icon-cookie
The website uses cookies to optimize your user experience. Using this website grants us the permission to collect certain information essential to the provision of our services to you, but you may change the cookie settings within your browser any time you wish. Learn more
I agree
blank_error__heading
blank_error__body
Text direction?

Flying solo: Why traveling alone is the way to go

Chicago Tribune |
Jul 29, 2019 | 8:12 AM
The writer, Randi Shaffer, poses for a photo at the open-air East Side Gallery in Berlin, where she took her first solo trip. (Randi Shaffer/Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune)

I can vividly remember the exact moment I decided I was never traveling with people again.

It was a crisp fall day in Germany, and I was sitting at Berlin Schönefeld Airport, propped up on my backpack in a state of exhaustion. I was waiting for a budget airline to carry me through my layover in Iceland and back home to Chicago after a long-weekend birthday trip I’d booked in a dramatic flurry after a really bad breakup.

Advertisement

Let me back up: Earlier in the year, I’d taken a 10-day, four-country journey through Europe with my then-boyfriend. It was a mostly miserable experience that left me feeling incredibly insecure about my ability to travel and enjoy it.

After moping around for several months because this jerk had completely convinced me I was an inflexible and boring stick-in-the-mud, I spontaneously booked a flight back to Europe as a way to kind of reclaim the continent. I wanted to prove to myself that I did know how to travel and that I was a fun person.

I bought my plane ticket on a whim, figuring I’d find somebody willing to venture over to Germany with me for a few days.

[Most read] Parents transferring custody to get better college financial aid? ‘It never occurred to us that this was a possibility.’ »

Turns out, it’s a little tricky to find a friend to accompany you on a somewhat last-minute short trip across an ocean. I couldn’t find anyone able or willing to tag along. So, about half a year after that bad breakup, I ended up traveling overseas alone for the first time on a four-day whirlwind adventure to Berlin.

I came back from that trip feeling completely fulfilled. I proved to myself that I am capable of enjoying travel, and I was not the reason my 10-day trip in Europe sucked; the problem was my travel companion.

Because I had such a great time alone in Germany — dancing on beer garden tables, shoving countless pretzels into my face and posing for an impromptu photoshoot at the open-air East Side Gallery with new friends I’d met at my hostel — I decided to try it again a few months later.

I nervously booked another solo trip, this time to Mexico. I already knew I was capable of traveling alone and keeping myself safe, so why the nerves? I was genuinely concerned that my Berlin trip was a one-off fluke, and that it had set the bar so high that any future solo trip wouldn’t measure up.

Randi Shaffer near Mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico. Shaffer made the trip on her own after becoming a solo-traveler convert.
Randi Shaffer near Mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico. Shaffer made the trip on her own after becoming a solo-traveler convert. (Randi Shaffer / Chicago Tribune)

Turns out, I had nothing to fear. My trip to Tulum — filled with cenote snorkeling, Mayan jungle ruin tours and seemingly endless beachside mojitos — was just as good as, if not better than, my trip to Berlin.

[Most read] 2 elevators got stuck at Chicago’s former John Hancock Center over a recent weekend: ‘I don’t know what they have to do’ »

Here are some of the many reasons I’ve become a big fan of solo travel:

Plans are in your hands

A lot of compromise is involved when traveling with friends. Maybe you don’t want to spend the time and money at a museum or devote an afternoon to shopping for luxury goods. Maybe you like making a spreadsheet full of the attractions you want to see, or maybe you prefer to dive head-first into a destination with no plans at all. Maybe you want to wake up at 6 a.m. to sightsee. Maybe you want to stay up until 6 a.m. to party. If you’re traveling alone, there’s only one person you have to please: you.

Another bonus: Solo travelers can take off whenever they want. I’ve missed out on so many potential trips in the past because I couldn’t find a friend able or willing to take the time off work. If you’re going alone, you can book your trip whenever it works best for your schedule.

You control the budget

Your money, your rules. You don’t want to pay for a posh hotel room? You don’t have to. Same goes for dropping $75 on a single meal. You can be as thrifty or as spendy as you want, and nobody’s going to fight you over it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shelled out more cash than I’ve felt comfortable spending, just because I was pressured into it by my travel companions. On the flip side, I’ve also had to skip things I wanted to do because of other people’s financial constraints.

