Why solo travel is not for me

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I’m still walking on air after an inspiring night that came courtesy of Meet, Plan, Go and one of my guiding lights in Las Vegas, JoAnna Haugen, who herself learned a LOT by organizing the Vegas version of this national event. One of the most important ideas that I feel the audience soaked up like a sponge was that in the world of travel, there’s something for everyone. One person doesn’t like hostels, another is on a tight budget. Me? I can live in a very tight space or stay in a very modest room. But it has to have air conditioning. And… I do not enjoy solo travel.

There, I said it. I am not a solo traveler. I do not like solo travel.

By any definition, I’m a loner. I need lots and lots of time alone and really only recharge by having “me” time. I rejoice when I have a weekend mostly to myself, enjoy movie matinees with strangers, and often make huge moves (NYC to Austin, to Las Vegas, L.A., Costa Rica and back to Las Vegas) with no one to help but my trusty guys at Mayflower. Not only that, but I prefer to drive cross-country by myself and fly solo – there’s nothing I like better than being at a new airport by myself, bellying up to the bar to meet other travelers or perusing the shops.

And yet I do not enjoy solo travel.

I know I might have to get used to it. Someday. But so far, this is my truth.

On the road with Diana in Varna, Bulgaria

I’ve never been even the slightest bit interested in hitting the road solo. When I backpacked for three months after college, I toured Europe with my best friend. We had a blast. Since then, among my many other trips, I’ve visited friends in Rio de Janiero, Shanghai and Borneo… So I’ve spent a lot of time in faraway places by myself, while my friends are at work, for example – let alone press trips. (Oh, if you guys could see my framed picture of me alone on a boat from my romantic solo [press trip] vacation in Maui.) But I always feel uncomfortable even taking day trips by myself, because I hate the feeling that I’m trying to latch onto other groups. (Yet, I still do it.) While I enjoy wandering around a new city alone taking pictures, I often then lack the oomph to find hole-in-the-wall places to eat lunch or check out a dinner show, things I love to do when traveling with others.

This dislike came to light a year ago during a trip to Turkey and Bulgaria.

When I accepted a job in Las Vegas after a year of living as an expat in Costa Rica, I knew I needed one last adventure – and off I went. I met up with an old friend from Vegas who was currently on her RTW trip, Diana, from DTravelsRound. (She was one of my fellow speakers last night – fate brought her back to Las Vegas with me!) Poor thing – not only did I catch her during a phase of Major Travel Fatigue, but she came down with an awful cold. I didn’t bat an eye.

We raced through Istanbul, since she’d been there way too long, waiting for my arrival. (I love that city and can’t wait to go back.) Off to Bulgaria it was – and new adventures! Since she was feeling under the weather, I went out with

An Aussie and a Swede: two solo travelers we met up with

strangers every night from our hostel in Sunny Beach. I acted way younger than my actual age, and it was awesome. Then we got to Varna, a much more grown-up town without the lively nightlife scene of Sunny Beach. I moved to a modest hotel in the center of town, where I felt safe walking around alone. And off I went, without thinking twice. But while I loved my dinners alone, there were no other backpackers to meet. There was a folk dance festival I would’ve liked to go to, but I didn’t care enough to go alone. I just lacked, well, the spark.

I didn’t hate being alone, and I know I’ll end up someday taking an actual long-term trip alone. I’m well into my 30s, single, and a travel-holic; I know my fate. But I also know that solo travel isn’t where I shine.

The bottom line is, I’m just not that into it. When I travel, I want someone to share my experiences with me. I prefer having a friend, so we can jointly plan that day’s activities. I get shy going to do some things alone, and then I miss out.

I might get over it. Or, I won’t. It’s OK. Travel makes every one of us a better person, no matter how you do it.

I relearned last night that it’s ok, no matter what my travel style is.

Who cares if solo travel is not for me?

I get out there, and I do it. And anyone who doesn’t, shame on you.

 An earlier version of this article originally ran as a guest post on one of my favorite blogs, Spunky Girl Monologues.

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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Comments

  1. Great post, Abby. My relationship with solo travel was entered into reluctantly. When we were living in France and Holland many years back, Dave would go out of town on business… for a week or two at a time. I was in position where I had to take advantage of being amidst so manu things I wanted to do and see. I got used to it, but reluctantly. I still go back and forth with concept… most of the time, I do like having traveling companions — there’s a lot to be said for a shared experience. 🙂

  2. You and I always share a brain! I am reluctant, but will do it. I also like to share. 🙂

  3. Oh Abby, I totally understand what you mean! I love traveling but I always try to travel with somebody. It’s not that I hate to travel solo but it’s a better feeling of sharing the experience with somebody. There is nothing better than planning the trip with somebody and sharing the excitement before you leave for your travels.

