There are people who travel solo and wouldn’t do it any other way, while others would never consider exploring the world all by themselves. Although the answer to the question in the title depends mostly on personal preferences and how a person is built, we should debate this matter for the sake of debating and for helping those who are still trying to find the best way to travel.
So what is best – to be a solo traveler or travel with your partner, significant other or family?? We’re going to try and find the answer to this complicated question in today’s article.
And in order to keep things as unbiased as possible, you’re going to get thoughts from Cristine (who’s traveling alone) and yours truly who loves to explore the world slowly with his family. Hopefully this will paint a clearer picture.
So let’s get this started and see how should you travel the world: solo or part of a group, no matter how small? We’ll organize this article by listing the Pros and Cons of each type of travel.
Pros of solo travel
Note: Cristine is handling this (with minor notes from myself). She wanted to start by being brutally honest and saying this: “|y bias should be obvious: I not only travel solo and advocate for my friends to do the same but I also had some pretty poor experiences in the past by choosing the “NOT” Mr Right to travel with.
Just because I believe this is the best travel type for me though doesn’t mean it is for you and there are plenty of pros and cons to both solo and accompanied travel. But, for my big ego, do choose team Cristine at the end!”
1. Doing what you want, when you want
This one may not sound like a big deal, but can be. Sometimes when you’re traveling with someone else you might want to go to a town they don’t want to visit, go out for a drink when they want to get up early, eat something they don’t like, visit a place they don’t want to and so on.
Whatever it is, you don’t need to worry about it when you’re traveling on your own. Being your own boss can be super liberating and setting your schedule exactly as you want it to be is perfect and probably the biggest Pro of traveling solo.
2. More open to meeting locals and making new friends
On my solo adventures, I’ve had so much interaction with locals I know I wouldn’t have been lucky enough to have if I wasn’t on my own. Many locals see me by myself as less intimidating than travelers who’re in groups and will make more effort to communicate with me.
Because I plan out my days myself and my time is my own, I can plan more time for these interactions and to put locals who might not have a great command of English at ease so we can talk longer and have more meaningful interactions.
Many people say that this happens simply because I am a solo female traveler – which might be true – but in the end, if you are cheerful and happy and open to meeting new people, gender shouldn’t stand in your way and it’s a lot easier to both approach others and be approached by others when you’re traveling alone.
3. More portable
Traveling solo, I’ve been able to take advantage of opportunities that others have been unable to take advantage of.
I will always remember a visit to Laos, where I met some people who were going to the blue lagoon. I could jump on their motorbike, avoiding the $20 tuk tuk ride and split costs for bridge fees, etc. We could also leave when everyone was ready, not when the tuk tuk driver got bored.
Does this mean that it was accompanied travel? Not really – even though I went with a group on that particular occasion. It was about being portable and ready to easily be part of somebody else’s plans if I wanted to!
4. You could pay less for accommodation
Depending on the places you use to choose for accommodation, you can end up spending a lot less than if you were to travel with family or somebody else.
This only goes if you follow Luciano’s route (or anybody else who travels with family): he rents places with 2 bedrooms, so him and his kids have separate rooms. This greatly raises the prices for accommodation.
Myself, on the other hand, can easily live in a cheap hostel room or a studio without a problem. Most couples without kids (and maybe then some with kids) could live in a studio as well, therefore sharing the costs and resulting in paying less. So this pro really depends on the people in question and how they like their accommodation to be, but in general, you can end up paying a lot less than a couple or family has to.
5. You will learn more (about yourself and your strengths)
Traveling alone is definitely not easy, and it does come with a ton of challenges. Simply getting out of your comfort zone – that bubble that keeps you safe and sane wherever you are – is a huge win.
You will have to take decisions on a whim, and take them you will. Sometimes, you will feel the pressure, sometimes you will be overwhelmed, sometimes you’ll feel lost and disoriented… but trust me, you will always figure it out and pick the best solution or route or whatnot.
Traveling alone will help you push your limits higher, learn more about yourself and get you out of your comfort zone, preparing you to confront like a pro the challenges life has in store for you. And all these will result in a massive boost to your confidence!
Cons of solo travel
1. Sometimes, you will feel lonely
Although I delight in my own company, I am an introvert and I sometimes do get lonely. Not as lonely as you would think I do but it can happen… and that’s not pleasant.
No matter how friendly you are, you will rarely make real friends on the road and sometimes you will feel the need to have somebody who’s really close to you to confide in, to say some nice words or give you a hug or a can of ice cream. This can be a problem when traveling alone, especially if you don’t travel slowly to permit those more complex relationships to form.
2. No-one to take care of you when you’re sick
I’m a little funny on this one. Although no-one can take care of you the way they would at home with all of the love and attention, you still do find people will help you out! I’ve had a guest house owner take care of me when I was sick in Laos and I often find locals who will take care of me similar to how they would their own children.
But generally and in most occasions, when you get sick, you get to suffer alone. Nobody to do the shopping for you, nobody to go buy the meds if you don’t have them, nobody to prepare a tea or hold your hand. This sucks and is for me the worst part of solo travel.
3. It is often more expensive
This one can be unavoidable. Single supplements on tours or hotel rooms can be painful as paying the same amount for a room that the four girls next door are splitting among themselves.
Various other costs are larger when traveling solo – from food (on a per person basis) to entertainment and everything in between. It’s not a rule though and some people who are used to living frugally, can really do it without spending much – so money spent can be both a Pro and a Con, depending on how you do it.
4. Less security
This is more of a thing that you feel instead of what actually happens, but in the end it only has to happen once to scar you forever.
