I often get emails from people asking for advice about traveling solo. They talk about their fears and worries and I have to say, I have to step back and take a deep breath to avoid emailing back and screaming at them that they should just go, now!

Traveling on your own is not always easy, but with the right attitude it can be one of the most fantastic, selfish experiences you can have. Now that I have a young family, it’ll be a (long) while before I get the thrill of traveling solo again, but a girl can dream … so these are some of the things I miss about traveling alone.

#1: Decision Making

This is the biggest one for me. When you travel solo, everything is entirely up to you. Okay, it’s also up to the train timetables and the weather and the whim of border guards, but the basic decision on where you’re going and what you’re doing next is completely yours. You don’t need to pander to the interests of anyone else and if you don’t want to see yet another war museum you don’t have to.

You can also decide — entirely on the spur of the moment — if you want a rest, something to eat, to spend longer than you’d anticipated at a sight, or if you want to completely change your itinerary on a whim and head to Budapest instead of Rome. This is the highlight of solo travel for me — no negotiation is required.

People Watching on the Train, San Francisco, California
People Watching on the Train, San Francisco © Chang Liu

#2: People-watching

The best way to observe the locals is to sit back and listen. You can’t do that well when you’re chatting with traveling companions, but a solo traveler gets a special window onto this world. I love sitting there with a drink or a snack and watching the world go by, especially when it’s a world that’s quite different to my usual one.

Solo travelers easily blend into the background and you can eavesdrop on neighboring seats and learn all kinds of local secrets!

#3: Chatting with Others

It’s not just watching people that I enjoy when traveling, but also getting to know some of them, whether that’s fellow travelers or locals at my destination. I definitely still do this when I travel these days but when you’re a solo traveler, this becomes a whole level easier.

Everyone’s happy to talk to a solo traveler; some people even assume they’re doing a good deed by heading over for a chat with you as they assume you must be lonely. It’s also easier to join in with the plans of others when it’s only you that you have to consider.

On the platform, reading
Reading on the Platform, NYC © Mo Riza

#4: Eating with a Book

I love to sit with a delicious meal and a satisfying book (unfortunately, my husband’s family taught him it’s unhealthy to read and eat so I can’t get away with it now!). When I travel solo, it’s almost compulsory for me to have something to read in a café or restaurant.

It’s a great tip, too, for those who feel uncomfortable eating alone in a restaurant: if your head’s in a book, you will soon lose that feeling that everyone’s noticing that you’ve got no dining companion.

#5: Staying In

Spending a relaxing evening in a hotel room is sometimes all I want to do after a day of exploring museums or going hiking. A relaxing evening alone, with a glass of wine and a book or some TV, can give me the perfect time to reflect on what I’ve seen and process some of the new experiences I’ve had.

Staying in can also be an option for an entire day if you’re on a longer trip. If it’s only up to you to decide which day that should be, you can make the most of your time and not end up traipsing around a city exhausted just because your travel companion has tons of energy that day.

Always Gold
© Jack Batchelor

#6: Guilt-free Food Sampling

If I’m, say, in Belgium or Switzerland, I want to try the chocolate and lots of it. Same goes for sushi or okonomiyaki or ramen in Japan. No travel companion means there’s nobody to tell me I’m making a pig of myself. Yes, my slightly guilty conscience is still there, but that’s no match for the other voice in my head telling me I have to enjoy the local specialties while I’m there!

And it’s easier to make up for over-indulgences with a brisk walk instead of a bus or train ride when it’s only me I have to convince to do it.

#7: Stretching Out

Not sure if this is a mother thing, or a girl thing, but when I travel with my family, I tend to be the one who lets everyone else sit in the better seats in the plane or bus, or have the seat with the best view at the restaurant. It saves hearing complaints, and since my husband’s taller than me and my toddler’s squirmier than me, it seems somehow fair, too. But when you travel solo there’s nobody to compete with and you can choose the best spot for yourself and enjoy it. Ah, yes, I really miss that!

What about you? What are your favorite selfish parts of solo travel?

8 Responses

  1. Laura

    My friends look at me sideways when I say that I love to travel solo. I’m a very social person but have always prefered to tour a country alone – for every single reason you’ve listed. (at least I’m not alone!)

    Reply
  2. Collin

    Other positives include no fighting or drama. Even a few days with someone 24/7 will make two lovers fight, bicker, and argue and can take away from the entire experience.

    Reply
  3. candy lo

    I totally agree with all those listed. I once traveled with a group but when they had an itinerary completely different from mine, i went on my own for a day, met 2 locals on a park while i was busy taking pictures of myself. They invited me to a tea ceremony and i went with them. Despite the language barrier, they lead me back to the park where they’ve seen me and i rejoined my group who also finished their activity…i can’t forget my own solo adventure…help me to listen, be sensitive to other cultures.

    Reply
  4. mfred01

    I have been traveling alone for years now and I relate to every one of the seven things on Amanda’s list. I can also add the following:
    – Others (friends, family, etc) don’t have the time to go when you do and they expect you to reschedule;
    – Being good friends with someone does not necessarily mean being good travel buddies, starting from sharing space in a hotel room to just seeing the “other side” of their personalities close-up.
    – You don’t hear, “Can you cover the bill, I don’t have change right now.” And you never collect.

    I say go by yourself, unless it is a honeymoon.
    Or a family vacation, but then you know to brace yourself!

    Reply
  5. Ian

    I have always travelled solo. It forces you to be more open to communication. Only problem is that awful single supplement and of course cruises are out. In Siem Reap Cambodia I had to explain to the hotel manager that I was quite sane, apparently in their culture it is unusual for people to travel alone. Still there are even fellow tourists who think there is something wrong with you for travelling alone. Thing is if I were dependant on others to travel I would not have gone anywhere

    Reply
  6. mfred01

    Ian, I hear you loud and clear. I always choke at the single supplement but it is a necessary, budgeted evil. I am not sure why cruises are out. I am going on my first one this year to Auz/NZ. (I prefer to get on a plane and go where I want, when I want so I have avoided cruises in the past.) While i’ll be part of a group, I will be traveling alone. The tour guide said she will need to find someone to room with me. I have nightmares of being in a room…err…prison… with someone who is sloppy, unhygienic, loud, fill in the blanks…. So since I budgeted for this trip before I found out the price of being in the cabin alone, and I am still under budget, I respectfully said, “No, thanks.” Hey, only one time around. Might as well control what I can and be happy.

    Reply
  7. SoloMate Travel

    These are great perks of traveling solo. Events and plans that occur on the trip happen on your own terms and you get the fullest experience. In a sense, you’re free to be yourself without a companion having an influence on your actions.

    Reply
  8. Jonathan

    Is it likely that travel companions always want to stay together (i.e. 100% of the time)? This is all possible whether or not one travels alone.

    Indeed, #6 has worked out well for me. Generally speaking, I was the one with the big appetite, but my friend was the one who liked to sample six or so dishes at a time.

    Reply

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