On Solo Travel

Over drinks last week, two of my girlfriends and I were discussing a travel phenomenon that we’d just recently noticed: When you tell people where you’re going on vacation, the first thing they’ll ask is not, “What will you be doing there?” or “How did you decide on that place?” But “Who are you going with?”

Though I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that, myself, it strikes me as so odd! That instead of inquiring about the amazing experiences lying ahead—the restaurants you’ll eat at, the trails you’ll hike, the neighborhoods you’ll explore—most people first want to know who you’ll be with.

I suppose I’m especially attuned to this now, with my fall trip just a few weeks away. Because when I tell people I’m going to Buenos Aires by myself, unless they know me well or have traveled alone, themselves, their reactions tend to be similar: They look impressed. They look surprised. And sometimes, they look like they feel a little sorry for me.

To be completely honest, my solo trips haven’t stemmed from a burning desire to travel alone. It’s more that I have insatiable wanderlust—and if no one is available to join me when I’m ready to go somewhere, I’d much rather head out on my own than miss an opportunity to travel.

Last year, I took my first solo trip in six years. While I was considering it, I was a little nervous about traveling on my own, again. I wondered if I’d get bored and lonely being on my own for so many days. And I worried about my safety in a country with a high murder rate and a dubious public transportation record. Deciding to study Spanish through a school assuaged those fears. I knew I’d definitely meet people to spend time with, when I wanted company. And I’d have plenty of time to be on my own, as well.

I ended up having an amazing time. I met lots of smart, interesting people, climbed a volcano, ate mountains of tortillas, immersed myself in Guatemalan culture and history—and improved my Spanish a ton, too! And I relearned an important lesson I’d forgotten from my first solo travel experiences: That traveling alone is quite a luxury.

Because you can do whatever you want.

You can sleep as late as you choose, go to whatever restaurant you desire (even if it’s the same one a few nights in a row), hit whatever museum looks appealing, and then leave after a few minutes when you realize you’d rather not waste a sunny day inside. As a college kid, I got my first taste of doing things on my own: I went to an Australian music festival alone, and spent long days wandering around hip Sydney neighborhoods. On my last pre-Guatemala solo trip, when I was 23, I hit up Lan Kwai Fong bars by myself, and spent one night doing nothing but relaxing and staring out at the Hong Kong skyline for hours.

Those are the kinds of things I’m looking forward to doing in Buenos Aires. I’m excited to rent a studio apartment that’ll serve as my home base, and take my first ballet classes in Spanish. I’m eager to explore different neighborhoods and find a cute cafe where I can get coffee and medialunas every morning. I’ve found a few restaurants I want to try, and I’m seeking places to tango.

None of those activities are all that different from what I do every day in NYC—usually on my own, as well.

Earlier today, Peter sent me this gif of the Igauzu Falls, which I’ll also be visiting, with the simple message: “Get excited!”

iguazu falls

That’s all I want to hear when I tell people about my upcoming trip—no awkward looks of surprise or awe or pity. Just excitement.

(Image via Reddit)

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4 comments

  1. I’ve never traveled alone before so it does impress me whenever people do wander around foreign lands on their own! But I can imagine that it would be quite liberating to travel on your own!

    1. Hi Sharry! Thanks for stopping by. I have to agree, I’m also impressed when I hear about people doing things I haven’t done, or are way out of my comfort zone—like hiking and camping for days on their own. (Maybe I’ll tackle that sometime in the future!) And you’re right, it does feel liberating to travel on your own, once you push past the initial anxieties! 😉

  2. Thank you for writing about travelling solo. There are moments when I really wanted someone familiar with me… but as you mention, there’s always a an exceptional local or fellow independent traveler just around the next corner. Have a great time in BA! Igauzu eluded me on my first trip to South America. SA is definitely my favorite continent!

    1. Hi Drew! Nice to hear from you! And thanks for weighing in. It’s very true—I’ve definitely had those moments that I wished I could have shared with a loved one. They usually occur when I’ve seen a gorgeous landscape or eaten something new and delicious.

      I hope you’re off to somewhere exciting, soon, as well!

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