Confessions of a Solo Traveler…

I had a four day holiday weekend coming up and I can’t stand the thought of wasting time by sitting around the house and not using the time to see somewhere new.  There are still places I want to see in Japan but very few of them warrant four whole days.  Except maybe the northern island Hokkaido.  There is a lot I want to see and do there.  In fact, maybe even a week or more.  And while the island is most famous for its winter snow and ice festival, I have really no desire to fight the crowds in the cold.  But I wasn’t committing to the trip, I hadn’t bought tickets …  The plan was to go alone.  It was going to be mostly driving (I hate to drive, especially alone) …

I have good friends going to Shanghai and Taiwan at the same time but they will be gone much longer than I can take off work.    Who flies to China for just a four day weekend?  Especially when you have to add a second destination to facilitate the visa.  …

But as typical for me, I was up in the early AM searching flights and found that it could work out to have a full two days in Shanghai, 1 ½ days in Manila – for a reasonable price and not miss a second of work.  The catch is I would only overlap with my friends for about 26 hours in Shanghai.

Anyway, this entire episode in my life made me think about solo travel.  Am I a solo traveler?  I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t commit to Hokkaido.  But I jumped all over Shanghai.  Is that because of the destination or is it because I will have company part of the time.  If honest with myself, it is a little of both.

Because truth be told, as much as I have traveled in my life, very little of it has been pure solo travel.  I am blessed with a large social circle of people who love to travel.  And so when geography, daily commitments, finances, or desire does not allow one person to join me, I have someone else I love who wants to give it a try.  I am almost always the planner, the instigator —  but I travel regularly with my husband, good friends, my mom, my cousin, my grandmother ….

So I got to thinking, what travel have I done on my own?  Am I less of a traveler because I tend to travel with others?

-I travel a lot for work and so I often go early / stay late to see a bit of the local city on my own.

-I often explore the city I live (London, DC, Tokyo) solo…but does that count if it is really just for the day?

-I can count several times when I have gone to visit family or friends somewhere and spent the day on my own while they worked or had other commitments

-And I’ve had a day on either end of a trip when meeting people that I’ve gone out and explored (although some examples stick out that I wish I had used my time more wisely)

-My crowning solo achievement is probably the Camino last year.  After spending a week with my mom in Paris and on the Camino, I spent another week walking by myself and then had two solo days in Paris.

I guess as I work this out in my own mind, I come to the following conclusions:

  1. Similar to my philosophy on travel – it all counts. Don’t let someone else put you in a box.  Independent travel is not more authentic than a tour. A hostel is not more legit than a hotel.  Slow travel is not better than a quick trip.  And solo travel is not better than traveling with others.  (and vice versa)  It is up to you, location, timing, desire, finances and a dozen other factors.  And you don’t have to ever fall into just one category and define yourself.  Travel with friends some of the time and by yourself other times.
  2. Don’t let fear stop you (unless it is stupid or dangerous). Step outside your comfort zone.  If there is a trip or spot that appeals to you – then go for it whether you have a companion or not!
  3. By traveling with someone you may have to change your pace or expectations but the other individual will also bring something to the table that you will have missed otherwise. You will do, learn, see, and meet someone or something that you would have missed on your own.
  4. It’s ok to compromise! Travel is my hobby and passion.  I am also pretty stubborn and want to do what I want to do.  But long lasting, close relationships are what sustain us through life.  It is cliché but true … family and friends are the most important thing.  And to be able to share a trip or a new experience with someone you love (or a new / potential friend or love) is one of life’s greatest blessings. If that means you give up some control and flexibility by traveling with others then it is probably well worth it in the end.

I’ll go to Hokkaido later. Maybe I’ll go with someone, maybe I won’t … we will see.  But in the meantime, I’ll spend a day in Shanghai with friends, I’ll spend a day alone and I’ll explore Manila on my own.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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