If you asked me today if I preferred to travel alone or with someone, I’m not sure I would be able to answer you with a clear answer. I’ve done both, I enjoy both, and I’ll probably do it both ways again. I’m not a loner by nature but I do enjoy spending time alone.
However, traveling alone can be lonely and if you are the type of person who gets homesick easily, traveling alone, no matter how near or far from home you are, has a tendency to intensify those homesick blues.
Mark Twain says, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
Luckily for me, the first time I traveled to Europe, my friend JoAnn told me she wanted to go with me. Up until that point, I had been planning the trip as a solo journey. It was my first trip to Europe and I was headed to my dream destination, Italy. I gave it some thought and decided that maybe some company would be a good thing. I’d known my friend JoAnn for several years and we had a lot in common; political beliefs, music, and our general attitude towards life. We also both have an independent spirit so she was someone I knew would enjoy traveling and enjoying the discovery of some place neither of us had been before. And...I can’t lie...the idea of splitting costs was the clincher! I was fortunate to be able to embark on my dream vacation with one of my closest friends along for the experience.
By the time I took my trip to the UK several years later, I was in a relationship with a wonderful woman and had really been looking forward to doing some international travel with her but her work schedule and my work schedule never seemed to mesh so we could take a long vacation together. One day while checking out prices for flights (something I spend quite a bit of my spare time doing) I found a flight to London for less than $700 and after talking to my partner, we both agreed the price was too good to pass up. I bought the ticket basically on a whim and began planning my solo trip to England.
Last year, I was lucky enough to be able to travel with some of my family and it was a great experience. The trip was a combination of travel with family and solo travel and I was blessed to have the experience of traveling with my aunt, (who is in her 70’s!) from whom I learned my love of adventure and travel, and my two 20-something cousins for a week in Spain. I then went on alone to Rome for the next two weeks.
Here are advantages and disadvantages to traveling with a friend, family, or partner.
First, the advantages:
- Money. The ability to spread the budget across two or more people obviously make the trip much more affordable. Just make sure before you leave that you all have agreed on how the expenses will be divided. There’s no wrong way to do it but make sure that all the details are clear and understood across the board. I had some friends I traveled with here in the States and our method of budgeting the trip was to determine the total cost for each particular expense and divide it by 4. We all ponied up the agreed upon amount (we usually over-estimated) and put that into an envelope labeled with that particular expense. Then the money for that expense came from that envelope. If there was money left over from the envelopes at the end of the trip, it was divided up evenly amongst the four of us. For example, if the trip was a road trip and we estimated the cost for gas would be around $400 we’d add $100 for good measure then divide the total between all four of us. The $500 went into an envelope and money for gas came only out of that envelope. To be fair, all of us were in charge of at least one envelope (gas, groceries, campsite costs, etc.). This method worked great for all of us and we usually had money left over at the end of the trip. For that first trip to Europe, JoAnn and I agreed to split lodging costs down the middle and be responsible for all of our other costs.
- Conversation. It’s always great to be able to turn to the person next to you and discuss the awesome cathedral you just saw or to comment on the scenery or just to kill time with as you wait for the next train.
- Convenience. Sometimes it’s easier to take care of some things while your travel partner does something else. “You go to the deli and I’ll go to the bakery and we’ll meet back here for lunch.” It’s also nice to be able to ask someone you know to keep an eye on your bag while you go to the bathroom or go buy the tickets. Some things can be done just fine while you’re solo but traveling with someone just makes it that much easier.
- Safety in Numbers. Although I’ve never felt “unsafe” so far in any of my solo travels, one can’t help but feel a bit more vulnerable when walking in a strange city alone at night. I would venture to say that if I had been traveling with someone in the UK or in my last visit to Rome, I probably would have done a lot more sight seeing in the evening. As women, we’re always taught to travel in pairs and I think that for some of us, it’s almost ingrained into our psyches.
- Bonding. It sounds hokey but you will be sharing something with that person that you’ll never share with anyone else. A bond will be forged with your travel buddy that you will remember for the rest of your life and no matter what happens to either of you, there is nothing that will ever be able to erase that bond.
And now, the disadvantages:
- Freedom. First and foremost, when you are alone you are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. You make your own schedule and you decide whether to make or break it.
- Meeting People. If you’re traveling with someone you’re more apt to refrain from talking to anyone else. You’ve a built in sounding board so why look beyond that? When you travel alone, you will have to speak to other people. You’ll have to ask questions. You’ll have to find your way around by asking someone how to get to the next street. Meeting people is half the fun of solo travel and traveling alone all but assures that you’ll have to talk to somebody else.
- Flexibility. If public transit decides to go on strike, you can re-arrange your plans without consulting anyone. Your shopping day can become your “veg-out in the room and read” day and you don’t have to have anyone’s agreement.
- Reflection. Solo travel is a great time to reflect on your life and think about your future. It’s a great time to write songs, poems, and journals. It’s a wonderful way to make yourself feel better about you and how resourceful you were yesterday and how you didn’t panic when you took the wrong train. Sometimes, we need some time alone to help us appreciate the time we have with our loved ones.
Whatever way you choose to travel, be prepared for some bumps along the way. If you’re traveling with a friend or friends, make sure everyone is clear about the details of the budget and try to agree on as much as possible before you leave. If everyone agrees that one person is in charge of the research and making the reservations, then make sure everyone is ready to accept whatever happens without laying blame. Also, there should be a discussion that if someone doesn’t want to participate in the scheduled activity that no one else will put pressure on them to attend. If you’re traveling solo, be prepared to get lonely and to feel homesick. Be ready to practice being assertive even it you’re not usually the assertive type. Realize that you are in charge of you and have some fun.