hands), they are playing sad Adele through the speakers, and the bartender doesn’t even want to say hello. This happens. You had a great day and saw something amazing like a volcano or a sunset or a guy on the street playing violin with his feet and you have no one to discuss it with. Actually I like Facebook for being able to share my experiences when I don’t have someone to talk to.
2. Making decisions and planning can be hard and exhausting. Yes, I get to make every decision and do what I like, but sadly I have to make every decision. I’m often oscillating between over-researching and reading every Trip Advisor/Lonely Planet review for every hotel in an area to not even knowing where the bus I’m on is going. I actually prefer the latter. But mostly when I’m on a bus not knowing where I’m going, someone else has done the leg work and I’m just tagging along on their research and advice. I can get paralyzed with the research and the decision making side of travel. It would be great to have a travel partner who loved to handle the details. Or maybe a travel agent that knew what I liked to do and just planned everything for me. I was actually on Trip Advisor today wishing there was a function to sort by things I like (ex. Quiet, close to restaurants/bars, safe, mid price range. etc. Or better yet, eliminate places that have things I don’t like, like crazy backpackers or kids yelling in the pool.). Like a personalized trip advisor. Business/ap idea anyone? Or anyone like doing research want to be my personalized travel agent, I could use a good two week itinerary in Costa Rica starting on January 20.
3. On the practical side of solo travel, things are just more expensive when you are a party of one. All hotels and car rentals would be half price if I had someone to share with. In many restaurants the entrees are often too big for one person. I would love to be able to “split an appetizer and an entree” every night instead of ordering just an appetizer or worse, ordering an entree and wasting half.
So that’s my take on solo travel. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, but it’s a journey and I’m growing and changing everyday with the experiences I’m having and the people I’m meeting. I met a fascinating women named Elizabeth in a bar a few weeks ago. She has been traveling the world alone for the last two years since the death of her husband. And she’s 90 years old. She amazed and inspired me with her courage and her strength and her stories of China and India and Mexico. She made me feel young again, although I’ll be celebrating a big milestone birthday this year. When I start to question whether I can navigate this world alone I think about Elizabeth and I realize that my life is not even half way done, and it’s never too late to travel alone.
What do you think? Do you love traveling alone? Prefer with a partner? Let me know in the comments below. Adios!