I love traveling. There’s an amazing feeling when you step foot in a new city for the first time. I also love reading travel-related books and blogs. So I immediately picked up Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom, especially since my most recent trips have been solo travel. (And the cover!)
I’ve gone on four solo trips, two planned and two that became solo trips because my friends bailed on me at the last minute. I was originally upset and nervous, but in hindsight, if they hadn’t bailed on me, I would never had started traveling solo. I wouldn’t have such amazing, memorable trips in five different countries.
That said, solo travel isn’t all fun and games. Here are some of the pros and cons I’ve encountered while traveling alone. (I’m starting with the cons cuz they can be fixed.)
No one to talk to/share the experience with.
This was really hard on me the first time my friends bailed, on a 5-day trip to Chicago. I’m not an outgoing person, so I didn’t need constant companionship, but I definitely wasn’t used to traveling alone. I kept wanting to turn to someone and make a comment about things I saw. Since it was my first time completely alone in a city where I knew no one, I got really lonely towards the end.
Not being able to try all the food/only ordering one thing.
Growing up Chinese, meals were all eaten family-style. So I love going out to eat with friends and ordering a bunch of different plates to share. This is definitely the worst part about traveling alone for me. I love food, and I want to eat all the food. But I only have the one stomach, so I have to make the best choice out of the entire menu. Also, when the servings are huge, I can’t finish the food or take it to-go, so the wastefulness sucks too.
Not being able to do activities that require friends.
There are a lot of things I don’t mind going solo to, like dance/theatre shows, movies, and museums. But other things aren’t fun solo, like hiking, theme parks, and sports games. I wanted to go to Disneyland Paris, because California Adventure no longer had Tower of Terror. But it wouldn’t have been as fun to go on rides by myself (even though being a single rider would get me to the front of the line every time). And my favorite part of Tower of Terror is laughing our heads off at how wobbly we’re walking after the ride; I had no one to laugh with on my solo European tour. And there were so many places I wanted to go hike on all my solo trips but I wasn’t sure if it was safe going alone.
Having to plan everything yourself.
Sometimes, you just want someone to make the decision for you. You’re at the end of a long day or a long trip, and you don’t want to think anymore. It really doesn’t matter what or where you eat for dinner. But because you’re by yourself, you have to figure out what to do. Especially when hiding away in your room isn’t an option.
Doing only things you want to do.
But despite that last con, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do! Traveling with people always includes compromises. Your friends went with you to this museum you really wanted to see, so now you have to go with them to a concert you don’t care for. You don’t have to explain to or convince someone why you need to trek three miles out of the city to see this random statue. This also leads to…
Changing plans on a whim.
If you don’t feel like doing something on your itinerary today, you can move it to tomorrow. Or not do it at all. It’s all up to you! Some friends would be cool with you changing plans the morning of, but others might not be so flexible, especially if the thing you no longer want to do is something they chose. (Not saying you would do such a thing, we’re all considerate people here.) But sometimes, especially for a long trip, you just need a break. And it’s ok to not see this monument or not eat that food.
Meeting new people.
This was mentioned in the book, and I feel like this is the biggest pro people point to for traveling alone. It can get lonely not having anyone to talk to, so out of necessity you will put yourself out there more. I’m very introverted myself, but learning from my Chicago trip, I made an effort to talk to people on my Europe trip. It wasn’t as anxiety-inducing as I expected! I truly believe this is the best way to learn to talk to strangers; if you do anything embarrassing, you’ll never see them again. But chances are you’ll meet some great people and end up making new friends!
Trying things you wouldn’t normally do.
When you’re alone in a foreign country, there’s no one who knows “who you are.” There’s no one to judge you for not being yourself. You have the freedom to do anything you want to do, to try all sorts of new things that might not fit the image people have of you.
I don’t think I have done anything very far out of character, but sometimes I find it annoying when people say, “Oh, that doesn’t seem like something you’d like/do.” How could they know?? Unless they’re your best friend in all the worlds and you tell them everything that has ever happened to you, they don’t know. So go skydiving, or eat a live octopus, or learn to tango.
Being more mindful/aware.
This is also mentioned in the book. When you’re with friends, you tend to focus more on each other. But when traveling alone, especially as a female solo traveler, you have to be more alert to your surroundings. There’s no one obligated to watch out for pickpockets or scammers or worse. In turn, because you’re more aware of your surroundings, you start noticing things that you normally would walk right past. Details on a building, flowers growing out of the sidewalk, money someone dropped.
And having no one to talk to during meals, you have the opportunity to savor your food and eat more mindfully. Not that this always happens, because as a society we’re embarrassed to eat alone. I spent a lot of time with my phone when I was traveling alone, because I wasn’t always comfortable eating by myself. But you know what? No one else was paying attention to me. No one was thinking I had no friends. This is something I will definitely be working on, whether I’m traveling solo or eating alone at home.
You understand yourself better away from the influence of other people. We want people to like us, so sometimes we end up pretending to like things we don’t really like. We don’t want to be left out so we join things and convince ourselves we’re enjoying it. Being by yourself lets you figure out what your boundaries are and what you truly like.
You also build confidence in your abilities to take care of yourself in a different city or foreign country. If you can spend a week in a country that speaks a language you don’t know, you can do anything.
I was expecting more tips and fewer memoirs from this book. The author used four specific trips to highlight the “pleasures of solitude;” I feel like it would’ve served the reader better if the book had been sorted by the type of pleasure rather than by trip. The way she wrote it, the different things she talked about seemed specific to that trip and that location.
I also expected it to be an easy and fun read; it was easy but it wasn’t really fun. It felt more like a person getting lost in her own memories. But she did make me want to visit Florence, which hadn’t been on my list prior to reading this book. And despite everything, I’m looking forward to more solo travel. So it’s a success :).
What are your thoughts on traveling alone? What tips do you have for other solo travelers?