Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to travel internationally with two friends of mine. This is a treat, as it’s been almost a decade since I traveled internationally with anyone, and never in a group. In the intervening years, I’ve been to quite a few new countries and continents, but by myself.
It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “Oh, I could never travel alone.” When pressed for details, people usually mention fears: fear of being alone, fear of not knowing what to do, fear of personal security.
On the other hand, I am sure there are plenty of road warriors who wouldn’t dream of taking a long trip with anyone else.
Having had experience in both contexts now, here is what I have learned regarding traveling alone versus traveling with others.
(I should first note that I’m not talking about traveling with a big group, like one of those big package tours, as I have no experience with them. They may offer either the best of both worlds, or the worst of both worlds, depending on what’s important to you.)
The benefits of traveling solo
I have probably the most experience with traveling by myself, so I’ll start here:
- You have complete freedom. Do you want to go here or there? Do you want to stay where you are? Do you want to visit this museum or hike up that hill or just sit in a cafe? You need to confer with no one. Just go.
- You will meet people. This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of traveling alone. As social creatures, we tend to link up with each other, and a person traveling alone will usually end up finding others. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to connect with others when you’re traveling in a group, but as you have familiar people to interact with, you have fewer reasons to interact outside of your group. I can speak from experience that a simple question about directions can lead to making new friends and/or (in one notable case) a museum meetup and an art gallery opening.
- You will get a seat. Whether it’s on a plane, on a bus, or on a roller coaster, you have access to all the free spaces available. Two or more seats (especially next to each other) are definitely not as likely.
The benefits of traveling in a group
Here’s the other side of the coin:
- You will save money. From sharing meals to sharing rooms to buying items too big for one person, traveling in a group will allow you to cut costs.
- You can share responsibility. On this particular trip, our little group naturally donned our own roles where we are best suited. One of us was the Ministry of Technology, another of us was the Ministry of Food, and I was the Ministry of Transportation (which the latter should surprise no one). Not having to be responsible for absolutely every single decision can reduce the fatigue that is a central feature of traveling.
- You can leave your bags for a second. Having someone there to watch your stuff while you, say, run to the ticket office, or even the restroom, can save you a fair amount of stress. After all, no one wants to squeeze all of their stuff into a restroom, I assure you.
So which is better?
By this point, it should be obvious that both traveling alone and in a group have pros and cons so I can’t recommend one or the other. So what I can recommend is that you try both. You will have very different experiences, even if you go to the same area, and this will allow you to experience all the various aspects of travel.
If you’re used to traveling in a group, why not try a solo jaunt? If you’re nothing but a road warrior, why not link up with another road warrior?
And if you’re used to neither, then it really doesn’t matter. After all, you can’t go wrong by going.
But enough about me. Do you prefer to travel alone or with others?
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