Traveling with family and friends can be incredibly rewarding, offering experiences and laughs that can bind us for a lifetime. So it might seem that traveling alone would be a less enriching experience; without our favorite people to share it with, how could it compare?
And yet many veteran travelers have memories of extraordinary, eye-opening solo trips, of glorious days when they set out alone and found and saw and noticed things they might never have done otherwise.
Why travel alone? Consider finding out for yourself. Here are 11 reasons why you should travel alone at least once in your life.
1. You’ll focus more on the destination.
When traveling alone, the lack of familiar people to interact with forces you to engage much more directly with your surroundings—on where you are rather than who you’re with. This is probably why many travelers report more vivid memories from solo trips; their attention is absolutely focused on their surroundings.
2. You’ll meet more locals.
Unable to rely on your traveling partners to buy breakfast, or use their better language skills to get things done, or distract you during a boring train ride, you’ll have to turn to the locals, whether you’re looking for human interaction or not.
A solo traveler can also seem more approachable. If you’re with a partner or friend, it’s tempting to talk mostly with each other, and outsiders might not want to impose. But if you’re by yourself, it’s often easier for someone else to strike up a conversation with you (or vice versa).
3. Not every choice has to work out.
When traveling with others, we are often selective about suggesting activities that we hope everyone will enjoy and find a good use of precious vacation time. If one of these activities doesn’t work out, it can be a source of guilt and conflict.
If you make the wrong choice on a solo trip, there’s no one to worry about other than yourself, and you won’t feel guilty for ruining someone else’s travel day. Plus, it’s easier to ditch your itinerary and move on, which brings us to…
4. You can change plans on a dime.
When traveling in a group, changing plans can be rife with interpersonal, financial and other concerns. When traveling alone, you can simply make a decision and move on. This can apply to decisions both small and large, from deciding where to eat to choosing whether to rent a car and leave town.
5. You have complete financial control.
Want to blow a ton of money on a waterfront room? Go for it. Want to spend next to nothing on food? Fine. Want to go only to free museums, events and attractions? Keep your money. As a solo traveler, you have the last (and only) word on every dollar you spend.
6. There’s no insulation from experience.
When we are with friends and family, much of our experience is a shared one, which can offer rich rewards but can also create a buffer between us and the world around us. Traveling alone makes remaining in the bubble of your own comfort zone nigh on impossible—which can lead to more intense travel experiences.
7. You can find your own rhythm.
Perhaps the most striking thing about traveling alone is that your schedule is entirely yours to decide. Our everyday lives can be a tyrannical grind of accommodating other people’s schedules, and this can easily carry over to leisure time as we try to pace our vacation days to adapt to the preferences of the group.
Traveling alone, you can walk out of a movie you don’t like, stay for hours in a museum no one else you know would care about, ride an elevated subway to the last stop just for the sights, read a book in your hotel room or whatever you can come up with that would seem a waste of time to almost anyone else. Following your own rhythm without compromise might not be possible in daily life, but it’s great, indulgent fun on a solo vacation.
8. Traveling alone builds confidence.
Senior Editor Sarah Schlichter notes that her first solo trip, originally a source of trepidation, ultimately offered a well-spring of confidence.
“I remember how scared I was the first time I traveled by myself—and sometimes I still am,” she says. “It can be lonely and unsettling not to have anyone else around for backup. But being able to get yourself out of a jam or figure out where you are when you’re lost can give you a new sense of confidence and faith in your own resourcefulness. For me this carried into not only other trips but also into my life at home.”
9. It opens up more travel possibilities.
Schlichter found her newfound abilities liberating, especially when deciding if and where to travel.
“When I was younger I thought that if I couldn’t find someone who wanted to visit a place with me, I couldn’t go,” she says. “Now, if no one else is interested or available, I just shrug and go anyway, knowing that traveling by myself isn’t a big deal.”
10. Some sensations seem unique to solo travel.
Solo travelers often report instances of mundane happenstance offering up strong and memorable emotions. Imagine waking up in an empty hotel, where nearly no one knows you are there, with the hours ahead lying entirely unscripted and your sense of possibilities is nearly exploding. As Freya Stark once noted, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” It is a unique and heady experience.
11. You can learn more about who you are.
When you venture out into the world on your own, you eventually need to face who you are, what you care about and what you want to do with your time. Certainly the literature of our species bears this out, with a journey at the center of many of our greatest and most significant myths, novels and memoirs. Traveling with others you will find great friendship, diversion and fun; but traveling alone you might find yourself.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.