One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more.
— Thomas Jefferson
A few weeks ago I came across a website designed for people traveling alone – the Solo Traveler Blog. Their posts have opened for me an entirely new appreciation for what can be gained or lost by traveling alone.
People travel alone by preference or by default for a variety of reasons.
- Business travelers add a few days of recreation to a business trip.
- People used to be part of a pair and now are not.
- People enjoy destinations or activities which their partners do not appreciate (or might actively dislike).
- People have been “on their own” all their adult lives.
One under-appreciated benefit of traveling alone is independence. You never have to negotiate with anyone over what to do next. Your schedule can be as flexible as you want. You can stay the whole day in one exhibit that really speaks to you rather than seeing all the galleries. Or you can stay in the hotel or spa all day if that is what suits! Emotional or intellectual independence is more possible when you are alone; traveling with a companion invites you to constantly conform your observations and moods to be agreeable. This can seriously impact the way you experience a place. You are more likely to have your own genuine experience when traveling alone.
One problem that plagues the solo traveler is relative expense. A hotel room for one costs the same as a room for two – but a single traveler who can abide a tiny single room for less can sometimes save a small margin of expense. And if your priorities do not include having a fine hotel, then you do not need to wonder if the hotel choice will suit your traveling partner. Most cruise lines charge a higher rate for a cruiser occupying a cabin alone – since the cruise line does not have the additional purchases of the second occupant to fill in the usual income they might gain from that cabin. Many lines do offer sailings where no single supplement is charged, so the lone individual pays the double occupancy rate.
Other issues for the single traveler carry more emotional baggage.
Loneliness: If you are not comfortable with being on your own perhaps you should try solo travel only in small doses at first. Meeting people in various brief tours or on your cruise ship can fill the “company” gap to varying degrees, and there is no commitment to continue any relationship further.
Security: Making personal connections as you go can offer security too. Letting the concierge know that you are making a day-long excursion to her recommended vineyards will leave a trail of expectation that you will return safely at day’s end. Other rules of thumb for personal safety are the same as for any traveler, alone or in company. They just feel more urgent when there is no one along to lend the illusion of invincibility we often unwisely assume.
Anxiety: It is not unusual for solo travelers to arrive at their destination and say to themselves “What on earth was I thinking?!” Rest and a good meal are the best counter-moves to restore equilibrium following this kind of anxiety. Reminding yourself that you are here to see the XYZ exhibit is a hearty tonic for commitment which has turned to jelly. You could schedule that visit early in your stay to push through to the rewarding part early on. Or you could spend a day or two just acclimating to the new place by doing the things you do at home: coffee shop, bookstore, walking the neighborhood. In a familiar sort of environment you should feel your typical confidence returning.
If you are in a position to travel alone, do think creatively about the options. The website mentioned above will give you lots of encouragement and ideas, and I would be happy to help you research your possibilities. There can be lots of freedom when you have only yourself to please. The first challenge might be deciding where to go and what to do! Let me know how I can help.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
4 December 2014