Solo Travel: The Good and The Bad

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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.

The Good:
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.
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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.
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The Bad:
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.
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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.

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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!

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Categories: RTW, Solo Travel | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Solo Travel: The Good and The Bad

  1. Dee Carvill

    Laurie thanks for continuing to share your adventures. It is amazing what you have seen in this beautiful world of ours. In response to your question, I personally prefer traveling with family and/or friends. There seems to something missing when I have an “adventure” by myself. To me relationships are extremely important and when traveling I like to be able to share my experiences with someone as we view or do the same event. Whenever I have attempted to travel by myself, it always seems to fall flat since I have no one to share the experience with in the first person: it is the added element for me to be able to enjoy something to the fullest. I admit it is nice to occasionally travel alone so I am on my own schedule and eat and sleep and do whatever whenever I want at any time. Being able to have someone to share an experience with me far outweighs and inconveniences of being with someone. Though I can travel alone and meets lots of people, the relationships are generally not long lasting and only friendly encounters. Therefore I would have to say it is very important for me to travel with someone and further a relationship and memory.

    • Hi Dee! I understand exactly what you are saying about having someone to share your experiences with. It is critical to the enjoyment of the event. What I have found is that at almost all events I have other people there that you can share with real time. And if you’re lucky, you can build a real, deep and meaningful friendship with someone in a short period of time. I have made friends with people on my journey that I became very close with in just a week or two. There’s something about solo travel that forces you to open yourself to these friendships and relationships easily and quickly. Also, it helps that I am traveling very slowly, so I can build relationships with time as well. I think these “travel relationships” are almost impossible to build if you are not alone. That said, solo travel takes practice and patience and a lot of inner-reflection. You start to really learn about who you are and what you like and you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m growing and learning everyday. But you should count your blessings that you have an excellent family to share your journey with! Love you!!

  2. Amy

    Girl, you are living the dream. I am so happy for you. Your spanish looks amazing! You will be totally fluent when you get home.

    I imagine that South America and the people have woven themselves so deep into your heart that you will never want to let them go. I still fantasize about doing exactly what you are doing someday.

    Too amazing for words! Love, Amerz

    • Amy! You wouldn’t believe how difficult Spanish was for me to get. I am proud to say that I can finally understand almost everything. Now I just need to work on my speaking which is why I’ll continue studying Spanish when I get to Nicaragua. I think of you guys often and miss ya lots. xoxo

  3. Henry Nutt

    Hi Laurie, you probably don’t remember me, but years ago I worked for Therma and took care of an account that you handled in SSF or Brisbane, prior to you starting your own business. Anyhoo, I recall when you announced you were leaving and stumbled on your blog just the other day. Very cool that your doing this. Sounds like an amazing trip thus far. So my real reason for writing is I noticed that you will be in Costa Rica soon. I have a friend from the states that is currently in Nosara, Costa Rica doing Yoga training. She’ll be there until mid February. She is a wonderful person and lots of fun. If you would like me to put you in contact with her let me know. Maybe you could possibly hang out and meet a new friend. Take care.

    Henry

    • Hi Henry! I definitely remember you, nice to hear from you. Yes, send along the contract information for your friend in Costa Rica. I don’t know anyone there. Best to you! Laurie

      • Henry

        Hi Laurie, glad you remember. My friend’s name is Erica Paul. Her contact info is hopewww@yahoo.com. I’ll continue to read your updates. Enjoy!

        Henry

  4. I like your take on solo travel. I have also written a lot on the subject on my blog. I agree there is good side to it as well as not so good side to it. But I guess, solo travel is still fun and enriching. If you are traveling solo you shouldn’t regret it. Of course, there should not be any hard and fast rules for traveling. If you have someone to travel along nothing like it.

  5. I so agree with all of your points, Laurie! I like my alone time and traveling solo, but on some days it’s just, ahhh. But I just went to Laos as part of a couple and talked to almost no other travelers. It felt so strange! Meeting people is definitely my favorite part of traveling solo.

  6. Wow, ninety years old and travelling solo, that is one inspiring lady!

    Great to hear a balanced view of what solo travelling is like thanks for sharing 🙂

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