As you may have learned from my other posts, I’ve been working in France as an English teacher for the last seven months. I use the word “working” loosely considering how much free time I’ve had. And that doesn’t even include the vacation time students and teachers get off for the holidays.
Lucky for me, the French celebrate A LOT of holidays.
I ended up having a two-week vacation every other month. This meant I had nearly eight weeks of absolute freedom. I decided to spend most of that time gallivanting across Europe.
Before my contract ended, I had set foot in nine different countries. I had gone to the far reaches of Europe and met many interesting people along the way. However, this was not my first trip abroad. A previous semester in Paris had already provided me the opportunity to see much of the continent.
But I did do something peculiar this time around–I traveled by myself.
Most of the traveling I have done in the last few months I did alone. It was a new experience, and it gave me a different outlook on travel. I decided to make a list of what advantages and disadvantages traveling alone provided as I saw them.
The Pros of Solo Travel
Freedom of Movement
Perhaps the greatest appeal of traveling by myself was how free I was to do as I pleased. Everything was at my pace. I could choose what to do and when I wanted to do it.
I remember this being especially useful in Germany. Being a bit of a history nerd, I decided to spend an entire day visiting the museums of Berlin. I’m sure some might have been far more interested in sampling the beer, but I was drunk off of knowledge and no one could force me to sober up.
Ease of Trip Planning
Another one of the perks to traveling alone kicks in even before leaving home. In the early stages of my vacation, when I was still deciding where to go, I had the pleasure of only answering to myself.
This can be quite a liberating feeling when planning a tour of multiple cities. Sometimes getting a group of people to agree on a few places to visit can feel more like a hostage negotiation. The best option might be to use the sights in your city as bargaining chips or you could be forced to compromise and meet them halfway (literally).
Such was the case for a trip to Italy some years ago. There is perhaps no other country with as many must-see destinations as Italy. The difficulty, of course, is to only choose a few. So while I was craving the scenery of Venice, someone else had more of a taste for the architecture of Naples. In the end, we decided to settle for Pisa.
Increase in Self-Confidence
Quite frankly, traveling somewhere all alone can be scary. The only person I could depend on for directions, food, and general survival was myself. That’s why a successful trip can result in a major boost in confidence.
After finding my way to my hostel in Bratislava with neither cell service nor a knowledge of the Slovak language, I felt confident in my ability to tackle the rest of the world. I’m thinking that my next trip will be to a deserted island.
Improve Social Skills
Although it might seem counterintuitive, traveling alone made me more sociable. As much as I have praised being solo, it’s still nice to have someone to talk to. When I was traveling by myself I had to either get out of my comfort zone and make friends or deal with being lonely. Luckily, there were usually other travelers in the hostels I stayed in.
Feeling compelled to make new friends was the best part about solo travel for me. There’s something almost poetic about lone travelers becoming friends in faraway places like planets colliding in the vastness of space.
My collision took place in Austria. I stood at the airport terminal waiting for a bus to Budapest, terrified that it might never come, when I noticed a young woman holding a book whose title was in French.
I approached her asking whether she was waiting for the same bus, “Est-ce que vous attendez le bus à Budapest?”
She was. We talked until the bus came. And we didn’t stop talking until the bus stopped four hours later.
There’s something about making a genuine human connection when you’re all alone that makes the experience all the more sublime. She was simply a random person floating around, just as I was, until some force pulled us together.
Naturally, traveling alone comes with its fair share of drawbacks, so I included some of the ones that I felt were most pertinent to mention:
The Cons of Solo Travel
You are Alone
This might seem like a terrible case of circular reasoning, but the alone factor must be stressed. I have never felt more alone than when I was in a country where I did not know a single other person.
Although I usually succeeded in making friends in the places I went, sometimes I did not. There were moments when loneliness truly set in. There’s nothing quite like wanting to go out on a Friday night but not having anyone in the whole country to go out with.
There’s (Financial) Strength in Numbers
When you travel with a group of people you have access to their wallets, so to speak. A group of travelers can split the cost of a hotel or a meal and share while a solo traveler is left to foot the bill alone.
The kinds of places I stayed in and the kinds of food I ate were largely dictated by the price. This resulted in my choosing the cheapest possible option for nearly everything–buses for travel, hostels for lodging, and Mcdonalds for catering. Most of the time it made little difference, but sometimes it pays to go Dutch.
It’s More Dangerous
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of traveling alone is how dangerous it can be. There is always some risk to travel since it implies leaving what is familiar in favor of the unknown, but at least traveling in numbers allows for a greater sense of security.
Traveling alone, therefore, can be especially dangerous. Frankly, some places are best visited in large groups. A single person, namely someone who looks like a foreigner, can be an easy target. Fortunately, I am lucky to not have experienced many dangerous situations. This is likely due to the fact that I am a man. Unfortunately, women do not enjoy the same privilege.
However, I do stick out in another way. As a Black man, I am usually not mistaken for a local in most European countries. Sometimes my skin color brings me a little extra attention, not all of it is good.
For instance, as I was leaving Budapest, a sat across from a man on the subway. His eyes grew wild when he saw me and he began to speak loudly in Hungarian and point towards me. Fortunately, I was with a friend at the time. When I asked her what he was saying, she said not to worry about it. But I did not need to know Hungarian to understand the racial slurs he shouted.
There’s No Help
Finally, aside from friends being useful to talk to and split bills with, they can help with other aspects of travel too. Perhaps a friend might have insider knowledge about the city or she can converse in the local language. Traveling alone means you are on your own.
As mentioned before, this can be taken in one of two ways. It can be invigorating to be completely self-sufficient. Or it can be exhausting. Having multiple people on a trip grants people the opportunity to let others take the lead some days while you follow and just enjoy the ride.
The last trip I took in Europe was a tour of Spain. It was the only time that I traveled with another person since arriving. I knew very little about the country besides the bits I learned in class and I knew even less about the individual cities. However, I decided to go with a Spanish girl who I met several months earlier.
She knew the language, the cities, and several people in the country. She knew what was best to visit and where we could go to get food. Usually, when I traveled, I had to do research to figure all of that out by myself, but having her there allowed me to focus on only one thing: enjoying the vacation.
When you travel with someone else, that person becomes just as much a part of your trip as the places you visit. She or he has the power to make the experience that much more enjoyable or intolerable.
Some of the best trips I took started out solo. They might have evolved into something else because of the friends I made along the way or people who I met while traveling, but the time I spent alone discovering the world, as well as myself, was invaluable.
Until Next Time,
About The Author…
Erick Boone is a native of Kansas City, Missouri and a recent graduate of Howard University. He currently lives in France where he works as an English teacher. He loves all things language. Erick also has a penchant for travelling, having visited 15 different countries. He spends his free time learning about history and culture via YouTube and literature… but mostly YouTube. His goal is to become an American diplomat.