There are people who travel solo and wouldn’t do it any other way, while others would never consider exploring the world all by themselves. Although the answer to the question in the title depends mostly on personal preferences and how a person is built, we should debate this matter for the sake of those who are still undecided and believe that any approach would work for them.
So what is best – to be a solo traveler or travel with company? We’re going to try and talk about this in today’s article. And in order to keep things as unbiased as possible, I also had extensive chats with a solo travel friends of mine (male, who doesn’t have a blog YET) and Luciano from Nomad, Not Mad who’s living the digital nomad life with a family. With their answers and my own take on things, we should have a clearer picture.
My bias should be obvious: I not only travel solo and advocate for my friends to do the same but I also had some pretty poor experiences in the past by choosing the “NOT” Mr Right to travel with. Just because I believe this is the best travel type for me though doesn’t mean it is for you and there are plenty of pros and cons to both solo and accompanied travel. So let’s get this started!
Pros of solo travel
Doing what you want, when you want
This one may not sound like a big deal, but can be. Sometimes when you’re traveling with someone else you might want to go to a town they don’t want to visit, go out for a drink when they want to get up early, eat something they don’t like.
Whatever it is, you don’t need to worry about it when you’re traveling on your own. Being your own boss can be super liberating and setting your schedule exactly as you want it to be is perfect!
More open to meeting locals and making new friends
On my solo adventures, I’ve had so much interaction with locals I know I wouldn’t have been lucky enough to have if I wasn’t on my own. Many locals see me by myself as less intimidating than travelers who’re in groups and will make more effort to communicate with me.
Because I plan out my days myself and my time is my own, I can make more time for these interactions and to put locals who might not have a great command of English at ease so we can talk longer and have more meaningful interactions.
Many people say that this happens simply because I am a solo female traveler – but I have some online friends who are male and travel solo and agree with this Pro as well.
Traveling solo, I’ve been able to take advantage of opportunities that others have been unable to take advantage of. When I was in Laos I met some people who were going to the blue lagoon. I could jump on their motorbike, avoiding the $20 tuk tuk ride and split costs for bridge fees, etc. We could also leave when everyone was ready, not when the tuk tuk driver got bored.
Does this mean that it was accompanied travel? Not really – even though I went with a group on that particular occasion. We’re talking about a more permanent thing here.
You could pay less for accomodation
This is not always a Pro, but has to be listed. Depending on the places you use to choose for accommodation, you can end up spending a lot less than if you were to travel with family or somebody else.
This only goes if you follow Luciano’s route (or anybody else who travels with family): he rents places with 2 bedrooms, so him and his kids have separate rooms. This greatly raises the prices for accommodation.
Myself, on the other hand, can easily live in a cheap hostel room or a studio without a problem. Most couples without kids (and maybe then some with kids) could live in a studio as well, therefore sharing the costs and resulting in paying less. So this pro really depends on the people in question.
Cons of solo travel
Sometimes it can be lonely travelling solo
Although I delight in my own company, I am an introvert and I sometimes do get lonely. Not as lonely as you would think I do but it can happen… and that’s not pleasant.
No matter how friendly you are, you will rarely make real friends on the road and sometimes you will feel the need to have somebody who’s really close to you to confide in, to say some nice words or give you a hug or a can of ice cream. This can be a problem!
No-one to take care of you when you’re sick
I’m a little funny on this one. Although no-one can take care of you the way you would get at home with all of the love and attention, you still do find people will help you out. I’ve had a guest house owner take care of me when I was sick in Laos and I often find locals who will take care of me similar to how they would their own children.
But generally and in most occasions, when you get sick, you get to suffer alone. Nobody to do the shopping for you, nobody to go buy the meds if you don’t have them, nobody to prepare a tea or hold your hand. This sucks!
Often more expensive
This one can be unavoidable. Single supplements on tours or hotel rooms can be painful as paying the same amount for a room that the four girls next door are splitting among themselves.
Various other costs are larger when traveling solo – from food (on a per person basis) to entertainment and everything in between. It’s not a rule though and some people who are used to living frugally, can really do it without spending much.
This is more of a thing that you feel instead of what actually happens, but in the end it only has to happen once to scar you forever.
There are always all sorts of dangers when traveling in places outside of your comfort zone and usually, if it’s more than one person, you are automatically safer. As a single female traveling the world, you are more exposed to certain dangers in some places – such as it was my horrible experience in Bogota.
