Travelling alone is immensely liberating. Nobody to compromise with or have to accommodate.
Understandably some are nervous about the prospect and have many different concerns. Women in particular face many different obstacles when travelling alone. But we can also reap benefits that men, or people travelling together, can’t get.
First the pros
Pro 1 – You can do what you want
This is a bit of a no-brainer.
You can spend hours photographing every stall in the market without someone tapping their foot waiting for you.
You can eat what you want when you want without having to wait for the other person to become hungry.
You can make up your mind on the spot as to what you want to do. You don’t have to consult anyone or make compromises.
It’s really all time just for YOU so make the most of it!
Pro 2 – People warm to women more easily
I’ve often struck up conversations with strangers in restaurants, on trains, in shops, even just walking down the street. I’ve always been met with a smile and a warm response. There’s something safe about speaking with a woman which means people will often be open with you, particularly other women.
People are more willing to help you out when you tell them you’re travelling on your own. I’ve been offered so much advice and support from strangers when they realise there’s nobody to support me.
Perhaps there is some benevolent sexism involved but I’ve always felt people just want to be kind, not that they think I need special help.
I’ve heard many stories about women travellers striking up friendships with local women, being invited into their homes and being shown a side of the culture you just can’t get anywhere else.
It’s a shame that a man in a similar situation is viewed with that bit more suspicion. And a couple is a self contained unit that people don’t want to get in the middle of.
But the benefit for women is that when we travel we’re met with a little more warmth and friendliness.
Pro 3 – Boost your confidence
- Are you in a rut and need a break from your routine?
- Are you looking for ways to become more confident and learn some life skills?
- Have you been in a dominating relationship and want to find your own feet?
Solo travel is a fantastic way to build yourself up. Remember it’s not the distance that counts, it’s the experience. You don’t need to spend a month backpacking around India, you could spend one night in a neighbouring city.
Boost your self esteem. Prove to yourself that you are capable. Prove to others that you’re capable, if that’s what you need to do.
When you’re in a new place on your own you’re reliant on yourself and only yourself. You’ll have to get yourself out of any jams. You have to make ALL the decisions.
For some people this is terrifying but all the more reason to go for it!
If it’s a brave step for you then take it. You’ll be a renewed person because of it.
Pro 4 – Push your boundaries
Travelling alone is a brilliant way to be your true self. All expectations are removed. You’re not your job, your relationship status or your motherhood situation. You can find out who you are when all these labels are removed.
Women in particular face lower expectations and have fewer opportunities to push themselves due to financial and home life obligations.
Even a small trip by yourself can push these boundaries and help you explore different skills and qualities you didn’t know you had.
If you’re introverted you can push yourself to speak to strangers and make decisions. If you’re extroverted you can push yourself to spend time quietly by yourself.
Whatever your personal boundaries, travel is a great way to explore and conquer them. Doing something brand new will open your eyes and heart in a way nothing else can.
Pro 5 – You’re more engaged with what’s going on around you
With nobody by your side chatting about their work woes or the house renovations you’re free to really soak in what’s going on around you. You’re more in tune with the sights, sounds and smells without the distraction of someone else’s chatter.
It’s easier to get involved in the culture when there isn’t someone by your side anchoring you to your home life and topics of conversation.
Here’s an example from my own travels…
I was once in France by myself and wanted to try out my language skills. So I summoned some bravery and asked;
“Deux euro cinqante” she replied
It took me a moment to figure out what number she’d just said. (I never said I was good at French!) But when I got it she was so pleased for me! She handed over the juice with a massive grin and we shared the joy of my small success.
That beautiful moment wouldn’t have been as sweet with someone providing a safety barrier for me. I was fully immersed in the effort and celebration of the short exchange.
Pro 6 – Room for a little one?
There’s often room enough for one person where a couple would struggle. It can be hard to find two seats together but there’s normally one odd seat available. When you’re travelling solo you can squeeze in wherever there’s space and people are more willing to accommodate just one.
- One remaining single seat in the front row
- The small table in the corner of a packed restaurant
- Space for just one more on the bus
Now the cons – and how to conquer them
Con 1 – You’re move vulnerable
Women are often put off travelling alone because they’re more vulnerable. Don’t let fear put you off doing something amazing. Women are, unfortunately, more of a target in general but there are steps you can take to look after yourself, you’re NOT powerless.
