It was 2013 and I was on a train surrounded by a handful of people who, just hours before, had been complete strangers. We were passing around those tiny bottles of vodka that you get on airplanes and swapping stories of our travels and tales from our home countries and beyond. We hailed from around the world: New Zealand, Japan, Hungary, Scotland, the United States. Where I was 20, our oldest member was 74. But we were all on this train to Amsterdam and we were all solo travelers.
It was my first time alone after an entire summer of traveling in a group. I had flown from Italy to Romania and from there had made my way through Spain, France, Germany, and now I was off to my final stop before heading home: the Netherlands. After a summer of following the crowd, I now had no crowd to follow. I was my own crowd – the only patron I needed to please, the only schedule I needed to fill. It was there that I made a decision: I would never travel in a group again. Solo, yes. With a friend, yes. But with a group of friends and demi-friends in a foreign place? Never again.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have any sort of fun on these kinds of trips, it’s just that, for me and my personality, when I travel solo or with one close friend, I’ve had an exponentially better experience. Here’s why:
It Gets Me Outside of My Comfort Zone
If there is one golden benefit to traveling solo, it’s that it forces you to embrace the uncomfortable and makes you learn to adapt – and quickly. If you only have a certain amount of time in one place, you’re going to have to check your discomfort at the door to be able to fully experience a city on a solo trip. For me, it was needing to be bold at breakfast, which is where I would scout out other solo or small group travelers to see if our schedules could merge. Solo travel is sort of a misnomer, because I rarely ever actually tromped through cities solo – I’d usually see the city with a fellow solo traveler who had the exact same “must-sees” as me. Which leads me to my next point…
I Can Manage My Own Schedule
One of my biggest points of contention with group travel is having to compromise (not a terrible idea in general) on the things I really want to do. One of the best parts of solo travel is that you – and only you – have complete control over your own schedule. You are the one who gets to decide what to do, where to go, and how you’re going to do it. It’s liberating!
I Always Meet New People
When I’m traveling solo, I’m forced to meet new people. Which is usually not an easy task for me. But, after the initial discomfort, I always find that my traveling experience is enriched because of my forced (at first!) friendships. Now I have a network of friends across the globe who I get to stay in touch with across social media and sometimes even meet up with if our travel paths cross!
I Get to Create Long-Lasting Experiences…
…Independent of how any friendships end or go stale. I’ve gone on so many trips with people who I can’t revel in the memories with because I’ve lost touch with them or our friendships have ended. But on all of my solo trips, my memories are mine and mine alone! The feelings of fear or joy or liberation are heightened because I had to feel them all by myself. They’re memories I can take with me ‘till the next time I jet off somewhere.
Are you a group traveler or a solo traveler? Let us know in the comments below!