Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.
Anyone who enjoys solo travel knows how liberating it can be—but what happens when you enjoy it so much that you just don’t want to travel with anyone else? That’s what happened to Kellie Paxian.
Solo travel isn’t always the easiest or most comforting way to go.
Many of the challenges associated with traveling are solved by having a trusted companion along for the ride. Feeling lonely or homesick is more tolerable when you have a familiar face to turn to. Getting lost in a foreign place is less intimidating when you’re with back-up. As for dining out alone … that’s often one of the biggest sticklers for people wondering whether or not to give solo travel a go.
But the reason we travel, or at least the reason I travel, is to meet new people and cultures. I travel to get away from the everyday, discover new places, and get to know myself better.
And solo travel delivers heightened versions of all of this.
Of course, traveling alone does present its fair share of obstacles—sometimes you won’t meet anyone you jive with and you might wonder what you’re doing. But the potential for reward is also higher when it’s just you and the world.
For many of us who travel solo, you reach a point where you stop waiting for others to join you; you plan your trips without even asking anyone else. It just seems easier.
My first ‘real’ solo travel experience was somewhat unintentional. I’d planned a six-month trip that involved meeting up with friends around the world. The next thing I knew, one friend canceled, and I was traveling around—on my own—and ended up traveling solo from Rwanda to Borneo to Australia to Italy. That was several years ago, and now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For many of us who travel solo, you reach a point where you stop waiting for others to join you; you plan your trips without even asking anyone else. It just seems easier. You know it might be more or as much fun if your friend joined you, and without anyone, you may be a bit out of your comfort zone, but on the flip side, you also feel strong, independent, and comfortable being alone.
But now, I find myself actively resisting looking for others to join me on my travels.
And I’m not talking about your buzzkill of a relative, your liability of a friend, or the person you’re dating who doesn’t understand your need for some ‘you’ time. I’m talking about close friends, significant others, even new travel buddies who have proven to be compatible with your style—people who you know would likely enhance your experience, and with whom you would treasure the shared memories for years to come.
But you realize that the trip won’t just be yours anymore. When you travel with a companion, the magic of solo travel—that spontaneity, freedom, and ability to meet and connect with new people on a deeper level—is diminished. Are you willing to sacrifice that magic on this trip you’ve been dreaming of?
I first started thinking about this during a recent trip around Central America when my close friend booked a flight to join me. I was blown away by the amazing time we had—she is the most fun, easygoing and low-maintenance travel buddy you could hope for. Every day we’d gush that we were having the time of our lives. In fact, I was devastated when we parted ways in El Salvador. Those usual questions and thoughts buzzed in my head … out in the world on my own again … what if I don’t make friends?
Of course, it’s not always that easy. But more often than not, you will find someone you enjoy (or at least can tolerate) spending time with, and the excitement of exploring a new place prevails over any risk of loneliness.
Then I stepped into my hostel in León, Nicaragua, and clicked with two people almost immediately. We quickly bonded with two more travelers and the five of us chased adventures across the country together.
Of course, it’s not always that easy. But more often than not, you will find someone you enjoy (or at least can tolerate) spending time with, and the excitement of exploring a new place prevails over any risk of loneliness. And if you’re not vibing with anyone, take this time as a gift to be present and consciously get to know your destination and yourself on a deeper level, with no distractions.
And the more I travel, the more I discover the inclusivity of the solo travel community. I choose to stay at hostels partly because of budget, but mainly because of the social atmosphere.
Solo travelers typically share the same mindset: I feel we’re open, receptive, friendly, and eager to share our story and experiences with others. In hostels from Medellín to Cape Town, I’ve bonded with groups of solo travelers to the point where we feel like family. Everyone comes back to the hostel after a day of exploring, reunites over a beverage or four, shares stories from the day, and it feels like we’ve been friends for ages. Solo traveling breeds fast and deep connections—this is the most special part of traveling for me.
Solo travel, if you’re single, also enables affairs of the heart in a way that traveling in company doesn’t always. Later in that same trip through Central America, I met someone. He was kind, easy to be around, and a good travel companion. We met in Nicaragua, reunited in Costa Rica, then later, when I had made my way down to Colombia, he offered to come down to meet me.
I was torn. As much as I love solo traveling, I love love. Even if it might be that superficial, in-the-moment, ‘travel love’, it’s hard to beat that feeling of being in a magical faraway land, with an exciting new person.
But I’d been dreaming of a trip to Colombia for a while and had already formed a vision of what I wanted out of my trip. It wasn’t a matter of wanting to meet someone or other men; it was a commitment to the freedom and spontaneity that only solo traveling can bring, in a country I already knew I’d love. I wanted to meet new people, salsa dance and say “Si” to any random adventure that popped up.
My vision for my Colombian experience wasn’t the same as this new proposal for mine-and-my-new-lover’s Colombian experience. And although both had the potential to be amazing, there was a risk that things would go south (figuratively) with someone I hadn’t known for long. But Colombia … I knew Colombia would be the perfect companion. So somewhat reluctantly, I said “hasta luego” to romance.
Solo traveling may not be for everyone, but you never know until you try. I firmly believe that I would not have formed the depth of connections with other people or myself as I have as a solo traveler.
I might not have danced all night on the streets of Cartagena, or gone on that private plane ride around Cape Town, had a mini Parisian love affair, paraglided off my favorite mountain, or returned to Bali twice in one month. These are the stories of spontaneity, freedom, and openness to going wherever the wind takes me—and only me.
It’s about being open, free and making the most of every experience no matter who you’re with. And if you are solo traveling, rest assured that the world, and people you meet along the way, will embrace you with no inhibitions.