I became a solo traveler by accident.
I wasn’t trying to make a statement or show that I was brave or inspire anyone.
I started traveling by myself because I was homeless in Europe and had some time between jobs and everyone else I knew was working.
Once I realized I could travel alone, I knew I would no longer not having a willing companion stop me from seeing new places. But in the six years since my first solo trip I’ve changed a lot and I’m starting to wonder if solo travel is really my favorite way to travel after all.
Falling in Love with Solo Travel
I arrived in Florence, my home base for a week between au pair stints, without an itinerary or a plan. I had a spot booked in 12 bed female dorm room at a hostel not far from Santa Maria Novella Station, a tattered guidebook I’d borrowed from a friend, and a vague notion that I wanted to eat a lot and see the Renaissance-era walls in Lucca.
Within 10 minutes of walking into my room I made a friend. She was a fellow American traveling around Italy by herself for a few weeks. We bonded over our Midwestern roots and love of food and wine and developed a bit of a routine over the week. We’d spend our days doing our own thing and then check out a new restaurant at night.
It was a routine that suited me perfectly. During the day I could wander through the streets, write in my journal at cafes, and avoid being dragged to boring to me places like the Uffizi. At night I had a dinner companion and didn’t have to do the “Da sola? Si. Da sola? Si.” dance at every restaurant.
Besides one uncomfortable incident in Lucca, I never felt unsafe. I was able to pick and choose my itinerary, something that fits my control freak personality perfectly. And I never really felt all that alone.
I was hooked on solo travel.
The Downsides of Solo Travel
While solo travel can exhilarating, life changing, empowering, and all those other things we solo traveling bloggers tout, there’s also plenty of times when it is lonely and just really fucking hard.
During my solo trips to Taiwan and Central Europe, it was the off-season which meant I often found myself sleeping in near empty dorms and drinking beers alone in common rooms. There were some days when the only people I spoke to were servers or hostel employees.
There have been times my flights have landed well past dark and, unable to afford a long taxi ride to the center, I’ve had to brave public transit in a new city alone. While I might not have been extremely worried about my personal safety, these were situations where having someone by my side would’ve made me feel much more comfortable.
Traveling solo also leaves you in charge of every detail and every decision. After getting lost four times in one day in Tokyo, I really wanted someone who could help me navigate. And after two weeks of solo meals in Europe last summer I was ready for a dinner companion that wasn’t my Kindle. Preferably someone with the ability to help make decisions about where to eat.
Plus, who will take photos of you staring off into the distance when you’re alone?
Finding my Groove with Friends
I’d set out to backpack Southeast Asia alone, but then started dating someone in Korea and we ended up traveling together for four months. While I’m forever grateful to have had a companion on that trip, we were expiration dating and, thus, almost constantly bickering. It felt like this trip had put me firmly forever into the solo traveler camp.
Then in Europe everything changed. My two favorite trips that year were trips with friends. I had so much fun eating and clubbing with my GirlsGone blogger buddies in Madrid, and there’s no way I would’ve enjoyed sunning myself in the Algarve if I hadn’t been with Claire and Clare.
This past week in Jordan, though, cemented my current feelings about solo travel.
I’m kind of over it.
Besides the inside jokes and near constant laughter, I realized that sharing the special moments with my friends made those moments even more special. Not only that, but I learned from them. About photography, about ancient history, about blogging. I took more risks. I didn’t just have more fun, I had a more satisfying and enriching travel experience.
They taught me that maybe I loved solo travel so much before because I wasn’t traveling with the right people and that maybe I’m not as much of an introverted control freak as I think I am.
My Future as a Solo Female Traveler
I’m about to embark on my longest solo trip ever. That’s right. I’m currently doubting solo travel right before I hit the road for nearly 2 months alone. I’m completely freaking out.
Deep down I know I will be fine. I’m traveling southern Italy during the beginning of the high season and staying in carefully chosen hostels. My friend Claire is meeting me for a week in Puglia which will help break up my alone time. For the three weeks I’m staying in Rome I’m renting a room in an apartment with two Italian girls and I’ve pretty much told them straight up I need friends.
After that, though, I’m not sure how much long term solo travel I’ll be seeking out. Jessica just bought a flight to Bangkok, so we will be tackling Asia together this fall for 6 weeks.
Then? I’m not sure. I might move to Australia with some friends, but then again, maybe this trip will change my mind about solo travel once again and you’ll find me galavanting around Central American surf towns by myself in 2016. I’m not completely counting it out.