But these things can happen anywhere and can be avoided by solid planning and simply staying away from dangerous areas.
Pros of accompanied travel
Can be cheaper
Often solo travelers find one another just for this reason – to keep costs low – so you know it’s a big reason to travel with someone else: sometimes you can save big (and see things you normally wouldn’t have) by hiring a car with someone or a few someones and splitting the cost. Same goes for accommodation. Six friends split a huge apartment they found on Airbnb and it cost them less than it would to stay in a small hostel dorm for the same amount of time.
Most of the other costs decrease on a per-person basis when traveling as a couple or family and there are additional discounts you might enjoy in certain places – like family tickets or special rates.
Always someone there to look after you when you’re sick or look after your bags as you use a restroom
Getting sick when you travel really sucks and although many people (myself included) have a story about a great fellow traveler or accommodation owner/manager who really looked after them, many people would prefer to just bring their own nurse with them. Also, who’s not taking their bags with them into the bathroom? The guy traveling with his mates is who!
Can grow closer to the person you’re traveling with
This happened for me when I traveled with a high school friends a few years ago. We’ve always been close but spending some quality one-on-one time together was really good for us. When we got home we had so many shared stories to laugh about together and a much stronger friendship.
The “safety blanket” feeling
Truth is the world really isn’t as dangerous as we’re told it is, even for us women. But, as an opposite to a con listed for solo travel, I have to list this as a pro here: you’re usually safer if you travel accompanied.
Easier to stay sane
This is not something that I have personally experienced since I had some pretty bad experiences when I traveled extensively with my ex, but that’s my bad and not a general rule. The general rule is that when you travel with somebody else, it’s easier for you to stay sane, and the advantage of having somebody who knows you, understands you and can be talked with at any given moment is a huge bonus.
When you have a dilemma, you can simply talk it out with your partner. When you don’t know what your next move should be, you can talk things out. When you need to have a meaningful conversation – there’s again your partner there for you.
Cons of accompanied travel
Compromise sucks pretty bad, sometimes
Ask any married person and they’ll tell you: compromises suck. A compromise is where no-one gets exactly what they want. Sometimes the “compromise” moment can be met with, “well, why don’t you do the thing you really want to do and I’ll do the thing I really want to do and we can meet up later.” But often, somebody will have to give up and give in.
And this will always happen, no matter how likeminded and great of a connection you have with your travel partner. But it’s part of the deal and in a small number of occasions, accepting to do what you don’t really want to just for the sake of your partner can turn into a surprisingly positive experience.
Often travel can ruin relationships that are not very strong
I don’t see this one as often as you’d think. Personally I had one friendship that dissipated after we traveled together but honestly, I think a lot of that was going to happen anyway. It wasn’t a strong relationship. Do keep this in mind though when choosing travel partners.
The same happened later on and it was a bit more traumatizing with my ex. We simply weren’t on the same wavelength and our extensive travel together ended up prematurely and horribly. Probably none of that would’ve happened if we knew each other better – so the stronger the relationship, the less likely this is to happen.
All of someone’s annoying habits and character traits WILL come out when they travel
I can’t take a poo if there’s a single person – friend or foe – on a one kilometer radius to my toilet, one of my good friends cannot concentrate in the heat whereas her boyfriend is hyper moody and depressed when it’s cold. We all have traits that make us difficult to live with at times. Recognizing yours may make you a better travel partner but there will always be something.
And these things tend to become more and more annoying as time goes by, as an annoying habit or trait will start to frustrate you more and more by default. So really, don’t plan a long travel experience with somebody you don’t know too well.
It can be more expensive
Again, this is something that varies from person to person, but traveling with a partner – or family – can get more expensive. It all depends on what money you’re relying on.
For example, I have a friend who travels with his wife and does so for a few years, but who admits that it would all be cheaper if he traveled alone. However, he’s looking at the total costs because it’s him who pays the bills since the wife doesn’t have a job and comes with no money in the relationship. (Yes, it’s that type of relationship).
There could be other examples where one of the partners in a family can’t work or generate income – either due to them being in between jobs or for example if kids are involved and somebody has to homeschool them and take care of them at all times. In that particular case – when you’re relying on the same money to pay for one or more person, it’s automatically more expensive to travel with a companion or more.
So these would be the pros and cons of each type of travel. What would you add?