While those of us who have traveled alone for a long time may find it hard to believe, there are a number of misconceptions and myths about solo travel that persist.
Some of them have some basis in fact – though they are not insurmountable and are largely preventable with preparation – but some of them are downright laughable. Almost all of them come from people who have never experienced solo travel for themselves.
I asked the members of the Solo Travel Society, our very active Facebook page, “What misconceptions about solo travel have you encountered in people who have not traveled alone?”
In the more than 100 comments that followed, a lot of laughing, shoulder-shrugging and eye rolling emojis were used. Some of the same themes came up over and over again, with travelers sharing comments that they had received from friends, family, co-workers, and even total strangers.
It’s not difficult to see why people who have not yet (never say never!) traveled alone could have developed the impression that it is unsafe or lonely or just not fun. Most of us have at least some people in our lives who have always held this view – we may even have been brought up in a family where it is considered dangerous or unbecoming or has some other negative connotation.
Then there are external messages we all consume every day. Media reports of random accidents or acts of violence involving solo travelers get repeated over and over again across multiple platforms around the world, and it’s a lot easier to get a reader to click on a story like that than on one about a happy traveler exploring a new destination at their own pace and following their interests and passions.
Here are the eight most common solo travel myths that came out of our discussion, followed by a bit of a reality check from experienced travelers.
Traveling Solo Requires Great Bravery
“You're so brave!” is one of the comments Deena gets a lot, closely followed by, “Aren't you afraid to travel alone?” She says, “I took my first solo European trip at age 76 and loved it. Never afraid, never lonely. It was wonderful.”
I'm not sure where this idea originated, that it takes so much courage to travel alone, but it gets repeated time and again. Not once in my life have I ever heard anyone say it to two or more people traveling together. If it requires no courage at all to travel with others, why would it suddenly take so much more to do the same trip on your own?
In some cases, I might even agree with Sambor, who said “Travelling with others is way scarier!” If you've ever had a trip made miserable by incompatibility with your travel companion, you'll understand this.
Dorothy's words made me laugh out loud as I read through the comments. The solo travel myth that she often encounters is “that it's somehow ‘brave'. And that it's somehow a lesser experience if you don't do it with someone else. Like other…private activities, it's just as satisfying when it's solo.”
A certain amount of courage might be necessary to get you on your first solo trip, but once you get over that hurdle, you'll wonder why you ever thought it would be a problem. Not convinced? Here are 8 reasons you can travel solo. And when you're ready, here is our Ultimate Guide to Travel Alone and Love It.
You’ll Be Bored
I can't think of any time I have been bored while traveling alone, except maybe when I have been on a plane that was stuck on the tarmac, or in an interminably long line at Customs. For the most part, every single thing around me is interesting when traveling.
It seems that members of the Solo Travel Society agree with me. Says Laëtitia, “People say I'll get bored… nope, never, not even for a second!”
Charlie's response to those who assume he'll be bored? “Ha!”
On a solo trip the world really is your oyster. You can do (or not do) whatever you want, whenever you want. Follow your curiosity, your passions, or even your nose! Keep an open mind, invite spontaneity, and explore. Who has time for boredom?
The Oldest Solo Travel Myth: It’s Dangerous
Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I've seen or heard this statement. I feel it has been fueled in part by the media. I was once interviewed for a piece about the dangers of solo female travel for one of the largest US newspapers. I said that it wasn't any more dangerous than the rest of our lives, that women have had to learn to keep themselves safe at home and that those skills serve us well when we travel. I quoted the statistics at the time that showed that massively more women were killed by people they knew than had ever been killed while traveling alone and that most injuries sustained while traveling resulted from adventure activities that come with a degree of risk. When the article was published, there was not a mention of any of this. In fact, the article focused on rare, isolated incidents of violence and murder.
If you're asking yourself, “Is solo travel dangerous?” we have more articles on safety than you will likely ever need. It's all about preparation and common sense. You can find our best tips in Solo Travel Safety: 50+ Proven Tips to Keep You Safe.
Tessa said the misconception about solo travel that she hears most is “always, always, always that it's dangerous. People have the craziest conceptions about every place being scarier than the United States, and then the examples they give are things that have happened to my friends and I in the US! Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, I told people I lived in Philly and they said “Killadelphia” was notoriously dangerous.”
Kurt used to try to dispel the myth that solo travel is “dangerous, it's scary, or only weirdos travel alone. None of those are true but I gave up trying to tell some people otherwise.”
