There is ongoing and never-ending discussion related to travels… should you go solo or in a group? I did both. I stopped going with family after I got a bit older than legal age (18), I tried travelling with friends and solo. I’m used to taking a train and ride alone for few hours to my destination. For a long time, I just went with the flow and grabbed an occasion, for a solo trip or not. So here are my few cents, yens, rupiah, groszy, etc. on this matter.
Are you brave enough?
Usually, it’s said that you need to be brave to travel alone. This statement confuses me, an introverted traveller. Instead of going alone to the other side of the world, it’s more demanding to go there with somebody. You know, you’re stuck together 24/7 in another country, often in the same room, there is no running away if something goes wrong, you can’t hide anywhere. It doesn’t matter how well you know the other person – you can’t run away from each other. You may think that “since we live together at home, it should be ok”. No, even if you live together, you don’t spend 24/7 together, and you have your own lives. Unlike during travels. So, why is going alone considered the act of bravery then?
Some people say travelling alone is intimidating because you need to make decisions on your own, etc. Why isn’t it intimidating being in a group or a pair, where the other person imposes their own opinions on others (you)? Why isn’t it considered intimidating, when you have no voice, or it’s usually overruled by the majority? It may lower the self-esteem, no? What’s more even intimidating is the time when you really want to do something the others don’t want. Being the one odd and going your own way during the group travel might be even more intimidating than going alone in the first place.
When the bad times come…
Again, another of the pros of travelling in a pair or group… “when the bad times come, you aren’t alone, you have support”. But how about a time when it’s your friend the source of the bad times? I can’t believe that until now there weren’t any problems with “friends” turning quite unreliable while abroad or putting you in danger when doing something risky. What about when you are troubled, and your friend breaks down over it and gives you even more worries? Unlike what some people say that “travelling together” might build a long lasting friendship, I’d like to warn you: it may break down a long lasting friendship.
Since you travel solo, you can’t share memories with others… It might be true, but only might. Sometimes you and your friend(s) were together but remembered it differently. Is it “sharing memories” too? If you actually went alone… you can at least compare memories from visiting this place with other people. Besides… nothing stops you from having a local friend and meeting with them, making memories together. I travelled solo through Japan, but in some cities, I met with my friends, and we had fun together. Best of both worlds, if you ask me.
Sharing memories or licking your own wounds if something goes wrong? Your friend will probably have the similar point of view about the bad things, and you’ll nag at how poorly you were treated. It might make you go crazy (too emotional) about a thing that wasn’t worth it.
You can get sick
How often did you get sick on your travels? You know, the kind of sick when you need to go to the hospital… How often do you get sick during a month in your own country? The food poisoning isn’t exclusive to cuisine abroad only, after all. I didn’t even use a full pack of stomach tablets in 3 years time, Poland and elsewhere. That might be a drastic comparison, but online you see many tips on light packing for travels, telling you to not take unnecessary things. Most often than not, a buddy with you in the case of need is like those “excessive items”. And… are you sure, your friend in a far away place would be able to take care of anything (especially in areas with general bad knowledge of English?) if it is a life and death situation for you? I hardly can imagine a place where you’d be entirely alone by yourself and no locals around, to ask for help if needed. Or a place from which you wouldn’t be able to call your Embassy when it gets really dangerous.
A person to watch out for your stuff
When I read the following quote on Travel with a Mate website, I laughed.
One of the best things when travelling with a friend is the fact when you arrive in a new city one of you can watch the backpacks while the other combs the neighbourhood looking for a hostel. This is probably one my favourite things about travelling with another person. There is nothing worse than going hostel to hostel looking for a bed while carrying 30 lbs on your back.
Seriously? You really need to pack around 15 kg and carry it on with you during travels? 15kg is what I had with me (both carry-on & regular luggage) when I was moving to Indonesia for a year. If you just pack into a carry-on (and those are usually limited to 10 kg most), you won’t need to worry about having somebody watching your luggage. Hostels usually aren’t found in pack, unless you come to “backpacker’s ghetto” which I don’t recommend. And why didn’t you look for a hostel earlier? How about putting baggage in lockers and going to look for a hostel? This argument sounds so strange to me.
When you go abroad, meeting new people (even for an introvert) is a given. When you’re in a pair or group, it will take more work (from both sides) to have a new connection. I mean, with local people. It baffles me when I see that some people (like those ones in Travel with a Mate or GloboTreks) write about being disconnected from other travellers. Excuse me, why do you bother to even go abroad, if you want to be connected with travellers? Go connect with them online, from your room and don’t bother to travel. Other people (even unconsciously) may impact how would you see something, and when they’re prejudiced or their point of view is unjust… it’ll affect your travels (right now, if you meet them during your trip). Not worth it. Make contact with locals, try to stay open minded and have fun.
I think the only time when I met and interacted with fellow traveller during my trips was in Japan. I wrote in my earlier post, Travelling and People, about meeting him. I’m quite happy I lost him on the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimanguu. Chatting on the train was fun, sightseeing together – no.
As I noticed, in groups, my chance to meet people when I was with friends was very limited. I meet much more people when I’m alone. And that is not only limited to abroad but even in my own hometown.
Dining alone in Indonesia? Unlikely, if you eat in regular warung, somebody will always start a conversation. I might be repeating myself (see earlier post), but I made close friends this way. Even if I don’t like to be bothered while eating and generally feel strange when people approach me out of the blue. Especially if they don’t get hints from seeing me lost on my phone etc. But I’m happy I got those friends.
When you travel alone, you know you’re responsible for yourself only. How about when you travel in a pair or group? Is everybody responsible for themselves? Even unconsciously, with just adults in the group, somebody will have to take the lead.
Imagine yourself going abroad, with a friend that can’t speak English (popular in that country) or the local language. You know either English or the local language. Or both. Do you feel the pressure to take care of the other person? Because I do. I did. And I couldn’t bear an idea “something gets wrong while we separate for sightseeing”. How will they come back to the hotel, if they’re lost, don’t know the city and can’t ask for directions?
Something like that isn’t my idea of fun. Unless you pay me and hire me as a guide. I know I’d like my travelling companion to be on the same level, more or less. Before going to Japan or Indonesia with a friend, I’l think twice. I know the culture, I know the language, I have my friends there (they don’t necessarily speak English)… And I’ll make a “contract” before we go.
I didn’t comment on things like “there is somebody to take your photo” (lol, in the ‘age of selfies’), the “loneliness” and “less fun” etc. because they can hardly be treated as serious arguments for or against. I’d like people to stop writing things about “loneliness” or “less fun” because it just shows that somebody is feeling bad being just by themselves and have nothing to do with travelling.
As an introvert, I definitely prefer going alone. I had a great time with my friends, either during hiking in the mountains (Indonesia) or canoeing (Poland). To experience a culture, I better go alone.
What do you think – solo travelling or with friends?