Solo Travel: Is It for You?
Some people would never choose solo travel, but for me, traveling by myself is my idea of luxury travel. It’s like indulging in a bottle of wine or a box of chocolate all by yourself. Not everyone is going to do it, but those who do know how amazing, like Kayes Castleton, it can be.
On my recent trip to meet up with my friend Danielle in Amsterdam, I decided to spend some time traveling around Europe on my own. All of the planning on destinations, hotels, and activities were all up to me. No one would be there to pick me up and take me to my hotel, no one would be meeting up with me for drinks or dinner, no one would rescue me if I got lost or bored. This was all on me.
Like many others, I’ve traveled from point A to point B to meet someone to start a trip. However, real solo travel where everything depends on you and no one else, now that’s a challenge. Why would anyone, including myself, ever choose to travel by themselves? Here are 5 ways solo travel changed my life.
1. Nothing beats lighter luggage: I’ve always been independent, but I’ll admit that traveling with someone (anyone) who is willing to drag my luggage around for me is one of those conveniences I’ve become accustomed to and love. Why would I turn down a luggage valet that allows me to bring more shoes, bigger bags — you get the idea. But traveling by myself means I have to hoist my suitcase above my 5’4″ frame into the luggage bin on an airplane all by myself. If that bag is heavy, the last thing I want to do is wobble around and ask for help. The answer? Pack lighter stupid. I have successfully traveled with a small 20″ carry on bag without issue and still find I pack more than I need. I’m convinced that soon I won’t need a bag at all.
I wouldn’t have ever learned this life and travel lesson had I not decided to venture out on my own. How has this changed me? If this applies to travel, then this should also apply while at home so why not get rid of everything I don’t need and live a simpler and more streamlined life. That’s right, I’m talking tiny house living. More on that at a later date.
2. Destinations based on my needs and desires: When you travel with others, at least for me, you try to accommodate everyone’s wishes. I’ve sat at more than my share of steakhouses and seafood restaurants while gnawing on a bland bowl of iceberg lettuce. I’ve also accompanied others on activities that I really didn’t want to do because the majority ruled and I didn’t want to be the one hold out to ruin the trip. Traveling solo means you get to decide where you’re going every single minute of the trip. Don’t feel like eating breakfast? No worries because you won’t object to your decision. Changed your mind last minute about an activity? No problem since you get to choose what you want to do. It’s all you and if you decide to do or not do something, I seriously doubt you’ll have an argument with yourself mid-trip. When you get to call all the shots, you learn to stop making excuses about communicating what you need and want not only while you travel, but in your everyday life, too.
3. Push yourself out of your comfort zone: Regardless of your age, some people are not good with change. I’ve seen 30-year-olds act like 3-year-olds when their travel plans go awry. As for me, I’m an anomaly, like a Northern Hairy Nose Wombat or maybe a unicorn: I love change. But I admit that there’s something reassuring about having a travel companion when your travel plans go haywire. Would I be able to adjust to change while traveling on my own as easily as I do back home? I didn’t know before I tried solo travel, but I soon learned the answer to this was yes. While missing a train (like I did in Stockholm), getting the wrong directions (like I did in Florence), or needing to change hotels (like I did in Madrid), I tried to live by my motto of “Worse things have happened and this isn’t so bad.” Missing trains or finding that your ticket has been canceled can be surprises we really don’t need in our lives. Thankfully, there are online tools that allow us to check the status of a railway ticket to ensure that we are aware of what is going on with it before stepping onto a platform.
Changing your perspective makes learning how to adjust to any situation far easier than you could’ve imagined. If you don’t ever push yourself out of your comfort zone, your life will be nothing more than what you already know. Don’t you want more than that for yourself?
4. YES – It’s ok to talk to strangers: It’s true – I’ll talk to just about anyone, anywhere, at any time. But generally when I’m by myself, I’m of the “don’t bother me” mentality from growing up in New York. I realized I’d need to stop doing this if I wanted a travel experience that consisted of more than me sitting alone in a hotel room. While I’d probably pass on a conversation with a stranger on the subway, I knew I’d have to push myself to be open to the idea of talking to strangers while alone on my travels.
For example, in Prague I chatted up a group of Italian guys at a small bar who were there for a bachelor party. In Florence I was seated in a small restaurant near two couples from Florida and we talked about taking pictures of food while dining out. In London I was lucky enough to enjoy a conversation with a New Zealand couple while enjoying a great cup of coffee at Flat White. Had I zoned everyone out, I might’ve missed out on so much including suggestions from locals and tourists. In the end I wasn’t breaking my rule of not talking to strangers, but I was selectively ignoring it to get the most out of my trip.
5. Increased self-reliance and independence: This may seem somewhat obvious, but believe me, it’s not. Even if you’re someone like me who isn’t afraid to flex their independence muscle, nothing gives you more of a boost like figuring something out for yourself in sticky situations when traveling. Be it something rather simplistic like the T-bana (Metro) in Stockholm, deciphering any one of a number of languages you don’t speak, or overcoming an innate lack of direction while traveling, after a while you realize if you can do this (whatever “this” is), then nothing can ever get in your way.
While in Haworth, England, I ventured off on a hike with some basic and completely ambiguous directions like “cross the bridge and climb a steep bank to a kissing gate” and “continue up the path to reach a wider paved path by some ruins and a signpost.” My hike was a few hours in length and yet I saw maybe six people and hundreds of sheep. I was completely and totally on my own in a far more rural of an area than I’m generally in back at home. If I wanted to return in one piece to my hotel, I needed to figure out how to get to my destination and back without freaking out that I might be lost. Sure enough, I did get a little lost on the way back, but in the end, despite my sheer and utter lack of a sense of direction, I navigated myself back to my hotel all on my own and at the end of the day, that felt really good. If you’re sorely in the need of self-confidence and want to feel more independent, I highly recommend a solo travel trip.
Solo travel isn’t just about the trip, where you’re going, or what you’re doing. It’s about what it says about you, too. Did you know that 24% of travelers chose solo travel as compared to 15% in 2013 on their most recent overseas leisure vacation? This is according to the Visa Global Travel Intentions Study 2015, a 25 country study conducted by Millward Brown, a market research organization. Independent travel is on the rise and not just for the young and single as those in relationships and above the age of 21 are enjoying the benefits of solo travel. I kind of enjoy being part of that small number. Chalk another one up for those who love solo travel. There’s more of us than you ever thought.
Do you like to travel on your own? Why or why not?