Readers of TravelSmart Woman may be surprised at this post. You already. know that I’m totally about going solo. Even more so about Solo after Sixty. Yet–as with all things–there are a few downsides of solo travel.
(Want to learn about solo travel? Here are 7 reasons to get you packing! Think you’re too old? Read “An 80-year-old asks ‘How do I learn to travel solo?’ Just Start!” )
Admiring sunsets alone: NOT a downside!
Let’s clear up this misconception right away. Most non-soloists assume that unless every moment is shared with a partner, it has no value. Sort of like “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around…”
But guess what? That’s totally wrong. Even if you and I are standing next to each other, we will perceive that sunset differently. And we will come away with different memories.
Another thing: What’s most important is to stay in the moment. When I’m focusing on a sunset (or in my case, more likely it’s a sunrise…), it’s all “mine.” I’m taking it all in, not thinking about anything else. Even you, right beside me. It’s mindfulness, and that can’t be shared.
You get what I’m saying, right? Not trying to be all woo-woo and philosophical, just explaining that the downsides of solo travel aren’t what most people think. Indeed, they’re much more practical.
“Can you watch my stuff?”
Here it is, my Number One downside of going alone. Everything you’ve carefully packed has to come with you–especially in an airport or train station. Grabbing a coffee, buying a magazine, using the restroom, it’s just you. There’s no one to keep an eye on your suitcase while you have a quick lunch or just stroll the concourse.
Of course, you pack light, so your carry-on is manageable. Or perhaps you check your suitcase; I often do this, even if it adds extra time at baggage claim. Always trying to fit me and my belongings into a toilet stall gets tiresome.
It’s a minor annoyance, but a real one. You learn to accept it and plan for it. But I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit that always having to haul everything can be a hassle.
“Please help me with…”
Another of the downsides of solo travel is that you’re always figuring out logistics on your own. To be fair, this can sometimes be an advantage; when you go solo, you meet people who are happy to point you in the right direction. But sometimes, you just want to get where you’re supposed to be. Period.
A number of situations fall into the “Please help me with…” category:
- “Help me watch for that bus stop.”
- “How about you run out for coffee while I’m in the shower?”
- “I wonder how much time to allow to get to the play.”
- “Do you have any coins for a tip?”
- “Save the place in line while I get another croissant.”
- “What was the name of that taverna the cabbie mentioned?”
- “Remind me to get stamps for the postcards.”
- “Which flavors of gelato should I choose today?”
Now, as you can tell, none of these is a life-or-death event. Nor is any of them something that a solo traveler can’t handle by themself. I have never forgotten to get postcard stamps or had any indecision about gelato flavors. I bring my own coffee, carry plenty of change, and have become quite adept at realizing, then rectifying, the fact that I’ve missed a bus/metro stop.
However, not having someone to tag-team with can be counted as one of the downsides of solo travel. On the balance, at least for me, the sense of independence outweighs the inconvenience of losing my spot in line because I heard “the call of the croissant.” (Plus, it gives me more time to people-watch.)
“Shall we split the cost?”
Travel, even on a budget, can get expensive. And for solos, this is especially true. Except for a few items, such as transportation–one person/one seat/one price–the cost of the trip is yours.
There are certainly ways to shave expenses. My go-to example is that I avoid pricey restaurants and become familiar with the local market. (Which I have cleverly reframed as being a “frugal foodie.”) There are always discounts, especially for those of us who qualify as seniors. City Passes, metro cards, free tours and lectures–these add up to significant savings.
But hotels, taxis, and “double occupancy” require careful planning when it comes to cost. And don’t even start me on the punishment for going solo…called the Single Supplement. It’s a cruel penalty that charges up to nearly the cost of two people.
Splitting expenses is a money-saver, for sure. As a solo traveler, you have to decide how much you value your “alone time” and how tight your budget is. At this point in my journeys, I love have space and quiet at the end of a busy day. Like the credit card commercial says…”Priceless.”
“What if I get lonely?”
I know this is a huge–and valid–concern for anyone considering taking a trip by themself. Worries about experiencing loneliness, or its evil twin, homesickness, keeps many would-be travelers strapped to their sofas.
If it’s any consolation, yours is not an isolated concern. Advice abounds about how to cope when loneliness hits during your journey. Often the feeling is triggered by fatigue, hunger, or being overwhelmed by all you’re seeing and doing. Taking a break or scheduling a day to do nothing can be the remedy.
Let me be clear: Going solo doesn’t mean that you never talk to anyone. Au contraire! It means you get to choose your conversations. (Read How to Meet People When You Travel Solo for inspiration.) Solo travel actually gives you more opportunities to engage with locals; you’ll also discover that you are more approachable. That’s where the magic is. (Check out Talk to Strangers? Absolutely! Everywhere We Go! to get started.)
If you do find yourself feeling lonely or homesick, take it as an opportunity for personal growth. Maybe the discomfort is the kick in the pants you need to expand your horizons and allow yourself to “get lost” in a new way of being.
While we’re on this topic, let’s make a shift to another loneliness trigger: Eating Alone. I tackle this in Hate Eating Alone? Learn to Enjoy Your Table for One. Simply put, it’s not that hard.
“If I go solo, I won’t…”
Here’s the bottomless pit that keeps too many solo travel wannabes from leaving home. Although I see this much less in mature folks, here are some common blockers–none of which are entirely. true:
- “I won’t be safe.” Yes, you have to be prudent. But you’re supposed to be, anyway. Anywhere.
- “I won’t understand the culture/language/customs.” Let me introduce you to my friend, Google.
- “I won’t feel supported.” The rest of the world has internet, too. Just figure out the time zone difference and voila! Your friends await.
- “I won’t be able to be in the photos.” Sure you will. Ask someone to take your picture. (And offer to take theirs.)
- “I won’t know how to get around.” Again, Google. And apps. And nice people to ask.
- “I won’t have fun.” Yes, you will. More than you could ever imagine. I promise.
- “I won’t know how to fill my time.” Honestly? You’re in an exciting new place with no ideas? You’d best stay home.
So, about these downsides of solo travel…
All these “downsides of solo travel” are just one side of the coin. They can also be the upsides–ways to increase your confidence and help you get better at doing the things you love. Like exploring the world.
Every type of travel has pros and cons. Solo vs. couple vs. friends. Tours vs. on-your-own. Plane vs. train vs. auto vs. hike. Land vs. cruise. Don’t dismiss any of it just because you’ve heard stories or have developed some cockamamie notion. Just go. Just. Go.
More solo blog posts: