Travel solo or with friends? A guide to the best of each

It’s been a little over a year since I embarked on my 3-month solo epic adventure, and I keep being asked a multitude of questions or get different comments about it. My British friends are more used to the idea of solo travel – regardless of gender – so comments are more of the “Your Instagram is goals” type. However, my friends from basically every other nationality come back to the same question:

Were you not scared?

My anecdotal data collection points to the idea that, for womxn, travelling solo is still a little daunting. I stand by this, but I can tell you that the picture is also changing.

A 2018 report by Hostelworld revealed that, between 2015 and 2017, there was a surge of bookings for solo travellers of 42%. The number of womxn hitting the road alone soared by 45%, compared to men’s increase in bookings by 40%. Basically, what this means is that there are more people travelling alone. There are still more men travelling solo, but the number of women taking the road increased more than the number of men.

Additional reporting by National Geographic in 2016 showed that, according to Pinterest, pins on the topic of solo female travel rose by 350% between 2014 and 2015. Even if we’re not travelling as much, the interest is there. Just take a look on Instagram. A quick search for #travelblogger comes up with over 46.1m results and Google Trends (see below) show a steady increase of keyword searches in the last 5 years. 

So, once established that more womxn than ever are travelling alone and that interest in this continues to rise, we can delve into the nitty-gritty of the situation. We still live in a patriarchal global society, and whether womxn can be targets of harassment more often, it’s still worth a shot because our priorities have changed.

Travelling with friends has the added benefit of the safety net. You feel safe yet adventurous, I get it. But nonetheless, there’s a particular thrill to solo travel that I haven’t found elsewhere. If you’re still undecided, here’s a list of the best things about solo travel and travelling with mates.

Please do read my interview with Bani covering the colonialist aspects of travel. Let’s not forget that “travel” is a huge privilege, and that we need to be mindful of host cultures while we’re on holiday or away.

Going Solo – me, myself and I

You make all the decisions

So what if that restaurant you’d been eyeing for weeks turned out to be a massive downer? Or that beach that’s been littering your Instagram feed? A total influencer trap. 

But also that dumpling shop next to the subway has the best food you’ll taste in your life, and you’ll tell your grandchildren about it. This is the the scariest but best part of going alone. You make all the calls, and most of the time it’ll be OK.

*Obviously, excluding dangerous situations. I’m talking about small mishaps here.

Back in 2012 I flew to Shanghai for a month on an internship programme. On one of the days I didn’t feel like socialising, I came upon this antique market (where I got one of my cameras!).

You meet the most wonderful people

Every time I’ve travelled alone, I’ve never felt lonely. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, I’ve never actually spent more than a few hours in solitude. Some of the people I met are now lifelong friends, while others slowly retreated to a warm place in my heart. That’s OK, we still shared wonderful and unique memories together. They’ll all become characters in a book one day (you didn’t hear it from me, folks).

In New Zealand I met so many different people along the way that I’ll never forget, including this wonderful British woman, who hiked a mountain with me before downing a bottle of wine and partying it up.

You become braver and kinder

When you’re travelling alone, you’ll find yourself hungry for company at some point or another. The fear of loneliness is real and sometimes you’ll be desperate for some familiar faces. That’s when you keep going. Soon enough you’ll recognise others in your situation and become more empathetic. In your hometown, perhaps you’d have thought twice about consoling a crying girl you’ve never met. When you’re away, you’ll take her out for drinks.

My visit to Hay-on-Wye was an introduction to my newly found love for the UK and life outside of London. I didn’t know anyone, and yet I came out of it with endless memories and new friends on #bookstagram.

You feel independent and empowered

It’s not a myth. In your first solo adventure, you’ll go through all the motions. You’ll make all the choices, meet incredible humans and test your own limits. By the time you come home, you’ll feel like you can take on anything. Spending time on your own will give you a healthy dose of self-confidence and individuality, and that’s something that’ll stay with you.

In 2011 I went to spend a month in Berlin to learn the language. It was my first real adventure on my own, and one that tested my limits socially and emotionally.

Going with friends – you’ll cry when you go home

You share unique moments and experiences with people you love most

Once I read that travelling is not about the places you visit, but about the people you meet. I agree with this wholeheartedly (see above). When you and your bestie go away together, the world becomes your oyster. Since you’ll be a few kilometres away from your day-to-day, everything you do will become an adventure. The best stories I have with some of my closest friends are from the holidays we took together, and we still talk about our antics even years later.

One of my friends came with me to Cuba after a late night conversation on my sofa. We decided we wanted to go and, a few weeks later, everything was booked!

You become closer and get to know your friends better

Whenever you travel with a friend for the first time, you risk finding out you’re not good travelling companions. That’s always a bummer, but it does happen. The other side of the coin is that you become inseparable. It’s happened to me plenty of times, even more so when I’m only travelling with one or two people. In Spanish, we say “el roce hace el cariño” literally meaning “touch makes fondness happen”, which I find describes travelling with friends delightfully well. You’ll also get to know the real them. Since you spend all of the time together, you won’t get that cool off time where we let our guard down so you’ll see their most vulnerable sides and vice-versa. By the time you come home, the bond between you will (hopefully!) be even tighter.

You learn to share and to compromise

Even if you have many a sibling, nothing teaches you to share and compromise like travelling with a friend. Trips with family or a romantic partner can often lead to arguments because you feel more comfortable with them, but with friends, you might think twice about it before kicking up a fuss. Eventually, you’ll learn to love your friends’ ideas as much as your own.

After my road trip with my best friend back in 2014, I developed an obsession for hiking and outdoor camping as well as becoming more interested in art.

You always have someone to split a meal and try new foods

Aside from the company, one of the best parts of travelling with friends is being able to share meals and try new foods. Usually, this means a cheaper bill for everyone involved, which is an added bonus. 

In June, one of my school-friends and I took an impromptu trip to Amsterdam.

Choose what’s right for you

At the end of the day, our generation deals with a completely different set of worries and responsibilities than previous generations who tended to travel in packs of friends more often. Some of your might friends could be saving for a child or a house, or some just won’t have the budget to take a holiday; others will prefer to use their days off to visit family, and so on. 

If any of these apply to you, I warmly invite you to make the leap into solo travel. Be gentle with yourself and try spending a weekend on your own or going to a different part of your town without your friends. Or, if you wanted to take a trip solo but a friend is really keen on joining, why not give them a chance? After all, that’s another adventure in the making.

8 thoughts on “Travel solo or with friends? A guide to the best of each

  1. I love solo travels more since my friends are very finicky about food and thats a red flag! Though at times it gets boring on the road and i crave for company! I am good at making friends on the road though 🙂

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    1. Another one on the solo team! I get you on the loneliness point, but at least you always have the choice if you want to meet someone or have some me-time.

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  2. Such a balanced perspective. Great read.

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    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.

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  3. Such a different topic to write. Loved yr idea

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    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.

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  4. I love a balance between both of them! It can be a lot of fun with the right friends. But traveling alone just gives you such a confidence boost!

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    1. Exactly, I agree with this 100%. There are good things on both sides so I try to keep it balanced too.

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