[Most read] Body of slain 1930s gangster John Dillinger to be exhumed in Indiana »
Advertisement
You meet more people

If you’re traveling with a friend or significant other, odds are you’re going to spend the bulk of that trip talking to that person. Sure, you might chat with a couple of strangers and make a new acquaintance or two. But for the most part, you have built-in companionship.

The writer, third from left, poses for a photo at Berlin's East Side Gallery with friends she met at her hostel.
The writer, third from left, poses for a photo at Berlin's East Side Gallery with friends she met at her hostel. (Randi Shaffer/Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune)

Solo travelers are pretty much forced to strike up conversations with strangers — talking to travelers at your hostel bar, asking passersby to take your photo, bumming an iPhone charger off the person next to you on the bus.

This mandatory mingling has yielded some pretty amazing friendships for me. I traveled solo to Nashville, Tenn., and ended up making friends in my hostel room. I even met up with one of those friends on my trip to Germany. On that same trip to Germany, I made friends at my hostel bar. I ended up reconnecting with one of those people on a subsequent trip to San Francisco.

[Most read] Wisconsin Republican won’t allow Democratic legislator who uses wheelchair to phone in to committee meetings because he says it’s ‘disrespectful’ »

At this point, I’ve amassed a broad enough network that I can visit friends on pretty much every continent. I wouldn’t have met most of them if I hadn’t been traveling by myself.

A chance to live in the moment, self-reflect

I can think of such incredibly vivid moments during my solo travels that I’m convinced I wouldn’t have remembered if I’d had company.

Allowing the heavy feeling of isolation to flood my senses as I trudged through a German Holocaust memorial, for example, letting the tears flow freely.

Lounging on a towel in a grassy patch near a Mexican cenote and listening to an upbeat song through my headphones as the sun dried my hair.

Sitting peacefully with an aromatic latte at a Nashville coffee shop while watching the morning rush.

[Most read] Betsy Ebeling, friend to many including Hillary Clinton, dies at 72 »

Traveling solo means a lot of time alone with your thoughts. You get to experience life around you, uninterrupted, and you get to take it in as you please, without feeling self-conscious about a friend or family member’s presence.

That’s not to say traveling alone doesn’t have its downsides. Travel tends to be a bit costlier when you’re not splitting the bill for accommodations, food or gas.

And, naturally, there are times I find myself getting lonely and wishing for a companion — someone to take photos with or talk to during long train rides. A witness for some of those “you’re not gonna believe me, but ...” moments would be nice as well.

But once the trip is over and I wearily collapse onto my backpack at the airport, idly flipping through blurry iPhone photos as I wait for my flight home, those downsides dissipate, and I’m reminded why solo travel is the best option for me.

Measure
Measure
Related Notes
Get a free MyMarkup account to save this article and view it later on any device.
Create account

End User License Agreement

Summary | 6 Annotations
journey through Europe with my then-boyfriend. It was a mostly miserable experience that left me feeling incredibly insecure about my ability to travel and enjoy it.
2019/07/30 16:00
Turns out, it’s a little tricky to find a friend to accompany you on a somewhat last-minute short trip across an ocean. I couldn’t find anyone able or willing to tag along. So, about half a year after that bad breakup, I ended up traveling overseas alone for the first time on a four-day whirlwind adven
2019/07/30 16:00
nervously booked another solo trip, this time to Mexico. I already knew I was capable of traveling alone and keeping myself safe, so why the nerves
2019/07/30 16:02
Turns out, I had nothing to fear. My trip to Tulum — filled with cenote snorkeling, Mayan jungle ruin tours and seemingly endless beachside mojitos — was just as good as, if not better than, my trip to Berlin.
2019/07/30 16:02
Your money, your rules. You don’t want to pay for a posh hotel room? You don’t have to. Same goes for dropping $75 on a single meal. You can be as thrifty or as spendy as you want, and nobody’s going to fight you over it.
2019/07/30 16:03
If you’re traveling with a friend or significant other, odds are you’re going to spend the bulk of that trip talking to that person. Sure, you might chat with a couple of strangers and make a new acquaintance or two. But for the most part, you have built-in companionship.
2019/07/30 16:03