It’s been a few days since I’ve returned to San Diego after two weeks in Japan and I’m finally all settled in. The jet lag hit me harder than I thought, but it’s given me plenty of time to catch up on sleep 🙂
As I said, I was just in Japan for two weeks. I started and ended in Tokyo, staying there for a total of 10 days. I also took two quick trips to Kyoto and Osaka, spending two days in each city before taking a shinkansen (bullet train) back to the capital.
Since I’ve been working full-time, I haven’t had a lot of time to travel and, in general, it’s extremely difficult to get work off in the U.S. anyway. These past twelve months have been the worst of my life and I knew I needed something to keep me going; something that I could look forward to and work for. Obviously, me being me, I decided to book a trip. I wanted to go somewhere I’ve never been, in a far far away land, where culture shock would be the main event. That’s how I landed on Japan.
I decided to travel solo for this trip (which is something I am not unfamiliar with) because the whole point of this vacation was to be a reward; a treat-yo-self kind of deal. I knew I would need time to be alone and to reflect on all that’s happened this year, and to eventually process it.
When people hear I travel alone, they are always shocked. The most common responses I hear are, “How could you possibly do that?” and “Props to you for going alone.”
But, actually, I prefer to travel alone. I get that it’s too stressful for some people, but I truly feel that it’s something every traveler should try at one point or another. Like anything, there are pros and cons to it and so, in my traditional Slow Boat Library manner, I’m going to lay out this list of the pros and cons of solo travel for all my readers! Let’s get it!
Pros of Solo Travel
You Don’t Have To Wait To Find A Travel Partner
I’ve always said that if I were to wait for other people to travel with me, I would never go. Especially at this age, where my friends have careers, are getting Masters’ degrees, or have families, it’s harder than ever to find someone to go with me. Even I have very specific times that I can travel (because of my full-time job) and I can’t narrow down my search any more than I already have.
Going Where You Want, When You Want
I’ll never forget the time I got in a fight with my friends because I went out exploring Amsterdam while they took a two-hour nap. I couldn’t see a problem with it, as I wasn’t going to just sit and wait for them, but things really deteriorated between us after that.
When you travel with other people, you always have to decide as a group where you’re going to go, when you’re going to go, and how long you’re going to be there.
When you travel alone, you can make it up as you go or, if you’re like me, make a meticulous travel itinerary. You can do whatever you want because you have no one else to accommodate. Traveling is supposed to be a stress-free time and planning out all the excursions and meals can really put a damper on the mood.
Travel Whenever You Want
When people ask me why I travel alone, I always have the same answer: If I had to wait for someone to go with me, I would never leave. Out of all my reasoning for solo travel, this is always my main argument. I’m a travel addict and it’s simply not realistic for me to get my fill and go with another friend or a whole group. I have more opportunities to travel if I do so on my own.
Getting Seated Right Away
This is a huge bonus for foodies. When you travel alone, you tend to get seated at restaurants and bars right away, or a lot quicker than everyone else. This is because servers can squeeze you in a single bar seat or even add you to a community table.
Perfect example: I went to L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Napoli. This place was opened in 1870, is quite literally world-famous, was featured in Eat Pray Love, and produces the single best pizza I’ve ever eaten. The line to get a table was easily a two hour wait, but when I put my name in and said I’d be dining alone, they skirted me inside and I had my pizza within 15 minutes. So worth it.
You Become More Independent
All of the sudden, you’re the one who has to figure out how to travel between cities, how to get past language barriers, how to make friends. You are in charge of only yourself and so you can focus on only yourself. But if you don’t go out and look for friends, you won’t make any. And if you don’t go out and buy food or do your laundry, it won’t get done. You can’t hole up in your house anymore. You have to take charge!
Guess what? It feels great.
Save On Nightlife
Typically, I don’t go out clubbing or drinking when I’m alone and that saves me an immense amount of money, considering how much I go out with my friends. Still, if I do want that experience, all I have to do is book a pub crawl or nightlife experience through Airbnb and I’m all set.
You Meet All Kinds Of People
Traveling alone does get lonely (shocker, right?) but it forces you to go out and socialize. In Japan, I got lucky because izakayas (the Japanese restaurant/pub/bar) are super small and people generally go alone. I met a ton of cool people while we were all squished into a ten-seater bar and made some quick friends. In the past, I’ve met people at cafes, my hostel, or even random stores that I ended up hanging out with later. It all works out!
You Learn To Be Comfortable Alone
Sometimes, being alone can be uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because thoughts and emotions that we’ve pushed away tend to bubble to the surface. Maybe it’s because we crave constant human companionship. Maybe it’s something else.
Either way, it’s healthy to spend time alone and to even enjoy it. You can learn about yourself. Being alone for two weeks in Japan helped me straighten out a lot of my feelings about my family, relationships, work, and life priorities. That was probably the most important part of my whole trip.
Cons of Solo Travel
Whether or not you travel alone, you’re going to get lost. The problem with solo travel is, when this happens, you’re the one who has to figure it out. You don’t have a group of people to all help find out where you’re supposed to go and how to get there. You can’t let that Type-A personality take control of the situation and just wait for the Uber.
When I was in Kyoto ten days ago, I went to the wrong Airbnb, couldn’t find a taxi to take me to the right one, and had to walk around for 30 minutes in the pouring rain until I found one. By the end of this, I had a quart of cortisol in my blood and had lost three years on my life.
You Have To Deal With Complications On Your Own
This has happened to me a dozen times over and it does not get easier. At some point in any of your travels, you’re going to experience at least one of the following:
- Losing a reservation (showing up too late, your friend never actually booked the rooms, you booked the wrong dates, etc.)
- A flight or train gets delayed and you have to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B in a very limited amount of time.
- You lose your wallet, credit card, passport, or phone. (Besides the inconvenience and possible danger that losing these pose, there is nothing worse than losing your phone on a solo trip. The boredom is absolutely mind numbing.)
- Don’t even get me started on what it’s like to be strip-searched at an Israeli airport.
There are a million ways your trips can go wrong and although, as I said before, the stress of it does not lighten-up, you will get better at dealing with it. And as a fun bonus, you’ll also gain some helpful life skills!
It Gets Lonely
There’s no way around it…you’re going to get lonely. Some days, the only people you talk to are your servers at a cafe. And that’s ok!! Embrace it! It’s okay to feel lonely sometimes. Just use it as fuel to appreciate being around your friends and family 🙂
Although I will say, even after traveling alone for the 30th time, I still am uncomfortable when I have to ask strangers to take photos of me.
When you’re traveling solo, you won’t have anyone to take your Instagram photos (which are sometimes embarrassing to pose for in public.) With no amicable photographer on hand, you’re left to either ask (or pantomime to) a stranger to take your photo or take a selfie. Mirror pictures are a happy medium.
Obviously, doing anything alone runs extra risks, and traveling is no different. Criminals, from pickpockets to sex traffickers, target solo travelers, especially women, because they are more vulnerable. You have to be extra, EXTRA careful and take certain precautions to ensure your safety. If I have any advice for you (besides doing thorough research on your destination and safety tips) it would be to trust your instincts.
Accomodation Is More Expensive
When you travel with a group, you guys will definitely save money on accommodation. My friends and I like to go for Airbnbs, but even if you stay in a hotel, you can get a nicer place, split the cost, and still spend less than you generally would on your own. However, the exception to this would be those 14-bed hostel doors that are oh so cheap.
You Get Addicted
The worst part about solo travel is that you learn to love it. After you’ve grown used to the freedom and solidarity, the next time your friends bring up the idea of a group adventure, a part of you will be tempted to turn it down.