It can be disconcerting to be somewhere you don’t know, or you don’t speak the language. So plan ahead and be prepared.
- Research safety tips for the particular area you’re going to
- Look at what cultural norms you’ll encounter, any areas that are less safe, what the local taxi number is
- Make sensible decisions
- Take some language lessons or even self defence classes
- Wear a fake wedding ring and carry a dummy wallet
There’s so much safety advice out there I can’t list it all. Just don’t let your worries stop you when you can be prepared for most situations.
I will add that it’s a good idea to keep in touch with people back home more frequently than you feel you need to. You know you’re fine and enjoying a walk in the park. But your loved ones don’t know that and are probably anxious for you. Take a moment to put their minds at ease and you’ll give yourself peace of mind that someone at least knows where you are.
Con 2 – You might get bored or lonely
I admit when I’m travelling I do miss conversation.
You might be alone but you don’t need to be lonely, there are fascinating people all around. Strike up a conversation with another person on their own. Talk to the person next to you on the tour bus and find out what they’ve enjoyed on their trip. You just need to take the first step.
If you’re staying in a hostel there’s normally a common area you can make friends, organised pub craws or walking tours. If you’re couch surfing or at an Airbnb you can get to know the host.
Hotels are a bit harder but definitely not impossible.
Besides, being bored can be good for you. It forces you to think creatively and find new things to do. You’ll see more of your destination if you go on an extra walk than if you stayed in the hotel room chatting to your travel buddy.
With our busy lives it can feel very strange to be disconnected from our gadgets and TVs. So take the opportunity to get to know yourself and find some peace.
Con 3 – It’s selfish
Ok maybe you have massive financial responsibilities and a family and a job and all these grown up things. All the more reason to invest in yourself and become a better person.
Taking a break from life and changing the scenery is good for your mental health. Looking after your own happiness is vitally important and if some people think that’s selfish then they don’t have your best interests at heart.
(Unless you’re literally bankrupting your abandoned family to fund your next adventure. That would be bad.)
It doesn’t need to be a long trip. And it doesn’t need to be expensive. Whatever suits your timeframe, budget and bravery level is just perfect.
Con 4 – You can’t share someone else’s passion
Other people can open your eyes to experiences you wouldn’t have chosen yourself. By sharing their passions you’ll get to try new things.
- Fall in love with a new artist at the gallery you’d have walked straight past
- Try different food you wouldn’t have chosen
- Hear beautiful music at an outdoor concert you didn’t realise would be good
But you can still fill your adventures with new experiences. Ask the hotel staff for local gems or swap tips with fellow travellers.
Taking a tour is a great way to soak up some enthusiasm for local arts and culture that you’re not already aware of. You don’t need a travel companion to give you this boost.
If you remember to try new things on your trip you won’t miss out.
Con 5 – It costs more
That damn single supplement! It’s the thorn in the side of any solo traveller. You have to pay for the whole hotel bill when it would be half the cost with someone else.
There are low budget options like couch surfing, hostels or Airbnb. I personally prefer to save up and get my own hotel room because my shared accommodation years are behind me now.
But if you don’t mind a bunk bed check out hostels with good safety reviews. Or if a 2-star hotel would suit you fine just go lower budget.
The accommodation and taxis are the main things that will cost more because you’re not sharing. Everything else from flights to food is the same price so really it’s not THAT much more expensive to go on your own.
Con 6 – “Can you mind my stuff?”
The problem – You’re half way through dinner at a lovely restaurant on the promenade. You’ve got your rusksack by your feet, a jacket on the chair and half a pizza in front of you. Then nature calls.
Do you ask the next table to watch your stuff? Do you hold it in?
The solution – Never leave anything unattended. Even with people who look nice watching it for you. Just because someone looks nice doesn’t mean they haven’t noticed that expensive camera lens in your bag, or that drink beckoning to be spiked.
Just have a bit of forward planning with things like bathroom stops. You can keep your rucksack padlocked and hook the strap under the table leg to be a little more secure.
But the main thing is to travel as light as you can. It’s easier to carry, it’s less in the way, it’s less of a burden in general. As the old saying goes
“Take half what you think you’ll need and twice as much money”
I hope you’ve found some of this inspiring. You can share any other pros and cons I’ve missed in the comments below.