    Come back to Bulgaria, I’ll travel with you this time 🙂

  4. I don’t like traveling alone either, though the truth is if I travel alone I interact more with strangers, especially with the locals and in a way it’s a richer experience.

  5. Love this post, and its perfect timing. Just last night I was laying awake thinking how much I don’t like solo travel. Physically traveling by myself is fine, but like you, I prefer to have someone to go out with and see things with and laugh with when I’m actually at a destination – moreso abroad than domestic.

  6. Sebastian, I totally wish I could join you in Bulgaria!!

    Laura, you just make me think of something. For many, many years I was a reporter, always in a town alone having to meet strangers to get a story, eating alone… I think maybe solo travel makes me think of work and not a vacation!

    Allison, I am so happy you wrote. I get so nervous writing about something that is not the norm!

  7. Such an awesome post, Abby! I think that a lot of people won’t do something just because they are a little hesitant, and then they miss out on the whole experience, but they don’t have to. I love that you embrace the reality of your travel style ~ let’s go on a trip together!

  8. I’ve never really tried it – I moved to a couple of cities alone and not knowing anyone so I figure that’s enough of that for me. And I guess now that I’m married I probably won’t have many opportunities to travel on my own, which is a shame because I would probably enjoy it much more in my 40s or 50s. Great post! =)

  9. you are SO AWESOME for admitting this abby!!! why the hell should everyone love solo travel?! and it’s interesting, and something i wouldn’t have thought of, that there isn’t some sure-fire direct correlation between being a self-professed loner, and liking solo travel. so true what you say, in real “live and let live” fashion, it’s okay to have whatever travel style suits you. it’s meant to be FUN, right?! 😉 love it- go you!

  10. I love our group of travel junkies — none of us would ever let ANYthing stop us!! For me, it’s the solo travel thing.

    JoAnna, I’m IN!

    Andrea, I also think I’ll be better when I’m older!

    Lorna, YES, whatever gets you out there!!

  11. Look how tan we were!!!

    As for the solo travel, there were plenty of times during my trip when I wanted to be with someone. I ended up meeting people and traveling with them. But, you’re right. Sometimes you just want to share things with. I travel solo, not because I’m a loner, but because most of my friends don’t take trips like I do. I would never want someone to travel with me for an extended period of time because then the trip doesn’t become about my exploration, but about our exploration. And sometimes, those two things don’t blend well. As for weekend trips, trips around America, true vacations versus traveling, I am all in for NOT being solo! There are some experiences and moments I want to share with other people from start to finish. 🙂

    And, I hate that I was miserable when you came to see me!!

  12. Firstly, I’d just like to say that I’m pretty sure skinny girls aren’t allowed to use the term “bellying up to the bar”. Just doesn’t sound right.

    Outside of that, congratulations to you guys for what was apparently a very inspiring Meet,Plan,Go. Judging from all the talk, it sounds like you guys have inspired a bunch of people to “Go”.

    I’d be an absolutely horrible solo traveler, so I’m always impressed by those of you who do it at all. Brave people, all of you.

  13. Diana, it’s true!! It’s hard to find people to travel with, which is why our interweb of travel folk is so important to me!

    Steve, it really was!! I was terrified to speak, but I was so glad I did. The group of people there was amazing, and I’m hearing so much about other cities as well.

  14. I appreciate both the solo and group travel experience. I think one can benefit tremendously from both.

  15. It’s true! Which is why i don’t turn down travel if I’m the only one around. I just don’t always shine while doing so.

  16. I am definitely a “loner.” I also need to have plenty of “me time” to recharge. While I prefer traveling with a select few friends (I won’t name names so as not to piss off other friends), I know I would much rather be alone that with someone that is not a compatible traveling partner.

    In my old age, I am quite picky and intolerant 🙂

  17. Choosing travel buddies is hugely important!! I’ve made some MAJOR blunders there.

  18. I totally agree with you. I’ve done one solo trip, 3 days in Sao Paulo, which was a blast because I really psyched myself up for it, but in general I’d much rather share the experience with someone. It’s not about needing help with the organizing or a sense of security, I just enjoy myself more when I’ve got a buddy there for the fun stuff. I’m sure I’ll take solo trips in the future, but like you, it’s not my preference.

  19. Exactly!! I can do it… but I just don’t enjoy it as much. 🙁 It also reminds me of work, since I was a reporter for so many years, always landing in strange places and having to talk people up!

