Having traveled on my own in Latin America for 5 months, I experienced the joys and difficulties of solo travel. There is a delicate tension between solo travel as an enlightening, liberating pilgrimage, and a challenge that is at times, lonely. Here are some pros and cons that can help you decide whether solo travel is a venture worth taking:
As a solo traveler, you are free to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, without having to negotiate or compromise with a travel buddy. It may sound a bit egocentric, but it’s also quite liberating. Perhaps the greatest benefit of travel independence is that you are not, by definition, the opposite – dependent. You can’t rely on your fluent Spanish-speaking friend to navigate in rural Mexico. You can’t delegate trip planning to your girlfriend because you’re bad at figuring out logistics. In short, you have to capitalize on your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses to survive and thrive during your trip. Though difficult at times, you will become more resourceful and confident in your abilities once you prove to yourself that you can accomplish more than you ever imagined.
Traveling on your own makes you vulnerable in ways that don’t happen when you’re traveling with a friend or in a group. At first, everything is unfamiliar and you don’t have anyone to rely on but yourself. Meeting new people and exploring new places demands some level of vulnerability. And a willingness to embrace the unknown. Learning to be vulnerable enables you to know others and yourself more intimately. Which leads to…
You learn a lot about yourself when you travel solo. You learn to push beyond your comfort zone by putting yourself out there and trying new things. I have even met solo travelers who claimed to have had epiphanies about what they should do with their career/life/relationships after traveling. Some people discover that they want to continue traveling until the well runs dry. Others find that – despite enjoying the trip – the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and choose to return to a comfortable and stable lifestyle. Traveling solo leads to self-discovery that is unique to each individual.
Since solo travelers can’t rely on the familiarity of pre-established friendships, they are more likely to immerse themselves in a new environment through language, culture, and customs. While in college, I studied abroad with 20 other students from my university. It was fun to roll deep with a crew I knew. But in retrospect, it held me back in certain ways by preventing me from learning new languages and experiencing true cultural immersion.
Yes, New Friends
Even the most independent vagabond travelers desire connectedness with other people. As human beings, we’re hardwired to desire community, relationships, and companionship. We also have a tendency to be cautious and skeptical of strangers, particularly those who differ from us. If you are traveling with a friend or in a group, you may be less likely to extend an olive branch and break bread with locals or fellow travelers. I think Drake is sending the wrong message: yes new friends, yes new friends, yes new friends; yes, yes new.
Traveling solo isn’t easy. You’ll miss your friends, family, and community back home. You may experience culture shock, particularly if there is a language barrier. Everything is unfamiliar at first, and in the developing world, there might be stimulation overload. If you get sick or hurt abroad, you won’t have a support system to nurse you back to health. You have to count the cost before traveling alone and consider whether you can endure these challenges.
We want to know and be known by others. Meaningful friendships and relationships are importance to most of us. As a solo traveler, you will meet many wonderful people along the way, but it takes time to build relationships. If the nature of your travel is transient, it will be even harder to develop friendships. You should expect to experience bouts of loneliness if you are traveling alone for an extended period of time.
Lack of Community
Unless you’re staying put in one spot for a while, it is difficult to establish community. Solo travelers gravitate towards other solo travelers, while groups of people are more likely to stick to their groups. Temporary companionship isn’t equivalent to community. You won’t have people who have known you for years and provide emotional or spiritual support. The silver-lining: you may learn the importance of community if you’ve taken it for granted in the past (speaking from experience).
Fear of Missing Out
FOMO and OCD (Obsessive Comparison Disorder) are all-too-common insecurities that have only been perpetuated by people framing their lives on social media. Don’t buy into the “my life is the greatest” Facebook trap. We all have highs and lows, and so it goes… There are, however, legitimate reasons to fear missing out, like important life moments with loved ones: weddings, child births, holidays, etc. It’s tough to be away from family and friends during these moments, especially if you’re traveling solo.
Absence of Shared Experiences
Have you ever taken a trip with someone and recalled the great experiences you shared together? Traveling with friends creates lifelong memories and priceless bonding moments. When you’re an old geezer, you can look back on the “glory days” with your friends, spouse, and family members. Remember when…? As a solo traveler, you will have shared experiences with people you meet on your trip, but not with friends or family that go way back.