Update 8/26/16: I wrote this post almost 3 years ago, and have taken many, many more solo trips since then. I still believe that traveling solo isn’t the one way to find yourself, your strength, your weaknesses, your passions, and your soul. Over the years that have passed since I wrote this, I have tried to reshape my career and my travel so that I don’t have to do it without my children or husband. It can’t always be, because of work, but I have found myself working harder and more focused to make this possible.
I have three boys, one in his second year of college. I don’t know when I will have the chance to vacation with him again. I have less than 10 summers left with my other two. I watch my husband and see us getting older, our gray hairs showing themselves – though they look a lot better on him than they do on me. How many more summers I have with the man I love, I don’t know.
In fact, this past year, during the many solo trips I took on, it was the one main thought that always crossed my mind. “How much more time do I have left to spend and share with the people that I love the most in my life, and why am I spending so much of it alone?” I am not lost, or confused in who I am, or where I want to be. I can recite the list of things that make me feel less than I would ever want to feel of myself, as well as list the things that I have learned have helped me overcome these walls. I have nothing to prove, nor do I want to prove anything to anyone. I have no lingering questions or mysteries left. I have lived life pretty hard, have had my share of lovers, heartbreaks, losses, and gains. I have had more Aha moments then I ever set out for, and now I am more than happy to be out of my own head and self-reflection to be with those I love the most in this world, any and every moment I get. Nothing and no one matters more to me. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I am pretty badass. No need to scale a mountain solo to know it.
We are all on different journeys in life, which leads us through different paths. Maybe solo travel is the path someone needs to get there, but it’s not the only way and it certainly isn’t the only choice we have.
In the world of travel blogging there are two images that are often pushed around as being the coolest of them all (and the “most rewarding” form of travel): the world traveler and/or backpacker and the solo traveler.
Personally, I don’t object at all to traveling with a group of bloggers or writers. I can count on one hand and in less than five fingers the times when I have been on a trip where another blogger or writer was a complete beast to be around. For the most part I have enjoyed meeting various professionals in this field and have made a lot of great friends this way. But because these aren’t always people that mean anything special in my life, it can still feel pretty lonely.
Traveling alone, or being able to explore a destination on my own, offers a lot of opportunities to get my story – not just whatever is on the itinerary – and it gives me a chance to really experience the destination without distraction. But then, Im usually also working, so it’s a bit different.
I prefer to travel in company, specifically with my family, but also with the closest of friends. I like to talk, and share, and talk some more. For me, there’s also a very strong cultural affinity towards traveling while surrounded by family and friends. It is normal to travel with the kids and the parents and aunts and cousins and grandparents. It is how I grew up, so it is what I most enjoy.
Talk to the cool kids in travel media and most will say that traveling in tour groups or with the family is so not cool, that’s what tourists do, not travelers. It’s easy to understand why this false ideology is so revered, I mean no celebrity traveler ever does it (if you of course believe the fantasy that the celebrity is actually not surrounded by a crap load of cameras, and make up and lighting people as well as guides and interpreters, and producers while their family is unseen in the background either at the hotel or killing time taking tours).
Though traveling with others, or sharing the beauty of the same is not often hyped up as much as other forms of travel, if you don’t enjoy solo travel or want to travel alone, you are no less capable of experiencing the beauty of travel because of it. You are no less capable of learning something new or of being moved by a destination. You are no less capable of deep, spiritual, emotional, transformational experiences. You are no less able to have a moment that is personal and intimate, even when traveling with someone else or in a group.
We live in a society where saying that you’d rather not be alone opens you up to all sorts of labels: such as insecure, intimidated, and needy.
Sure, solo travel is pretty awesome, if you’re into that sort of thing.
It takes a lot of courage and self-confidence to travel alone, especially to a place you have never been to or speak the language of. But I would also state that traveling, in general, is courageous because it means you are willing to take yourself out of your element to (hopefully) discover something new.
When I first moved back to NYC, after being gone for nine years and at the age of 19, I was scared and nervous everyday for almost two years while I figured out my way around this massive city on my own.
When I first went to France I was alone almost my entire time there and yeah, I was nervous. My French was horrid as were my navigational skills. I got lost in the rain for over an hour one day!
I was nervous and shy and a little intimidated. But, I also saw this as another great opportunity to conquer my fears and grow as a person and as a traveler.
I will eventually go somewhere new, by myself, and feel a lot of the same emotions. It’s just the way it is. When I travel to meet a new group it’s less nerving, but without knowing who you will meet, it can be a bit intimidating as well.
When I travel solo, I am put in a situation where I will have to conquer my fears and overcome my insecurities. With every trip, I also gain more confidence and faith that I will somehow feel better about myself because of it. Solo travel, for me, is a personal challenge, but that doesn’t mean we all have to go through that path to grow. And as much as I love challenging myself to overcome my fears, when given the choice, I will always choose to travel with my family.
I learn and grow so much from my travels alone, but when given the opportunity I will always choose my family or a friend.
We all travel for so many reasons and there is no better way to do it over another.
There are a huge number of solo travelers whom I love, admire and respect, and world travelers help to keep the fantasy and dream of world exploration exciting, even when your life is completely different from that. Many of those writers offer so much inspiration that you just want to keep reading more.
But no one ever really grows and learns in a void. Even the most independent of travelers will become stifled by their own loneliness and reclusiveness if the opportunity to engage and connect on a personal level with another is too often ignored. For as many accolades as one can give to those who take on solo travel, there are as many things to admire of the person who travels with others and can enjoy themselves in the process.
My personal mantra: “It’s not that I am fearless, it’s that I don’t like to be afraid.”
I am afraid a lot, which is why I love what I do and eventually the people whom I meet along the way who help me through it. But my fears and insecurities have never stopped me from traveling alone, or traveling at all. And they are not why I prefer to travel with others. I really enjoy the companionship of people and friends, and find that they tend to complement my travel experiences. People, especially the very many good people I have been so fortunate to meet and even the few not so kind ones, take what I see and learn to a whole other level for me…beyond what I tend to experience on my own. And even when on my own, I am always seeking out others for that enrichment.
So plan that family trip. Contact your friends if this time around you just don’t want to go at it alone. Sign up with that tour group if you want to meet other people. There is nothing uncool about that at all and there is a lot of opportunity for learning and growth, I promise. Taking on travel in a way that makes you feel most comfortable will really help you to better enjoy the journey.
You have nothing to prove by forcing yourself to travel alone if it’s not your thing…and if you never get to travel the world? It’s not a big deal either. Don’t allow others to set expectations so high that you just never get around to taking that trip of your dreams, because at the end of the day, just taking the journey however you choose for yourself is what matters the most.