Solo Travel Is Hard. Do It Anyway.

Mar 30, 2015    /    most popular posts, philosophy

Photo Credit: Benjamin.

Let’s talk about solo travel, shall we?

My friend Annette wrote a piece recently about why you should have a travel buddy.

Her point was that travel, especially full-time travel, requires some bravery. It requires you to step up and handle unexpected things, to roll with punches, to stand up for yourself (sometimes in another language). And having two people to share the burden is a welcome relief. Because sometimes you need a break from being brave, from being the one to hold up the world.

I think this applies in normal life, too, but in travel it’s amplified.

And so people laud and applaud the loveliness of having a travel buddy, a partner, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a best friend. Because sometimes you just need someone to hold your purse while you brave the grossest bathroom in the world (which, of course, has no hooks to hang a purse). And sometimes you are just tired of trying to ask for directions in French.

Two heads, as they say, are better than one.

But here’s the question people don’t ask: what if you don’t have the option of a travel buddy?

The whole idea is posed as a choice. You can either go it alone or take a friend! But what about when those aren’t your choices—when you don’t have a willing and travel-loving boyfriend, friend, sister, or parent? What about the times when your choice is either to travel alone, fully accepting that both the freedom (to make all the choices) and the burden (to make all the choices) are greater, or not to travel at all?

The truth is that this is sometimes our choice, not between two ideal options—solo travel with its ultimate freedom or partnered travel with its shared experiences and responsibilities—but between flying solo, braving that full burden ourselves, or missing out on the experience.

I’m reminded of a story my aunt told me a long time ago, about a woman she hired when she was running her company. The woman had planned a trip to Europe with her girl friends. And every single one of them ended up backing out. And that woman still went on the trip. Because maybe traveling alone wasn’t her first choice, but to bail on the trip completely? That wasn’t an option.

So she went and she had an amazing time. And later in her life, my aunt hired her because she was impressed by her courage.

My friend’s essay struck a chord with me because this is my story. I didn’t choose to travel alone. I chose to travel. And the alone part came with the package.

And is it harder sometimes? Absolutely. Especially in the past six months, being ill, dealing with unexpected moves, and all the financial stresses that come with those things.

But for me if it’s a choice between traveling alone, having to handle a solo hospitalization, an unexpectedly filthy rental, and a host of other hassles and tragedies, or not living a nomadic life, I choose the former. I choose travel. I choose experience. I choose circus school and Alpine hikes and early mornings at 13,000 feet. I choose sea kayaks in Mexico and motorcycles in Croatia. I choose an interesting life.

And so this post is for the rest of us, the ones not wrestling with the question of traveling with friends or going it alone, but wrestling with the question of traveling alone or staying at home. There’s no right answer, really. Home can be a lovely place, too. But if what you want is a life of travel, don’t let being alone stop you. Go. Do. Be unstoppable.

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8 Comments
  • Andrew
    March 31, 2015

    That was really well written. You made alot of good points. I am a solo traveler, but luckily I have learned to make friends and ask for help. I love to learn and so travelling is a great way to see new things, meet new people. Experience life in an entirely different way. I and love it, and hate it sometimes.

    I had an idea. It stems from the notion of the matrix in that our environment is created for us.
    What the environment is and this is key.
    Is our mind. We are the environment, the skies and walls and windows and people and(:D) ground, are in our heads. We can choose to interpret them anyway we want.

    Hi me back for a chat lol.

    • gigigriffis
      April 1, 2015

      Matrix, huh? Interesting.

  • Ali
    April 1, 2015

    Love this post! This was totally me when I first traveled solo. I had just broken up with a guy after realizing that, sweet as he was, it was not a good fit for many reasons, one of which was that he didn’t have much interest in travel. At that point I realized I hadn’t left the country in 7 or 8 years because I was waiting around for someone, friend, boyfriend, whoever, to go with me. So I decided to stop waiting. I researched and booked a trip to Greece by myself without a tour, and it was wonderful. It was full steam ahead after that. Great if a friend joined me, but usually I went alone. I think there are many people who travel by themselves because of situations similar to what you’re describing: no option of going with someone else. Maybe it becomes more of a choice later when they discover how much they enjoy solo travel, but most people who have a willing travel partner don’t decide to say no to that person and travel solo for the first time. At least, that’s my gut feeling on it. The desire to go and see and experience overrides the fear of jumping in alone. And it’s totally worth it.
    Ali recently posted…Scenes From Siena, Italy and a Steam Train Through TuscanyMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      April 1, 2015

      Love that. Thanks for sharing your story as well.

  • Kathryn
    April 2, 2015

    Sometimes too the choice is between travelling solo or travelling with someone not quite right for us. Short term you can make the not quite right travel companion work but long term that’s just adding to the load.

    There are always compromises too — staying with friends for a while or meeting up with someone who only has short terms holidays.
    Kathryn recently posted…Travel Resources I Can’t Live WithoutMy Profile

  • Kristine
    May 10, 2015

    Gigi,

    I also choose travel and feel the same way. I think the same applies to traveling as a single person. I recently went to the Maldives (the most romantic place on earth) with my best friend. We’re both single, and this is a honeymooners dream destination. I found myself longing to share it with that special someone, but I’m not going to put my life on hold until they show up. So we go. And we experience places. And we see many lovely sunsets and places that we would love to share, but at the same time I wouldn’t trade not seeing them. Great post!!

    Kristine
    Kristine recently posted…SwedenMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      May 10, 2015

      Absolutely agreed!

  • shatara ross
    May 17, 2016

    This is an awesome post. I’m quitting my job in may and going backpacking in Europe. This all came about when I took my first solo trip ti Miami and I loved it. So I got inspired and wanted to extend it out of the U. S. I’m super excited to see what the future holds.

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