There are always all sorts of dangers when traveling in places outside of your comfort zone and usually, if it’s more than one person, you are automatically safer. As a single female traveling the world, you are more exposed to certain dangers in some places – such as it was me getting robbed in Bogota.
But these things can happen anywhere in the world and can be avoided by solid planning and simply staying away from dangerous areas. But yes, it is generally safer (even if only just in your mind) to travel with a group.
Pros of Couple / Family travel
1. It usually is cheaper (per person)
Often solo travelers find one another just for this reason – to keep costs low – so you know it’s a big reason to travel with someone else: sometimes you can save big (and see things you normally wouldn’t have) by hiring a car with someone or a few someones and splitting the cost.
Same goes for accommodation. Six friends split a huge apartment they found on Airbnb and it cost them less than it would to stay in a small hostel dorm for the same amount of time. You get better quality too, in most cases.
Most of the other costs decrease on a per-person basis when traveling as a couple or family and there are additional discounts you might enjoy in certain places – like family tickets or special rates.
2. Always someone there to look after you
Getting sick when you travel really sucks and although many people have a story about a great fellow traveler or accommodation owner/manager who really looked after them, many others would prefer to just bring their own nurse with them.
And even though we usually get to share our illnesses with our partners and they will get that nasty cold eventually… it’s still better to brave it out together than alone and miserable in a random room out there in the world.
Also, who’s not taking their bags with them into the bathroom? Those who don’t travel alone!
3. You can grow closer to the person you’re traveling with
The first time I traveled accompanied was with my best friend from high school. As best friends, we didn’t really believe that the bond can get much stronger, but after traveling just for seven days together, things were so much better.
We’ve always been close but spending some quality one-on-one time together was really good for us. When we got home, we had so many shared stories to laugh about together and a much stronger friendship.
The same goes when traveling as a family. Even though I know my wife for over a decade, traveling together simply helps us understand each other’s needs and wants and overall helps us do better.
4. The “safety blanket” feeling
Truth is the world really isn’t as dangerous as we’re told it is, even for women traveling the world alone. But, as an opposite to a con listed for solo travel, I have to list this as a pro here: you’re usually safer if you travel accompanied.
5. Easier to stay sane
The general rule is that when you travel with somebody else, it’s easier for you to stay sane, and the advantage of having somebody who knows you, understands you and can be talked with at any given moment is a huge bonus.
When you have a dilemma, you can simply talk it out with your partner. When you don’t know what your next move should be, you can talk things out. When you need to have a meaningful conversation – there’s again your partner there for you.
6. More fun
Most things are more fun if they’re done in a group and traveling in a pair or with a larger group definitely makes everything a lot more fun and entertaining.
Yes, you can now take photos virtually everywhere and share your experiences with your friends and family thousands of miles away… but this still isn’t nowhere near being in an amazing place with your loved one (or just a really good friend) and actually sharing that experience.
Also, if you like to party or have a nice chat at the restaurant during your meal, this is also easier when traveling as with a group – no matter how small!
Cons of Couple / Family travel
1. Compromise sucks pretty bad, sometimes
Ask any married person and they’ll tell you: compromises suck. A compromise is where no-one gets exactly what they want. Sometimes the “compromise” moment can be met with, “well, why don’t you do the thing you really want to do and I’ll do the thing I really want to do and we can meet up later.” But often, somebody will have to give up and give in.
And this will always happen, no matter how like-minded and great of a connection you have with your travel partner. But it’s part of the deal and in a small number of occasions, accepting to do what you don’t really want to just for the sake of your partner can turn into a surprisingly positive experience. But on other occasions, you’ll just get more stressed.
2. Often travel can ruin relationships that are not very strong
I don’t see this one as often as you’d think. Personally I had one friendship that dissipated after we traveled together but honestly, I think a lot of that was going to happen anyway. It wasn’t a strong relationship. Do keep this in mind though when choosing travel partners.
However, I would add that the stronger the relationship, the better the chances of it getting stronger instead of broken into pieces when the travel’s over.
3. All of someone’s annoying habits and character traits WILL come out when they travel
I can’t take a poo if there’s a single person – friend or foe – on a one kilometer radius to my toilet, one of my good friends cannot concentrate in the heat whereas her boyfriend is hyper moody and depressed when it’s cold.
We all have traits that make us difficult to live with at times. Recognizing yours may make you a better travel partner, but there will always be something.
And these things tend to become more and more annoying as time goes by, as an annoying habit or trait will start to frustrate you more and more by default. So really, don’t plan a long travel experience with somebody you don’t know too well!
4. It can be more expensive
Again, this is something that varies from person to person, but traveling as a couple – or with family – can get more expensive. It all depends on what money you’re relying on.
If you’re traveling on a single income or on savings, then you will automatically drain those money faster when there are more mouths to feed.
There could be other examples where one of the partners in a family can’t work or generate income – either due to them being in between jobs or for example if kids are involved and somebody has to homeschool them and take care of them at all times. In that particular case – when you’re relying on the same amount of money to pay for an additional person or more, it’s automatically more expensive to travel accompanied.
But in most cases, when comparing the per-person costs, it will always be cheaper with groups.
I personally am all for traveling accompanied and I find traveling alone (especially for longer periods of time) unsatisfying and more stressful than ever.
I am a bit more old school, that is true: I still find it strange to take a million selfies, I find it strange to eat alone in a restaurant and it’s really not that fun to explore the world alone.
So in my case, slow traveling together with my family is definitely what I love doing. But this doesn’t mean that it’s the one and only option out there. It doesn’t even mean that traveling with a group is a better idea than traveling alone. Each comes with its own set of pros and cons and you have to decide which are the more bearable in your case.