  20. Love the honesty. I love solo travel, but was just discussing this with a friend the other day. It’s hard to see beautiful places or experience something special and not have someone to share in those moments. And I’m probably less reluctant to do things that are out of my comfort zone if I’m alone. There are benefits to both I think, but sometimes having a travel buddy is important!

  21. There are times that I feel travelling solo is cool, sometimes I hate it. I prefer travelling with someone. It’s like what you said, there’s a certain spark when you’re not alone. You have someone to laugh with when you see something funny and then make more fun of it. YOu have someone to enjoy the moment, someone to enjoy even the silence. I don’t mind travelling alone but the feeling of trying to be a part of another group is quite awkward for me. My last backpacking trip, I travelled with a friend. It was so fun, but we made sure we got solo time too. It’s quite nice as we know that travelling even a month will eventually make us sick of each other. Hahahah..

  22. I definitely feel you on this one. It’s not that I can’t travel alone, it’s that I would prefer not to. I do enjoy the security of having someone else with you — better not to get lost on your own in a scary place all by your lonesome, of course. But that’s not really it. I just like having someone (usually Seba) next to me, to hold my hand and say, “Isn’t this awesome?” and just generally share in the experience!

  23. Thank you, ladies!! I also like having someone there. Knowing I don’t, I sometimes get lazy on solo trips. WIth our enormous web of internet friends these days, why not plan with someone else? 😉

  24. This post got me thinking to the definition of solo travel: are you a solo traveler if you meet up with people on your trip? My picture should be beside the definition of loner in the dictionary. That said, when I was truly alone I was not happy. Meeting new people and friends on my solo journey in Europe made it that more rich. That said, I had no problem doing many activities on my own (museums, shopping) on my own and at my own pace. I think it’s good to have the balance of “me” time and putting yourself out there to do things in a group. Most importantly, you summed up what makes you happiest as a traveler. You’re traveling for YOU and not as part of someone else’s plan. That’s why I started doing trips on my own. Coincidentally enough, when I did my own thing, people wanted to join me for part of the journey.

  25. Love this post and I don’t like traveling solo either, but like you have done it as if I only traveled with friends I would have missed out on so many great trips. There’s nothing wrong with not liking solo, especially when you don’t let it stop you from traveling. You go girl!

  26. I’m sooo delighted that MPG was a success!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    There is something about solo travel that I just love with all of my heart and soul. While I prefer to share extraordinary and beautiful moments with others, and now especially my husband, I will still continue to travel solo from time to time. It challenges and changes me in ways that nothing else does.

  27. I love the spirit of us women not feeling that solo travel is where we’re at our best but doing it anyway, because nothing will stop us!

    Andi, you are such an inspiration. I hear “challenge” and want to save that work — you are always looking to grow, grow, grow! I sometimes just need a break haha

  28. I totally respect your honesty Abby. To tell you the truth, I’m not a big fan either of the solo travel either. Well not that I can say that I’ve done it very much, but even when I go out and venture on my own for a day trip, I often am thinking that Dalene would have (or have not) enjoyed this. I find it just more enjoyable to share experiences.

    Oh and you can come travel with us anytime 🙂

  29. Pete, that’s so sweet! I just dated a fellow travel junkie, and in seven months we never we anywhere together. I want what you guys have!

  30. Traveling solo doesn’t mean traveling alone. I think your trips speak to that. When you have gone on trips, meeting others and hanging out with them have been a blast. It seems you have traveling solo when there is no chance to meet other people. Then you are truly solo and alone. I think that is the difference.

  31. I don’t know that I’d want to go to a new country alone. There’s security in having at least one other person there. But I have ventured out to places near where I have lived when I wanted to do something before I knew anyone or when the people I knew weren’t interested in going. If I hadn’t I would have missed out on many experiences. At most of the concerts I went to alone, when people realized I hadn’t come with anyone, they usually said they were impressed because most people won’t do that, and usually they’d invite me to be part of their group. Just because you *arrive* somewhere alone doesn’t mean you’ll *be* alone. And even the times that you are, sometimes it’s nice just to be by yourself or in your own little bubble among a crowd.

  32. What’s become so glaringly obvious reading all of the comments is that I am alone SO much in my job, from when I used to take reporting trips for days by myself, until now, going to events almost nightly by myself. Solo travel reminds me of work! And work is exactly what I am trying to escape from when I travel… Aren’t we all?

  33. I’ve been traveling solo for so long that now I wish I had a travel companion sometimes. I do enjoy taking time alone, but sometimes traveling solo can be really exhausting. The best for me is to travel with someone and still keep time alone for each other, for example when we want to see different things. I haven’t found anybody willing to follow though, so I guess I’m still solo 🙂

  34. That’s exactly how I feel about my non-travel life, too!!

  35. Solo travels allows you to keep learning about yourself without having a crutch. Now I’m traveling with my boyfriend, but at times I am happy that I still get to travel solo, not because we don’t meet the same people by being together, but because I don’t lean on him for everything and that helps make me stronger. Right now living in Chiang Mai, he rides the motorbike around since he’s the better of us two, and we spend most of our time together. If he wasn’t around I think I’d be much more inclined to practice and since I’d be hungry, I’d learn quicker. Since we’re together I lean on him way too much. But there has to be that ‘alone’ time- where I can gossip long distance with my friends, and I am very much a loner as well- I actually enjoy spending time by myself. Thank you for reminding me that we all need our alone time, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even when traveling.

  36. You were in Bulgaria that is so near my country Serbia…you shoud come to Belgrade according to many travel guides city with best night life http://www.mothertrip.com/10-best-night-life-cities/ on the world…i live here and when i walk alone you are never alone , with one walk in city you would return with bunch of new friends that you would see them close as you know them for entire life … It is always good to travel with someone and for a change once for yourself …:) If you come in this region again , you will see hospitality 🙂

  37. Mica, you have the perfect setup! Plenty of alone time but a companion in the big picture. Amazing!

    Marko, yes, we were so close! Diana went on to Serbia. I met amazing people in Bulgaria. You are right about the hospitality!

  38. Know yourself, be true to yourself… sounds like you’ve got that covered. I enjoy a good mix as you’ve described; partly alone and partly with friends (old or new ones) – it’s nice to have my own plans but great to turn to a friend to share a view, laugh, etc…

  39. Travel with someone does have a lot of benefits, if nothing else because with the right companion you always have someone to laugh with. Not sure I’d be able to go without some “me” time though, and I also have a tendency to find a nice spot and just zone out for an hour or two to re-group from all the impressions I’ve had during a trip – I’ve not found many people who understand that tendency. Usually the drawback of traveling with someone, for me, is that I push myself harder and get too exhausted.

  40. I feel very similar, though I haven’t really traveled solo that much so I guess I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it. But I adore traveling with my partner – we always have such a fun time together! – and then few times I’ve traveled solo I really missed not having someone to share it with.

  41. We all agree that having fun and laughing with someone else is what we miss by traveling solo! I will never, ever give up “me” time. 🙂

  42. I travel mostly with my daughters and that’s such fun. But I do adore travelling on my own as well. That’s when I have time to reflect, to write…

  43. You don’t have to love solo travel, not everyone does. Many of us stumbled into solo travel by default–we’re single and love to travel and don’t have anyone to travel with. It’s either travel alone, or don’t travel. Some of us have taken a shining to the positive aspects of solo travel, others haven’t. There is no right or wrong way to travel. The important thing is that you haven’t let being solo stop you from traveling. Good post, Abby.

  44. I totally agree with you, Abby. Things are more fun when you travel with someone else than when you do it alone. My wife and I have always traveled together and honestly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

  45. Yes, that sounds ideal. Maybe someday I’ll meet someone who wants to travel with me!

  46. I’m with you on this one. I find travel so much more enjoyable with a companion.

  47. I can handle solo travel. But you know what? It’s not my favorite, either! I don’t like feeling like I’m butting into other traveling groups, and I’m shy most of the time when it comes to talking to strangers. I’d rather travel with a buddy than completely solo any day! That being said, I’m planning to tackle Eastern Europe solo next summer… Eek! My palms are already sweating.

  48. I wuite enjoy solo travel. It’s not that I don’t like meeting people on the road (I do!), but the thought of a solo bus ride or train ride to me is heaven. It’s just the way I’m wired… 🙂

  49. Good luck, Amanda! You’ll be great!

    Raymond, I’m totally with you. I LOVE the actual plane and bus rides ALONE!

  50. I completely understand. I used to actually love traveling solo, but since I’ve started traveling with Scott, I realize how much fun it is to have someone to share it with.

  51. I love that you have gotten to know yourself well enough to know all of this. Also, I’ll travel with you anytime dear. Being you in Argentina and Uruguay is the only reason that trip was saved for me. I loved every minute we had 🙂

  52. I understand what you mean. I prefer to travel with a partner, but sometimes I want to go alone. Usually when I want to go somewhere alone, it’s more about me and less about the place–I’m looking for time to recharge and do some soul searching. But when I really want to get out and explore somewhere, I like to have company 🙂

  53. See, Kirsten, we had so much fun TOGETHER!

    Emily, that’s exactly when I take off on solo road trips — when I need to recharge!

