10 Advantages of Traveling Alone

published Jul 19, 2016
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(Image credit: Tetiana Yurchenko)

I’ve always liked being by myself. While some might say that I’m a loner, I prefer the more charitable term “independent.”

A lifelong resident of cacophonous New York, I relish the city’s quiet spaces: a cool, dark movie theater in the middle of the day; the beach on a hot summer afternoon; the corner table at my local cafe at the beginning of the dinner shift, before the crowds fill the restaurant with the buzz of their excited conversations. As long as I’ve got a good book to read, I’ve always been more than content to observe these normally social rituals all on my own.

The same is true when I’m away from home. While I’ve gone on some truly unforgettable trips with friends, lovers, and family members, I much prefer traveling alone.

I’ll never forget the first solo trip I took: I was 14 years old and headed to Quito, Ecuador for the summer, where I’d be living in a homestay and taking side excursions to visit the country’s mountains, beaches, and rainforests.

Out of the country for the first time in my young life, I experienced a great deal of homesickness during the five weeks I was away, but also a great deal of exhilaration: Here I was, on my own in a faraway place, and suddenly, all my decisions were my own to make.

The day I flew home, I remember, I collected my enormous souvenir-swollen bag from the baggage carousel and strode confidently through the airport, feeling about five years more mature than I had when I left.

That notion was infectious, and has stuck with me all these many years later; since that fateful trip, I’ve wound my way through northern Spain on tiny regional buses; padded over Paris’s endless bridges; and ricocheted through Mexico City’s endless subway tunnels — all on my own.

Traveling alone can be inspiring, uplifting, and also practical. Here are 10 advantages of solo travel.

1. Trip planning is easier.

Getting everything ready for a solo trip — booking flights, making hotel reservations, buying museum passes — is a breeze when you’ve only got one person to consider. Far from the tortuous back-and-forth, reply-all email threads of group trip planning, the process is smooth, straightforward, and headache-free.

2. You’re the master of your own schedule.

Once you arrive at your destination(s), your itinerary is yours to control. Whether you want to laze on a beach clutching a frozen drink or museum-hop for 10 hours a day, only one person can approve or veto your plans: you. It’s a much less stressful experience than deciding everything in a democracy, and makes for a truly relaxing trip.

3. Last-minute changes are A-OK.

On a similar note, when traveling alone, there’s more flexibility for plans to change at the drop of a hat. If you wake up feeling adventurous, you can hop on a regional bus to visit some far-flung attraction; by the same token, if you feel run down at the end of the day, you can cancel your dinner plans and munch takeout in your hotel room. There’s no one to disappoint when things don’t proceed exactly according the agenda.

4. It’s easier to stay on-budget.

Anyone who’s ever tried to split a dinner check six ways is intimately familiar with the fact that dining in a group can be far more expensive than eating alone: Even though you only had a salad and a glass of wine, you end up paying part of your friends’ steak-and-cocktail share. When traveling in a group, expenses can rack up fast as community opinion agitates for that pricier tapas bar, an unexpected snack pit stop, or a late-night beer run. When you’re by yourself, you can stick to planned meals and activities or tuck away your wallet for a while if you go overboard one day.

5. Getting into the hottest restaurants and performances is a cinch.

One the most compelling perks of traveling alone is the relative ease of securing a reservation at your destination’s hottest restaurants. While getting a table for six might represent a formidable challenge, grabbing a spot at the bar or even a reserved table for one rarely requires much of a fuss. Similarly, snagging a last-minute ticket to the ballet, opera, or nearly sold-out concert is usually a breeze, compared to the hassle of attending performances en masse.

6. You’re much more open to social experiences.

There’s something about being far from your usual environs and the expectations people have of you that opens a person up; traveling solo, you might very well find that you’re more inclined to strike up a conversation at the bar or on the metro or accept an impromptu dinner invitation from a mere acquaintance. Heck, I even met my boyfriend when traveling alone in Mexico last year.

7. You’re better able to absorb your travel experiences.

When traveling in a group or even as a couple, it can sometimes be hard to parse how you truly feel about that museum exhibit you saw, that boat ride you took, that conversation you had with a stranger. The experience immediately becomes a collective one as you share what happened.

When you’re on a trip alone, the opposite is true. Because you’re your only sounding board, you’re much better able to internalize your adventure. You can really linger over the tastes and textures of your meal or the shades of color in the sunset, and because these memories are deep and truly felt, they’ll last for years to come.

8. You’ll get some reflection time.

A group trip can often be exhilarating, a mile-a-minute blur of fun excursions, inside jokes, and planning sessions that keep you occupied until your head finally hits the pillow at night. Solo trips, however, lend themselves to a slower, more reflective pace — one that can be incredibly restorative.

As you pass long hours inside your own head — meandering through city streets, zoning out on trains, and grabbing a mid-afternoon nap — chances are you’ll work some things out and return to your daily life feeling calm, centered, and ready to tackle personal and professional projects.

9. It’s empowering.

Since that first solo trip, I’ve continued to find traveling alone to be a transformative endeavor — one that makes me feel capable, independent, and empowered. Negotiating the sometimes-difficult intricacies of getting around in an unfamiliar place — and drawing upon only your personal resources to do so — is a self-confidence booster that you owe it to yourself to experience at least once in your life.

10. It makes you a better traveler.

Years of going it alone when traveling have made me a seasoned pro, able to book even complicated, multi-stage trips with ease — and then enjoy them to the maximum once I arrive. When you’re your own travel agent, trips begin to feel less like an organizational nightmare and more like a fun challenge. So the next time you submit to that group trip — and yes, they can be fantastic — your friends and family will defer to your wisdom and experience.

Do you love traveling alone, too? What are your favorite perks of going solo?