I've never gone on a trip completely alone, but I've definitely spent time alone while traveling, flown alone to visit people, and in general spent lots of time going it solo while traveling, especially after my Cuba trip. The first part of my pre-Cuba Miami trip was a solo thing, and I'll admit I didn't love it. However, as my month in Cuba went on, I was spending more and more time exploring Havana on my own, and I actually enjoyed it.
I thought I'd write about some random thoughts and considerations that come with the idea of solo travel, based on my experiences so far!
I'm guessing that in your home city, you don't go shopping or run errands with a companion all the time. Why should you always have a travel companion either? Going it solo can really help you live more like a local. People are also a lot more likely to approach you and chat you up if you're alone as well. During my time in Cuba, some of my best interactions and conversations with locals happened when I was by myself. One really memorable one was a guy who helped me out when I was confused about the movie programs at Cine Yara. He then gave me the insider scoop on all of the theaters in Havana, which movies coming up he was excited about, his favorite French and American movies, etc. If I'd been in a group, I don't think I ever would have had that conversation with him. In fact, I wouldn't have had a lot of the great conversations I had with cab drivers, museum workers, locals while waiting in line, etc., because I would have been busy talking to my travel companions (and not practicing my Spanish either!). Being alone can really help with living like a local and making friends with locals while traveling.
I know, I know, everyone likes to hate on the selfie. But you know what? I'm a very self-sufficient person and I like taking care of my own business. Sometimes that business is travel selfies. You haters can hate all you want, but it's way more fun to take a bunch of pictures of yourself then to try to get random strangers (or your friends, if you aren't solo traveling) to do it all the time. If you're traveling solo and you want some pictures of yourself during your trip, expect to take at least a few selfies!
While traveling solo can certainly help you make friends with locals, sometimes it doesn't work out very well, and you'll inevitably spend a lot of time by yourself, which can get lonely. Especially if you're somewhere like Cuba, where it's difficult or expensive to connect with friends and family back home as well, traveling without any companions can feel isolating and lonesome at times.
A singular man or woman walking through a city is a lot less likely to be noticed than a group of two or more. This becomes especially important when you're traveling in a place where you don't look like a local, and stand out in a crowd. This was extremely obvious in Cuba, when I compare my morning walks to school, which were with 3-5 other girls, to my time by myself. I received far fewer piropos and was pestered much less for cigars or a taxi ride when I was alone, simply because I wasn't as obvious. In fact, by the end of my time in Cuba, I was so tan that if I covered my blue eyes with sunglasses I could blend in pretty well, even with my blonde hair. I even had a woman ask if I was Cuban when I was walking around Old Havana! Needless to say, when I was walking around with a few other American girls, no one ever mistook me for a Cuban!
One of the times when traveling solo sucks the most is when things go wrong, or you make a mistake. When I was on my own in Miami before the trip, I had a sort of nightmare trying to get to my hotel from the airport. One bus was late, so I took a different one, which broke down in the middle of nowhere, Miami. I had to call several cab companies who all said I wasn't in their territory and couldn't give me the number I needed to call before I finally flagged down a cab. It wasn't fun being on my own in that situation, since there was no one else to brainstorm a solution with or to assure me that it was totally fine to take the $40 cab ride to Miami Beach. If you make a poor decision, it's all on you, and there's no one else to share the blame or to help you find a solution.
When we were in Soroa, Cuba, I wanted to check out the orchidareum, and I couldn't convince anyone else to go with me. I went anyways, and had a great time taking pictures, wandering up and down the stone paths, sketching some of the plants, and even befriending a cat with kittens. If I'd been by myself, I wouldn't have had to try to convince someone that this place was worth going to, because I could do whatever I wanted. Additionally, if someone had agreed to come with me, I probably wouldn't have had the freedom to explore it as much as I did, or, you know, spend twenty minutes sketching a fern. Solo travel gives you the freedom to do exactly what you want to do, with no judgment, guilt or need to convince other people.
Sometimes, when spending too much time alone while traveling, it can cause your perspective to be too narrow, and you may not experience everything that you would with a traveling companion. I know when I was in Miami by myself that first day, my conclusion was that solo travel was for the birds and I couldn't wait for Madison to get there. The next day, we went to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens together. It was absolutely fabulous, and we ended up spending almost all day there. We strolled through the gardens and around the house several times, pointing new or interesting things out to each other as we passed them. Had I been alone, I don't think I would have noticed nearly as many of the wonderful details that make the place great, so I was really glad that I went with her!
If you want to spend all afternoon at an art museum, or all day wandering around the city looking for lion sculptures to photograph, you can! There's no one around to make you feel guilty for not traveling "the right way". There's no one trying to get to go you somewhere you don't want to go, or rush you through a set schedule. You can also change your plans at the drop of a hat, to check out a concert you heard about or accept a last-minute dinner invitation, because you're the one calling ALL of the shots! This flexibility and chance to do what you want at your own pace is one of the best parts of solo travel.
While doing whatever you want to do, WHEN you want to do it, pretty much sounds like heaven, compromising to other people's desires can actually be a really good thing, and allow you to experience things you never would have tried. If you just want to stay at the beach all day, but your traveling companion wants to check out a textile museum, a coffee plantation, or an archaeological site, you could see and do things you never would have done on your own. I know our honeymoon destination was chosen in part because my husband wanted to know where Arecibo Observatory (featured in the GoldenEye bond film) was. I did a bit of research and found out it was Puerto Rico, and that there are about a thousand other fascinating things to do in Puerto Rico, so we went there and loved it! If he hadn't had the interest in Arecibo Observatory, we may never have gone there!
Navigating a strange city on your own and planning your own itinerary can be daunting, which is exactly why it helps with personal growth. Solo travel can do wonders for your confidence, self-esteem and sense of independence. Even being able to eat in a restaurant or go to a movie on your own is a good opportunity to learn about yourself and become more independent. It can help with responsibility, budgeting, and time management as well. Basically, solo travel can be really empowering!
One of the more difficult things about travel in general is the reverse culture shock when you get back, and the frustrating task of trying to share your travel experiences with people who weren't there and aren't as interested in your trip as you would like them to be. This is exasperated in solo travel. If you had a travel companion (or four) with you, then you have someone to share the memories with and help you through the reverse culture shock. I know my friend Mickey and I still randomly text each other if we encounter something that reminds us of our trip to London, Edinburgh and Paris. It's really nice to have someone to reminisce with after you get back from your travels!
At the end of the day, would I do a complete solo trip? I definitely think it's worth a shot! Solo travel can at times just make logistical sense: if your ideal travel companion doesn't have the time to go, you want to save on money by just one person going, or you need to travel for business, solo travel could be a great option for you! Eventually I would love to do a completely solo international trip. I think somewhere in Latin America (like Costa Rica) or Europe (like Croatia) would be ideal for me. Maybe in a few years... ;)
What do you think? Have you traveled alone, and would you recommend it? Would you give it a shot?