  54. Birds of a feather flock together! Haha, we are so much alike sometimes, it’s scary. It’s not that I WON’T travel solo, I just don’t enjoy it. I crave social activity like a crack addict, and yet I do value my alone time more than ANYTHING. And like you said, I consider myself completely independent. I always have been. We gotta be if we’re travel writers, right? Sorta? Let’s go on a trip. Thanks for being brave enough to fess up. 😉

  55. i’m totally there with you!!! i have this love/hate relationship with solo travel. it’s something i know i need at times but i just hate traveling on my own…

  56. I am with you. Apart from the safety aspect of travelling with someone I would much rather share my experiences of travelling with someone. Not least because you could reminisce with them later in life about it.

  57. I’m with you on the solo travel thing. Unfortunately, most of my work consists of traveling alone when I do travel, but it sure would be nice to have someone to share the adventures with.

    I’m planning a trip to SE Asia this spring… join me! 😉

  58. Ive always thought that I’d quite like to travel alone but when it comes down to it, I always chicken out and drag someone along with me. It feels like everyone talks about solo travel as though it’s one of those things you have to do at some point in your life but as long as I can drag a friend along, I think I always will!

  59. I loved your honesty in this post, and I can completely understand where you are coming from in terms of how it feels nice to share the experience for travel with another person, but I think most solo travelers do not travel because they particularly enjoy doing things by themselves. I can’t speak for everyone, but the reasons I travel alone boil down to three simple things.
    1: I’m a little bit selfish when it comes to travel. If I’m going to spend all that money and fly out to another country, I want to do everything my way. Compromising over something I have worked months to save up for is just not for me.
    2: I find I meet more people when I travel solo. It makes me easier to approach and allows me to move fluidly between different groups of people entirely based on my own personal preferences. As you said, there are times on the road where you arrive somewhere that has little to no travel scene. This can make things difficult, but it brings me neatly in to my third point..
    3: I mix more with the locals when I travel alone. Let’s face it, most of us would prefer to have a conversation with someone who speaks our language fluently, and can understand all of our jokes and passing comments without ever having to put the effort in. When you travel with friends, this preference to speak your own language outweighs the need to mix with the locals. If you already have a friend to speak to, it is unlikely you will spend much time conversing with someone who can only string together a few simple sentences, and even less likely that you would bother to learn the local language. I’m not saying that you can’t ever hang out with locals if you are not traveling solo, I’m just saying it is more of a rare occurrence. When I lived in Sri Lanka there was a noteable lack of travelers in my village, and after a while I started to branch out a bit more and make friends with lots of Sri Lankans. This in turn led to me being invited to weddings, funerals, and general village events, and thus gaining a greater understanding of the culture, which is, after all, the reason I travel in the first place.

  60. Great post!I just stumbled upon your blog and love your honest voice – thanks for putting yourself out there 🙂 I am leaving next year to travel the world with my boyfriend and I don’t know if I would be making quite such permanent plans if I were doing things solo. I like to share the experience and it’s really nice to hear from a like-minded traveler. I look forward to reading more x

  61. Great post. I came across it on Stumbleupon and enjoyed reading it. I too struggle with traveling solo, but have been doing a lot of it over the past year. It’s still not my favorite thing to do, but I’ve gotten to like it more the more I do it.

  62. Solo travel is not for me. I’ve always traveled with company, my family, my friends, and now… my husband… it’s so much nicer to share the experience with somebody.

  63. I hate travelling solo as well! Its nice having someone else always around so I can justify being anti social and not feeling like I have to live that party life style just to meet new people

  64. Great post, Abi. I loved my solo travel experience, but only because I spent most of it not on my own! Still, there were moments when it was lonely and I’d love to go on my next trip with someone else. It’s a totally different way of traveling, but good on you for getting out there!

  65. I can very much understand why you wouldn’t want to travel solo. For me one of the best things about traveling is the ability to share your experiences with someone else! Traveling with my husband has been great – we like similar things, have similar views on budgeting our trip, and he understands me! We’ve been working on boats, and standing the night watch by yourself is a great way to get some “me time”, which as an introvert is something I crave!

  66. I agree. I am not a solo traveler. Adventures are so much better when they can be shared. That’s why it is so wonderful to work with/date/marry/commit to/partner with someone who compliments your skills. Bret and I have been working together 365/24/7 for the past year on Green Global Travel. Our writing, photography, video, organizational, marketing skills fit together amazing well. We only travel as a team. You just may want to add a little extra to your dating profile in what you can offer (amazing travel) and what you’re looking for (photography, writing, editing). Of course, a nice rear-end helps too!

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