I agree with Janet, who declared, “The belief that I'm vulnerable as a single, 50-year-old woman is ludicrous.”
You Mustn’t Have Any Friends
“Don't you have a boyfriend? Or friends? Why are you going alone?” These are all questions that have been asked of Birgit.
The misconception “that you have no friends, that it’s unsafe and lonely, that it’s weird to leave your partner behind because what’s the use of going if you can’t share the experience with someone,” is one that caused a lot of eye rolling when Samantha brought it up. Magdalena shared, “All of my colleagues think I have no friends, no family to travel with and that's why I went solo.”
I don't know about you, but I actually think my friends – yes, I am a solo traveler and I have lots of friends! – envy me my solo trips. The first topic of conversation when we get together is always my most recent travel experiences.
Breda commented on “the number of people who think you are ‘Billy No Mates.'” She said, “Every time I've traveled with friends I've never experienced the culture of the country or met as many people as I do when I travel solo.”
As Pauline says, those who buy into the myth that people travel solo because they have no friends don't understand solo traveling at all.
You’re Searching for Love (or Something Else)
Another myth about solo travelers is that they are on the prowl. “People assume you travel solo for a hookup or entanglement or an Eat, Pray, Love experience,” offered Beryl. “It's just weird. They look at you wanting you to tell them of such experiences. No, I travel to go and experience food, culture, and a place I like.”
Now, there may well be times when we are searching for something in our lives and, consequently, through travel. It could be love, it could be sex, it could be friendship. We might be traveling solo to cope with loss–of a loved one, of a relationship, of a job–or to find inspiration for a new chapter in our lives. But these are all secondary to the goal of exploring the world alone.
Traveling Alone Is Scary
Right up there with danger and the need for bravery sits the misconception that solo travel is scary. It’s a vague fear that people generally can’t define. Betty says, “I was planning a trip by myself and my boss asked if I was afraid. I asked, “Of what?” He didn't know, he just thought it was weird.”
Christine pinpoints one of the reasons that this myth persists. “Because they are afraid to travel alone, they think I am.”
Susan thinks this myth lives on because of excessive fear of the unknown. I love Susan’s story, both for her understanding and the wisdom of her daughter.
My daughter at 23 was taking her first solo flight from Australia to Europe where she was to join a tour group. She asked me to take her to the airport because “I know you won't let me not get on the plane. You will have a hundred reasons for why I should be excited about the adventure ahead of me and I need to hear that over the worrying voice in my head.” She had a great time and although the cruise liner was hit by a tanker near Istanbul, she survived and thrived with her new friends. She never needed my help at the airport after that.
You'll Be Lonely
“They seem to think I'm lonely. I assure you that is not the case,” said Sharon.
“Some people judge solo travelers for dining alone, probably thinking we are bored or lonely,” said Aqua. “Yet, they come to a restaurant with friends or family and don't let go of their cellphones the whole evening. They are physically together but not mentally.” I see this all the time when I'm dining alone, along with couples who eat in silence, seemingly with nothing to say to one another. What is it that people think we are missing out on? I enjoy dining alone, as I did on this trip to London. Who has time to be lonely when you're treating yourself to an exciting meal, chatting with your servers, planning your itinerary for the next day? Trust me, Eating Alone Is Easy When You Know How.
Rosemary has encountered the solo travel myth “that other travelers who have companions won't want to meet and talk to them. Having traveled solo since 1977, I've learned that I meet and converse with more people that way than if I was with a companion.”
Rosemary had some advice to offer. “Just yesterday, I encouraged a woman who had this fear to reach out and taught her some ways to do this comfortably. She was starting with day trips by bus, so I suggested that, while waiting to embark, she ask if anyone else is traveling solo. If there is no one, ask if anyone can recommend a nice restaurant for lunch. Both of these open up conversations and they move along naturally from there.”
The Solo Travel Myth that Annoys Me Most: It Must Be Your “Plan B”
This is the one that really gets me: that we only travel solo because we don't have any other option.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I travel solo because I enjoy it. I prefer it, most times. I also travel with others from time to time, but unless there's a specific reason for it, solo travel is my default, as I believe it is for many others.
Steph describes this myth as one that treats solo travel as though “it is somehow a compromise borne out of circumstance. The assumption is that it would be preferable to travel with someone if that were an option. I choose to travel solo because I like it.”
I'm giving the last word to Janet. “Solo travel is not a last resort. It is a first resort.”