The first time I truly traveled alone, it was on a summer trip to Italy when I turned 19. It was the first time I had to do everything myself, from booking train tickets and hotel (okay, hostel) rooms, to picking restaurants, finding museums, and just deciding how and where to spend my days. End result: It was mostly wandering the streets of Rome and Florence eating as many flavors of gelato as I could find. And it was glorious.
There’s no doubt that traveling with friends and family can be fun and useful. You can trade inside jokes. Have someone to share the splendor of a sunset with. Watch each other’s belongings during bathroom breaks.
But there are plenty of reasons to love, and even prefer, solo travel. While it does have its downsides, solo travel becomes the opportunity to see and do things you wouldn’t otherwise, without the filter of having another person there to influence your experience. Here are some of my favorite things about traveling alone.
1. One word: freedom.
To do what I want, see what I want, eat when I want, sleep when I want. My single favorite element of solo travel is the total freedom to do everything my way. Am I a control freak? Occasionally. But traveling alone lets me indulge that tendency without driving anyone else crazy. I also find it a lot less stressful when I don’t have to plan around anyone else’s schedule (or wait for them to shower and do their hair), or budget, or feel guilty at those moments when I have to get back to the hotel for a conference call at odd hours, or rush through a last-minute museum visit. Or when I decide to simply skip the museum altogether because I had a late night and just want to sleep in and vegetate for the morning watching Bad Moms on my computer.
2. I can walk into the hottest restaurant in town and get a seat without reservations.
One of the reasons I most love traveling alone is that you can often just stroll into that hot new restaurant you’ve read about and snag a seat. Sure, it might be squeezed in at the bar between other diners or drinkers, but hey, you still get to try the food. Thanks to my single status, I’ve walked into booked-for-weeks (if not months) restaurants like Frenchie in Paris and SuperNormal in Melbourne on a moment’s notice and been seated and ordering within minutes.
3. Strangers talk to me.
Maybe I just give off a super-friendly vibe (I don’t), but I find that when I’m traveling alone, people approach me and talk to me more than when I’m traveling with other folks. It can be a mixed blessing when the person talking to you is an Australian mining executive who wants to tell you all about his favorite beers on the long flight from Brisbane to Los Angeles. On the other hand, it can be downright delightful when the convivial group of Argentines dining next to you at a Buenos Aires hotspot strikes up a conversation with you, invites you to join them, and then takes you out dancing till the wee hours. Not only to scenarios like this unfold more frequently when I’m traveling alone, but I also find I’m more open to these chance encounters.
4. I can save some money.
One of the tips I give people that many travelers forget is that you can often save a few bucks on hotel bookings when you remember to adjust the room occupancy to one person when making a hotel booking. If you’re just purchasing the cheapest prepaid rate, this won’t make much of a difference. But if you’re booking a rate with extras like breakfast, you will usually see some savings.
5. I'm always in the moment.
I know this sounds new age-y, but hear me out. In this day and age when we’re constantly surrounded by context — by the places we know and the people who know us, whether in real life or via virtual connections like Facebook or Snapchat — we don’t always get the oxygen we need to evolve and push the boundaries of our identity. Solo travel is the single best way to get out of any pigeonholes you might feel trapping you (especially if you can unplug from your social networks for a spell). Putting yourself in a new setting and keeping an open mind can all do wonders in terms of self-exploration and self-knowledge with positive effects that last well beyond the end of your trip.
6. Self reliance is its own reward.
Have you ever been on an organized trip to a destination, whether with a tour group or a group of friends or family, only to return sometime later and realize you have no idea where you are or how to get around or what the name of that restaurant you really loved was? When you’re traveling alone, you have no one else to depend on (or blame!) to get where you need to go and see what you want to see. When you’re the only person looking at the map or picking a restaurant or figuring out which metro line you need to take, you pay much more attention to all the details and get to know a place that much better.
7. I don't have to share a bathroom.
Ordinarily I don’t think this is really an issue. We’re all adults and we’ve all read Everyone Poops. But sometimes, you just need your own bathroom. Like when those scallops you had at dinner are starting to make your stomach start to do acrobatics. Or when the hotel designer decided that it would be really cool to put in all-glass walls in the facilities so that you can see the shower and toilet from every other point in the room. Too far!
8. I can take as many photos as I want.
You don’t have to be a millennial to have moments where all you want is to make all your friends back home jealous by Instagramming that luscious three-scoop ice-cream cone or Snapchatting a yoga pose on the beach in Bali. When you’re traveling with another person, it can awkward, annoying, or downright rude to be on your phone for long stretches. But when you’re on your own, no one is there to give you judgmental looks or weary sighs as you try to pick just the right filter for the umpteenth time before posting. Just be sure that social media doesn’t take over your whole trip and that you’re actually experiencing the things you’re documenting.
9. No judgement!
Remember that whole gelato thing I mentioned earlier? Well one of the reasons that experience was so delicious (and that I gained five pounds) was that no one was there to say, “Again? You’ve already had three today!” Oh no, I was free to stop into as many gelaterias as I wanted, order as many scoops as I wanted, and the only person who had to know was me. Being on your own frees you from the judgment of others both in terms of everyday minutiae (like my sugar-fueled teenage dietary predilections), as well as what you should expect of yourself at any given moment. So have that extra glass of wine. Flirt with that cute waiter. Splurge on the front-row seats at the concert. Opt for the spa-treatment add-on. You have no one to answer to but yourself.
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