How to combat the downsides and cherish the upsides of traveling alone, or with friends.
Many people ponder the differences between traveling alone and traveling with a group. Both have their perks and their obstacles, but in the end the experience is always rewarding nonetheless. Having done both many times, I’ll break down some of the differences for anyone who wants some guidance or advice.
Some people are terrified of traveling alone, and venturing to a foreign country by yourself can definitely be overwhelming and intimidating. But as long as you fully prepare yourself, remain aware of your surroundings, and learn to appreciate the solitude, traveling alone can enrich your mind and spirit more than anything else.
Whenever you find yourself in a troubling situation, such as getting lost or missing a train, being alone can sometimes heighten the stress. Particularly in a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s nerve-wracking to be stuck without a companion to help you fix the problem. The easiest way to comfort yourself in these situations is to stay calm and ask for help. Never be afraid to try and communicate with locals in their language, or ask people if they speak English.
Another obvious downside of traveling alone is you may feel lonely. With no one to share your excitement and observations with, sometimes a trip may feel unfulfilling.
There are two solutions for this: First of all, try and make new friends. Hostels are always packed with friendly, fellow travelers and you are guaranteed to find people to hang out with if you put yourself out there.
If you are a more shy, reserved person who is not keen on striking up conversation with strangers, try to value the silence and serenity of solo travel. Listen to music, write in a journal, take photos, do whatever you can to bring excitement to your travels and subdue any feelings of loneliness.
The first upside of traveling alone is the freedom to create your own schedule. You can literally do whatever you want without having to adhere to anyone else’s preferences. It’s liberating to explore a foreign country with no deadlines or responsibilities. You can eat gelato three times a day without anyone judging you, or spend hours in an incredible museum without feeling like you’re holding people up.
Another perk of solo travel comes when you are genuinely trying to immerse yourself in a new culture. Spending time abroad with a friend compels you to mainly hang out with that person, and you will inevitably use English with them. Being alone forces you to adapt to the local way of life. For example, I went to Spain alone to practice my Spanish. Since I didn’t have an English-speaking friend with me, I conversed in Spanish with everyone I met, and my language skills improved immensely.
Traveling with a group usually is just as fun and chaotic as it appears to be. Having close friends or family as companions allows you to share amazing experiences with people you love, whereas traveling with new people you met abroad allows you to deepen your connection with them and potentially become much closer friends.
Coordinating activities and schedules can be difficult with lots of people, particularly when planning a trip. However, one person usually stands out as a natural leader within a group, and it is wise to let that person take charge. If you are the natural leader, don’t be afraid to act efficiently and proactively when planning a trip.
Also, when it comes to navigating your way around an unknown space, let the person with the best sense of direction be in charge of the maps. Considering the stress that occurs when three or more people fight over which direction they think is right, group travel flows more smoothly when one person at a time focuses on navigation.
On longer trips, sometimes traveling with a group can be exhausting. You may get sick of people, even if they’re your closest friends. If you feel suffocated, take some alone time to regain your sanity. Your friends won’t judge you if you ask for space; put in headphones on the bus instead of talking, or just take a walk by yourself before breakfast. Having some alone time with your thoughts can ease tension and allow you to truly appreciate your company without going crazy.
When you travel with a group, you can participate in some activities that you may not get to do alone. Going on a boat cruise or to an amusement park or a wine tasting can be accomplished alone, but these types of social gatherings are much more fun with friends.
That being said, the most obvious upside of traveling with a group is the opportunity to share memorable moments with people you care about. Every aspect of traveling can enrich your soul, but having companions to gawk at gorgeous sunsets with or discuss the history of a town with can transform an international experience.
As long as you maintain a positive attitude and cherish every piece of beauty you find abroad, you can truly appreciate the wonders of traveling whether you are alone or with a group.
As originally published on The College Tourist