Published on April 16th, 2014 | by Taz Liffman
10 reasons why solo travel is overrated
Read time: a bit over 6 minutes
Image courtesy of sixtwelve, Flickr
Solo travel, as any who have solo travelled will invariably want to impress on you, can be character building, enlightening, challenging and edifying. It can educe strengths you never knew you possessed, expand your horizons and push you beyond your comfort zone. It can also, as I recently discovered on a five-week jaunt through Mexico and Belize, be kinda lame.
Six years ago, with no company but my own, I set out for three months of solo backpacking through Central America – a trip which, to date, I count amongst the best I’ve undertaken. So when, a few months back, no friend heeded my call for a voyage to Mexico, I was unfazed. ‘It’ll be just like last time’ I proclaimed nonchalantly, ‘Same part of the world, same time of year… same old(er) me. Why, there’ll be chums-in-waiting at every hostel in which I elect to rest my head, homely bars ready to receive me at whichever hour I call, no end of backpackers keen to profit from my fun yet erudite companionship. Right?’
What exactly it was – Mexico itself, the vibe-killing influence of Wi-Fi at hostels – I really can’t say. But things were different this time. Anyway, I had plenty of time to reflect on reasons why solo travel is overrated. So here’s 10 of ‘em.
1. Economy of scale
Not to start things off all scrooge-like, but things just work out cheaper when you travel with others. To put it crudely, a travel buddy presents the opportunity of something called ‘price-splitting’. More often than not, it’ll work out cheaper to share the cost for a double room than what it will to fork out for a single room. When it comes to cabs, worst case scenario sees you splitting the fare while best case sees you surreptitiously leaving them with the bill and scampering away*. And take it from me that day-tour operators are more likely to offer a discount on the basis of there being two of you than simply the promise of ‘your exceptional company’.
* Note that this very same strategy can also be employed at restaurants, bars, museums, immigration border posts… you name it. The potential savings to be garnered are really only restricted by the enterprise of your imagination.
2. Shameless selfies
You’ve got to Palenque and you want a photo to prove it. Fair enough. When travelling solo however, your options consist of: a) asking a random passer-by to take a photo while you attempt to pose before said random in a non-awkward manner (good luck with that), b) spending 10 minutes figuring out how to work the timer function on your camera… and then watching as it tumbles off the rock you had it so safely perched upon, or c) becoming one of those folk who takes ‘selfies’. Even if your travel companion happens to be short-sighted, long-sighted and colour-blind, you’ll still end up with a better photo than you otherwise would flying solo.
3. There’s no wingman/woman
Speaking of flying solo, given that the hope of a foreign tryst is what 103% of us venture overseas for 104%* of the time, a wing-(wo)man for nights out on the town is about as good as investments come. Usual rules apply: try to bag one who’s extroverted, eccentric and irrefutably less-attractive than yourself.
* Calculations are approximate only. And not overly objective.
4. Bus buddies
As fortune would have it, travelling solo could land you a designated bus/train/plane seat next to an attractively single member of the gender of your sexual persuasion who finds your unwashed aura strangely alluring. You may both fall in love and live happily ever after. Or, as chance would more regularly have it, you end up seated next to a corpulent narcoleptic who colonises your seat, falls asleep on your shoulder and sports a propensity for dribbling.
5. Potty break bag-watching
If silly you hadn’t insisted on being the silly solo traveller that you are, silly you would’ve been seated next to your sweet-smelling, dribble-free travel buddy. But silly you insisted on travelling solo. So now silly you needs to get to the bathroom to wash stranger slobber off your silly neck. Problem is, this requires somehow squeezing through the oh-so-narrow bus stop toilet gate with your over-sized and over-stuffed backpack. If only you had a trusty travel buddy to watch your backpack for you while you did this. Silly you.
6. Cream me up, hotty
Unless trudging through Siberia is how you like to spend your travel time, more than likely you’ll be looking to log up some beach-lounging hours at some stage during your travels. And I don’t care how many times Hollywood has tried to convince me otherwise, but asking complete strangers to sunscreen your back is not a sure-fire route to Picking-up-Ville: ‘Yep, just lather some lotion soothingly over that mysterious rash adorning my shoulders, hang a right at that big mole with the hair sticking out of it…and a little further down my butt-crack if you’d please… Say, would you fancy a cocktail this evening?’
Worse still, being a solo traveller renders you prime picking for other solo travellers requesting that you sunscreen their back.
7. Solo creeping
I’m willing to concede that my overactive paranoia may have played some part in this one, but even totally innocuous everyday activities have a way of coming off all weird and creepy-like when it’s only you doing them. Embark on a leisurely solo beach stroll and suddenly you’re stalking about like a massive pervert*. Rock up solo to a diner in the evening and chances are you’ve just returned from digging shallow graves in some swampland. Strike up a friendly conversation with yourself in a café and folk will give you odd looks. The weirdos.
* Especially if the beach just happens to be a nudist beach. And you just happen to be clothed.
8. Sharing meals
Part and parcel of overseas eating is that sometimes, in trying to make sense of a foreign menu, you’ll hit culinary pay dirt. And sometimes you’ll hit something that tastes more like a shark that was so smelly it was buried underground to rot for six months before being exhumed and rebranded a culinary delight. In Iceland, such a dish is called Hákarl – so your chances of this happening are significantly higher. Have a travel buddy in tow and you’ve always got the ‘let’s share our meals today’ card to whip out.
9. In sickness and in health
When some dodgy Vietnamese tap-water bound me to bed for a day on my first backpacking foray many moons ago, my trusty travel buddy Robin did much to cheer my spirits in gifting me three ‘get well soon’ bananas upon return from his day’s outing. When some dodgy tap-water bound me to bed for a day in Oaxaca on my most recent foray, guess how many ‘get well soon’ bananas I received?
10. Just ask history
On the regular occasions that I take it upon myself to dispense matters of truth to people, they in turn will often try to argue that these truths aren’t so much ‘facts’ as ‘opinions’. Being unconvinced by any difference between the two, my natural inclination is to disagree. Yet dissent persists anon. To quell the inevitable rabble of infidels sure to rise on this occasion then, I shall hereby instance other travellers who were also evidently of the mind that solo travel sucked. Look in my corner and here we find Sir Edmund Hillary, Lawrence of Arabia, Christopher Columbus, Ernest Shackleton, Bonny and Clyde, Scott of the Antarctic and Hamish and Andy. Taking things to the next level, Genghis Khan, Moses and Alexander the Great were massive fans of group travel. Hell, even the so-named ‘Lone’ Ranger had old mate Tonto to head out on the pull with after a long day’s wrong-righting.
Peer in at history’s solo travelling corner meanwhile and who do we find? Aron Ralston – better known as the guy from 127 Hours who had to amputate his own arm with a pocketknife when it got stuck under a rock.
Incidentally, a great way to travel with others, make friends and not lose your arm to a rock is to join a Geckos trip. If you like.